A Formula Feeder to Breastfeeding Advocate Translation Guide

The Leaky Boob posted a really good piece today, attempting to untangle some of the misunderstandings between well-meaning breastfeeding advocates and presumably defensive formula feeders. I thought the post was great, and I applaud Leaky Boob for trying to diffuse the breast/bottle battle.

In the same spirit, I thought it would be good to provide my own “reverse” translation guide (I hope The Leaky Boob won’t mind me stealing her idea), which can hopefully increase the trans-feeding-method communication even more.

Before I start, I want to say one thing: I think the majority of bad feelings between the two “camps” comes from the confusion between the terms “breastfeeding mom” and “breastfeeding advocate”. Most formula feeding moms who are making the typically defensive comments that Leaky Boob is referring to in her post are doing so in response to breastfeeding advocacy, not in response to posts or comments about breastfeeding. I certainly can’t speak for all formula feeders (and I don’t think breastfeeding moms are one heterogeneous group, either), but most of my readers come to this blog because they are the only people in their respective groups of friends that aren’t breastfeeding, for whatever reason. Meaning, we all have breastfeeding friends, and we support them in their endeavors – as long as they support us back. And even online, if I see a post where someone is just celebrating her accomplishments and says something a bit off-color regarding formula, I’ll ignore it. Usually the writer doesn’t mean anything by it, and why rain on her parade? It can be a hard thing to breastfeed in today’s world, and she has a right to be proud of that. I would be too. I reserve my anger and defensiveness for those who actively strike out at formula feeding parents.

Having said that, trying to clear up a misconception about formula feeding or formula feeders is not necessarily being combative or defensive. Like Leaky Boob so wisely suggested, we’re all wearing rose-colored glasses, but they come in different hues. The filter of our experiences can be so thick that it’s impossible to see another point of view clearly. And in the case of infant feeding, we are all defensive. I don’t think it’s possible not to be.

So without further ado – a few quick entries into the Formula Feeder to Breastfeeder Translation Guide:

What you say: Let’s start with an example Leaky Boob used in her post:

Then there’s the mom celebrating her success in breastfeeding, sharing “So excited we’ve made it to 6 months without even one drop of formula! GO BOOBIE MILK! WOOT!”

What you think we think: “This woman is insulting my choice because she’s proud of breastfeeding exclusively. She’s judging me that I wasn’t able to do it. Screw her!”

What we really think: “It sounds to me like she’s talking about something really challenging, and that she’s a bit scared of formula. I find that troubling, because formula is not the devil. I hope she didn’t kill herself over doing something which should be a pleasant experience.”

Why we don’t say what we think: We’re afraid that by talking about how positive our own experiences with formula were, you’ll think we are somehow downplaying your efforts, or saying that they aren’t worthwhile. We do think they are worthwhile; many of us wish we had been able to do exactly what you are so proud of doing. But on the other hand, we’ve learned – typically the hard way – that formula will allow a baby to thrive, and that a few drops of formula can actually save a dwindling breastfeeding relationship. We worry that you could’ve saved yourself a lot of suffering if you were less hard on yourself.

What you say: “I have the flu, but I know my little one won’t get it – hooray for breastfeeding!”

What you think we think: “You’re judging my choice. Formula fed kids are healthy too. So hate on me, hater!”

What we really think: “That’s awesome! Neither my formerly formula-fed ass nor my child’s got sick, so I’m happy too…hooray for formula!”

Why we don’t say what we think: We get really, really tired of trying to explain the flawed nature of breastfeeding studies, and the concept of confounding factors. We also are well aware that if we comment on our child’s good immune system, IQ, etc, people will start muttering, cough… anecdotal…cough cough… It doesn’t matter how many formula feeding parents brag about their children, we will still be seen as the exception rather than the rule. We’ve learned this because we’ve bragged about them as a defense mechanism in response to the “formula fed kids are sickly and stupid” meme a zillion times. But it sucks when you aren’t allowed to celebrate the amazing healing superpowers of your baby just because he is fed from a can and not a breast. We would love to celebrate with you; both breastmilk and formula have nourished our kids well enough that their immune systems – probably bolstered by good genetics and lifestyle advantages, like not being in daycare or having snotty older toddlers as siblings- have been able to do their jobs. Hooray!

What you say: “Until we stop seeing bottles everywhere, I’ll never be able to breastfeed in public without getting dirty looks.”

What you think we think: “Well, you should be covering up. Why not just pump and use a bottle?”

What we really think: “You should absolutely be able to nurse in public; it’s total bullshit. But I kind of think our society’s obsession with breasts and nudity in general is a bigger axe to grind than my bottle.”

Why we don’t say what we mean: We know, we know. If bottles weren’t prevalent, and breastfeeding were the norm, no one would see breasts as sexual. But in Western society, breasts ARE sexual. In fact, many of us derive sexual pleasure from our breasts. Katherine Dettweyler may blame that on programming, but still. It’s going to take a lot of time and therapy for our culture to collectively stop seeing breasts at least as dual-purpose body parts; being that we live in a puritanical culture, anything remotely having to do with sex is going to be scandalous to some degree. I’m not sure having less bottles around is really going to make things any easier for nursing moms, and what it is doing is furthering the divide between bottle-/combo-feeders and exclusive breastfeeders, rather than allowing us to work together to make the world more women-friendly and baby-friendly.

What you say: “Breast is best/All babies are born to be breastfed/ Breastfeeding is the most important thing a mother can do for her baby/Breast is normal./Formula is the longest lasting uncontrolled experiment in the history of humankind…”

What you think we think: “You’re making me feel bad for my choice! You’re rubbing salt in the wound and scaring me.”

What we really think: “Really? I hadn’t heard.” (Insert sarcasm here.)

Why we don’t say what we think: These sayings are blasted all over Twitter, Facebook, etc., and have been for years. We know you are probably regurgitating them because you want to bolster a new mom’s confidence. We hope that you aren’t posting these just to gloat about your choice, and that they are said without much thought about formula feeding parents; that you expect we will just ignore them, or even better, change our ways for the next baby.

But here’s what we really want to say:

Yes, breast is best, until it’s not.

My baby was not born to be breastfed, as she was intolerant of my milk/had a major tongue tie that couldn’t be resolved/almost starved to death.

Breastfeeding is not the most important thing a mother can do for her baby. The most important thing a mother can do for her baby is be there, be present, and be emotionally healthy – and for me, that meant I had to formula feed.

Breast is normal, in a biological sense, but so is having a child at 15 and having a mother be the caregiver. Breast is normal, but so is being able to conceive on your own. Breast is normal, but being sexually abused was not normal; having a mastectomy at 32 was not normal; having to be on medications which are contraindicated was not normal. Breast was not normal, for me.

Just because formula is the longest lasting uncontrolled experiment in the history of humankind, does not mean that the results of that experiment have been, or will be, negative.


Again, I want to thank Leaky Boob for her article; I thought it was a step in the right direction, and I really hope that my inability to stop being a smartass won’t get in the way of furthering the discourse.

I want to go watch Grey’s Anatomy and forget about the fact that there is arsenic in organic rice syrup, so I’m opening it up to the peanut gallery for discussion. FFFs, care to translate any other common miscommunications? And breastfeeding advocates – what about you? What do you think we are hearing incorrectly?

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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66 thoughts on “A Formula Feeder to Breastfeeding Advocate Translation Guide

  1. What always bothers me the most are the , “Only 2 to 5% of moms can't make any or enough milk, and we believe that it isactually a lot fewer than this.” And the implied, “You are obviously just lazy or did it wrong and didn't seek out help.

    Luckily anyone who knows me in real life has no trouble believing that someone (me) who was infertile for 22 years, and is trying to breastfeed at 45, might also have issues that prevent her from also making enough milk. It's a miracle that I was able to even have a baby. Isn't one miracle for me enough?

    Thank you for another great post.

  2. “formula fed babies get more ear infections, diarrhea, die of SIDS more often, score lower on iq tests, are more likely to be obese, develop asthma more often etc”.

    What you think we think: “You're making me feel bad for my choice! You're rubbing salt in the wound and scaring me.”

    What we actually think: uhm my formula fed child didn't develop another head and isn't too different from your kid(s).

    What we actually think and don't say: while breastfed kids may be getting antibodies to help develop their immune systems that in no way is the only way a child's immune system develops and is triggered to work, but we do concede it may help ward off a gi infection and/or an ear infection or two. For things like obesity and asthma it seems other factors seem to predominate the risk factors including but not limited to sociology-economic status, genetics, smoking, living in urban areas with higher levels of
    pollution, family diet etc”. As for IQs, more recent studies indicate when checking IQs of siblings where one was bfed and the other FFed and the Mother's iq was taken into account they're not significantly different.
    My formula fed kid really isn't a different species from your breastfed child.

  3. Love this! I've never felt guilt when someone saying “breast is best” or something similar, I think it's the best too. Just that it doesn't work for anyone. I just get tired of hearing it all the time.

    However, hearing someone say “formula is man-made processed junk” will cause me to get a bit riled.

  4. Well, i would hope that formula is still an “experiment” in the sense that they're repeatedly testing it and making it into a substance that's got as much nutrition that they can stuff into it! I mean come on ! its come a LONG way from what was originally manufactured in 1869 by Nestlè. So in that sense, new developments=experiment=GOOD right?

    I am coming to realize that as a breastfeeder, i'm terribly lucky. I had some minor road bumps but nothing like what some women struggle with! For something that's “natural” seems a lot of women have trouble with it. I'm not saying its unnatural, I think that like many things, its a learned skill that also has a physical component. You may have all the book knowledge and KNOW what to do, but if your body won't cooperate? its like, I can read all the books on Olympic swimming that I want and practice a LOT but will I ever get to the skill level of Michael Phelps? NO.

  5. Also, the passive immunity that occurs through breastmilk is temporary–that benefit is no longer around by 6mos old, maybe even less. Babies get most of the passive immunity from mom while in the womb.

  6. What you say:
    (i)Breastmilk is a magic cure-all. Not just drinking it, but applying it to (ears, head, eyes, etc)./(i)

    What you think we think: This woman is judging me as unfortunately stupid. That, as a formula feeder, I have no access to the pancea.

    What we really think: Take your child to the doctor.

    In this case, I don't know what “we” don't say…personally, I think the idea of breastmilk as a panacea is ridiculous, so mostly I just ignore that kind of comment. Also, I wonder if putting breastmilk into ears could create an environment that is excellent for bacteria to breed in.

    What you say:
    There are four levels to feeding an infant:
    1)breastmilk at the breast
    2)breastmilk from a bottle
    3)breastmilk from someone else

    What you think we think: This woman is saying that I must not love my baby as much as she does, because my child is only receiving “4th best.”

    What we think: Who cares?

    What we don't say, or maybe some do say: This kind of statement alienates other breastfeeders—the ones that use bottles. Why create strife in your own camp? Does this list really need to be said? Why even bring it up?

    Also, where are you getting the substitute BM from? Is it screened? What was the cost of it? How is this option better than formula, when you are feeding (potentially*) bio-hazardous human material to your baby?

    *I say potentially there, because, obviously most breastmilk would be fine. But in my field, any human material, like blood, is treated as those it IS hazardous, even if it has been tested. We take no chances with blood borne pathogens, and certainly some blood borne pathogens could be breast-milk borne.

  7. *Preemptive note – in no way do I think what I'm going to write represents every ffer. Just more my experience way back when I was a depressed hormonal mess. Also to let you know if it doesn't seem that way from this post I am 100% pro-feeding choice for whatever reason.

    What a ffer may say:

    I do get defensive when people put down formula – I still feel guilty for formula feeding.

    What you think I'm thinking – I'm feeling guilty because I know formula isn't as good as breastmilk.

    What I'm actually thinking – I just wish that circumstances were different and that breastfeeding could have worked out for me and my child. I get defensive because I sometimes feel that I'm just getting stock answers from people (that I needed more education or support or shouldn't have watched the clock etc) instead of compassion or empathy.

    What I wish I could say but don't:

    Guilt is a complex emotion, it's way too simplistic to think its only cause is doing something you perceive as wrong. I have bounced my breastfeeding experience around and around my head wondering what I could have done differently. I have felt guilt for actually liking the formula that has helped my child grow and thrive. I have felt guilt and disappointment for failing to reach my own personal goal of exclusively breastfeeding. I often say how guilty I feel so that hopefully that person won't judge me for using formula. I get defensive because I feel that a lot of the reasoning spouted on why women end up formula feeding don't apply to me or many other mothers I know. I don't drink, smoke, do drugs, party, neglect my child or want to maintain perfect perky boobs. I didn't accept formula samples, I asked for no bottles and I learned about breadtfeeding. I got helped and pumped to increase my supply. So it makes the hackles on my back stand up when people discuss reasons why some women don't breastfeed.
    I also feel guilty by seeing it as another failure in my life.

    * I don't feel guilt anymore at all and am very comfortable with the fact my daughter was formula fed, it took a while to get there though. I'm hoping with my hypothetical next child, I will be in a much better place mentally.

  8. Also, in the “what we think and maybe don't say” category: As long as I'm feeding my infant something on that list, let's agree that I'm feeding them an appropriate food. It might not be the food you would choose to feed your baby. It might not even objectively be the most nutritious food they could get. But there are dozens of things that didn't make that WHO list that are sadly still a food source for babies around the world, so let's just all be glad we get to feed our babies from these approved foods.

  9. God you are so wrong on that one. The immune factors in breastmilk become much more concentrated as the baby gets older. They are nearly twice as much when the baby is between 1 and 2 years old then they were between 0 and 1. Mother nature knows when babies are more likely to get sick and caters for that

  10. I'll find some citations to back me up…where are you getting your claims from?

    http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/939.aspx?CategoryID=54&SubCategoryID=135 (link to NHS page about BFing.)


    (Human Milk and Lactation, it's a really interesting read, and the length of time passive immunity lasts (several months) is mentioned twice under the Immunologic Properties of Breastmilk section.)

  11. I havent read it yet.. but darn it! I get so sick of hearing about milk banks and milk sharing!!! I dont have any boozies so I cant breastfeed and I was not and will not expose my wee one to possible disease. Darn it! I also have to know for sure who the donor is and who her children are so that in the future my wee one does not marry one who in our faith would be regarded as a sibling!!! I will be getting some new boozies in the fall, but gosh I love not having to wear a bra. 🙂

  12. Don't mind at all, Paala. I've actually been reading your blog a lot lately… got linked to it through my Google Alerts. You write beautifully and while we may not agree on the finer points of all things, I really admire your ability to express your opinion honestly and without ever sounding snarky!

  13. Love the discussion of guilt. Even though I was one of those prepared to be pragmatic from the beginning and not obsessively committed to EBF, something about the perfectionism and anxiety about doing things right that strikes all new mothers, along with the inexplicable, emotional (hormonal?) fear that one has to provide for one's child and perhaps s/he won't be able to do without one's breastmilk really hit me after the first nursing strike and I found myself obsessively trying every last thing to get baby to nurse.

    There is an element of guilt in this and I'm sure to the outside world it looks like guilt – you know what is best, you are trying to do it, you failed, perhaps you didn't try hard enough – but while we acknowledge these feelings we all know that “trying hard enough” is extremely subjective and deciding what you can and can no longer do comes down to how you feel or how your body/child cooperates for a few days in a row. We realize this is subjective, we realize our decisions could generally have gone in different directions, and we wonder if we made the right decision – all the more so when we are getting grief from judgy others. Thankfully this changes when you go a few months and realize baby is really just fine….

  14. What we really think: “You should absolutely be able to nurse in public; it's total bullshit. But I kind of think our society's obsession with breasts and nudity in general is a bigger axe to grind than my bottle.”

    Yesyesyesyes. There's two layers to that which drive me crazy: the idea that breasts are inherently sexual, and the sight of a child suckling is somehow lewd or sexual; and the idea that while breastfeeding is an acceptable “exception” to the sexual rule, but it's disgusting and makes breasts too gross to behold in public (as though they ought to be seen at all).

    Whether women formula feed or breastfeed, the process of childbirth and feeding is so steeped in sexual assumptions about our bodies — breasts and vaginas are meant to be “preserved” somehow, and for some subset of people certain choices are touted based entirely on how we expect men to enjoy our bodies postpartum.

    sjdgfhdsfdsfdsf Excuse me pet peeve. >__>;

  15. We all know that expressed breast milk can go bad after a period of time right? That means that it grows bacteria which cause the decomposition of the milk. So since we know that it goes bad in the fridge that logically it would go bad eventually if you kept squirting it into someones ear.
    I also thought that breast milk was supposed to have good bacteria for the gut? But how can something be probiotic and anti-bacterial at the same time?

  16. Amy,

    Great sources! In my purely non expert opinion-I tend to agree with you. It seems highly illogical that the immune powers of breastmilk would make that much of a difference beyond 6 months. Because at that point, most babies have had solids introduced, so I would think that alone would affect the immune properties and how they are absorbed. Also-your articles CLEARLY state that the babies immune system is basically fully functioning at 6 months old-not the full year that the AAP and others recommend as the minimum for breastfeeding. Hhhhmmm… Could it be that they just don't want to officially or unofficially endorse formula? Which is fine if that's the case but don't try to kid me into thinking sticking it out for a year is going to lead to any miracles.

    I do have one counter comment to your middle source (wellness.com article). That article explicitly states that antibodies in breastmilk are passed into and circulate through the infant's blood stream. That is not my understanding of how immunity passed from breastmilk works. The mother's antibodies from the placenta are passed into the blood stream in the last weeks of pregnancy but the breastmilk antibodies (IgA) bind locally in the infant's GI tract-NOT in the blood stream. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2006/03/tales_from_the_nursery.html The person writing that article seems pretty credible (Yale pediatrician).

    I (and the Slate article I cite above) could be totally wrong. Seems like this topic causes a lot of confusion and disagreement even amongst the experts. Kind of enough to make you want to pull your hair out, huh?

  17. I guess this is an area that is particularly offensive to me because I was bullied for things that have nothing to do with breastfeeding. I was told as a child things like “people with food allergies should be left to die because they're not normal and cost society too much.” Now where did these kids learn to say stuff like that? Probably their families. I wasn't the “biological norm” and I was made to suffer for it.

    We have a lot of instances in human history where people don't fit some arbitrary definition of “biological norm,” and paid for it with their lives. Hitler executed 6 million Jews, and also executed millions more basically for the crime of not being his definition of “biological norm.” It's so offensive to me that someone like my grandfather, who just passed away from his war injuries, fought in WWII because people were trying to force a mentality like this onto everyone else, and yet we don't seem to be learning our lesson, still. What more sacrifices do we have to make to drive this point home? So many already made the greatest sacrifice; it horrifies me to think what more must be sacrificed before we come to our senses.

    This is why it doesn't matter much to me what someone's intentions are in mandating a “biological norm” onto others. The road to hell is paved in good intentions. The concept of “biological norm” is used to this day to justify terrible discrimination against others–homosexuals and bisexuals–and substandard medical care for others, namely women and children who can't/shouldn't/don't breastfeed. There's no excuse for that, good intentions or no.

    As a child, hateful things were said to me that my life was worth less than others because I was different. When I was upset by those things, I was told I was too sensitive. Well, how am I to know when someone means what they say? I'm no mind-reader. I'm anaphylactic to peanuts; a few of my classmates threw peanuts at me at lunchtime. When my parents complained, they were told they were being too sensitive to a mindless prank. Yet if I'd eaten one of those by mistake, I could have died–does it really matter if it was a mindless prank or true malice, if the outcome is still the same? I feared for my life.

    This author seems to imply that everyone is coming from a non-malicious place, yet the responses on FB are just one small example in a vast ocean of evidence that proves otherwise. Yes, there ARE malicious breastfeeding moms out there. They make the nice, good-hearted ones look awful. But many women label themselves lactivists, and don't differentiate between “malicious lactivist” and “realistic, kind lactivist.” This is why I cannot help but feel that this article is nothing more than blaming the victim.

  18. What you say: “Breast is normal.”

    What you think we think: “You're calling me backward/prudish/abnormal. Stop flaunting your lactating boobs already!”

    What we really think (or what I think, anyway): I don't have a problem with this statement in and of itself. It depends on what all the speaker/ writer is implying.

    When I first heard it, I thought it meant that breastfeeding is not weird or gross… or something only hippies and exhibitionists do. And that if mom's and baby's bodies functioned in a textbook-like fashion, nursing should work. (i.e., Breastfeeding is biologically normal.) Fair enough. I don't think breastfeeding should be looked down upon or regarded as freakish. And I do support your right to nurse in public. As long as you don't mean that bottle feeding is abnormal or expect all moms to nurse (and I don't think the majority of lactivists do), fine by me.

    I soon learned that “Breast is normal” was intended to replace “Breast is best” in order to make breastfeeding more accessible. A noble effort. But I think things like more maternity leave, more accommodating workplaces, medical professionals who are better at troubleshooting nursing issues and supportive friends, family and healthcare providers would go farther than changing one word in a popular slogan.

    Here's an interpretation that I've heard/ read several times and don't like: Breastfeeding is just basic nutrition for a baby–not something special/ extra; formula is sub-par. If you're willing and able to nurse, more power to you. However, millions of babies have thrived on formula. Most of them are healthy, bright and well-adjusted individuals. Why put down their parents' decision?

    What you say: “Babies are born to be breastfed”

    What you think we think: “You think I'm going against what nature intended and feeding my kid wrong.”

    What we really think (or what I think, anyway): Breast milk is made especially for babies. They will generally be fine consuming their moms' milk and nothing else for 4 to 6 months. So, when a woman gives birth, she starts making a substance that is complete nutrition for her baby. And she has two built-in dispensers for said substance, from which the baby can drink directly. How freakin' awesome is that! If for whatever reason breastfeeding is not right for a family, they can go buy a product that is also complete nutrition made especially for babies and accompanying dispensers. Also pretty cool, if you ask me.

    What I'd really like to say, but won't: The sandwich I ordered at Subway was made just for me. It may also be a complete, healthy meal, depending on what's in it. (No, I'm not suggesting you limit your diet to any one food or restaurant.) But I was not born to eat said sandwich. I have to eat to survive, and that sandwich will do just fine. So will any number other of foods. Babies and people in general need food. For babies, this means breast milk, formula or some combination of the two. I dare say that a child who is fed (either way), loved and well cared-for has a fighting chance at fulfilling their life's purpose. But I sincerely doubt that involves eating anything in particular.

  19. Thank you for writing this Teri! This is a worry for me. Survival of the fittest..letting nature have her way. I firmly believe every human life has value. Our weakness can, in a way, make us stronger…or at least make us more understanding of others weaknesses. If we learn from our struggles we are more willing to reach out and help.

  20. I absolutely love this!!!! I ff my first and felt bad about it although she us perfectly healthy! My second I am an exclusive pumper and I still catch shit! I mean wht the crap? He gets my breastilk isnt tht the whole point and I also get sleep! My hubs helps they sure dont thn they have to co sleep which is risky as hell and i sure aint shoving my boob n my kids mouth and goin back to sleep! I hate how this one chick has crap to say and she didnt even bf for long at all! My daughter got formula cuz i went back to work and they wanted me to pump n a bathroom and she had reflux to which her dr said was lactose intolerant an put her on formula before they found out she had reflux….oh how i love this piece! I think breast milk is great for babies no matter how they get it unless its from someone else cuz i honestly dont no how u can give bm to ur infant tht was found on ebay

  21. What are boozies? Not being snarky, just wondering. FYI, when I pumped milk for a friend's baby, I was very comfortable with getting blood tests and an exam to make sure there was nothing in my milk to hurt her baby. I imagine a mother willing to go through the work of donating would be willing to do the same. I respect your faith and the belief that babies drinking the same mother's milk become related (if I understand it co

  22. Regarding cosleeping/bedsharing, from a SIDS perspective the risk is much higher if there is a smoker in the bed or if a baby under 6mo is in a separate room to the parent(s) and there is some indication that vaccination can play a role though I'm not up to date on that issue. From a suffocation perspective the risk is much much higher on a sofa and/or when the adult(s) in the bed are under the influence of sleep-affecting drugs, whether prescription or recreational, including alcohol. Otherwise, cosleeping is no more risky than room-sharing with the baby in a cot, in fact it may be less so, though again I'm not entirely up to date on those stats.

    My children are all weaned from breast or bottle, 3 out of the 4 of them were breastfed for over 3 years each. I've been part of breastfeeding support projects for most of the eldest's lifetime, since it hit me so hard when I stopped trying to breastfeed her when she was about 2 months old. A lot of these things don't chime with me as a former bottlefeeder, maybe because I fall more into the breastfeeding perspective on research etc (an awful lot of the research into human milk and its substitutes is funded in some way or other by companies who make the substitutes and alternative delivery methods to breasts, can't really be considered unbiased can they?)

    The main thing, really, is that I don't think I could claim to speak for all breastfeeders or bottlefeeders when it comes to these statements as we're all going to have our personal reactions and reasons for doing as we've done. I don't think human milk substitutes are the devil, I think they're a sad but necessary product of things going skew-wiff in our society. I don't think a baby of an ill mother won't catch her flu, but s/he would have more help in fighting that off than a not-maternal-milk-fed child would (donor milk or human milk substitute won't have the mum's antibodies in it already.) It's just generally about being realistic and honest in our reactions to this stuff and not assuming the worst of anyone, isn't it?

  23. I don't know why my phone cut my comment off. Ooops. What I meant to say is that, if I understand it correctly, in your faith, babies who drink the same woman's milk are considered to be related for the rest of their lives. I just wanted to add that there are ways to develop a relationship with a donating mother so that you know where your milk is coming from. There are very few (if any) milk banks or community organizations that would allow women to share biological matter without providing support by connecting the women or by testing the milk for pathogens. I think this is a fairly common misconception.

  24. That statement about hierarchy of feeding from breast to formula is courtesy of the world health organisation.
    I appreciate the feelings of mothers and I agree there are a variety of reasons why women use formula. Women should always have a choice.
    However as a breast feeding mother I feel like the odd one out as I know more formula feeders than breast feeders.
    I find in some company I feel stressed and upset because I have chosen to breast feed, and this makes me the odd one out.
    I have made an informed decision about how to feed my child but I have to defend myself by saying nothing at all for fear of upsetting someone who feeds their baby differently.
    And with all due respect to the fff, I have spent 11 months researching both formula feeding and breast feeding. I support my formula feeding friends

  25. Even if blood tests confirm no disease (and you'd probably want routine testing both for the donor as well as anyone they're with, husband, partner, etc.), there's always the issue of food allergies. Something like dairy, for example, is in everything from bread to meat to chips; it is extremely difficult to avoid if you're looking to avoid ALL dairy. It's not just about not drinking milk or consuming butter, it's a major lifestyle commitment for someone unless their child is also extremely allergic to dairy. This issue does not come up often enough; donor milk is painted as the best choice besides a mom's own breastmilk when for so many people, it is in fact extremely dangerous.

    Food allergy rates are on the rise, and it is more common now than ever before to have an anaphylactic child. As breastfeeding rates have increased, allergy rates have as well, which contradicts the assertions that breastfeeding prevents allergies (I don't think BFing CAUSES allergies, but neither do I think formula does either. Correlation != causation). Even kellymom's own resources for moms who need to do elimination diets tends to disprove their blanket assertion that breastfeeding prevents allergies. Fatal food allergies can crop up in families with absolutely no history, or families like mine where everyone's allergic to multiple things, so you can't even say that only some families need to be aware of the risks of donor milk as far as food allergies are concerned.

    I'm not saying no one should use donor milk, but the carefree, adamant recommendations that everyone should be on donor milk instead of formula I see on lactivist resources, both from the authors themselves as well as breastfeeding moms' commentary, are the equivalent of advocating Russian roulette for infants, in my book. The irresponsibility that I see on most lactivist resources–including the big ones, whether it's posted info on websites or FB, or comments from commentators that don't get moderated to ensure people aren't passing around bad medical advice–with regard to donor milk recommendations is frankly breathtaking to me, and not in a good way. Any recommendations that people use donor milk should be done very carefully and with clear warnings about the risk of fatal food allergies–something that I do not typically see. I can only conclude two things from this: 1) despite the statistics, the world remains ridiculously ignorant about food allergies (as any parent of an allergic child could tell you) and 2) for folks who know about food allergies yet don't take them seriously in donor milk promotion, it is more important to be anti-formula than promote true health and safety for children.

  26. I'm a breastfeeding mama and I really liked reading this post. I didn't know that this group was out there and I think it's really cool that it is. I especially liked the last section about how “breast is best until it's not.” I hope that TLB readers can come here with an open mind and leave with a feeling of, thank god formula exists because without it some babies would not be healthy and same for some mamas.

  27. The citations on kellymom about immunologic properties of breastmilk are from 1983, and 1991. Can you find something more up to date? There have been significant discoveries in the field of immunology over the last 5 years even, let alone 30.

  28. Awww!! That really makes me feel wonderful FFF, especially coming from you. I'm so happy that you don't think I sound like a snarky breastfeeder. And I'm new to the game, really, just over 2 years into having my own kids, and I've only been blogging for a couple months now, so there is a lot that I don't know. I really appreciate some of the things that your readers are bringing up in comments about my blog. I hadn't thought about food allergies…so I've added links to info on them at the bottom of my blog. My intention was not to offend your lovely readers. I know that donor milk isn't for everyone and doesn't make sense in a lot of cases. I know that formula is a life-saver! If my 5 month old baby needed milk THIS INSTANT and I wasn't home to give it to her, my husband would go to the store and get some formula. Period.

  29. Replying to both your comments about testing for pathogens: The reality is that we don't actually know everything that is passed through breastmilk. Having dealt with a chronic illness that is very difficult to detect, I am just not comfortable taking a risk with my child's health, which is how I feel about donor milk.

  30. I think there are multiple sides to the “only 2 to 5% of mom's can't make any or enough milk, and we believe that it is actually a lot fewer than this” statistic. First of all, let's assume that it is true. I have no idea where the number originally came from, but I also haven't seen any other numbers, so let's go with it.

    The first side of this is that 2 to 5% is not an insignificantly small number. 5% is one in 20. How many kids are in the average elementary school class? Twenty or more? So statistically speaking, one mom would have been physically unable to fully breastfeed her child even under ideal circumstances. Even though the flip side of this is that the vast majority of mothers are physically capable of exclusive breastfeeding their babies, if you think of it in those terms, it's actually pretty likely that a woman who is seriously struggling to breastfeed falls into the category of “really, physically can't do it.”

    The second side to it is the women who say “I couldn't breastfeed” but who really, physically could have. For a breastfeeding mom or a breastfeeding advocate, it's frustrating to hear those words because it makes it seem like it's pretty common to be physically unable to breastfeed. It means talking to new moms whose expectations are already low. Who worry that they won't be able to breastfeed instead of assuming they will be able to do it. It also detracts from the myriad other factors that play into why many women who start out breastfeeding end up combo feeding, pumping, or switching to formula.

    And that's the third side of it. The booby traps. We are all familiar with the “common” ones like hospitals giving newborns sugar water, formula, or pacifiers against mom's wishes or employers providing too little paid maternity leave. But I think the great thing about this site, especially the FFF Friday stories, is that it really brings to light the immense amount of space between “we got bad advice, my supply tanked, and we ended up switching to formula” and cases of IGT or hormonal imbalances or double mastectomies. Many of us weren't done in by the more common booby traps. We got hit by really complex ones, or combinations of them. Months later, we are still trying to sort it out. We had maternity leave, we had supportive partners, we had access to IBCLCs, we took galactogogues and pumped. We had our babies assessed for tongue tie, took them for chiropractic and cranio-sacral therapy, saw speech pathologists. We cut foods out of our diet, we got a second opinion when our doctors said “you can't breastfeed if you take that medication.” But something still didn't work. And a lot of times it's quicker, easier, and less painful to say “I couldn't breastfeed” than it is to get into a whole discussion of the issues that you had that led you to formula feed.

    So, yeah, maybe only 1 in 20 or 1 in 50 mothers physically can't make any or enough milk. But there is a huge middle ground, and the booby traps can be really complex. So I think from the formula feeding side of things, those of us who could produce some amount of milk and whose babies could consume it need to say that we faced obstacles to breastfeeding we couldn't overcome, rather than saying we “couldn't breastfeed.” And from the breastfeeding side, there needs to be an expansion of what “couldn't” means to include those who were physically capable of producing milk but faced more obstacles to breastfeeding than they could handle.

  31. Love your discussion of what exactly “I couldn't breastfeed” might mean. Disclaimer: I don't have kids yet. I can see how it might be faster/easier to say “I couldn't” rather than explain what in your situation made BFing very difficult/not feasible/ impractical/ not worth it. And some of the more extreme lactivists seem to think almost everybody can and should breastfeed. An FFing mama might not want answer all sorts of personal questions and hear their two cents on the matter. And it's really none of their business, IMHO. Perhaps statements such as “I tried, but it didn't work out” or “Bottle feeding was better for our situation” would be more accurate sometimes. But maybe “I couldn't” is a good conversation stopper. And that's what those moms wanted. I'd be interested to hear how FFing moms handled questions about why they were FFing and what worked best.

  32. I generally agree with you but think you may be missing one aspect of your issue with peoples choice of wording. The problem comes when you feel confronted by pro breastfeeding people who you're already feeling insecure around. Saying, “I just couldn't overcome the challenges” sort of invites a discussion. Then you risk having to face people who tell you that they had the same problems but THEY managed to continue which makes you feel even more crappy. As someone who is finally comfortable with my decision to switch to bottle feeding I plan to take your advice and not just say, “I couldn't” and appreciate the opportunity to discuss, support and educate. However, not everyone has the courage and ability to articulate their reasons.

  33. I wish people would ask questions! More often than not it's little side comments or dirty looks that don't really give me the chance to explain even if I wanted to.

  34. Oh, I absolutely agree, Abigail. My suggested wording definitely requires a certain confidence with formula feeding or at least the ability to fake it well. The me of a year ago would not believe I wrote that.

    There was a time early on when the “well, *I* had problems too, but *I* tried my hardest and overcame them” conversations would have just knocked me down. I really questioned whether I tried my hardest, whether there was something else I should have or could have done, and whether I was less of a mother than women who had breastfed despite obstacles like or worse than mine.

    But at this point, I'm confident enough that we made the right decision that I feel like I could decide whether that type of conversation could be productive (like maybe I could get hints and tips for next time or maybe we could both get to talking about various obstacles to breastfeeding and how to overcome them) or whether it's just going to be a milk-squirting contest (I assume that's the mommy equivalent to a pissing contest) that I will invariably lose. I would rather be honest and have the other woman reveal herself as a jerk than try to protect my ego and lose the chance for someone who can maybe make a difference to learn about the problems that I and other women have faced.

  35. Boozies =boobs. I am a breast cancer survivor and had a double mastectomy. You are correct when in Islam babies nursed by same woman are considered milk sibling. Hence they cannot marry per Islamic law.

  36. Of course, some of the good folks at TLB are so stuck in their version of “evidence” that they weren't even bothered to actually look at what you were saying, they just dismissed you outright. If you're evidence-based, shouldn't you know where the evidence is weak? Unless it's not really about evidence, after all…

  37. Mush: Unfortunately, what you say is incorrect. There are – as far as I have been able to find after spending considerable time looking into the matter – no studies showing 'lifelong advantages of extended breastfeeding'. There aren't even any studies showing convincing short-term advantages. There are precious few studies all round and not enough to convincingly *exclude* the possibility that there may be some minor benefit from extended nursing (i.e. nursing past a year), but there is currently no real evidence for this. I discuss this further at http://parentingmythsandfacts.com/2011/04/18/breastfeeding-for-longer-than-a-year-myths-facts-and-what-the-research-really-shows/ if you want to read more.

    What there are, unfortunately, are tons of studies that are not about extended breastfeeding at all but are being inaccurately claimed as being so. The page you referenced from Kellymom is a prime example of that, and I discuss this in the post I just linked to.

    I'd have to disagree with Amy M's claim that the benefit of breastmilk is no longer present by 6 months or less – at least some of the studies looking at babies in the 6 – 12 month range have found minor benefits (although others haven't). So there may well be some small benefit there. And, as I said, the limited evidence available on toddler breastfeeding isn't enough to exclude the possibility of any benefit. However, it does seem that it's going to be either nonexistent or very small. By all means continue nursing your toddler if you want to, because I certainly don't see a reason to stop as long as you're both enjoying it, but don't claim that it's been proved to be of benefit, because it hasn't.

  38. What they say: 'Babies were born to be breastfed'.

    What I, for one, think: Seriously?! That's what you think your child was born for? Or that you were? Well, speak for yourself on that one… because what I hope is that my children were born to lead fulfilling and worthwhile lives, enjoying the gifts of this world and contributing to the welfare of others. If they manage to minimise their risks of various illnesses along the way then that'll be nice for them, obviously. But it won't be their purpose in life.

  39. What they say: 'Formula is only 4th best – the official hierarchy is [blah, blah, you know the one]'

    What I think: Uh, you may be a little out of date there – as far as I've been able to find out, the WHO no longer uses that hierarchy. (The reference I could find dated back to the early 80s and the updated version I found didn't have that hierarchy, instead offering the different options as alternatives with some discussion – I guess HIV scuppered the nice simple view that donated milk was automatically better than formula.)

  40. That makes a lot of sense, Abigail and Jennifer. It would depend on why somebody was asking and how you felt about FFing. It might be useful to get/ give some advice. Other moms may just want to be left alone. But I see how saying “I couldn't” might give somebody who was looking for guidance the wrong impression. Any thoughts about better things to say?

  41. You could be a total nerd and say “our breastfeeding dyad was dysfunctional.” That might stop the screeching “educator” harpies in their tracks for a minute while they think about what that means.

  42. I didn't say the benefit of breastmilk was gone at 6mos, I said the PASSIVE IMMUNITY through breastmilk is gone/is only temporary. That's what all my links support.

  43. If this is the updated version to which you are referring, it is paragraph 18 on page 10 of the English version.


    Also, I think I found the source for the “1-5% of women physiologically can't breastfeed.” It's in Part 3, “Health factors which may interfere with breastfeeding” near the top of column 2 of page 43.


    For what it's worth, it's a 1990 publication and it cites to a 1983 study.

  44. Ooo…I like that. Should be just enough jargon to put them on notice that maybe you are already pretty well educated about breastfeeding, TYVM.

  45. And I have the opposite experience. As a mother who chose formula, it was a well-researched decision made between me, my husband, and my family physician.

    Most of my friends have breastfed, and we don't even comment on each other's chosen methods of feeding. However – I have been in the company of friends of friends, or acquaintances, who have no problem saying, to my face, that they would never feed their child that “poison” (formula). I have been approached by complete strangers in shopping centers, who have felt it necessary to tell me that I shouldn't be bottle-feeding my baby.

    Notice how I didn't justify my reasons for formula? You shouldn't justify your reasons for breastfeeding. Period. It should not be up for discussion.

  46. I would like to kindly suggest you spent as much time reading & researching about human milk as you do commenting on blogs & *perhaps* you can shed light on your own questions. I'd recommend investigating the presence of stem cells & WBC's in human milk.

  47. I would imagine this is exactly what was being said before blood banks were well established. I see this as fear-mongering.

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