Before I had my first child, I swore I would never feed her formula. Then I wasn't able to produce enough breast milk. Even though I logically knew that she needed formula to thrive, I felt so much shame. Shame about not being able to breastfeed, shame about using formula (especially in front of my breastfeeding friends) and shame that it meant I wasn't a good mother. It wasn't until I surrounded myself with some amazing, fearless formula feeders that I heard things about formula feeding that made me feel empowered, and I was able to get over that shame.
Things like, "Formula is awesome." It really is. It is an amazing, scientifically-formulated, nutritionally-balanced, safe, and in many cases, life-saving food for babies. Babies thrive on formula, and some babies need it to survive and grow.
It turns out that you can love breastfeeding and think breast milk is amazing without thinking that formula is poison or that "breast is best" for all babies or families. These things are not mutually exclusive. Who knew?
When my second child was born, I combo-fed him with both breast milk and formula. We had a great breastfeeding relationship, and he got what he needed from breast milk and formula. He grew healthy and strong, but I still felt myself explaining formula bottles to both strangers and friends. I felt so much internalized shame about something that was such a small part of parenthood.
Again, I heard some empowering things. "You are doing the right thing." "Formula is food." Best of all was hearing, "My babies thrived on formula." It helped so much to hear their encouragement.
Recently, when faced again with low breast milk supply, my youngest son was also diagnosed with a milk and soy protein intolerance. As a vegetarian, who relies on dairy and soy for protein, the thought of a total elimination diet that might not work was overwhelming. I made the choice to stop combo-feeding and to switch to feeding him hypoallergenic formula full time.
I felt empowered to make this choice, because I have heard so many encouraging and empowering things from other parents. It helped to finally drown out the never-ending chorus of "breast is best." Fortunately, his health immediately improved and that was clear proof that formula is best for our family.
"Formula Is Awesome"
Formula gets a bad rap. In our culture of "perfect parenthood," it seems like most people believe that "breast is best" and that, of course, means that formula is not. In my opinion, there really shouldn't be morality or value statements attached to infant feeding. As long as you are feeding your baby enough nutritional food for them to thrive, that is best. For our family that means formula, but I needed to hear it from other moms to really believe it. #fedisbest
"Formula Is What Your Baby Needs"
I heard this one from our babies' doctors. They needed it. It wasn't a choice, but a need. My job as their parent was to give them what they needed. My desires to breastfeed or shame about not being able to breastfeed were not as important as feeding my babies. That was a hard, but necessary thing to hear.
"Formula Was Best For Me"
I love hearing other fearless formula feeders tell their stories about how formula was amazing for them and their families. It makes me feel like I am not alone.
"Formula Is Freedom"
I heard a ton about how expensive formula was, but had no idea that it would give me so much freedom. It was empowering to hear that formula would give me my body back, help me advance in my career, and allow me to share feeding responsibilities with my partner and others. None of those things are selfish desires. There's so much sexism wrapped up in the idea that mothers ought to give up everything for their babies.
"You Are Doing The Right Thing"
This one came from my friend who is a lactation consultant and was my biggest supporter in finding a way to safely breastfeed my newborn. I needed to hear those words from her. It's not that I needed her permission, but they helped me feel strong when making a difficult choice. Thank you.
"Formula Is Food"
It is. There's so much politics and propaganda wrapped up in what we feed our babies that we seem to forget that formula and breast milk are foods, both nutritious and amazing.
"Formula Is Easy To Use"
I have heard so many contradicting messages from the breastfeeding advocacy community that formula is both for lazy moms and hard to use. It's not. If you can wash a bottle and make juice powdered mix, you can make formula. I learned some cool tips and tricks from my friends, too, about mixing it up for the day in advance, and training your baby to drink cold or room temperature bottles, so you don't have to heat bottles in the middle of the night.
"My Babies Thrived On Formula"
It really helped to hear from other moms that I wasn't hurting my babies and that theirs turned out just fine.
And then to see it with my own eyes. Formula transformed my daughter from a thin, jaundiced newborn into a chubby butter ball, and gave my son the cutest rolls. The right formula helped my youngest son finally start growing and to not have the horrible (the worst) diarrhea and painful rashes that he had before we made the switch.
"Formula Is Good For Babies And Parents"
There are so many situations where formula is best. Hearing amazing stories of thriving babies, adoption, foster care, independence, overcoming challenges, and beating postpartum depression made me feel like I wasn't alone. I mattered and our unique situation was more valid to our situation, than a hundred slogans about the benefits of breast milk.
"It's OK To Choose Formula From The Start"
"You don't have to breastfeed. You don't have to even try." It's amazing how good it was to hear those words. When the time came, I decided to try to combo-feed, but when it didn't work out, I surprisingly felt no shame this time around. Wouldn't it be amazing if no one judged people for not trying to breastfeed when they didn't want to?
"Being A Good Parent Has Nothing To Do With What You Feed Your Baby"
This is the most important statement I heard. Almost eight years after my first failed attempt to breastfeed, I find myself thinking about how different it would have been had I not associated breastfeeding with being the best parent I could be. If I had understood how short the first year is in the grand scheme of things, and how amazing my children would become no matter how or what they were fed, I could have bypassed so much internalized shame.
Even with formula making things easier, life with a newborn is exhausting and scary, but it feels so empowering to hear and know that, in the end, fed is best.