I never planned to be a formula-feeding mom. In fact, I planned to breastfeed exclusively and pump when I went back to work. Then, well, life happened. Like a lot of moms, I didn't make enough breast milk, pumping at work was impossibly hard, and my babies ended up needing formula to thrive. At first I was embarrassed, but after feeding three babies both breast milk and formula I've developed a pretty thick skin. Which is good, because there are so many horrible things people say when you're formula-feeding. Like, to your face.
I wasn't always so fearless about formula-feeding, though. In fact, when I had to give my daughter formula I was a damn mess. She was hospitalized for jaundice and dehydration, which made me feel like I had failed her for not making enough breast milk. Then, to make matters worse, my friends thought it was a good idea to tell me she was more likely to be obese, or even die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), because I fed her formula. Like, even if the research about breast milk reducing risk of these things happening was conclusive (which it's not), saying these things to a formula-feeding mom is just awful.
Most of the negative comments I endured were about me, though. People told me how selfish and lazy I was, and assumed that I used formula to get more sleep or to take a break (as if taking care of yourself is somehow an affront to your abilities as a parent). Formula-feeding was no walk in the park, though, as any mom who has washed bottles at 2:00 a.m. can tell you. But breastfeeding, for me, was exhausting, painful, time-consuming, and not great for my mental health. Ultimately, formula-feeding ended up being awesome for me and my babies — a fact I like to remind people when they say things like the following:
"I Hope That's Breast Milk In That Bottle"
I honestly don't understand why people think they have a right to know what someone is feeding their baby. It's none of your business. And assuming that it's breast milk in the bottle I'm holding implies that formula is not good for babies, which is absolutely not true.
"Formula Is Like Fast Food"
My friend had no idea that I was formula-feeding my son when she said, "Yeah, formula is the bare minimum, but it's not healthy. That's like comparing a salad to McDonald's french fries." Um, no. Formula was created by scientists to be as nutritionally close to human milk as possible. As an added bonus, it's heavily regulated, held to rigorous nutritional and safety standards, and there are options for babies with different dietary and health needs. Formula rules.
"You Must Not Love Your Baby"
At the time, I really had no words in response to this comment. Now, I just stare at them or say something like, "How dare you?" A mother's love is not measured in ounces of breast milk or indicated by how they nourish their baby.
"Breast Is Best"
I can think of countless scenarios that prove breast is not always best, including but certainly not limited to: if someone doesn't make enough breast milk, if they adopted or are fostering their baby, if their baby doesn't thrive, or if they don't want to use their body to feed their baby. Breast is best for some families, but formula is best for some families, too.
I think people forget that just because health authorities recommend breastfeeding as a healthy way to feed babies, doesn't mean that breastfeeding is the best way to feed all babies. And I say this as someone who loved breastfeeding, helps other parents navigate breastfeeding challenges, and advocates for breastfeeding policies. Fed is best.
"You Didn't Try Hard Enough"
More often than not, if I told someone I was formula-feeding my baby, they would tell me I didn't try hard enough. This comment broke me. I felt both compelled to tell them everything I went through to try to breastfeed, including breastfeeding every two hours, pumping, using a supplemental nursing system, taking herbal supplements, eating any food reputed to increase supply, and taking expensive prescription drugs. I tried damn hard to breastfeed, and making me feel otherwise is horribly cruel.
And you know what? Even if I didn't "try" to breastfeed, that shouldn't matter. What I decide to do, or not do, with my body is entirely up to me.
"You Can Try Again Next Time"
Then there were the people, like my co-worker, who told me that I could always "try again next time." It seemed like she both assumed that I was going to have more children, then implied that I should default to breastfeeding because I had already ruined the one I had by feeding her formula.
We seem to have this misconception in our culture that to be a good mother you have to sacrifice everything. So, we try so hard to be perfect and live up to other people's expectations that we often forget to take care of ourselves. Maybe if more moms were "selfish" about things like getting enough sleep and taking a break once in a while, fewer of us would feel overwhelmed and broken. Just a thought.
Being a new parent is hard. Period. When you think about it, formula-feeding moms do everything breastfeeding moms do, save for breastfeeding. They also have to put up with comments like this. None of it is easy, at least not all of the time. So yeah, we've got to stop calling moms lazy.
"That Will Hurt Your Baby"
Formula is food — safe and healthy food. Reciting the benefits of breast milk or the supposed "dangers" of formula to a formula-feeding mom is unnecessary, unkind, and most of the time, completely untrue.
"Have You Tried Re-Lactating?"
The other day an acquaintance of mine posted a note online that someone had slipped her at church. The person had seen her bottle-feeding her child and wanted to offer her services as a lactation consultant to help her re-induce lactation. I was appalled, but not surprised.
People tried to offer me similar advice when my kids were babies. It's so presumptive to assume that someone wants to breastfeed, and even more so, to assume that they are not OK with their choice to formula-feed and, as a result, want to go through the arduous process of induced lactation. Can't people just leave moms alone while they feed their babies?
"Is Your Husband OK With You Not Breastfeeding?"
I tell these people the same thing I would tell my husband if he asked: If my husband wanted our babies to be breastfed, he could go through the physical process of inducing lactation. Otherwise, he doesn't get a say. It's my body.
"You Are A Bad Mom"
This was the worst for me, because, honestly, after breastfeeding didn't work out the first time I totally thought I really was a bad mom. I've since learned, however and after nine years of parenting, that breastfeeding is such a small part of the equation. No matter what you feed your baby, or why you made that choice, most moms are doing the best they can.
"Why Did You Even Have Kids If You Weren't Willing To Breastfeed Them?"
When people say this to me, they imply that the ability to breastfeed is what makes someone a parent, which is ableist, sexist, and factually incorrect. They also dismiss all the other ways that families are formed and people become parents, which have nothing to do with a physical ability to lactate. Literally nothing.