Breastfeeding is worth it

The lovely Ashley Poland over at Domestic Chaos recently mentioned this blog as “a good resource for mothers.” This was incredibly sweet of her, especially considering that Ashley is a (wonderful, positive) breastfeeding advocate. In her description of FFF, she also admits that “it’s hard sometimes to read the entries. As someone who would love to see more people interesting in and trying breastfeeding, I occasionally interpret the attitude is Breastfeeding is useless.”

This comment stopped me in my tracks. If this was someone who just performed a cursory reading of the blog, it would be one thing. But Ashley is a loyal reader, one with an incredible level of intelligence, sensitivity, and self-awareness. If she is getting that impression, then I think it’s safe to say that I am (however unintentionally) giving that impression.

I spend my days attempting to prove that formula feeding is a safe option for parents, that the claims about breastfeeding are often misinterpreted, and that our ideas about infant feeding are (unconsciously or consciously) stuck in the mire of nostalgic, and ultimately limiting, ideas about women and motherhood. I care most about women who’ve been abused by the system, and harmed by the breastfeeding rhetoric, having those precious first day/weeks/months of motherhood stolen from them by a tornado of judgment, fear and expectation. I don’t really care about promoting breastfeeding, because I feel like that’s being done – and done to such an extent that it’s harming parents and sometimes even children, and allowing our society to put responsibility for the health of the nation onto the already overloaded shoulders of women.

But do I think that breastfeeding is useless? Hell no. 

Actually, I would tell any prospective mother who is on the fence about how to feed her child to give breastfeeding a fair, educated, eyes-wide-open, and optimistic shot. Because all things being equal, formula feeding SUCKS. It’s inconvenient. It’s messy. It’s expensive. It’s confusing. And choosing to formula feed pretty much guarantees you a lifetime of explaining yourself; feeling judged; and questioning your dedication to motherhood (not that I condone any of these things – they are exactly what I’m trying to destroy through this blog – but this is the reality, at least for now).

I was thinking about this the other day, as a few of my good friends are adding solids to their breastfeeding babes’ diets. One mentioned how inconvenient and annoying solids could be – remembering to bring food along on outings, etc. I was confused for a minute, until I realized that duh, this woman was used to being able to walk out the door anytime and have food readily available for her son. As long as she was there, he could be fed. Awesome. Who in her right mind would chose a path requiring sticky, expensive powder, and a feeding method which requires bottle-washing, wondering about the right kinds of water, comparison shopping and trying a zillion formulas and bottles before finding the right one for your kid – when the other choice simply requires holding a warm, delicious baby near your naked chest? All things being equal, breastfeeding is not useless; breastfeeding is by far the easier, more rewarding choice.

But all things are not equal, for many women. The reason I feel so strongly about protecting formula as a choice is because I feel so strongly that breastfeeding rocks. If someone either actively chooses to formula feed, or ends up formula feeding due to extenuating circumstances, then there is a reason that they are doing so. These reasons are not mine to judge, nor are they anyone’s (especially the clerk at the grocery store, your pediatrician, or random snarkettes on the interwebz). That said, I operate under the assumption that mothers (and prospective mothers) are well aware of the benefits and advantages of breastfeeding. If they don’t know the beauty and satisfaction that it provides, that is sad; I hope that breastfeeding advocates can take a hint from that, and perhaps stop harping on about the dangers of formula (a tactic that doesn’t really work, if our long-term breastfeeding rates are any indication) and begin extolling the positive, empowering, enjoyable aspects of the act.

Since anyone with an internet connection (i.e., anyone with the ability to read this blog) knows why they should be breastfeeding, I think it stands to reason that if they aren’t, there’s a pretty damn good reason. Now, that reason may be something seemingly trivial, like a fear of not being able to return to eating nothing but SlimFast and Diet Coke. But for a recovering anorexic? That’s a pretty significant fear. I’d much rather they formula feed than force themselves into a psychological mind-fark. Or what about the woman who has to go back to work 3 weeks after giving birth? She might not want to sludge through the inevitable 6-week “learning curve” for breastfeeding (and there is one, for most women. I think coming clean about the realities would help keep women breastfeeding, rather than scare them off it. I had one friend who pushed through 2 months of exclusive pumping and futile attempts to nurse, but who ultimately succeeded in having a beautiful nursing relationship with her son. She also had tremendous support from friends who had similar struggles, and were open about it, and this is what helped push her through), but rather enjoy the short time she has with her baby. These are the choices women make, and the ones they should be respected for making, because they are making them in the context of the formula feeding is risky/breastfeeding makes you a perfect mother meme. You better believe that these women had good reason to choose what they chose.

Make no mistake: breastfeeding is not “useless”. Breastfeeding is incredible. I just want breastfeeding to be promoted without stooping to overstated scare tactics, or relying on poor science. In fact, I don’t think we should promote breastfeeding for it’s “health benefits” at all. We’ve all gotten the message. It’s turned into something we have to do, rather than want to do, and that makes me sad. I know too many women who love breastfeeding to believe that it has to be treated like going to the dentist.

Make no mistake: breastfeeding can be easy, and instantly gratifying. I just want breastfeeding researchers and care providers to look beyond their own experience, listen to what women are saying, and react accordingly. Women are not lying about insufficient supply, latching issues, pain, and allergic reactions to human milk. If we stop living in denial and do proper R&D into these problems, perhaps we could help women work through them without too much emotional duress on their parts (because no new mother needs additional stress, in the world we live in. A world, incidentally, which is in no way similar to many of the environments used to back up the “natural”, “instinctive” nature of breastfeeding… there is such a thing as social evolution).

I hope that we can do these things, because make no mistake: breastfeeding is worth it. But so is a mother’s sanity, health, and sense of autonomy.  One does not supersede or cancel-out the other.

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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50 thoughts on “Breastfeeding is worth it

  1. Love this post. When breastfeeding works it is BY far easier than formula feeding. I've tried to BF both my sons. The first one for 4 weeks & we just couldn't get it. My second I successfully BFed for 3.5 months and it was nothing short of wonderful. When I made the switch to formula it was HELL. I went out 2 or 3 times and forgot a bottle. I was SO used to being able to just go & feed him if he was hungry.
    Those who say formula feeding is for lazy moms has obviously NEVER seen what goes on.
    I like that you say Breastfeeding should be promoted for what it is, a close bond, a beautiful thing, easy, convenient. Rather than tell moms that basically their kids will be stupid, ill & a drain on the system. I don't think that helps.
    Great post.

  2. Great Post! I wanted to say something to Ashley Poland, and to all of us.

    I do sometimes think that based on our experience we want to defend/validate where we find ourselves. I think no matter what in talking about our experience we can unintentially make the other experience sound not as important–because as humans, our experience is just naturally the most important to us. I know that I touted the benefits of breastfeeding LOUD AND PROUD when I “knew” I would breastfeed, prior to trying it with my first.

    After 3 weeks of trying SO HARD and it just not working I am now looking for reasons to support the experience I ended up with. I now find myself saying “I can still bond with my baby without the breast” and, “My mom is really healthy and she didn't receive breastmilk”. I bet I wouldn't be saying these things if I were breastfeeding. My feelings about breastfeeding haven't changed. I think it rocks! I wish I were breastfeeding! But now, since I could not, I choose to focus a bit more on ideas that show that breastfeeding isn't the be-all end-all to rearing a healthy, intelligent child–because that is my situation.

    I think that we should all just cut each other a little slack and remember that we all want to be awesome moms and therefore are looking for ways to show that what we're doing means we're still awesome and that our beautiful children will turn out awesome 🙂

  3. “breastfeeding is worth it. But so is a mother's sanity, health, and sense of autonomy. “
    I really like this statement. I'm coming from a different place from many of your readers — I've breastfed four kids into toddlerhood, and am nursing my three month old. But between my fourth child and this last pregnancy, I received a diagnosis and found a medication that finally got to the root of recurring mental health issues that seriously affect my ability to parent. I'm working on switching my current baby to formula (He took a bottle of formula two days in a row! Baby steps, here.) so I can get back on this medication, because *my mental health is worth it, for me and for my children.* I keep second guessing my decision, but my husband keeps reminding me that yes, the medicine made THAT much of a difference, and neither of us is OK with the unknowns with regard to breastfeeding on this particular medication or the alternatives.

    I do believe that breastfeeding has some real health benefits, but maternal depression and anger management issues have dramatic health and developmental drawbacks for little ones. Prioritzing mom's mental health is not putting her over her child, it is considering her AND her child. If we lived in a perfect world, the decision would be clear cut. We don't, and so it is not. Moms have to weigh and balance the benefits of breastfeeding with the drawbacks of breastfeeding, and work to find the decision that is right for them, their baby and their entire family. There is no certainty, here, besides the knowledge that with either choice, chances are your baby will thrive.

  4. Very nice. Like you, I don't think breastfeeding is useless. It wasn't something that was right for me and my family, but that doesn't make it useless for others. Basically, I think the “BFing=saintly, FFing=evil” dichotomy is ridiculous and doesn't help anybody. As Sarah L. points out, infant feeding is not the be-all/end all in determining who is a good mother. Breastfeed if you want to, if you can, and if you enjoy it. Otherwise, formula feed. This shouldn't be a big deal.

  5. Does debunking myths of breastfeeding mean that breastfeeding is useless? I think people who would say that are reading too much into it, or perhaps are disappointed that the science doesn't say what the “evidence-based” zealots claim it does. Breastfeeding is a health care decision. Weigh the pros and cons and go from there. For some people, breastfeeding will be harmful, which is worse than useless–the cons will outweigh the pros. The message I get from this blog at the end of the day is: that's okay, you're not the only one, and we need to give proper care and consideration of these people too because right now, they're bullied and mistreated like hell. Far from portraying breastfeeding as useless, I see this blog as promoting organic, mindful infant feeding choice, a choice that respects the health, dignity, safety, and sanity of the entire family. By contrast, I see many breastfeeding resources as rigidly promoting breastfeeding at the expense of all else, implying that the health, dignity, safety, and sanity of the family are useless in comparison.

    Giving women REAL informed choice–not the pseudo-information most women get out of health care professionals, governments, and breastfeeding resources–is something to be cheered, even if it means that breastfeeding is properly put into its proper place as a choice, and not some kind of health or moral imperative. There's more than one way to gut a fish. If someone chooses not to eat fish, does that invalidate fish for everyone else? No, but there's nothing wrong with a blog that is all about healthy ways to eat without consuming fish.

    When you compare this blog to so many breastfeeding blogs, the difference in tone and message is stark. The mildest thing you'll see on a breastfeeding/parenting blog is “breast is best,” despite the fact that that's a dirty rotten lie and stands in the way of many women and children getting proper medical care. At worst, you get the “formula is rat poison and you're a selfish, uneducated, unworthy parent” schtick. I have NEVER seen an article from FFF on this blog that has said “formula is best,” nor have I seen comments that equate breastfeeding/breastmilk to rat poison, lack of education, selfishness, or unworthiness. Rather, FFF goes out of her way to cheer on those who breastfeed while pointing out that you can wholly supportive of that option while remaining classy and supportive about the alternatives.

    If all the breastfeeding resources out there took the same attitude as FFF, it would be quite a peace accord in the Mommy Wars. I'd rather spend my energy not in trying to find examples where FFF has implied that breastfeeding is useless, but in informing breastfeeding activists what FFF said above: they've spent so much energy on negative campaigns against the alternatives that they're losing the wider war to convince people to breastfeed for positive reasons instead of fear.

  6. Yes! Yes! Finally. This is exactly what I want to say to people but have no idea how to put it into words. I wanted to breastfeed both my kids desperately, and I gave it my all. I paid out of pocket for consultants, herbs, teas, hospital grade pumps, you name it to keep the milk from running out. I cried almost every day because I felt like a bad Mom for not being able to provide for my kids, while so many Mom friends around me BF effortlessly or so it seemed. I finally switched to formula because both my kids were way too underweight and it was time to say I had done my best, but this was not healthy anymore…for them…for me mentally. I just don't make enough milk, that is the truth of it and you know it's bad when a LC tells you it's time to switch to formula. I got all the comments, the looks, the frowns. But you know what? I did my best, I really did. And that's all I can do. Maybe baby #3 will finally be the one that breast feeds like a champ. But if not, I think I am ok with it. And I have you to thank for that.

  7. Can I just kinda +1,000,000 what Teri and Sarah said? I can't possibly say it better (and won't even try). I think the original post is fantastic, and so so true. I think I might print it off and take it to my midwife appointment (I'm due another “talk” about the cons of formu… I mean the benefits of breastfeeding).

  8. Lynne-I really hope you aren't having to defend yourself with your midwife! My midwife was the second person (second only to my 3rd LC that I consulted with) to validate the fact that my daughter's pocket palate really WAS a challenge to breastfeeding. When I burst into tears in her office as she was asking how bfeeding was going, and I explained what happened she said “Wow! I can't believe you made it 3 weeks! That must have been incredibly painful for you! You're really tough!” Now THAT Is the kind of compassionate support we need!! Just know that one midwife's opinion is not law 🙂 She is a huge bfeeding supporter, but I strongly believe that LC's and Midwives that have been around long enough can't help but understand that the challenges are real! Hang in there!!

  9. I meant every word. I wouldn't worry about your tone, although it may be unfortunately necessary to remind people that you are for feeding the baby in the best way possible for each individual family because that approach doesn't fit neatly into little boxes. People assume that being pro-FF means you are anti- the alternatives, to their detriment.

    Worse, people make breastfeeding out to be such a game-changer that if you point out how it isn't, they may assume that means that it doesn't matter how we feed kids. Not so. It matters a great deal to each family how the children are fed. Feeding a child is one of the most important things we can do, and it's incredibly important to feel comfortable with how we do this. But I see your blog as advocating individual levels of comfort, not a forced sense of what *should* feel comfortable based on a one-size-fits-all mass approach. If we proclaim that women are intelligent enough to make good decisions, this is the most intellectually honest attitude.

    One of the sad things about the breast vs. bottle debate is that is a vs. in there in the first place. I don't deny that breastfeeding was erroneously pushed as inferior in the past; I just wish that the bullied had not become the bullies, as is sometimes the case today. As others have put it so eloquently on this thread, we're not looking to tell breastfeeding moms they're Doing It Wrong. We just would like there to be some equal representation in the Doing It Right club.

  10. Thank you for this comment, particularly the first paragraph. When whole family health is sacrificed at the altar of perfect, “natural” motherhood, moms and children everywhere are done a true disservice.

    I do, however, take issue with the “breastfeeding is easier” meme that's woven throughout this piece. I suppose it's “easier” to breastfeed in that there's no mixing or warming of formula or bottles to clean, but some of the cons of breastfeeding (being the sole source of food, pumping, returning to work, cleaning the pump and the science of storing milk, etc) are hardly easy. This is genuinely one of those choices, for those of us who are privileged enough to have the choice, where an individual and her family's circumstances matter. This breast or bottle MOMWARZ debate, especially in the first world, is ridiculous. We are privileged to have options, period, and the political position that seeks to remove or discourage these options is anti-science and anti-mother. Do what works.

  11. As an IBCLC and regular reader of this blog, a big ol' AAAMMMAAZZZIIINNNGGG! I regularly speak to groups of lactation consultants about the importance of the way we communicate to mothers. The pressure, the mommy wars, the “whitewashing” of breastfeeding challenges. When I speak about social media and blogging, I always encourage my colleagues to be reading your blog. I might not agree with everything (gosh, I don't agree with everything my husband says!), but I wholeheartedly believe that your perspective is incredibly valuable. Thank you for your voice.

    I would love if you would consider an entry for my 100 Words project. I've been gathering people's breastfeeding stories in 100 words or less. I want everyone's stories, whether breastfeeding turned out the way you wanted or not. I believe that we either tell people that breastfeeding makes the heavens open, angels sing and rainbows appear, or it is worth than death. Neither is the reality for most. If you'd like to check out the project, you can do so at

  12. Well, I don't at all see that this blog attempts to make breastfeeding seem useless, but I can see how someone would come to this conclusion. Women who truly enjoy breastfeeding and get a lot out of it don't need constant validation telling them how awful formula is. But think of the opposite side of the coin. The women who struggle with breastfeeding, who suffer through pain and misery, but continue for one reason – because they believe all the propaganda that if they don't, their child is going to be unhealthy, dumb, fat, sick, and possibly die. If you take that away from them what do they have left? They feel like they suffered for nothing. I'm thinking especially of women who exclusively pump. I haven't really talked to anyone who actually likes pumping. Most people just put up with it because they believe they are providing their child with vastly superior nutrition. They don't want to hear that the studies are flawed and the benefits exaggerated.

  13. Great post! I really wish breastfeeding had worked out for us…but things are the way they are. I have to admit, I wish I didn't have to spend 30 minutes every day cleaning bottles! 😛 I also wish this was the prevalent mindset out there. It would make things easier on everyone…

  14. That's interesting. As part of my try-everything journey I pumped for 3 months and while it wasn't exactly fun or convenient, I didn't hate it. I do still believe that breastmilk is the best choice, but I don't believe that formula is going to harm my baby. There are still plenty of benefits to pumping – nappy smells, side effects of prolactin, weight management, feeling of satisfaction at physically providing, cost. Some more trivial than others 🙂

  15. I admit it was my intention to formula feed from the start. That's what I grew up with and it's what I know how to do. As much as I am wary of the statistics regarding how vast the benefits of breastfeeding are (higher IQ and the like), there were two benefits my bf-ing friends and my husband could point to that struck me as undeniable. When it works, it's free and you don't ever have to worry about forgetting a bottle. I like free and I like not having to worry about forgetting a bottle. That was the thing that finally got me to finally climb onto the fence and admire the breastfeeding lawn..and yeah I gotta say it is a nice lawn.

    I still have reasons to formula feed my first from the start but thanks to this blog they are completely different reasons than the ones I started with and are no longer based on fear of the unknown. Not only are they reasons that are tailored for this particular baby, they are reasons I feel MUCH more confident about…and I've only been reading for about a week.

    Maybe sometime in January after the first six weeks of motherhood are behind me I'll send a story for FFF Friday. However I am now considering giving breastfeeding a shot with my second child (God willing), which is far more than what I could say pre-pregnancy where I wasn't considering it at all.

  16. I very much wanted to breastfeed but following a 45 hour difficult labour my little one and I just couldn't figure it out. The LCs glossed over how difficult breastfeeding could be for a first-timer and it made me feel like a failure. But I was so determined to provide breastmilk for my baby! So I bought the best pump I could afford and pumped for 4 months. It was AWFUL. I struggled through constant outbreaks of thrush in my nipples because I had so little knowledge of how to care for my breasts when pumping – it's a completely different way to feed your baby, and there's not enough information out there for women who are willing to give it a go. I persisted through excruciatingly painful cracks and fissures in my nipples. I endured incredible round-the-clock discomfort and agony from over-supply. My ladies happily churned out almost 3L a day for two months, at one stage, and I had to spill milk down the sink because I had no room for it all in our fridge and no milk donor bank in our part of the world. And to top it all off, I was suffering from D-MER ( which made me feel suicidal every time I had a let down. I moved in a foggy haze of constant worry and pain for the first 4 months of my daughter's life. Some days I was in so much pain that I couldn't bear to wear a top, and was forced to walk around topless all day, which confined me to my home. I began to discourage visitors and became completely cut off from the world. I missed so much in pursuit of my mission to provide breastmilk for my daughter. In the end, what put a stop to the madness was the discovery that my little girl had severe multiple allergies to foods I couldn't identify in my diet. Even then I persisted, whittling my diet down to just plain rice and lamb so that not only was I producing 2-3L a day, I was eating less than 600 calories per day. I dropped from 76kg on my daughter's birthday to just 50kg and still dropping fast. When I finally saw my obstetrician for a post-natal wrap-up, a man I respect probably even more than my own husband, he looked at me like I had gone mad. He said, “You are a smart, educated and extremely intelligent woman. What the hell are you doing to yourself?” To this day I have no idea. I was on the brink of starving myself – literally, killing myself – to give my daughter breastmilk. The crazy thing is, I would do it all again in a heartbeat, because I am so convinced that breastmilk is best. Am I an idiot? Absolutely. Is it because I have been told again and again that breastmilk is best? Probably – I certainly believe and still believe that breastmilk is best. Did I endure what I did because I believed formula was “bad”? Not at all. I used formula frequently, actually, and it was only because my little one kept reacting to the types I gave her that I didn't switch to formula completely until we got a prescription for an elemental formula. Anyway, that's my story. It's unbelievable what a woman will do for her baby.

  17. I too tend to struggle when people talk about how much easier breastfeeding is than formula, and it's the one area in which I disagree with a lot of bottle-feeding parents. But there's enough quibbling about bottles and formula without debating this issue too, so I tend to ignore it. “Easy” is like “best;” these terms are most productive when they're used on an individual level.

  18. Yes yes, I struggle when people paint formula and breastfeeding in such black and white terms. I just wanted some women to understand that I didn't make my formula feeding choice haphazardly and that I don't think I have damaged my child either by doing it.

  19. I think which is easier depends on your circumstances. Breastfeeding can be tough in the early weeks, but if you get the kinks worked out then it is very convenient for most women if they are with their child most of the time. It isn't easy for all women. If women are working, however, breastfeeding would probably end up being more complicated and less easy than formula feeding — with pumping etc. — although not all women find pumping to be a burden. People just need to keep in mind that what is easy or even just doable for them may not be as easy for another individual.

  20. I tend to think of breast feeding like a hill. Some people have a steeper curve than others before they reach the plateau (and not everyone has a plateau, for some it may just be an endless climb a la Sisyphus). It is easier for those who have a gentle climb, but for those with an Everest it seems like a ridiculous statement.

  21. I have to respectfully disagree with the comment that formula feeding sucks! I breastfed my first 4 children for the recommended year – never even owned a can of formula. Imagine my surprise when my 5th baby arrived earlier this year and my milk did not! After 8 weeks of fenugreek, pumping, lactation consultants, tongue tie surgery etc., I surrendered to Similac.

    And you know what? I LOVE bottle feeding and I'm not at all ashamed of my choice. The baby is healthy and thriving and we have bonded beautifully. I never had to switch formulas and the baby has never had any digestive issues. The baby has almost never been sick (mild cold this summer) and has not been plagued by ear infections …..unlike a few of her older breastfed siblings! I like the convenience of bottles, knowing how much the baby is getting and I have to say I love not being exhausted! This baby slept through the night at 10 weeks while my other children nursed every 2-3 hours around the clock until well past 9 months. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy nursing my other babies – I did! But what I enjoyed the most about nursing was the frequent physical contact with my baby – and that has been no different with this baby – my neighbors often ask if I ever put the baby down!

    It saddens me to think that so many formula feeding mothers are made to feel that they are harming their children or missing out on a “much deeper” bond. You are not. I speak as someone who has lived both sides of this issue and I honestly feel that breastfeeding is great but formula feeding should be viewed as just another great way to feed your baby – not a harmful, selfish, and avoid at all costs alternative!

  22. This is a lovely post — and I hope I don't give the wrong impression, because I would never change a thing about this blog (in a magic world where my opinion matters, lol). The perspectives you take with the science and marketing, and the first-hand accounts of mothers who made the choice to formula feed are really invaluable. You're doing a fantastic thing (And there's a book coming, if I recall, that I'm exited about. :D) By far, yours is one of the very few blogs about infant feeding that I can actually stand to read anymore, and would continue to recommend to others.

    I should specify that a lot of my reaction is emotional — very much most of it. I see myself in the stories of women who promoted breastfeeding over all else (far enough back in my archives, it exists; worse before I blogged). And I agree with Teri entirely, that when any perspective that's pro-_____, is generally painted by anti-____ — and I occasionally have trouble removing myself from that.

    Though, again — thanks for this post, and for your continued blogging. You do a wonderful thing for parents here. 😀

  23. I adore this comment. Just goes to show that it really all comes down to experience. For some weird reason, I loved formula feeding my first child- after all we went through, it was such a relief that any inconveniences slipped away. But with my second, it's been annoying. We had a hard time finding the right formula, and she's had eating problems in general… I suppose I have a romanticized notion of how much better it could have been. 😉

  24. I love the line “…mindful infant feeding choice, a choice that respects the health, dignity, safety and sanity of the entire family.” BFing/ breast milk might be slightly better for a baby, assuming there are no medical contradictions. However, the rest of the family's needs and wants should, IMHO, be a consideration. My reasons for this are twofold. First: Of course babies are important people. And their parents and other adults in their lives must look out for them, because they can't. But the other members of the family (mom, dad and siblings) are important, too. And they don't cease to have their own needs and wants when a little person comes along. Second: Having a happy, healthy, sane family is good for a baby. I dare say living in a harmonious environment is of more value to a child than which type of milk they consume (breast milk, formula or both) and how it's dispensed (breast, bottle, cup, syringe, etc.)

    Every mom has to weigh her own family's situation and decide what will work best for them. Sometimes circumstances dictate one infant feeding method over the others. Other times the decision isn't clear-cut. If women are so bright and intuitive (and I believe they are), I think we should trust and respect their judgment on the matter… even if we would have chosen differently.

  25. It's possible to be ambivalent about FFing just as about BFing and one doesn't have to take the stance of “if you support one the other is useless,” IMHO. I cringed at the ingredient list on the formula can and the smell of it even when I was incredibly grateful to not be putting myself through hours of screaming baby/fighting nursing strikes and feeling like I couldn't go anywhere without worrying that any minute now baby would need to nurse and I was the one that had to bear that burden 24/7. When I stopped nursing I initially loved the freedom and calm and then missed the cuddling; and missed the convenience of the breast again when stuck without clean bottles on a delayed intercontinental flight.

    On the other side of things, one of my dearest friends who BFed her two babies till 18 months each and strongly encouraged me to keep BFing as much as I could and is definitely on the lactivist side of things said to me once after her second was getting up at all hours again at 14 months that she really wished he would wean quickly so that she could get her body and her life back and said the last 3 years with young babies (and a job!) had been so sleep-deprived she hardly remembered them (and yet she is still the strongest BFing advocate I know!) Does she think formula is bad? Probably a little bit because she went through a lot to BF her children – but she never judged me. Do I think BFing is useless? Of course not because I put myself through the ringer for it for several months. We both had different situations (allergies, etc) and made different choices and our toddlers are both in great shape.

    I think the comment about feeling the need to justify our choices is a valid one but we could all probably stand to do less of it. As my mother says, in a few years you won't even remember any more that you struggled with some things and it won't matter to your child.

  26. I just wanted to add something that was bothering me about the title of this post till I put my finger on it – the question “is breastfeeding worth it” presumes the “it” for everyone is the same or should be – the trade-offs may be different for everyone depending on their bodies' ease with the process of BFing or their own willingness to be tied down physically to a child, their economic situation, their family health history and so on. For someone who does not know every single woman's situation to say “how can someone come to the conclusion that BF is NOT worthwhile” is a pretty paternalistic and presumptuous thing. If any social or political authority tried to regulate our individual decisions on the basis of less-than-optimal vs. optimal, wouldn't we tell them to sod off? Why do we let BFing activists or anyone tell us that we must always make a decision that THEY are comfortable with rather than we, who must bear the costs of that decision and, largely, the benefits? I appreciate that lactivists are often genuinely motivated by wanting to show people the benefits of BFing and help them overcome hurdles, but once the education and awareness raising is done, why take it as a personal affront if someone else doesn't make the same cost-benefit assessment as you would?

    I think about this all the more with regard to the presume public health costs of BF vs FF compared with the public health costs of not vaccinating. I read recently that pertussis rates have shot up again in some US districts because of the anti-vaccination movement. I think the public health risk of not vaccinating is high and the thought of a three month old who is too young to be fully vaccinated catching a disease that could be dangerous for her because the parent of a toddler has a (to my mind) uninformed view of vaccines and is willing to let their child get an infectious disease is kind of irresponsible. But I would never presume to force anyone to vaccinate, however wrong I think their decision is because they are the parents and have to live with the decision to inject something in their child's body. Yet the same people sometimes judge others' feeding choices when they really aren't anyone's business and don't hurt anyone BUT the parents for the most part and certainly don't put other people's children in any danger.

  27. I think about the vaccine debate in those terms too, Perfesser. Strangely enough, my daughter just developed a really weird virus and rash that resembled rubella (although we think it's more likely an allergic reaction), and it got me thinking about the whole herd immunity theory. Since she's 10 months old, she hasn't had the MMR yet, so she is definitely as risk here in CA where a large percentage of kids aren't vaccinated. Still, I have to support their parents' right to make that choice, for the reasons you outline above. (And I certainly agree with the irony here, since it's very often the same group of folks online who are simultaneously speaking about their right not to vax, but coming down on others for circumcision and FF.)

    I honestly didn't think much about the title – but I see your point. FWIW, I believe that infant feeding should be a cost/benefit assessment for every individual family, and for many people, breastfeeding is NOT going to be worth it. I suppose I was thinking about it more in a general sense, like breastfeeding is worth SUPPORTING, or worth TRYING if it is something somebody is considering. All things being equal, as I said… but I fully acknowledge that in many cases, things are not equal. For me, in the case of my second child, the benefits of breastfeeding were not worth the risk of emotional breakdown, or detriment to my family's well being. But for most other people, I'm sure my reasoning would have seemed stupid. As you say, it is truly a case-by-case type of decision, and should be respected as such.

  28. I like the consideration of what 'it' is. I know with my breastfeeding experience I have yet to see a single purported visible benefit of breastfeeding, but I still fought tooth and nail to keep doing it because even though our bodies were not cooperating (either with milk production or milk extraction) it was and is the right choice for us. For us it cost us money, it was socially limiting (both of those mainly due to our extended need to combination feed and the method by which that was done), I didn't lose any weight and so on. The experience was all tolerable to me, so I could keep doing it, though I'm sure it wouldn't necessarily have been to anyone else. And there certainly were benefits that became apparent to me, but they were definitely not the ones I went into breastfeeding expecting.

  29. A lot of the time, I liked pumping. My body responded well to the pump (I know this is not true for everyone; I was lucky) and I produced plenty of milk – but I didn't have an over supply, either. It felt very gratifying to watch all that milk come out as I sat there on the computer, watching TV, whatever. It was annoying when I had to be away from my pump for more than 3-4 hours; it was annoying wearing nursing tanks and tops that could come off quickly; it was annoying washing pump parts and storage bottles. But I found these things only mildly annoying. I woudl have kept up pumping indefinitely if my husband didn't have to go back to work. I was terrified about being home a lone with a baby while still suffering from PPD pretty severely… adding pumping on top of that seemed impossible.

  30. That stinks that it's been a struggle with your second – but luckily you are educated enough to know that breastfed babies struggle with eating problems too. Thought I might add that this site was an excellent resource for me back when I decided that formula would be the best option for my baby. I still check in from time to time – just last night I was reading the post about nursery water and bottle preparation tips. Keep up the good work – plenty of families need this information and there are few brave enough to provide it!

  31. I just wanted to comment that viral rashes are extremely common in toddlers, so it could have easily been a rash that was some random virus related to rubella without actually being rubella.

  32. I am where you are, Perfesser, and one of these days will write my story for FF Friday. After 11 weeks of fighting, my son is doing brilliantly on formula, we have a settled relationship and there is some equality in contribution between my husband and I when he's not working out of the home (the biggest chagrin of my ante-natal class BF friends who are now, at 5-6 months, desperate to start weaning to solids). BUT, I'm still faintly inconvenienced by the forward planning to travel with enough food for the journey and emergencies, sad I don't “fit in” with all the high-achieving BF mothers in my neighbourhood, and annyoyed I feel the need to explain myself and our family's choices when I meet new people who ask how we're feeding(who weren't there when we went through the mill). BF is fab, but not for everyone. When (as this blog makes clear), there is realism and understanding that it doesn't always come easily and there is a point at which the cost/benefit equation of trying to make it work peters out, we'll have got there. Thanks for expressing this for me.

  33. I pumped exclusively for 14 months with my first child. I didn't hate it either. I was a member of a great yahoo email group called Pumpmoms and often while I was pumping I would read the emails from other moms in my situation and get support. It was a lot of work to do, but I did not feel it was a burden. If I had felt that way I doubt I would have lasted as long as I did with pumping.

  34. “I appreciate that lactivists are often genuinely motivated by wanting to show people the benefits of BFing and help them overcome hurdles..”

    I think LACTIVISTS are motivated by EGO. “I am doing the right thing, I am seeking attention and want to show everyone that I am a good mother, so I cannot resist in denigrating women which made another choice…the “bad” choice…

    I just read a lactivist blog, which title was “JE SUIS UNE SEINTE”…in French, implying that she was a SAINT as she was breastfeeding…

    Another reason for lactivism is maybe that some women did not enjoy breastfeeding and did it because of guiltyness. They suffered in silence, and cannot stand that other woman had enough guts to make their OWN choice.

    Sorry but I see no reason for being a LACTIVIST others than the ones I cited above (I am not talking about a woman who simply chose breastfeeding, I am talking about breastfeeding zealots who agressively diss other mothers and know the LLL'sTen Commandments by heart)

  35. “(…) we all want to be awesome moms and therefore are looking for ways to show that what we're doing means we're still awesome and that our beautiful children will turn out awesome 🙂 “

    Ego…I told you.

    But why are you so sure “BF rocks”…Strange, even when Bfeeding fails, even when Bfeeding does not prevent colds, infections, illnesses (of course..such a surprise), some people STILL keep on saying “breast is best”…sounds like manipulation…

  36. Cantor- I'm so sorry but I can't find the sections you quoted in my post… this is an old one, so I don't remember – did I say that? Certainly sounds like me, regardless.

    I don't disagree that some lactivists are motivated by ego. But you know, so are some of those who are anti-breastfeeding – whenever we get defensive about our choices we lose the ability to be unbiased, and that's something I strive to be. I think I made it pretty clear in the post above that I DEFINITELY don't think breastfeeding always rocks; I just think that for most people who WANT to breastfeed, all things being equal, it ends up being the less emotionally draining and overall easier choice. For those who don't want to breastfeed, for whatever reason, breastfeeding will likely not “rock”, it will likely (and quite literally) suck, b/c they will be doing it out of some sense of obligation. I don't think breast is best. I think breast is best until it isn't. And it often isn't.

  37. I am so happy I came across this post. I am so thankful for formula!!!!! As a mother of two, I tried BF both. With my first, I was having troubles getting him to latch on. I was still feeding him and supplementing him with pumped milk, but something just wasn’t right. We paid for a lactation consultant and we had countless doctor appointments trying to “fix” the BF problem. Do you know what it took for me to open my eyes and see that BF was NOT going to work for me?? It was our son’s pediatrician telling us our son was showing signs of starvation!!!!!!!! I was starving my son!! My milk was just not going to give him what he needed. I felt like a failure. I felt like I let him down. I again tried with our second, but noticed I was experiencing the same problem. Except this time, I was experiencing 6 hour (yes, that is right, SIX HOUR) feedings!!!!!! Yes, BF is wonderful. I wish I could have experienced it more. BUT, BF is not “best” or even possible for all of us.

  38. Yes, exactly! Most women know the benefits, but there are reasons why it’s not possible for everyone. I breastfed my daughter for thirteen months. My sister breastfed my niece for six weeks — because when her daughter was six weeks old she was diagnosed with a mysterious breast mass requiring biopsy and then surgery. By the time she had completed four weeks of surgeries and treatments she had lost her milk. And people gave her a hassle all the time about why she wasn’t breastfeeding! It drove her to tears on more than one occasion. She had failed, she was ignorant, she was selfish…. Lots of total strangers who didn’t know the situation had opinions about her formula feeding.

    And you know what? Ten years later my daughter and my niece are both just fine. I’m glad I breastfed. And my sister is just as good a mother because she didn’t.

  39. Thank you for writing this! I know I’m a little late to the party, having just read it in January 2013. But I appreciate the note that breastfeeding is worth it. I am breast feeding my 3rd child, but not without difficulty and supplementation with formula. My first baby, born 8 years ago was a horrible breast feeder. I felt a lot of pressure to “succeed”, and suffered through pain and tears and swears and sleepless nights until she finally latched successfully at 6 WEEKS old. Jeez! BUT despite the horrible beginning, I went on to love nursing her for 18 months. But we have all suffered a little bit, from painful latching, cracked, bleeding nipples, mastitis, biting, all-night nursing marathons, breast feeding strikes, nursing in public bathrooms, painful pumping, leaking, and more. With baby #3, I did suffer through the beginning, but I powered through (again), and I’m easier on myself that she does get formula while I’m at work. But looking back at 4 years of breastfeeding 3 kids (so far), it was definitely worth it! Along with all the struggles, I have even more memories of sitting peacefully, bonding with my babies in the most intimate way possible, knowing that only I could give them this experience and nutritive gift. Once we got past the early weeks, it actually felt wonderful to nurse – the let down, the happy hormones, the physical closeness, and the happy weight loss. My children are all healthy and thriving, and I am very happy with my choices – both breast and formula. Really, that is the most important thing for any mom, no matter how she chooses to feed her babies.

  40. I love this blog! I tried breastfeeding but it didn’t work for us. I was bf for an hour then expressing for another hour then would start all over again an hour later. My nipples were literally falling apart and I was crying all the while feeding and pumping. I wasn’t getting to enjoy my time with my beautiful daughter. After having to take our girl to hospital, as her weight hadn’t come up at all and she had breastfeeding jaundice, the Dr gently suggested that we top her up with formula. He also told us with a smile that formula isn’t the devils milk as some will have you believe. I kept bf/expressing and then topping up. My midwife came over a few days later. She asked how I was going and I started sobbing, she then asked if I was crying cause I wanted to bf and couldn’t or because I wanted to stop but felt like I couldn’t. It was the second. I felt so much pressure to be the perfect mum and do the best for my baby which according to everyone was bf. She told me to stop torturing myself and that formula can be fantastic. I felt so much better, until my mil came over and yelled at me for stopping. Didn’t I know all of the health benefits for myself and the baby!!?? OF COURSE I DID!!!
    I still feel guilty sometimes that I couldn’t bf (especially when i come across things that say bf is the greatest bond a mum and baby can have, crap my baby grew in side of me and came out of me thats bonding!) but I know myself that I did the best for my baby and my self (no point having a crazy crying mum if it can be helped!!). I only wish that people other than fff read this blog so they can understand people make decisions that are best for themselves and their children not because they are selfish bad mothers.
    Had to get my rant out. Thanks again for such a supportive and loving blog.

  41. While I completely agree that women MUST have the right to use formula, and not be criticized for it, I do not agree one bit that the health benefits of breastfeeding shouldn’t be reiterated, over and over again. For the simple fact that the author is of the belief that everyone knows breastfeeding is healthier than formula feeding. I can personally attest to the fact that in my own family, even among my mother and aunt who are both health care professionals, breastfeeding is SNEERED AT and FROWNED UPON. I am repeatedly told by family members and friends that they always knew breastfeeding was never for them, and would have felt “weird” or “gross”, and it couldn’t be that much healthier, could it? Their mothers didn’t do it and they weren’t going to, either. I’m not saying that people should be shamed into breastfeeding, but they should be educated about it. Because an overwhelming amount of mothers are just plain biased and deadset against the “unnaturalness” of nursing. And that is a shame, both for mother and baby. I have a 14 month old that is still nursing, and I have been hearing since he was 3 months old that “it will be time to wean him soon!” or “when are you going to stop making that baby so dependent on your boobs?” “It’s not HEALTHY for him mentally to be breastfed, that’s why formula was invented!” “Formula is nutritionally formulated by scientists to be superior to breast milk, you are starving that babies brain and body” ALL of these are things I have heard from highly educated, professional women. And that to me is very alarming……..formula has a place for women who cannot nurse, or who are just plain uncomfortable with it. But I wish a larger portion of the women who don’t nurse for “comforts sake” would at least make informed decisions on why they don’t want to nurse, and not listen to misinformed women, especially their moms and family members, who aren’t comfortable with breasts and therefore breastfeeding. It’s a dangerous mindset, and one I have to contend with daily. And when I read articles that state that women KNOW breastfeeding is best, when I know personally that a lot of women do not know or believe any such thing, it is concerning to me that the author assumes that that is the case. I know that if my family reacts to nursing the way they do, there are a lot of others that do, too. Not every women is told that “breast is best”. The kindest thing I have heard from other moms in my community is “well you must be saving a ton of money!” Like I am nursing because I am too cheap to by formula for my hungry baby. Yeah.

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