Guest Post: Breastfeeding Advocacy vs Formula Bashing

Guys, I cannot apologize enough for my lack of blog-responsibility as of late. I know there have been some major events in the infant feeding debate lately… a few studies, the Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Breastfeeding, some fallout on Joan Wolf’s book… I am currently in colic hell, and I just can’t find the time or brain power to blog right now. But I will be back – colic ends at some point, right?

In the meantime, I asked Devon over at if I could reprint this post here as a guest blog. I love how she is encouraging her fellow breastfeeding advocates to inspire and help rather than patronize and judge. I wanted to post this here because it’s easy for us to forget that there are wonderful women like Devon (and others who have visited this blog in the past and offered support or interesting, non-judgmental points of view) who fall under the label “lactivist” – I don’t ever want to make the mistake of lumping all breastfeeding advocates into one negative, stereotyped group. The history of breastfeeding advocacy is rooted in empowerment for all women, and while some folks out there seem to have a misguided interpretation of what that means, others are truly “in it” for beautiful reasons, and I want to applaud them for that. For all the women who want to breastfeed and need help, advice, and encouragement, I am grateful that there are people like Devon out there in the blogosphere.

Breastfeeding Advocacy vs Formula Bashing
If you ever want to see my panties get into a bind there is an easy way to do it. Call yourself a breastfeeding advocate or ‘lactavist’ but spend most of your “education and informational” time bashing formula and women who use it.
We know my stance on the  marketing of formula and the companies themselves. Something really needs to change in THAT aspect, but you wont ever read me bashing formula itself and will for sure NEVER see me refer to it as poison or cast judgments on women who need to OR choose to use formula. 
Breast is ideal. Nothing manufactured can come close to breast milk. It is incredible. It is however sometimes not possible for women or babies for many reasons that are really our none of our business.  What is our business is to be an advocate for the rights of breastfeeding women and families, to protect our rights to feed our children and to not have our confidence undermined or to battle against Booby Traps.  To be there for women struggling and confused and to promote correct information about breastfeeding.
Support – NOT fear mongering – is what breastfeeding advocacy and lactivism is about.
In a perfect world there would be no need for formula. Women would not have their confidence undermined or be thrown judgments. Doctors, hospitals and families would be armed with the correct information about breastfeeding and be supportive.  There would be milk banks in every city that is affordable, covered under insurance and never at danger of closing.  There would be no such thing as galactosemia, casein intolerance, latch problems, every work place would be supportive in breastfeeding, women would have adequate maternal leave and women wouldn’t have to choose between breastfeeding and taking a non compatible medication to save their life. Breastfeeding would come easy to everyone and no one would be looked at when breastfeeding in public or asked to leave or cover up.
We do not live in this world. It would be amazing  – but we don’t.

If you hate formula and think it is evil and poison and should be banned – take a look at your life. Did you ever have to struggle at breastfeeding? Did it come easy to you with no booby traps and tons of support? Are you healthy and don’t have to choose between breastfeeding and your life? Do you have to be separated from your child? Are you able to afford and have access to breast pumps or milk banks?  I can bet I know the answers to these questions…
Fear mongering and scare tactics are not conducive to POSITIVE lactivism. 

Think about who needs your help the most? Is it the woman who has all the support in the world and none of those barriers? Is it the woman who is fully aware of the barriers and has all the support to overcome them? NO. It is the woman who has no support, is surrounded by barriers and difficult issues who’s confidence is undermined.
If you ever want to see change you need to be approachable. No one is going to “listen to your message” if it is full of hate and judgment and fear mongering. Calling formula “poison” shuts that communication down completely – bashing women who use formula shuts the communication down completely. 
If you spend most of your time bashing FORMULA (not their marketing); the women who use it (without EVER taking the time to listen to THEIR story) you are NOT a breastfeeding advocate. You make life harder for those who are BREASTFEEDING advocates.  
Educate yourself not only on the ‘dangers’ and inferiority of formula but on the barriers of breastfeeding. Listen to stories and stop the judgments. Be thankful if you did not have any barriers.  Think about who your message is intended for.  Are you trying to promote change or rally with the other ‘formula bashers’.  Which is more conductive to your time?


Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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10 thoughts on “Guest Post: Breastfeeding Advocacy vs Formula Bashing

  1. Thank you very much for this post. It is great to hear from a breastfeeding advocate that we are not poisoning our babies. The point you make about those with fewer barriers judging those who have unsurmountable barriers is so true. So many of my bloggy friends who were able to breastfeed for more than a year complained of oversupply, leaking, and the pain of their milk drying up, when I never had any of that – my breasts just stopped making milk, it was as if they had been trying so hard for so long and just gave up when I left them alone and switched to formula.

    For Baby #2 I plan to combine breastfeeding and formula in the hopes that I can breastfeed longer. I hope that I find the breastfeeding community more amenable to this than I felt they were when I had to switch entirely to formula last time.

  2. FFF, this may not help you, but our son's colic decreased dramatically when we started adding just one or two drops (well below the dosage) of anti-gass drops to each bottle before we shook it. The bubbles pop easily with just a tiny bit of the anti-gas drops added, because the chemical functions to lower surface tension. We found that this method gave him a lot less medicine and was more effective than dosing him separately with gas drops. Just thought I'd share, in case it helps. Hang in there!

    Devon, Thank you for taking a reasoned approach. Formula is life saving for the families who use it, so it's really great to hear someone say “enough” to calling it poison. I have to spend over $100/month to maintain a milk supply, not counting the money we spend on formula to round out the baby's feedings. I consider myself well-supported. But really? $100 a month! Plus formula? That's way beyond what most people can afford. I am glad that folks like you are out there, advocating for real, affordable breastfeeding support for all. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for this!

    My daughter lost so much weight after birth that we ended up back in the hospital with her. It turns out that I have insufficient glandular tissue. A weighed feed showed that my daughter wasn't even getting an ounce from me after an hour of feeding.

    Formula literally saved my daughter's life. I support breastfeeding mothers, but above that I support every mother's right to make the feeding choices that are best for her family without having to defend her decisions.

  4. I really appreciate seeing an essay like this from a breastfeeding advocate. If they all thought this way, then we'd have that situation in FFF's previous guest post: women supporting other women regardless of different choices. At least where infant feeding is concerned. I suppose we'd still berate each other for other parenting choices.

  5. If you hate formula and think it is evil and poison and should be banned – take a look at your life. …

    I would go so far as to suggest that if one believes that formula is poisoned and has not taken the step to donate significant milk supplies, then the proverbial pie hole should remain tightly shut. Not only have these women probably not faced great difficulties, but they've probably done little to assist others who do.

  6. Devan- I would love the safety of milk banks to be addressed. While I appreciate that a person may be comfortable taking a breastmilk-safe med and giving to their child, as someone who might need the milk bank, I would want that disclosed. Not to mention the possibility of infectious diseases passing through BM. I hate to beat the milk bank safety drum again, but I really don't think anyone talks about this. And that concerns me, a lot!

  7. How each woman feeds her baby is her decision for her family and nobody else's business. We need more advocates that promote breastfeeding while being careful not to vilify formula feeders!

  8. Thanks so much for this. We recently switched the kind of formula we buy from liquid concentrate to powder – my daughter seems to like it just fine the the smell of the powdered stuff is killing me, but we just can't afford the liquid concentrate anymore – and I just really wish that bfing had worked out for us – but I, like Shelley, had insufficient glandular tissue and that coupled with scary bilirubin levels that needed a WEEK of light therapy thwarted my efforts to keep supply up – and try as I might to pump, it just didn't work. Luckily, my public health nurse who is a strong supporter of bfing is like Devon and was kind and generous as we both realized that my baby would get most of her nutrition from formula.

  9. It's unfortunate that such a positive message as this post has links to the scare-site on “Booby Traps” that says, among other things:

    “the smiling babies, the misleading claims, the false portrayal of health and vitality even though your rational mind, and health professionals and experts all over the world know very well that formula-fed babies, and their moms, are actually at greater risk for a host of complications, disease and infection.”

    What kind of positive message says that my rational mind should be telling me that giving my baby formula is going to lead to disease? That site is exactly the kind of negative message that continues to make me feel guilty that I'm combo-feeding my baby after a long and arduous attempt to exclusively breastfeed.

  10. Brooke can you specify which “infectious” diseases you are speaking of & why you think milk banks do not test for these? I know you think you are beating a proverbial drum, but that is a dead horse sister. That milk is tested. Now direct milkshare is a different thing as it is unregulated…and even then most mommas do look at health tests for eachother, etc.

    To Devon – I really don't get this: “Did you ever have to struggle at breastfeeding? Did it come easy to you with no booby traps and tons of support? Are you healthy and don't have to choose between breastfeeding and your life? Do you have to be separated from your child? Are you able to afford and have access to breast pumps or milk banks? I can bet I know the answers to these questions…”

    Actually short of “choosing between breastfeeding & your life” (and I frankly would like you to clarify what you mean & why it has to be so dramatic) – I can answer yes to all the hard ones & no to the others (Like affording a pump – I got one – whether I could afford it at the time is another issue entirely – and in the US WIC offers free pumps to BFing moms on lease). I think if we want to narrow the divide we ALSO have to quit assuming that every mom that BFds had it easy. Did some? Sure – I have ONE friend who had it easy. ONE. The rest had a tough time & most had all of what you listed including bad latch (cracks & bleeding included), low supply, thrush, mastitis, clogged ducts, etc, etc. We have many BFing issues in this country almost universally because we have lost so much knowledge on how to avoid them. MANY well meaning friends & family who did not make it through offer advice (I got tons of it) and many time sit is misinformation that may have been the very thing that sabotaged them & they don't even realize it, etc, etc. I allll for closing the divide. I do NOT think formula is evil 9although I think the companies are – but I also think big agra is evil as well & many more huge industries). I think assumptions and sweeping ideas on either side are exactly the way you create the chasm, not close it.

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