If you spend time with other moms (either in person or online) you're bound to hear a few things about moms who formula feed. Sadly, most if not all of what you'll hear will be overwhelmingly negative, condescending, untrue, and unfair. We live in a culture of perceived "perfect motherhood," where people say the meanest things under the guise of wanting to help "educate" other moms while simultaneously making themselves feel better about their choices. It's time to stop. It's time to realize there are so many things we ought to start saying about women who formula feed.
To be honest, I said a ridiculous amount of horrible things about formula feeding moms before I had kids. I was a lactivist who not only wanted to experience breastfeeding, but wanted everyone else to experience breastfeeding, too. Unless a mother met a set of specific criteria (mainly, having a "legitimate" medical condition or their baby having an allergy), I was convinced she was a "bad mom" if she didn't breastfeed for an extended period of time. In other words, I was a b*tch.
The, I became a mom and didn't make enough breastmilk, due to a medical condition called insufficient glandular tissue. It seemed like everyone — including family members, friends, lactation consultants and strangers on the internet or in the formula aisle at the store — were hellbent on relentlessly questioning my formula feeding. I heard their whispers and read their comments and was negatively affected by it all.
"Do you think she's lying about her issues?"
"She wouldn't have a low supply if she had tried harder."
"She gave up."
"She's so selfish."
"Doesn't she know that breast is best?"
"I wonder if she's tried..." (I assure you, I tried everything)
"Poor mama, she doesn't know any better."
"At least she tried..."
"Let me tell you some statistics about health outcomes." (Seriously?)
I couldn't believe how horrible people were. How horrible I had been. It's sad that it took being on the receiving end of comments like the aforementioned, to learn how to be an empathic person and to realize that all of those things I had said moms who either chose or were forced to feed their babies formula, were so untrue and so unfair. So, with that in mind, here are more than a few things we need to start saying about formula feeding moms. If we aim to be honest, fair, and maybe even help change the way our culture views moms, we need to stop with the condescending questions and comments. Because #feminism and #fedisbest and being a decent human being should be the norm.
"They Are Good Moms"
I will tell you a secret: what you feed your baby has nothing to do with whether or not you are a good mom. Good moms feed their babies. Period.
"They Are Experts In Their Own Lives"
There are thousands of reasons why a mom might choose to formula feed or have to formula feed her babies. It's up to her to make those choices, and it's really none of your business why those choices are being made.
"They Are Smart"
Formula feeding moms are smart. They have made a choice that is right for them, their babies, and their families. They don't need to be educated about risks or health outcomes. They know that the latest research shows that formula-fed babies do just as good as breastfed babies. They also know what they need to be healthy and strong and how to be good moms, have independence, and get more sleep. That's pretty damn smart.
"They Know What Their Babies Need"
There are many reasons why a baby might need formula to thrive, or why moms might choose to formula feed or supplement with formula. Babies thrive on formula, and it's important to remember that some babies don't thrive on breast milk.
Mine needed formula part time because I didn't make enough breast milk. Other babies have intolerances or allergies. Other babies can't transfer milk at the breast. If a mom decides to formula feed it's because that's what her baby needs.
"They Know That Formula Is Amazing"
We're lucky to live at a time when formula is specially formulated, nutritional, safe, readily available, highly regulated, and getting better every day. Formula is awesome.
"They Love Their Babies"
What moms feed their babies really has nothing to do with how much they love them or their ability to bond with them. In fact, a moms ability to make the choice to formula feed or supplement with formula when that is something she didn't plan or didn't want to do might just mean that she loves her baby more than her desire to breastfeed.
"It Doesn't Matter What They Feed Their Babies. Fed Is Best."
I used to think that admitting that formula was good meant that I was admitting that breast milk wasn't good. Now I know that that is a false dichotomy. They really have nothing to do with each other. Fed is best. As much as breastfeeding advocates want everyone to know how awesome breast milk is, they don't have to cut down formula or worse, formula feeding moms, to relay that message.
"They Are Succeeding, Not Failing"
No matter what you feed your baby, you are succeeding if they are growing and thriving. I have always hated the phrase, "lactation failure," because it implied that I had failed at something. In reality, choosing to supplement with formula and then to switch to formula full time was successfully feeding my babies.
"They Don't Have To Breastfeed, Or Even Try"
The person with breasts gets to decide if they want to breastfeed or try to breastfeed. Period. They don't have to try now or try next time.
"They Work Hard"
Being a mom is hard AF, no matter how you feed your babies. I constantly hear how amazing and selfless breastfeeding moms are. Let's give formula feeding moms some love, too. They work just as hard.
Remember: when you say that moms who formula feed are awesome you are literally not saying anything about moms who breastfeed. They can all be good at the same time.
Nothing. Literally, Just Say Nothing.
Maybe we can all try not saying anything at all about how families feed their babies? Just a thought. Not your circus, not your monkeys. It's really none of your business and unless a mom asks for your advice, it can really do a lot of harm at a time when a mom may feel vulnerable and when she might be making the best choice for her family, even if it's a different choice, than you made or would make.
I honestly believe that together we can change the way our society treats moms. We can end the mommy wars around infant feeding and realize that we are all in this together. In a few years our kids will be eating cereal off the floor and begging for screen time, and we'll have so many other things to worry about. It starts with you. Next time you see a formula-feeding mom, what will you say? Something nice, I hope.