As human beings we tend to divide our thoughts into binaries: black and white, sun and moon, good and evil, and while a good portion of us are fighting so hard for gray, for worldwide acceptance of all love, of all skin colors, of all beliefs, we can’t seem to get our minds out of those separated divisions. So, the same person who changes her profile photo to reflect a rainbow hue and posts powerful messages about how “All lives matter!” and “Love is love!” is capable of then turning around and spitting hateful words about certain parenting choices that have nothing to do with the quality of care the child is receiving; she categorizes disposables and formula as evil and cloth diapers and breastmilk as the best, period, end of story, no other opinion is valid. Those binaries force labels upon us: “the crunchy mom,” “the working mom,” “the stay at home mom,” and ultimately, “the good mom” or “the bad mom.” Of course, in this world ruled by binaries, we believe one side must be victorious over the other, and so we have The Mommy Wars.
The Mommy Wars are real and fought on a daily basis on social media, and there are lots of sanctimommies out there who make formula feeding moms feel as if they are harming their babies by using formula over breastmilk. If a child isn’t well taken care of because they are abused or don’t have enough food to eat or don’t have warm enough clothing: those are all legitimate reasons to be upset; those are real reasons to speak up and take action. Shaming another mother for formula feeding or using disposables, however, is wrong, cruel, unjustified, and unnecessary, but it happens, a lot, and it needs to stop. We say it all the time to our kids, but we aren’t following the golden rule ourselves; we should be treating others the way we want to be treated. And here’s the shocking thing about being kind and providing universal support:
Supporting someone who made a choice different from your own does not degrade the choice that you made.
Just because you support someone for formula feeding doesn’t mean that you don’t support breast-feeding or that you don’t believe that “breast is best.” It means you’re being a good friend, a good person, a good fellow momma supporting another momma who is caring for her child.
There is also the stupid belief that if you tear something down, it builds something else up, when the opposite is true. So, breastfeeding moms feel like formula promotion threatens their way of life, and formula feeding moms feel like breastfeeding promotion threatens their way of life, and instead of everyone just feeling supported by the people and organizations that are meant to support them, everyone just feels threatened by anything not supporting them directly! *sigh*
The problem is we feel like if one thing has value, the opposite must have less value, and that’s just not true.
My high school culinary arts teacher used to say, “It’s not ‘gross;’ it’s not ‘yucky;’ it’s just not to your liking! Just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s bad; it’s just different.” I think we all need to hold that truth in mind when it comes to the formula vs. breastfeeding debate.
The truth is that I don’t know squat about formula because I’ve never had to use it, and as I’ve mentioned before, I fought really hard to not have to use it. Here’s the thing, though: I didn’t want to use formula, not because I thought it was “gross” or “unfit” for my baby, but because I wanted to breastfeed and was able to overcome all of the breastfeeding obstacles that I faced after delivering my son. That’s it. End of story.
Formula feeding is a lot of work! I used to joke and tell people that one of the main reasons I continued to exclusively breastfeed was that I was lazy and cheap. I didn’t want to have to wash bottles or buy formula or make bottles in the middle of the night. I didn’t want to have to run to the store to buy formula when I ran out, and I certainly didn’t want to have to rinse out every poopy diaper, especially at the beginning when my newborn made pooping his full time job. I knew that while all baby vomit and baby poop stinks, that formula sometimes makes it smell more strongly, and I didn’t want that either. I researched and learned a lot of cool facts about breastmilk, and I made my decision to breastfeed that way, and I was lucky that my choice ended up working out for me. But that’s just it: it was my decision and my choice for my child. However, just because I made that choice doesn’t mean that someone else has to.
One of the biggest problems with judging formula feeding moms is that often the judge doesn’t even know the circumstances the mom is facing. From a hospitalized infant to allergies to physical barriers, some moms desperately wanted to breastfeed but just couldn’t. Some moms begin breastfeeding and later run into obstacles. Whether it’s a busy work schedule that interfered and caused supply issues or breast implants that reduced successful breastfeeding or (much more seriously) postpartum depression that threatened the mother’s (or even baby’s) life, sometimes breast is not what is best for mom and baby. The physical, mental, and emotional health of the mother is what is best, and if breastfeeding doesn’t factor into that equation, then that’s okay.
We seem to think that once we learn something is healthy, that everyone else must do it right now and without question. But just as our mothers told us not to judge someone else until we have walked a mile in her shoes, we cannot tell a new mother that she must breastfeed without understanding her circumstances first. Even if her circumstances all lead to the opportunity for successful breastfeeding, maybe she doesn’t want to, and that’s okay.
It’s her body; it’s her choice; it’s her child, not yours, not mine.
The thing is, not everyone has the same environment or the same support or the same physical body in which to make the choice in how they choose to feed, so feeding is going to look different for each mother and baby.
If a woman chooses to formula feed from the get-go, she’s not harming her child; she’s feeding her child. She’s nursing her child, and she is loving her child in the way that she knows best. We need to honor that and support that.
Some women have scars that we don’t see when it comes to their bodies. They can’t relinquish that kind of control and protectiveness of their bodies to share it with someone else in such a vulnerable way. Nursing does make you feel very vulnerable, and women who have been abused or hurt in ways we don’t want to imagine (and ways we don’t talk about because it’s taboo) those women and all women have a right to say, “I don’t want to share my body in that way.” And that’s okay.
Some women choose not to breastfeed because they are concerned about the toll nursing takes on their bodies, and that’s okay. Any nursing mom can admit that nursing has changed her breasts. Some women don’t want that change to occur in their bodies, so they don’t breastfeed. Again, their bodies, their choice. While you may sit there and say, “She is vain, and she is selfish!” you are only seeking to hurt her, not to benefit her child in anyway. Maybe you feel regret that you didn’t have the self-confidence to fight for what you wanted. Maybe you’re sad that your breasts don’t look the way they did before you nursed (I know some days I feel this way). Maybe you were bullied into breastfeeding by a spouse or another mother and now kind of regret what it has done to your body. Maybe that’s why your mind goes to the hateful comments instead of the helpful ones.
We tend to very easily hate other people who have what we want, people who have what we wish we had. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to find an end or at the very least a pause, where we stop and think before we say something.
In the end, the main thing is this: no one should feel like she has to hide when or how she feeds her child.
No one should feel silenced on sharing the benefits of breastfeeding because there are lots of benefits that many people don’t know about, and sharing information with friends is how many of us learn.
No one should feel attacked when they formula feed because a woman has a right to feed her baby with an appropriate and nutritional substitute for breastmilk.
No one should feel guilty for not being able to or not wanting to breastfeed because every body is different and every body is solely owned and operated and decided for by the owner of that body.
No one should feel weird that she feeds her baby donated milk because she has fought and struggled to do what she believes is best for her and baby, and she should be supported in that choice.
No one should feel ostracized that she does a combination of whatever works best for her kid, whether it’s SNS or inducing lactation or even having a wet nurse when the kid is in child care because it’s the mother’s choice and not ours, and as long as the kid is fed and is healthy and growing, it’s no one else’s business.
The problem is they do. Moms do feel attacked or silenced or guilty or ostracized, and choosing to be kind and accepting and supportive of one another is what will change that. That’s why we are doing this Nursing Tales series. We want all moms to feel supported in the way they feed their children. We want all moms to see that they are not alone- breastfeeding moms, exclusively pumping moms, donor milk bottle feeding moms, and formula feeding moms. I think it helps bring to light that all moms, no matter how they feed, feel judged, so it’s important to check ourselves and make sure we’re not being judgmental but supportive.
Today’s Nursing Tales really focus on how formula feeding moms are just as varied in their journeys as breastfeeding moms are. These stories bring up a multitude of reasons of why they may have chosen to formula feed or why they may have had no other choice. I received a huge response to my call out for these stories, so not all of them will appear in this post, but never fear, they will appear in subsequent posts! Let’s give these mommas some much needed support, and check your judgement at the door.
I always feel embarrassed to share my story, because it isn’t a beautiful breastfeeding story. It’s a story of Kit latching nicely then my boobs hurting all the time, hurting so much I would cry when she latched. I saw the LC. Again, again… She wasn’t gaining as much as I wanted. “Pump and give her that, and also supplement,” they told me. So I’d nurse; I’d pump both sides; I’d give her formula; I’d start over. It was frustrating, and I felt like a failure. Everyone tells you “breast is best,” and I felt like I couldn’t give her “the best.”
After a month of struggling, we were giving Kit more formula than breastmilk. My husband told me he’d support whatever I thought was best. I realized “best” wasn’t black & white. Best is about being able to provide the healthiest choice for your baby, whether that’s a baby who is finally getting enough food, or a mom who isn’t at her wit’s end. I cried while I pumped for the last time, both from sadness that it didn’t work out and relief that we were moving on.
Thirteen months later, Kit is a happy and smart toddler. She isn’t a picky eater. She isn’t overweight. She doesn’t have allergies. She walked early. I say these things not to brag but to dispel myths for the mom who is too embarrassed to say that “breast is not best” for her and her child. Formula will not ruin your baby. Breastmilk is wonderful, and it’s wonderful that there’s a solution for those of us who struggle. Happy babies are fed babies.
The whole time I was pregnant, I planned on breastfeeding. I never thought about the why; it’s just what I planned on. However, it wasn’t something I actively wanted to do. It just was. I took it for granted that it would be easy and natural; women have been doing it for centuries, after all. But then it wasn’t easy for me…at all. In fact, it was downright impossible. Once I realized I couldn’t breastfeed, then I realized how desperately I wanted to.
The whole time I was in the hospital, it was so, so hard for me to hear my sweet baby’s cries and not be able to feed her. I broke on the third night, giving her a bottle. I tried nursing once more, at home, and after that ended in tears and frustration, our short lived breastfeeding journey was over and the months and months of guilt began.
I guess I should back up now and tell what happened in between that first and last failure to latch. First of all, my left nipple is bifurcated, which means it is split into almost two separate nipples. It’s also slightly inverted. I didn’t find out what was wrong with it until my third day in the hospital when I finally got to see a lactation consultant. I love the hospital where my daughter was born, and I loved all the nurses there, but they were not the least bit helpful when it came to breastfeeding. My doctor and the hospital are very pro breastfeeding, but somehow the nurses didn’t seem to get that memo. At one point during my first night in the hospital, after having a c section, I had my husband page the nursery because we needed help latching. I have large breasts, small hands, and a wonky nipple. I NEEDED help! He was told, “Y’all are going to have to figure this out on your own.” Those exact words.
Looking back, I think that was probably the beginning of the end for me. Day after day, we tried so hard. And day after day, my husband called for help. Each nurse that actually did take the time to “help” would hand me a tube of sweet water with the advice, “just keep using this.” Other nurses would come in and out of the room, some trying to be helpful, some just ignoring the problem. One told me to try nursing her while lying down. Not two minutes later, yet another nurse came in and told me to get up, that I couldn’t possibly nurse lying down. I got more and more frustrated as the time passed by.
The few times my daughter managed to latch, she would either pop right back off or immediately fall asleep. On the third afternoon, I was done. I broke down crying and wailing and begging for a bottle. And then, a ray of sunshine came in the form of a lactation consultant/nurse named Diana. She was sweet, kind, considerate, helpful, knowledgeable, patient: everything that I had needed from the beginning. She worked with me for hours, helping me try to troubleshoot the problem and consoling me when the tears came again. When her shift was over, she encouraged me to not give up. She told me to just keep trying. She even called me the next day to check on me, even though she was off work that day. She was exactly what I needed, but she was too late. I was done.
That night, I broke and gave my daughter a bottle, and then I tried nursing once more at home. Then, I quit altogether. I agonized for months over this decision. I felt like a failure. I hated reading about successful breastfeeding stories. I especially hated reading about how hard some women tried before they quit. I asked myself over and over, “Did I try that hard? Did I give up too easily?” I don’t know the answer to these questions, but you see, I also have anxiety. I gave up because I had to, for my own mental health.
I wasn’t being the mother that Emma needed because I was too stressed out about feeding her. I wasn’t enjoying my baby like I wanted to. It took me months to finally let go of that guilt of not breastfeeding. My daughter just turned a year old, and she’s so happy and so healthy, so I know I made the right choice for her. However, I fully plan on breastfeeding my second baby, whenever that may be. I won’t be a first time mommy, and I will be more informed. I already am. I’m stronger as a person and as a mother. I won’t hesitate to tell them to get the sweet water away from me and get me somebody who can help me!
Here’s my story: With Jadyn, it hurt like hell and I didn’t feel like messing with it. With Jude, I tried for a few days, but it was undetermined whether or not my milk would even come in after I had a boob job, & quite frankly I didn’t want to mess up my $6,000 investment.
~ Lindsey W
It’s been 23 years, but I combo fed my daughter. Back then, when you breastfed, they had you give the baby a glucose bottle following at first because they believed they would get dehydrated on just the colostrum. So I went home with a case of glass 4 oz glucose bottles and nursed for the first few weeks, followed by one of those. I never felt my milk come in, and I had to go back to work right away. I couldn’t afford a pump, so I did part time formula, part time breast. At about 4 weeks, my friend loaned me her breast pump, and I could never get more than an ounce of milk. The doctor told me to keep supplementing with formula.
Eventually it got to be where I only breastfed first thing in the morning and last thing before bed. I was lucky in that at 4 weeks she went down at midnight and slept until 5 am. After about a month, I didn’t produce enough milk for the two nursings and just continued the first thing in the morning mainly because when she woke up at 5am, I could bring her to bed and nurse, and she would go back to sleep and so did I. I didn’t have to get up and make a bottle. At 4 months old, I had to stop nursing all together, and she was strictly formula.
We had twins. Formula was the only way to keep them (and us) on a regular schedule. At first we set their feedings an hour apart so one person could feed one baby then the other. Our system worked really well, aside from the inevitable sleep deprivation over the first couple of months.
My first born was born via emergency c-section. I ended up bleeding out; the baby and I both got an infection, and I needed a blood transfusion! I didn’t plan to breastfeed, so I never researched it. However, I never got to fully bond with my baby because I was in such bad shape from the c-section that she wouldn’t take a bottle! I was then forced into breastfeeding by the nurses.
I did it for about a week and ended up switching to formula once I was released from the hospital. Yes, I spent a week in the hospital after having her! My body needed time to recover, and I felt it was more important to get myself healthy so that I was able to fully care for my baby. So, I gave up nursing and went straight to formula. It was one last thing to stress about, and I couldn’t bear to put my body through anymore.
I just had baby #2 last Thursday and decided I would give nursing another try since it is free and formula is so expensive! Keep in mind that for baby #1, I was eligible for WIC, so my formula was free. I went into it blind again this time, and it has been going much smoothly than I ever expected! However, I am now faced with the guilt that I am giving her something I wasn’t able to give my first born.
~ Shannon G
I nursed my first baby for 13 months without a single issue. I had no reason to believe anything would be different with my second. Then, she was born 12 weeks early. I started pumping two hours after she was born. I was determined to give her breastmilk and nurse. While in the NICU, nursing proved to be too tiring for her, so instead of pushing it, we focused on bottles, which meant more pumping for me. I hated it, but I did for her.
I was so excited when she came home so that we could nurse exclusively. She had to have one bottle a day with formula for the extra calories, so I continued to pump even though she would nurse. We battled two rounds of thrush, and then around 6 months, I just couldn’t keep up with her. She would cry and cry after she nursed, so I started supplementing with the formula. By 7 months, she was completely done nursing, and I had about a month’s worth of milk left in the freezer.
To be honest, it was embarrassing the first time mixing up that formula bottle in public. I was that mom who quietly judged other mothers when they pulled out the formula can. Then, I was that mom.
I learned a lot of things giving birth to a premature baby. One of the most important lessons was that I don’t know anyone else’s story but my own. I was doing the very best for my baby and our family and so is everyone else. At the end of the day, that’s what is most important.
~ Lindsay W
I think one of the most difficult things in life is finding and exercising the confidence to do what you think is right. Everyone feels like if someone doesn’t do as they do, then they are judging them for not following suit, when we should be able to feel confident in our choices without feeling blamed or shamed. I hope you’ve found comfort in this series so far and the encouragement to feed your baby in the way you feel is best.
Happy feeding, mommas.