Formula was never part of my plans, so I felt cheated by my undersupply. However, now that I've seen my babies thrive on formula, I seriously love it. Unfortunately, I've experienced all kinds of shaming for formula feeding from other moms, from subtle comments about "breast is best" or that I need more "education" or "support," to saying I don't love my babies enough. How do you even respond to that? I had no idea. Since then, however, I've thought up some great ways to respond to moms who shame you for formula feeding. I wish I could go back in time and share them with my past self, because it would have been so satisfying (and better than crying).
The first time I felt shamed for formula feeding, the comments weren't even directed at me. I was at a party with my newborn, and some of my friends were gossiping about another new mom who let her husband give their baby a bottle at night so she could get more sleep, which, apparently was the worst thing imaginable. They called her selfish and ignorant. "After all," they said, "didn't she know she was going to ruin her supply?" As if a woman's breast milk supply is the most important part about being a mom. They wondered if one of them should tell her. In that moment, I started to defend her, then I bit my tongue instead. They didn't know that I had to supplement with formula. When my daughter was hungry, I was so ashamed that I hid in the bathroom to feed her. Yep, I fed my baby in a freaking bathroom.
I am now a more confident mom than I was back then. I know what I am doing (or at least I look like I know what I am doing), and I stand up for myself and other parents. I don't let other moms get away with formula shaming, because it's honestly none of their business how people feed their babies, it's unnecessary, and it's unkind. Read on for a few responses for formula haters, and feel free to use one the next time someone shames you. Fed is best and I support you.
"It's None Of Your Business"
It's not their business how other people feed their babies. Besides, while there are literally thousands of reasons why formula might be the best choice for that family, a mom doesn't owe anyone else an explanation.
"What Did You Say?"
Seriously? What gives you the right to judge me? Is what you are saying kind, true, or necessary? I can guarantee that it's not. Just don't. Stop. Shhhh.
"I Feel Sorry For You"
I feel legitimately sad when I learn that someone's self-worth comes from feelings of superiority about their parenting choices. Why are they so obsessed with my ability to lactate or how I feed my baby? It's just so weird and sad to judge other people about this particular choice (or any parenting choice that doesn't harm a child for that matter).
"Wow, That Was Super Inappropriate"
This is the way I should have responded to the person who suggested I hadn't tried hard enough to breastfeed my daughter. My daughter nearly died. I nearly died. Died. That person literally had no idea how their shaming impacts others or the consequences of their actions. Shaming formula feeding moms is the worst kind of bullying, and at a time when a new mom needs support. Super inappropriate.
"I Clearly Don't Love My Baby"
OK, I admit, I am being snarky. What a parent feeds their baby has literally nothing to do with how much they love them. You don't know anything about me, our challenges, the reasons for my choices, or what life is like in my shoes. Besides, what if I am an adoptive or foster parent, a single dad, a sexual assault survivor, transgender, physically unable to breastfeed, or have a sick baby who needs formula to survive. Feeding my babies formula is one way I love and nourish them.
"Really? I've Never Heard 'Breast Is Best' Before."
"I Made The Right Choice For My Family."
That's right. I made a choice to use formula, first because I had to, and then because I wanted to. No one gets to make a choice about how I use my body, but me. Even if you think breastfeeding is the best thing ever for you, how dare you tell me that it is best for me? That is seriously anti-feminist. A person's right to bodily autonomy doesn't end when they have a child.
"I Chose Formula, Because..."
Sometimes I tell my story, even though I don't owe anyone an explanation. I tell them about how I struggled with undersupply and postpartum depression, and I tell them how my babies were sick and how formula literally saved their lives, and quite possibly mine, too. I hope that hearing stories like mine help people have a bit more empathy for other parents and can help them resist the urge to comment when they see a formula-feeding parent.
Give Them The Side Eye
Sometimes, the best response is no response at all. I have some serious side eyes for anyone who shames me or another parent for formula feeding.
"Shame On You"
We have got to stop shaming other parents for their parenting choices. Seriously. If you love breastfeeding and your baby is thriving, I support you. If your baby needs one bottle of formula at the hospital to avoid jaundice or fill their tiny, hungry tummy, I support you. If you choose to formula feed your baby exclusively from the start, I support you. No one should be shamed for how they feed their babies.
"Fed Is Best"
Recently, when I responded this way, the formula-shaming mom said matter-of-factly, "Breast is best, fed is minimum." What a freaking privileged thing to say. I have lived and worked in communities both in the developing world and the United States. I have met moms who fed their babies watered-down formula, condensed milk, cow's milk, and even plain water when they didn't make enough breast milk and couldn't afford or access safe alternatives. My own baby starved for five days, because I didn't know I wasn't making enough breast milk and was ashamed to supplement with formula.
Formula is amazing, and no matter how strongly you feel about breastfeeding, formula is best for some families. We are all just trying to do our best to raise happy, healthy kids, and no one deserves to be shamed for feeding and nourishing their babies. #fedisbest