There are multiple reasons why the seemingly endless "mommy wars" exist and so many complicated parenting choices that mothers tend to bash other mothers for. I would argue, however, that how you choose or end up successfully feeding your baby is the most contentious mommy war subject around. While there's no denying that women are shamed for unapologetically breastfeeding (especially in public without a cover ) mothers are also judged for formula feeding their babies, too, sometimes regardless of the reasons why formula feeding worked for them. It seems like, as a mom, no matter what you do, someone is going to tell you that you're doing it wrong.
I, for one, was able to successfully breastfeed my son for seven months, but during that time and after I stopped breastfeeding him, I formula fed him, too. I received awkward, judgmental looks when I breastfed my kid in public, but I received just as many awkward, judgmental looks when I prepared a bottle for my son in public. I could feel other people's assumptions bombard me as I popped a bottle in my son's mouth, unable (and mostly unwilling) to take the time to adequately explain to people why I chose to formula feed my kid. It was exhausting; it made me feel like I was failing as a mother; it made me hesitant to leave the house because, honestly, being a mom is tiring enough without having to deal with people assuming you're bad at it or lazy or ill-equipped for the job.
Which is why the "breast is best" movement, while I believe pure in its intentions, is fundamentally flawed. Breastfeeding isn't always what's best for women, or their babies, and that's made very obvious by the bravery of the following 18 women, the stories they're willing to share and the reasons why formula feeding their babies worked for them.
"I formula fed both my babies. I hemorrhaged with my oldest and couldn't produce milk. I tried for a few weeks but then decided that formula was the way to go for me. I also formula fed my youngest daughter, because I also had a 3 year old and I was just exhausted. My husband worked all the time and it was just the girls and I. I just felt like formula would be easier. They both turned out fine. Both babies were/are in the 95+ percentile and healthy and strong."
"I wanted so badly to breast feed my daughter because I didn't even try with my son, but it just did not work. I tried for weeks but she wouldn't latch on and when she did the milk would come out too fast and it would leave both of us crying on the couch. Once my postpartum depression and anxiety started to hit, my husband intervened and said that something had to give. I was spending all day crying trying to feed her whether it was continuously trying to get her to latch on and feed or pumping constantly. It broke my heart when we bought that first tub of formula but the happiness that came after she drank a full bottle and had a full tummy was amazing. My frustration was no longer there and I was at ease. I realized that our well being and happiness was more important than me trying to please the other people out there that are constantly saying 'breast is best'."
"I had no plans to breastfeed. When my son was born, he was taken straight to NICU for a 104 fever. I wasn't allowed to see him for 24 hours. Then he refused to eat. I asked if there was someone there that can help me breastfeed (since I had no plans, I didn't research) and they told me it's a holiday weekend, all breastfeeding nurses were out and I'd have to try on my own. I did. I couldn't tell if he was getting anything and the nurses were very against it because they had to measure what he was getting. So we started him on tiny formula bottles and he wound up only taking them from me."
"I ended up exclusively formula feeding my son after a few months. Because he was born so early, breastfeeding was very challenging for him and he would get too tired to get a real meal from me. Bottle feedings seemed to work better; it was easier for him to eat what he needed. I pumped for a while and fortified my breast milk with formula so he could gain weight, but after a few months, I switched to just formula."
"From the second [my son] was born, the doctor and nurses would push the issue on how 'breast is best.' I seriously wanted to pull my hair out, because no matter how many teas, lactation cookies and old wives tails I tried, I still couldn't get my supply up. I decided to formula feed when my son had lost too much weight at his next check up. That's when I decided that the health of my child mattered more to me than how society expected me to feed him."
"I was under the impression that breastfeeding would come naturally, and was incredibly frustrated when it didn't. I tried for three weeks, went to a lactation consultant, tried nipple guards, and basically cried in frustration. My daughter would not latch properly and this caused me a lot of pain every time I tried to feed her, to the point of me dreading every feeding session. During her second visit with the doctor, it was suggested that I supplement with formula because she wasn't meeting her weight requirements and it was felt she was not getting enough to eat. I started to supplement her feedings, which came as such a relief. I could get some down time while someone else took over her feeding for me. The week that followed I noticed my supply was running dangerously low because I was not trying to nurse as often. I decided that it was time to switch over to formula full time.
The decision had much more of an emotional impact than I was ready for. I felt like a failure, like I was the only woman who had ever had to give up breastfeeding because her body was not cooperating. After the initial sadness left, I settled in nicely to a new routine, which also included naps and breaks for mom while dad was able to take over some of the feedings. I feel like switching took a lot of stress of me and my baby, and in the end it was the best decision for our family. I would do it again in a heartbeat."
"I actually didn't wind up using formula on the regular until my son was about 6 months old. Nursing was going great, but pumping wasn't; I wasn't expressing enough to meet his needs. While I was at work, he would often need a bottle of formula after he'd finished everything I'd brought home the day before. I kept nursing him nights, mornings, and throughout the weekend: he was obviously getting enough during those sessions, but no matter what I tried (and I tried everything) my body just didn't respond well to a pump and my output was only 1/2 or less of what I needed if I wanted to give my son breast milk exclusively.
Eventually I thought 'pumping is for the birds' so I decreased my pumping sessions at work one by one until I stopped completely, around the time he was 10 months, at which point he would get formula while I was at work and I would nurse when we were together. We switched to cow's milk when he was 12 months and continued nursing until he was 17 months. It worked out so well for us. When my daughter came along I stayed home and exclusively breastfed for 21 months. Every baby and every situation is different: I regret absolutely nothing."
"My eldest two children both had a dairy intolerance and trying to breastfeed while cutting out dairy was extremely difficult. I lacked a good support system and knowledge about breastfeeding. I switched my son to formula at one month and my daughter at three months. Formula was so much easier and I knew that they were getting enough. They were both large babies and really continued to grow and develop well with formula. It worked for us. I was a stay-at-home mom then.
My youngest will be a year in a couple of weeks and we are still breastfeeding. It was extremely difficult to get to the point that we could breastfeed and then also to maintain it. There were many times we entertained the idea of formula. I have noticed some major differences between the two. Not bad though, just different. Like formula fed babies eat more in a feeding so feed less frequently than breastfed babies. I also think this plays into sleeping patterns. As far as development, honestly I see no difference. If you feed your child they will grow. If you teach them, they will learn. Formula feeding has many perks like less frequent night feedings, you don't have to pump at work, your baby doesn't use you as a pacifier when they don't feel good, and no biting.
Quite honestly if I did it all over again I wouldn't change it. I have not seen a great difference in immunity either. A lot of mothers get bagged on for formula feeding, and I have been there. It's not right. As a breastfeeding mother now, I do not feel superior towards formula feeding mothers and honestly hate all the arguing about it. I wish more mothers could encourage one another to do well by their children rather than judge them for how they nourish them."
"With my first, I insisted on strictly breastfeeding and that honestly went well for the first 4 months. Returning to work changed things. It was damn near impossible to incorporate pumping every four hours at my job. So, I eventually stopped nursing and went strictly to formula.
With my 2nd I, again, was determined to strictly breastfeed. Unfortunately, I think it only lasted a month. My 2nd was a preemie, I had a 4-year-old at home and very little support. I was stressed to the max between going to the hospital, trying to spend time with my toddler, pumping every 4 hours, etc. It became too overwhelming and I switched to formula. I felt really guilty for switching, but both of my girls adjusted well and both are very happy and healthy now."
"Formula feeding was the right choice for me and my twins not just because their pediatrician wanted them on a weight gaining formula (they were preemies) but also because it helped my partner and I establish our relationship to each other as parents. The boys had to be fed every two hours, doctor's orders. I could have breastfed them alone or pumped so my partner could feed them but instead we made bottles and fed them together every night all through the night. It was exhausting, but it made me feel like we were really in this together.
Beyond the benefits to my relationship, formula feeding made me a more confident mom. With all the worries I had about their healthy already, it was nice to know I didn't have to stress over how much breastmilk they were getting or keeping up my supply. It was just one less thing to worry about among all the other uncertainties of being a new parent."
"With my first, I had appendicitis and my son came prematurely. He was 33.5 weeks and, as a fetus, hadn't gotten to the point where they learn to coordinate how to "suck, swallow, and breathe". He also needed high calorie food, so he was placed on a preemie formula. Because of the emergency appendectomy, and premature delivery, my supply never came in, or so I thought.
Turns out, I have a condition called Insufficient Glandular Tissue, so my breasts simply cannot make enough milk to sustain a child. No matter how much pumping I do, oatmeal I eat, or fenugreek capsules I take, there simply isn't the required tissue to make breast milk. A fact that I recently learned with my second child."
"To be really honest, it wasn't a big deal either way. Nobody bashed another mom for her choice. I personally hated breastfeeding. It hurt, I didn't produce enough milk, my husband worked two jobs and his favorite part of the day was his quiet time rocking and feeding his kids. We could pack up in an instant and go anywhere without having to pump. We lived in Seattle [at the time] and both families were close by, so it was easy to have a grandparent babysit. I also had a c- section and didn't really recover 'right.' Five months later, I had basically another c-section for the removal of an ovarian cyst, that was the size of a grapefruit.
It truly wasn't something that people argued over endlessly or were smug about because a mom "could" or "couldn't" breastfeed."
"I was adamant on breastfeeding my son. Everyone always told me how much better it is and how formula has so many bad things a child shouldn't have. After about two months, I stopped producing milk and became,angry with myself that I couldn't feed my child the way I was 'supposed' to. I just had to go to formula. I went to my son's doctor, crying and asking what was the best formula to use. Of course, I tried the organic, most expensive formula around. My son's doctor said that was crazy and pointless, and that his growth and health were more than perfect and actually congratulated me on lasting as long as I did and trying my best. Bottom line, it wasn't by choice but, in all honestly, was so much easier and took so much stress off of me! And my son has above average intelligence for his age and is more than perfectly healthy. Actually, he has only had one cold, and that was while I was breastfeeding."
Ashley J., 33
"I was a new mom dead-set on breastfeeding. During pregnancy I went through a midwifery division of my hospital, rather than an OB, and was ready for the baby to pop out and just roll right over and start eating, as my midwife had so confidently taught. Except that he didn't pop right out, and try as he might, the eating wasn't happening either. This 'most natural thing in the world' was suddenly the most unnatural process for my son and I. The first week was a wash of tears of failure. My son had jaundice, and the only thing prescribed was nursing. He was awake every hour - sometimes every 45 minutes - to try eating; wailing, biting, and not getting enough milk. Appointment after appointment with the lactation consultants led to no improvement, and me attached to a breast pump and downing supplements to boost my supply. Except it didn't.
And there I was, a total failure with bruised and bleeding nipples who couldn't even nourish my own child. A checkup with his doctor brought me into a harsh reality: 'Your body doesn't make enough milk. Stop on the way home and get formula.' Heavy hearted, I did. Guess what? My baby ate. He drank long and deep, and for the first time fell asleep satisfied and happy. It still took me a while to come to terms with my 'failure,' but as my son's health improved and I saw the change in him, I accepted it. Today, at six months old, he's thriving and right on track. I'm always ready with both verbal guns loaded when I'm in the formula aisle of Target, just waiting for the 'breast is best' lecture. Maybe that's true, but I'll not hesitate to say that, for my kid and me, formula saved us and I'm not ashamed of that anymore."
"My oldest only nursed for maybe three months. I was 21, tired and a new mom. She didn't want to and I didn't force it. What happened? I got sleep. My (now ex) husband was able to feed her. My parents were able to feed. I was able to let her have her independence and bond with other members of her family.
With my second, I wanted to go longer, but I had a seizure shortly after he was born. Due to the medication I was on, nursing was no longer a choice. He ended up having terrible colic and lactose intolerant. My ex-husband was deployed so I depended very heavily on my family to help me. Formula was a godsend, between my medical issues and his, it was all hands on deck. Breast is best, but only if it's best for you. I wouldn't have made it through those tough months without my family able to feed, or take my medicine knowing it wasn't going to hurt my baby."
"My first child would not latch for the life of me. I tried everything. She was so tiny and was not getting what she needed, so during that time she was getting formula, but I tried every 30 minutes to get her on the boob everyday for a couple of months and we just had no luck.
My second child was breastfed; she came out sucking and ready for the boob. As a matter of fact she cluster fed the first 38 hours after she was born. We had no issues until depression set in. I started looking at my life and it revolved around pumping and feeding. I felt gross all the time and I went from a super busy person to a milking cow. I hated my life. I wasn't the mom who felt connected with my child while breastfeeding, because I was so uncomfortable while feeding. I would cry because I wasn't blest with perky boobs; I have boulders and I had to always sit to feed. When my oldest wanted to play, I couldn't because her sister was always on the boob. One day I started bleeding bad from my nipples while feeding and decided to just stop. I didn't have any energy, depression was setting in to where there were times I didn't want to get out of bed, and I wasn't able to be number one mom to both of my girls.
They are beautiful healthy kids and honestly I wouldn't of changed it. Because, in the end, I had to do what was best for me at that time, to be number one mom for my girls."
"I chose to formula feed because it is much more convenient and I don't believe the whole "breast is best" thing. My mom never breastfed any of her four kids and we are all perfectly healthy, never had health problems as babies or as children, nor do any of us have any sort of allergies, illnesses, etc.
I was working full time up until I delivered and until my daughter was eight months old. I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep up breastfeeding and pumping with my schedule. Formula was perfect for me and my fiancé because he was able to get up with her and feed her in the night as well as being able to have sleepovers at her nana and papa's on a whim (not having to prepare and pump enough milk before hand). I feel that my fiancé also got to bond with our daughter the same way I was, while feeding her. Plus, I always knew how much she was eating because I can see the ounces on the bottle as opposed to not being able to tell how much they're eating when it's not in a bottle. It's nice to know she's getting full and on the flip side to know she's not over eating! She's been sleeping through the night in her own crib since she was 3 weeks old and it's been amazing! Overall, I feel that moms do enough as it is and sometimes we should let the dads take some of that burden off. Formula worked out great for us; it's nice to be able to make a bottle anywhere you are and not have to be discreet about it. It was also nice to be able to get breaks when I needed it without having to plan ahead of time. I think it's really important to take care of yourself and get your "me time" in when you can!"
"My twins were born 15 weeks early, so I had to pump breastmilk for a very long time before they could actually breastfeed. But pumping is hard (and it sucks) and I really struggled to keep my supply up. In our NICU, the really young babies get donor milk if mom's supply isn't enough (it's protective against a potentially-fatal complication called Necrotizing Enterocolotis), but after a certain point, they had to be supplemented with formula. That was hard for me, but I wasn't making enough milk, so it was either that, or they would die and starve.
I look back now and wish I hadn't bothered worrying about it though, because once they came home, my son had developed a milk allergy and needed special formula (so breastfeeding was pretty much out, and he was 100% formula-fed), and I switched my daughter over to 100% formula too, because she'd had brain surgery and found it hard to breastfeed after that. Literally as soon as we made the choice to switch them over, it was like, "Why was I so broken up about this?!" They were eating, they were growing, we were able to know exactly how much they were getting. It also meant that they could be fed by anyone, which is really helpful, especially when you have more than one baby.
Honestly, I am totally in favor of breastfeeding if that's what's right for the mom and the family, but I think it's unfortunate that there is this shame associated to formula feeding, like it's some kind of personal parenting failure. If I'd tried to still pump or breastfeed just for the sake of giving them breastmilk, I would have been tired, stressed out, carrying this burden of formula-induced misery, and it wouldn't have been helpful to anyone. So now, whenever friends get pregnant for the first time, my advice is just 'feed your kid.' Doesn't matter how. As long as they're eating, you're doing it right."