Too often women who don't breastfeed, whether by choice or because they physically and emotionally can't, are pegged as being less committed to motherhood than women who do and can breastfeed their children. I know this personally because I am one of those women. I was made to feel less than because I formula fed my kids, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that formula feeding doesn't make you a bad mom. It's not indicitive of how you'll parent in the future or how much you love your kid or how much you'll sacrifice to make sure your kid is happy and healthy.
Shortly after my first son was born, I started to show signs of postpartum depression. At first I ignored them, thinking that I could just equate my emotions to being exhausted and being stressed and, well, being a new parent. I continued to breastfeed him until he was eight weeks old, but it was a major struggle. It became harder and harder for me to keep up with my son's feedings, and the more he wanted to eat, the more frustrated and emotional I became. At a certain point, I realized that my feelings weren't just a result of the baby blues or exhaustion; they were darker and more extreme than just fleeting moments of sadness. I knew that I wasn't myself, so I made an appointment to see me doctor.
During my visit, my doctor told me that she believed I was suffering from postpartum depression, and she recommended that I start taking anti-depressants. I was still breastfeeding at the time, but she told me that my baby needed a mother that felt okay more than he needed to be breastfed. I took her advice and started introducing my son to formula. Just quitting breastfeeding alone allowed me to start feeling like myself again, and a few weeks later I felt like I was finally able to enjoy motherhood.
Although I felt the inevitable guilt that our society tells us we should feel if we don't give our children what's "best," that guilt paled in comparison to the weight I felt lifted from my shoulders once I started feeding my son formula. I realized that what someone else tells me is the "best" way to be a mother doesn't matter; it's doing what I feel is best for my family that makes me a good mom, and formula feeding doesn't make me, or anyone else for that matter, any less of a mother.
Breast Isn't Best For Everyone
The saying "breast is best" just needs to go away. For starters, it makes women that don't breastfeed feel like they're giving their children a subpar product, like they're somehow mistreating their children by feeding them formula, which couldn't be farther from the truth. Some women are unable to breastfeed (and some women choose not to, but I'll get to that later), and constantly burdening them with unnecessary guilt and making them feel like their children are missing out on what's "best," can be painfully discouraging for a new mom.
Feeding children shouldn't be a competitive platform, so we need to stop saying that something is the "best" when it's actually only "best" for some people. We're not handing out trophies here, we're feeding babies, so let's just stop labeling things "best" all together.
Formula Is Beneficial
The amazing benefits of breastfeeding are indisputable, sure, but there are many benefits to feeding a baby formula, too. Formula is packed full of vitamins and nutrients that your baby needs to grow and develop, and it is the best possible alternative to breastfeeding. Not only does formula offer most of the same health benefits of breastfeeding, but it also offers moms the chance to take a break sometimes, which we all definitely need.
Babies have been thriving on formula for decades before this debate ever began, and women weren't sorry about it then, so you shouldn't be either. Don't ever feel like you should apologize for formula feeding your baby.
Sometimes You Need To Take Care Of Yourself, Too
With my first son, I needed to seek treatment for my postpartum depression, but with my second son, I didn't breastfeed long because I just needed some time to myself, and I'm not sorry about that. I was at home all day with a teething 15-month-old and a newborn that had spent some time in the NICU; to say I was overwhelmed would be an incredible understatement. They were on opposite sleeping schedules, so sleeping wasn't really even an option for me. I had no shame in calling a friend or family member to come over for an hour or so while I took a shower or a nap. Since I was formula feeding, I was able to get a few minutes to myself on occasion so that I could gather my sanity and remind myself of how much I loved my kids, instead of stewing over how much I resented them from robbing me of anything that remotely resembled sleep or personal space. Sometimes you just have to put yourself first; it's not just good for you, it's good for everyone, and it does not make you a bad mother.
Formula Feeding Gives Your Partner An Opportunity To Participate In The Feedings
When you're breastfeeding exclusively, it can be hard for your partner to feel important or needed, since you're taking on the entire responsibility of your child's nutritional needs. But when you formula feed, you have the unique opportunity to share feedings with your partner. This helps your baby and partner bond, and it gives you a much needed break. No shame in this game.
Breastfeeding Is Your Choice, Not Someone Else's
Breastfeeding isn't always an option for everyone, but for many women it is a choice. There are many reasons why a woman might choose not to breastfeed, all of which are personal to her. Why a woman chooses to formula feed shouldn't be anyone else's concern. Maybe she has to return to work immediately and doesn't want to pump during her break, maybe she is taking medications that prohibit breastfeeding, or maybe she just wants to be able to drink a glass of wine at the end of a long day taking care of her baby and dodging judgmental assumptions from a society that thinks they know what she should do with her own body. There's a lot of different ways to be a good mother, and they don't all involve breastfeeding.
Your Baby Just Wants To Be Fed
I promise you that your baby isn't judging your decision to feed him or her formula. Babies just want to be fed; they just want full tummies and to be in their mama's arms. Anyone else's opinions have very little value (read: none) in this scenario, so don't stress on the expectations of others; they're not the ones waking you up at 3 AM because they're hungry.
Sometimes It's Actually Better For Your Baby's Health
In certain situations, feeding a baby formula is actually more beneficial to them than breastfeeding. If your baby is having trouble gaining weight, or if they've developed certain allergies or aversions, feeding them formula could actually be better for their health. When babies need to gain weight, bottle-feeding them allows you to measure exactly how much they're eating, which is a valuable tool in helping them thrive if they're struggling to do so. Other times, babies may not tolerate what's in their mother's milk well, so if a woman didn't want to abide by a strict diet, she could opt to formula feed instead. Either way, it's possible that formula can be more beneficial to some babies than breastfeeding might be.
You Still Support Moms Who Breastfeed
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but aren't we all a part of the same village? Don't we all have the same goals in mind for our children? Part of being a good mother isn't just providing nutrition for your child, but also supporting other moms that are trying to do the same, no matter how they go about it. Fed babies are the best babies; whether they're fed by the breast or the bottle has no impact on how amazing we, as their mothers, are capable of being.