Why Everyone Needs to Shut Up About Formula

For those who don’t know our breastfeeding story, it goes like this. Eli, my son, was born a week late, weighing in at 6 pounds 15 ounces. He was healthy in every way possible and he was born in a Baby Friendly Hospital with about as much breastfeeding support as one could possibly have. And he wouldn’t breastfeed.

We saw a lactation consultant in the hospital (one who gave him formula through tubing because my son was dehydrated from not eating anything at all). We saw a lactation consultant at 3 days of life. We saw her again at 7. And we saw 3 more LCs in the next 5 weeks trying to sort out his issues. In all, my son latched 4 times in 5 weeks, always requiring the assistance of someone besides just him and me.

At least 8 times a day for 5 weeks, we put my son to the breast where he screamed at the top of his lungs. Then we fed him a bottle. The bottle was usually pumped breast milk, but sometimes, when I couldn’t keep up, it was formula. And after 5 weeks, I gave up. My child was never going to breastfeed and our last LC agreed. And it is from this experience that I would like to tell you to shut up about formula.

I think that most women know that the “breast is best.” This is not new or secret information. We know that there are all kinds of benefits (some of which have been a bit misinterpreted, but whatever) and that whenever possible, breastfeeding should be encouraged. That horse has been beaten to death.

But what we’re missing is that though the breast is best, formula isn’t the devil.

Yesterday on Facebook, the comments on a Being Pregnant post spiraled a bit out of control.

Formula is lazy American isea (sic) and I compare it to literally feeding your kud (sic) a happy meal instead of a rounded well balanced diet. Look at research and statistics from European countries and their overall health as a society, health of their babies and obgyn procedires (sic) in general.

And i’ve seen healthy formula fed kids, but if you took bloodwork from a bottle fed 12 month old and an breastfed 12 month old, i can assure you that the bf baby will have MUCH better results.

If you want to ff, that is GREAT! Just don’t use the “I can’t produce” crutch because most of the time, you’re lying to yourself.

Bottle fed children will probably not die from formula. But I think that it is inappropriate to minimize the potential negative long term health impact on mom and child to not breast feeding.

I’m sorry if being a breastfeeding mom makes you uncomfortable with your choice to bottle feed. You obviously have something nagging at you in the back of your mind. That is not my fault. If you were 100% all for breastfeeding, you would have. If you weren’t, you either didn’t nurse at all or gave up quickly… If substandard food is what you are happy giving them, you wouldn’t be bothered that I chose to breastfeed mine.

Should I keep going?

I have zero desire to tell you what is best for your child or whether it’s right or wrong to do any particular thing, but the smear campaign against formula needs to stop. Formula is not the same as fast food. It is not substandard food. Unless you’re doing something very wrong with it, your child absolutely will not die from it.

Many women have to use formula because they legitimately cannot keep up with their baby. I am one of them. Many women legitimately cannot breastfeed. I am one of those too. Stop telling us we’re not trying hard enough. I’d say that there’s a good chance that all the women with low supply are trying way harder than those with an abundant one. If my success was proportional to my effort then my child would weigh 200 pounds from all the breast milk I fed him, directly from my nipples.

You cannot in one moment say that formula is horrible for babies and in the next breath say it’s fine to use if you tried breastfeeding and didn’t succeed. Either formula is awful and should be pulled from the market, or it isn’t, but it doesn’t suddenly change in quality based upon whether a mother tried to breastfeed or not. And once you compare it to fast food or imply that it is going to harm children, you’re not just encouraging breastfeeding, you’re disparaging mothers across the country and world.

I have struggled, tremendously, with depression since my child was born because of issues with breastfeeding. I fell into the “the breast is best” mindset and put all my worth as a mother into my breasts. And when I failed to be able to breastfeed or even just exclusively pump, I was crushed. I cried every night for weeks when I ran out of breast milk and had to give my son formula because I felt not only like I had failed, but like I was harming my son by supplementing him with this substandard nutrition. I felt like it was better to let him scream from hunger than give him a product I have been told is like fast food, a product that would harm his long term health.

The point I’m trying to make is that your passion for breastfeeding is fine. Be passionate. Educate women. But stop trashing formula. That is not how you encourage breastfeeding, it’s how you scare and disparage a huge number of mothers. It’s how you criticize women for trying to feed their children. Formula may not be breast milk, but it is adequate nutrition, it is not fast food, it is not bad for babies. You can encourage breastfeeding without trashing formula and the mothers who use it, but you’re going to have to try a lot harder and you’re going to have to actually think before you speak and type.

And if you can’t do that, then you should really just shut up about formula.

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