I'm a formula mom by default, but I'm a staunch advocate for formula. As such, it's safe to say I'm a fierce defender of a woman's right to choose formula without a single judgment about her reasons for making that choice. However, that doesn't mean that when I was first feeding my daughter, I didn't feel constant eyes on me as I mixed up powder into bottles, wondering if I was being judged. So, through experience and for better or worse, I know there's one thing you can say to that mom using formula that will make her feel less alone, less judged, and less like she's "failing" as a new mother to that precious baby. That one thing? Well, it's simple: you don't say anything at all.
That's right, if you really wan to make sure that formula feeding mom doesn't feel alone, don't act like what she's doing is somehow "wrong" or "different" or worthy of an extensive amount of commentary. Simply go about your business because, rest assured, she needs and wants and deserves to go about hers. If you don't say anything at all, that formula feeding mom won't feel like she has to constantly defend her decision.
So instead of questioning that mom with the bottle, allay the fears that are lurking down a little deeper. Tell her what an incredible bond she has with her baby.
Somewhere along the way, we've demonized formula so much that even I, an adoptive mom with six hours notice of our baby arriving, felt shame that I should have figured out some way to breastfeed my child.
With more notice, I could have chosen to take hormones to produce milk so that I could have breastfed my daughter. However, and to be honest, it never once crossed my mind because it never seemed necessary. Through five years of infertility, I knew that if I could have a biological child I would try to breastfeed, and if I couldn't or didn't feel comfortable, I would use formula without so much as a second thought.
If you don't say anything at all, that formula feeding mom won't feel like she has to constantly defend her decision.
Unfortunately, there's no way to stop thinking about whether formula is OK for my baby when the phrase that rung in my ears until we retired her bottles was, "breast is best, breast is best."
All that to say, if you feel tempted to say something to a mom who is using formula to feed her baby, I'd ask you to think first about what is already going through that mom's head. Maybe she's not thinking about her formula feeding decision and just trying to have a nice afternoon with her baby. Maybe she's an adoptive mom. Maybe she's a foster mom. Maybe breastfeeding was too painful and while she tried, she chose to prioritize her own sanity knowing that formula is healthy and safe for her child. Maybe she took that bottle out to mix up formula knowing that someone was probably judging her decision to use formula and is already feeling the guilt and shame of that decision.
So once you consider what's already in that mom's head, I'd like to ask you to say one thing: nothing. Just don't say anything at all about formula or feeding or reference your own breastfeeding bonding experience.
Instead, tell her that her baby is beautiful. Tell her that her baby looks peaceful and happy. That is what a formula feeding mom needs to hear from a stranger when she's out in public. She doesn't need to be reminded that someone even noticed she was formula feeding on a park bench. She's probably already worried that's happening without you bringing it up, so that it can live fresh in the front of her mind all afternoon.
In private, if you have a friend who has chosen to formula feed, don't ask about her reasons unless she feels comfortable bringing it up. It's a personal and private decision that every woman should have the right to make for herself and her baby.
So once you consider what's already in that mom's head, I'd like to ask you to say one thing: nothing.
When my daughter was very little, just a few days old, a friend commented that she could see my daughter was already bonding with me from the way she responded when I fed her. It was the single most reassuring thing anyone could have said to me in those first days, when I was constantly concerned that my daughter would bond to me.
So instead of questioning that mom with the bottle, allay the fears that are lurking down a little deeper. Tell her what an incredible bond she has with her baby. Tell her you can see how much her baby loves her by the look he gives her when she's feeding him. Or, of course, don't say anything at all.
Because it is the same look, whether you're feeding a baby with a bottle or with your own breast. That look of love and affection and adoration is just the same.