Thursday, June 30, 2011

In defense of formula.

My chubby Bubby and me, 2008
Last week, I stumbled upon a blog called The Fearless Formula Feeder. As the name suggests, the author is a woman whose mission is to defend the use of formula in feeding babies, but she doesn't condemn those who breastfeed. My kind of gal.

You all know I breastfed Smush for a year. Part of me is very proud of that fact, but part of me doesn't think I should be. I mean, I fed my baby for a year (don't worry; I still feed him). Who really cares how? I don't deserve a medal. Yeah, it was hard and we met our fair share of hurdles, but so what? What part of parenting doesn't have hurdles?

Maybe this indifference toward breastfeeding comes from the fact I did NOT breastfeed Bubby. I tried for about 6 weeks; it just didn't work out. It was a huge relief for the whole family when I finally offered her a bottle. Despite the fact formula was the right choice for Bubby, I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that I was doing something bad. That giving my baby formula was NOT "my best." This feeling stemmed from message boards and blogs I read which blatantly condemned formula and bottle feeding. I had read them all before Bubby was born and was determined not to join the "dark side." It wasn't so much that I wanted to breastfeed, though I did. But mostly, I didn't want to become the subject of attack for thousands of militant breastfeeders. I didn't want to become that mom who just couldn't hack it and gave up.

I was put in my place right away -- Bubby had wicked awful lactose intolerance and reflux. Her boob days were characterized by non-stop screaming, a stiff belly and frequent vomiting. Obviously, babies don't cry for nothing -- it's usually a rather loud and uncomfortable indication that something isn't right. After weeks of unsuccessfully trying to soothe my inconsolable child, I listened to my instinct and it said "It's the breastmilk." That pill was hard to swallow. As a first-time mom armed with all the evidence, statistics and criticism the world had to offer, I wanted to breastfeed: I didn't want to buy formula. But I bit the bullet and trudged to Costco. As soon as Bubby sipped her new soy formula, she changed into the happy, calm baby I knew she was.

You'll be pleased to know Bubby suffered no ill effects from the formula. As a baby, she developed rapidly and was always very strong, with the appropriate amount of baby chub (see picture above). She rarely got sick. And she was as smart as a whip -- still is. So I praise formula: it nourished my baby for 10 months and rescued our mother-daughter relationship. It did what it needed to do.

Would it have been nice to breastfeed Bubby for as long as I did Smush? Sure. I could have saved about $600 dollars, for one thing. And maybe we would have bonded better; I don't know. But, do I regret not breastfeeding her? No. It is what it is. The past is gone; time to move on. And you can't put a price on your sanity.

Unfortunately for us mothers, there is a nasty stigma against formula and those who use it. I will wholeheartedly acknowledge that breastmilk is nutritionally superior to formula. And breastfeeding itself is wonderful; it has all sorts of benefits and it's free. I'll back that up 'til I'm blue in the face. But it's not "best" for everyone. Sorry, it just isn't. And it's no one's place to judge what warrants a good "excuse" to use forgo breastfeeding.

It used to be that the formula-feeders were the elites, paying top dollar for engineered nutritional "perfection"; the breastfeeders were the lower-class citizens who simply couldn't afford it. Any modern mother will tell you the tables have certainly turned. Nowadays, breastfeeding is a magic super-power that only the best mothers possess. You're met with (at the very least) a raised eyebrow if you dare to offer your child a plastic nipple. You're seen as uneducated and undisciplined if you mix powder with water and feed it to your baby. You "gave in" to the easier way of doing things. You don't really care about your child, because if you did, you'd still be lactating.

Well, I don't buy it.

Mothers are smart. They're equipped with instincts that guide them in the best ways to rear their kids. I have faith in mothers. If they feel inclined to bottle-feed their babies, they're doing the right thing. I believe that.

The one thing you can count on as a mother is that things will rarely go according to plan. Our babies come to us in all different ways, shapes and sizes and without an instruction manual. I applaud mothers who do their research and create a plan before having babies. Read all the literature you can -- this is an open book test! But don't be surprised if things go awry and you're suddenly standing in the formula aisle at the nearest grocery store, trying to decide between Similac and Enfamil . It happens to the best of us. But don't feel bad. Don't let the haters get you down. You're doing what's best for your child, and only you -- YOU -- can know what that is.  

That's your super-power.


  1. Awesome post Jenna! I did it both ways and I don't feel passionately about either side of the coin. Mamas do what mamas gotta do.

  2. Thank you! I have a very similar story. My #1 just WOULDN'T breastfeed and after several trips to the ER with infections for me, we finally have him a bottle at 5 weeks and it was awesome. #2 breastfed just fine until 8 1/2 when she decided she was done and cut me off cold turkey (ouch). My #1 isn't less intelligent because of formula or less healthy, he's super smart and has only been sick 3 times in his 3 years (and no ear infections). It's so easy for people to judge and think of themselves as superior.

  3. 2 of my 3 children have been bottle/formula fed. they are all healthy and strong and i have NO regrets using formula. i don't get why some feel inclined to judge a mother for using formula. its the most ridiculous thing i could think of. there are SO many other more important issues to spend your time focusing on. formula is just as good in my opinion and i will continue using it when i need to :] great post!

  4. very well written! i'm not even a mom yet but i just read a book about breastfeeding vs. formula and i find the whole comparison really interesting. but good for you for making the final decision and it's really true--mother's know best :)

  5. i've got myself a couple of bottle babies.

  6. Thank you for posting this! My son is 8 months old, and i desperately wanted to nurse him. But after two weeks he was losing to much weight and the dr asked us to start supplementing. Turns out, because i was battling post partum and getting progesterone shots every other day that killed my milk supply. So when i thought i was feeding my child the best thing i could, turned out i was only feeding him water. No wonder he wasnt gaining any weight! I'll try to breastfeed with the next baby but if it doesnt work out that it doesnt work out.

    Hopefully i'll be able to handle that better than i did this time. I felt like such a failure! Like it was my job to breastfeed and i got fired! It was so depressed. Even now that its been 8 months i still have hard feelings every once in a while. Its crazy what the media can do to your self esteem.

  7. This is a topic I have never been passionate about. If I see someone feeding their baby formula, the extent of my thoughts is "that stuff stinks." Because it does, in fact, stink. I don't think less of anyone, unless a mom is nursing her 3+ child (that weirds me out). Anyway, I guess I am surprised that so many formula mothers are met with hostility. I'm not sure if you were exagerrating or simply telling it how it is, but my friends who opted for formula didn't have a complex about it...

  8. I breastfed both my kids for a year, and it definitely wasn't a walk in the park. My only issue with formula is it's quality. There are so many excitotoxins(MSG byproducts that overstimulate the brain) in regular formula. I don't think every kid that drinks formula is gonna have brain damage or anything, but I do think that some kids that are sensitive to these preservatives get a bad start. Sprouts has started to sell an organic, natural formula that I think is awesome. It might be worth looking into for those needing to formula feed. Now I'm not into ONLY ORGANIC with kids, but I do believe THE BULK of kids diets (and our for that matter) needs to be real food. There's no need to feel guilty when you've tried to breastfeed and it's just not working, but for those that simply choose to formula because they think it's easier and just as good as breast milk need to educate themselves a little more before they make that decision.

  9. Amen sista! I breastfed #1 for a year and am still breastfeeding #2 but I HATE when people freak out of formula. I supplemented a little bit at the beginning and ALL of my lactation consultants FREAKED OUT! Drove me insane! At least my kid wasn't starving!

  10. I will admit that I have judged others for bottle feeding in the past. I know it was wrong. Sometimes I still want to make sure someone who bottle feeds their baby tried to nurse first. That is NOT because I think they are a bad person/mother, or that breast milk is better than formula, its just because I LOVE to breast feed. Like, LOOOOVE it. There is one friend I have who has bottle fed her three girls, she is planning on getting pregnant soon and I am trying to convince her to breast feed because her mother died of breast cancer and nursing would reduce her risk of getting breast cancer.
    If ever there was a time to use formula, its now.

  11. Love the insight! As a mama to be, I'm loving reading different tips/views. It's true though, whatever works best for you! xoxo

  12. Jenna, I love when you write about controversial things like this. It is so refreshing and so powerful.

    BEFORE I had my kid (I find myself saying that A LOT lately haha) I definitely thought "breast was best!" and the only option for us. But now?! I had to supplement Jude when he was first born because of his hypoglycemia and my milk wasn't even close to coming in for another 4 or 5 days after he was born. We still try to give him formula every now and then but he isn't taking them (yet...)

    I definitely felt like breastfeeding would be a breeze, but it has been a HUGE life change. And it's HARD. I am glad I can bf him and I hope to for as long as we can stick it out, but I'm just trying to say that now I understand why some women need to do formula instead. And that is totally ok! It's all about just doing what is best for your baby. Us Mamas need to learn to stick together!

  13. Thank you Jenna for your amazing blog post. As a, soon to be, adoptive mother I have often thought about giving my child the best. I have heard of adoptive mother enlisting in 12 weeks of pumping to prepare their breasts for milk supply. However, because of the lack of hormones pregnancy automatically supplies most have to supplement with formula. I think mothers of all kinds like to just share their opinions from formula to natural birth and from birth horror stories to the best pediatricians. It's a constant debate. I wish women would just take a step back and let each other make live our own lives without the looks of judgment or voices of disapproval. It's completely unwarranted. New mothers deserve respect for their sacrifice in bearing and raising children. I'm off my soapbox now. :)

  14. I love reading your posts, sometimes I agree or disagree, either way you put amazing thoughts in my head! I felt like a bad mother and my in laws and others were completely in shock when I started the bottle. But they didnt care to ask why, because my milk supply stopped coming in 2 months in and I tried taking the natural food the doctors say help produce more milk. My daughter is smart, beautiful, and hilarious even though we depended on formula to get us through the first year! The other time i judge is when i see dark soda in the bottle... other then that power to the mommas and any decision they make!!

  15. I must admit - with my breasts stepping up to the plate (or the palate I suppose?) in 2 1/2 months, this has definitely been on my mind. There's so much out there advocating that "breast is best" so I've decided to give it a try. But along with that decision comes a bit of pressure to perform. I mean, up to that glorious birth of our little ones, our boobs are just for when they actually need to DO something, you hope they do, well, what they're supposed to! lol

    Your post has helped me understand that formula is not some horrible, inferior food...but rather just another option (and thank heavens for it!) I'm still going to try breastfeeding - but should I happen to need to alter the gameplan, well then that's ok too. I think I'd still be disappointed, but relieved that I have another option of good nutrition for my baby.

    Thanks for taking the pressure off my chest ;) And yes, pun it always is. Great post girlie!

  16. I've done a bit of both. I had the horrible stigma hanging over my head with #1, and stuck out breast feeding until the boobies dried up at 9 months and he started losing weight. My mom and many other militant boob feeders had it deeply ingrained in my head that it was somehow morally wrong to bottle feed so I completely beat myself up trying to fulfill the "best" thing for my kid. For what it's worth, he got the most breast milk of any of my kids, and he also had by far the most ear and sinus infections including an episode of sepsis after he had an antibiotic resistent sinus infection.

    Kid #2 just quite cold turkey on me at 3 months. It was a big disappointment, because she was actually easy to breastfeed. I pumped for two weeks before throwing in the towel and switching to formula.

    Kid #3 was like your Bubby - screamy, belly problems all the time, puky. We tried eliminating all sorts of stuff from my diet, GI meds, and 6 or 7 different formulas. Finally threw in the towel at 6 months when we found a formula that didn't totally kill her belly. BFing was NOT a pleasant experience with her.

    So while I was raised by a super duper Breast is Best mom that managed to feed 12 kids that way, and I wholeheartedly believe that if things work nicely that it's the best thing for mom and baby, I have no issues at all with formula feeding. I have three bright and healthy and happy kids that have each had their gallons of it.

  17. There are facts and opinions and then there is this terrible thing called guilt. I HATE how mothers and society tries to make us feel obligated to do something a certain way. My mantra right now is, "What is best for your family?" I worked (and obviously still do) and nursed but couldn't keep up, so we used formula. I felt like I got the best of both worlds. We moms need support and love and then make the best decision for our family. Thanks for also being the best of both worlds kinda mom.

  18. Hello,
    still a very up to date topic! I do formula feed my baby out of reasons that just have to concern me and my family. I didn't just start feeding any formula but choose the organic Holle brand from For sure I would have loved to breast feed but sometimes life is just not always what you want. Nowadays there are so many good options to raise and feed your baby in a very healthy way. Others should just look at their lives and try to make this one better!
    Thanks again for writing this, because not a lot changed so far!
    Yours, Moni


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