Announcing the “I Support You” Movement

Last week, I got together with a group of friends for a rare “mom’s night out”. We sat for hours, sipping white sangria and inhaling carcinogens from the nearby fire pit, laughing in that way only overtired, overstressed moms can when they finally get a chance to let loose.

I’d met these women at Mommy & Me when our firstborns – all boys, born within days of each other- were about 8 weeks old. So it was no surprise that as the night wore on and the wine glasses were emptied, our conversation turned to those hazy postpartum months, when we were younger, more confused versions of ourselves. I began inwardly musing how much we’d all evolved since then; how through two pregnancies each, our strength and power as women had stretched to new limits along with our bellies.

And then it happened.

“Do you guys remember breastfeeding support group? What a godsend that was!” one of my friends gushed.

“I remember sitting next to you and crying,” said another. “Eh, I think we were ALL crying,” another responded, and the whole group started laughing in self recognition and commiseration.

I felt my shoulders tense up, an ancient and forgotten ache shooting through them, down into my belly, where old pain dies hard. The ache grew deeper when one of my friends told me that my children probably didn’t sleep as long as hers did because she breastfed them, because “nursing gives them sleepy hormones”. And when another, trying so hard to be kind and include me in the conversation, reminisced about seeing my son in his infant carrier making little sucking movements with his lips as he slept, “as if he was still sucking on his bottle”.

And all I heard was “other”; all I heard was “different”.

The next day, I was interviewed for a documentary about breastfeeding, and asked about my journey from passionate breastfeeding wannabe to Fearless Formula Feeder. I’ve done interviews like this a hundred times now; told my story a hundred more. But this time, when I came to the part where I went to Mommy & Me for the first time – the first time I’d really been out in public, let alone surrounded by other moms and babies, as prior to that I’d been stuck at home attached to my pump and held down by the weight of postpartum depression and a baby who couldn’t stop crying, no matter what we did to soothe him – I felt the ancient pain rise up like bile in my throat. As I recalled sitting there, in a circle of nursing moms, feeling like all eyes were fixated on my bottle, judging me, I choked back ugly, rusty sobs. Rancid tears punctuated my typically canned tales of feeling separate, isolated, and constantly on the defensive.

I don’t think I’d realized how much the previous evening’s conversation had affected me. My children are 2.5 and 4.5; while some of my friends have younger babies or are still nursing their second-born toddlers, breast vs bottle is not something that our group is emotionally invested in. Breastfeeding, in and of itself, doesn’t really come up anymore. But breastfeeding support group does. The days we  they spent at the park discussing breastfeeding difficulties do. Those days carry a rosy glow for my friends, but my memories are tinged with gray. Those days I sat silent, clutching my son’s formula filled bottles, gritting my teeth through the inevitable comments about how terrified they were of having to supplement, smiling a frozen smile when a new mom would join our fold and ask the inevitable question “are you pumping?” which would be met with someone else in the group recounting my story of going above and beyond, as if I needed excusing.

Something I’ve heard a lot from those who don’t quite understand my passion for this issue is that “once your kids are out of the infant stage, you won’t care so much about breast or bottle.” And that’s true, to a large degree – the scary statistics and shaming memes don’t carry the same power; I’m able to dismiss them, laugh at them, debunk them without it affecting me personally. What surprised me about the other night and my subsequent breakdown over faded memories, is that while the logistics cease to matter, the old pain and doubt are always there.

There’s a lot of research out there about imprinting, and how first experiences affect infants. But isn’t new motherhood a sort of infancy, itself? Here you are, reborn into mother, your skin and organs and thoughts raw and foreign. Everything is new. Everything is a first, postpartum- your first shower, the first time you have sex, the first time you take the baby for a walk, the first time you feel confident in your new role. Is it surprising, then, that your first social interactions as a mother don’t imprint on you in the same way a new food imprints on an infant’s taste buds?

What would have my postpartum experience been like if I could’ve sat next to my new friends without being afraid of what they’d been made to believe about formula feeding? If I could’ve attended a support group in those first weeks, too, and not had to wait 8 weeks before my community allowed me the gift of peer interaction? And what would my friends’ experiences have been like if they hadn’t been made to feel like failures for the supplementing they had to do, or made to believe that their ability to breastfeed was what made a mother worth her title? What if we could have all been supported in our individual experiences and goals, without fear of some Orwellian gaze, labeling us with a “pass” or “fail”?

And most of all…. what would have happened if I’d had the courage to speak up; to give voice to my demons, to help my friends understand how their innocent words could hurt more than my Pitocin-induced labor pains? What if we could have spoken openly, and found our differences to be our power, the power that could bring light to our fundamental sameness?

World Breastfeeding Week begins in a few days, and the theme this year is “Breastfeeding Support – Close to Mothers”. This is a fantastic theme, because breastfeeding moms need tremendous support, especially in those early days. But I think we should be taking this a step further. ALL new moms need support. Hell, all moms – those with toddlers, those birthing their fourth babies, those with teenagers – need support.  I think brand new moms are the most vulnerable, though; these are the women who are not only dealing with all the craziness that babies bring, but also their own rebirth.

I want to support breastfeeding mothers. I wanted to support my friends, in those early days; I wanted to help them through their struggles, but I felt trapped by my own insecurity. Their efforts seemed like an indictment of my choice. Their well-meaning questions about whether I’d tried talking to a lactation consultant (try seven) felt like judgment.

The problem is not us, us mothers just trying to do our best for our babies, us mothers desperately seeking a tribe, a source of support, a group to someday drink sangria with and laugh about how tough those first few weeks were. The problem is with how breastfeeding has become the antithesis of formula feeding; the problem is with how the two are set up as black and white, as polar opposites, as competing interests – rather than as two entirely independent, valid ways to feed children. Those promoting breastfeeding because they honestly believe formula is risky can continue to do so, but I think there is space for a new type of breastfeeding advocacy and support: one that celebrates and honors mothers’ autonomy, and focuses energy on providing REAL support to those who need it, regardless of feeding method. If infant feeding wasn’t set up as a succeed/fail dichotomy from the beginning, imagine how moms might be able to support each other without feeling alienated or judged for different choices?

My belief that this type of advocacy would be far more powerful in helping mothers meet their breastfeeding goals is what has inspired me to join forces with Kim Simon of Mama By The Bay and Jamie Lynne Grumet of I Am Not the Babysitter, to encourage moms to stand up and say “I Support You”.

Created by Cary Lynn Davis

Created by Cary Davis

The I Support You movement is a respectful, empathetic, compassionate exchange between parents.  We all feed our children differently, but we are all feeding with love, and in ways that work for our individual circumstances and family dynamics.  I Support You is the first step in helping formula-feeding, breast-feeding, and combo-feeding parents to come together and lift each other up with kindness and understanding. We have chosen to announce this movement during World Breastfeeding Week, to honor the commitment of those who fight for better support for breastfeeding moms; we are inspired by this, but believe that by changing the focus to supporting all parents, we can truly provoke positive change without putting the needs of some mothers above the needs of others. The “I Support You” movement aims:


1) To bridge the gap between formula-feeding and breastfeeding parents by fostering friendships and interactions.


2) To dispel common myths and misperceptions about formula feeding and breastfeeding, by asking parents to share their stories, and really listening to the truth of their experiences.


3) To provide information and support to parents as they make decisions about how to feed their children.


4) To connect parents with local resources, mentors, and friends who are feeding their children in similar ways.


(written by Kim Simon with a tiny bit of help from me)


If you want to join the movement and celebrate real support with us:


Send us your photos. I’m creating a slideshow of photos to show how beautiful support can look. If you are willing to let me use your image, take a photo of you, your baby, your family, you and a friend – doesn’t matter – with a message of support (i.e., “I exclusively breastfed, but I know every mother does what is right for her – and I SUPPORT YOU” or “I may formula feed, but I’d fight like hell for a woman’s right to NIP. I SUPPORT YOU”) and send it to by Friday, August 2nd.


Interview Your Opposite. Are you a blogger?  Are you a formula-feeder who is best friends with an extended breastfeeder?  An adoptive parent who knows of a mom using an SNS nurser with a baby in the NICU?  We want you to interview someone who is feeding in a different way than you are, and then publish it on your blog.  If you’re interested in participating but don’t know where to start, feel free to email me at for a list of interview questions.  On  Sunday, August 4th, we will ask you to share your story with us, by adding your link to the I Support You blog hop. If you don’t know anyone who feeds in a different way,  send me an email and I’ll try and connect you to someone.


Join us for a Twitter Party on August 7th, at 5pm PST/8pm EST.  We’ll be asking you to share your truths about your feeding choices, and connecting you to other parents who might be feeding their children the same way.  You can find us with the hashtag #ISupportYou.


Create your own meme or message of support. If you’re tech savvy, feel free to create a meme or shareable video that honors the “I Support You” message, and share it on the FFF Facebook page.


Check out Kim’s incredible, spine-tingling post on the “I Support You” movement, here.


The best way to counteract hate is by drowning it in a sea of change. The tide is rising, and we can float above the negativity and fear; push down the us-versus-them bullshit and let it sink to the bottom, where it belongs; lure it to its death with a siren song of I support you, sung far and wide.


Start swimming, fearless ones. I support you.

FFF Friday: “I wonder how many other mentally ill mamas fall through the cracks…”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

This week’s story addresses something that is often ignored or dismissed in conversations about choosing whether of not to breastfeed: mental illness. For someone who struggles with any number of psychiatric disorders, pregnancy and lactation, with all the hormonal and emotional upheaval they bring, can be downright toxic. Or, as Caitlin puts it, a “living hell”. Making the choice to formula feed can be a matter of survival; while some medications are compatible with breastfeeding, others aren’t – and it’s overly simplistic to tell women (as many popular breastfeeding resources do) that “if your medicine is contraindicated, you should probably be able to find one that isn’t”. Treating psychiatric conditions medically often requires “cocktails” of drugs; it can take years to find the right meds, the right doses, and the right combination. We can’t allow the rhetoric to drown out the voices of women who are struggling, and who are trying to tell health care providers (and other members of the peanut gallery) that breast simply isn’t best for them or their babies.

And I won’t even start in on the lack of education and assistance Caitlin was given, because it may well drive me to drink. I’m already *this* close to cracking open a bottle of wine and I still have three hours of “day job” work to do, so that will end badly for everyone. I think Caitlin’s story does an excellent job of making the point I’d want to make, anyway, so I’ll let her go to it.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,



Caitlin’s Story

I wanted to share my story – the story of someone who knew from the very beginning of her pregnancy that she would not be able to breastfeed her child.

To say that psychiatric problems have plagued me my entire life would not be far off course – I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder at the onset of puberty at the tender age of eight. It was a long, hard struggle for me and my care providers to find just the right medications that would work for that, along with my anxiety disorder and my later-acquired post-traumatic stress disorder.

When I found out I was pregnant, that carefully-sought combination of medications had to stop. The psychiatric medications that were safe for pregnancy – and subsequently breastfeeding – would not work on their own without careful balancing by other non-baby-safe medications. In fact, they make my issues worse.

So I knew I was in for a rough haul, but never expected my nine months of pregnancy to be a living hell with daily battles against suicidal ideations. That said, my care providers knew from the beginning that it was of paramount importance that I start my medications, as one doctor put it, “as soon as the placenta hit the bucket.”

Despite the fact that it was well-known I would not be able to breastfeed my child, I was given no support or education on how to properly formula feed her. I was met with comments ranging from pity – “It’s a shame you won’t be able to breastfeed. You’ll miss out on some important bonding” – to outright derision, with one nurse even outraged that I would dare put my “imaginary” mental health problems above the well-being of my child.

At the time, I was too tired and too miserable and too out of my right state of mind to be outraged. Every time I think back on those moments, my blood boils. My care providers KNEW for nine months that I would be unable to formula feed. I spent several days in the hospital (courtesy of a crash C-section) wherein I was given no advice on how to feed anything other than the pre-packaged, already mixed formula that came, at great frustration and humiliation, from asking a nurse each time my child was hungry because they would not stock formula in the rooms.

But I endured. And my daughter endured. And everyone who was closely involved with my pregnancy knew that the best thing for my daughter was to have a healthy mother to care for her. So I tried my best to keep my chin up and remember that I was doing what was best for both me AND my daughter.

And lest I be accused of not advocating for myself, every time I asked for guidance or education, I was met with a brush-off, or a “we’ll talk about it later” or even just that withering look that said I was barking up the wrong tree. Or even just a shrug and an “I don’t know what to tell you.”

I was lucky – I had a team of mamas at my disposal who had “been there, done that” with their own children, and their children’s children. They were able to guide me and teach me the ins-and-outs of what to do and what not to do when it came to properly formula feeding my child after we left the hospital.

But sometimes – like now – I wonder how many other mentally ill mamas fall through the cracks, like I almost did? I wonder how many others don’t have that same support network to bolster them and give the education needed to properly formula feed their child? At a time when hormones and serotonin and dopamine are already imbalanced, how many other mentally ill mamas just snapped under the pressure?

I made it through – and almost a year later, my daughter (who is also lactose-intolerant and was fed exclusively soy formula) is thriving and ahead of her development, both mentally and physically. And most importantly, she has a sane mama to help her grow into a wonderful human being.

FFF Friday: “I decided enough was enough…”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

Michelle’s story is another perfect example of how healthcare systems are failing women. One might argue- and rightfully so- that if lactation was given more attention in the medical field, an experience like Michelle’s wouldn’t have happened. But I would counter that argument with a warning: by making exclusive breastfeeding the goal rather than providing parents with holistic care that values the health of the mother as much as the health of the infant, we will keep seeing stories like this – regardless of how many units of “breastfeeding medicine” med students are required to take in school. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,



Michelle’s Story

I’ve always thought of myself as being very pragmatic and logical and I carried this trait into my pregnancy and fully expected to use it when it came to parenting. What I didn’t count on was Mommy Hormones and Mommy Feelings that all led to Mommy Guilt. Before my daughter was born I planned on breastfeeding and read all the research including all the problems that can plague breastfeeding. I bought bottles just in case but I never really expected to use them, after all breastfeeding is the logical choice, right?

My daughter was born mid-July, nearly 2 weeks late, after a textbook pregnancy and textbook induction and labour. As soon as she was born she was skin-to-skin and we breastfed within the hour with zero latching problems. Her second night we ran into some problems because my milk hadn’t come in but within another day or so I got to experience the ‘full’ joy of engorgement. Everything was going well until she was 8 days old.

The moment I got shooting pains in my breast (ol’ Lefty!), I called my midwife who was also a Lactation Consultant. Within the hour I saw her and was sent to the hospital to see an Ob. After an 8-9 hour wait he finally arrived only to take my temperature, listen to my lungs and declare that I was getting a cold (July is Winter by us so it was possible). By this time I just wanted to go home so I didn’t make a fuss that he didn’t even look at my breasts, I took his useless prescription for Vitamin C and Paracetamol and went home. By the time I got home the prescription was in tiny pieces, still the most useless one I’ve ever gotten.

A few days later my MW saw me again and she suggested I try pumping every hour and warm compresses etc just in case I had a blocked duct. But she was not fully convinced it was a blocked duct so she prescribed me antibiotics as well because by now the pain was constant, my breasts were red and there was a nice lump forming.

For more than a week I was in hell. Every time my daughter latched, or my milk came in or let down, it was like someone was plunging a red hot knife into my breast and then twisting it. I would bite my tongue or my cheek to keep from screaming. I would stand on my toes hard to try and distract me from the pain in my breast. On top of this I was starving because the antibiotics I was taking had to be taken on an empty stomach. I took it once an hour after eating a few crackers and it made me sick as a dog. I could’ve called my MW but I didn’t want to. Breastfeeding was something that I had planned on doing, something that I had researched and something that was supposed to be natural.

Two days before my next MW appointment I hit into supply problems. Looking back now I can see the logic behind it. I was starving and breastfeeding women need to eat to produce the calories for the milk. But the main reason I think was the lack on endorphins and all the happy hormones. Breastfeeding wasn’t some loving, gentle, holy bonding moment for me. It was painful, torturous hell. Milk production needs all those happy hormones and I would descend into tears when I knew that my daughter was getting hungry.

One evening she fed as usual but instead of drifting off to sleep like she had before this time she came off the breast screaming. Whenever I put her onto the breast she would suck a bit and then come off screaming. After 40 minutes of screaming I couldn’t handle it anymore so I put her down in her cot and went to brush my teeth (something that I’d been desperate to do for hours). My husband came out of the bedroom looking puzzled but when I explained to him he was happy to hold our screaming daughter for another 20 minutes while I pumped to try and get some milk into my breasts. She finally got some more milk and drifted off into exhausted sleep. After the second night of this my husband went out and came home with formula. We’d been discussing it for a few days already but I just couldn’t bring myself to actually buy some or to ask him to. He took the initiative and shouldered that guilt for me and I love him for it. That night he only let her scream for about 20 minutes before he took her and gave her some formula. She guzzled it down and had the best sleep of her life (not joking!). I was in tears but seeing her sleeping so deeply and being able to sleep more than 2 hours myself was amazing.

When I saw my MW the next day she was so encouraging about us topping up with formula. My daughter had lost weight and I looked like death warmed over. By this time the lump in my breast could fit in the palm of my hand. For an hour we tried everything she knew to move this lump before she sent me back to the hospital. I needed a scan to make sure this lump wasn’t an abscess and she reckoned that a hospital would be able to scan me quicker than my GP who would need to refer me.

Back at the hospital I only waited 3 hours before seeing the Obstetric Registrar. This time a woman who looked at my breast. I emphasise the ‘look’ so no physical examination although she asked if she could and I assented. She declared that it couldn’t be an abscess because I didn’t have a temp (hindsight: I was on the antibiotics which can remove fevers) and also because I was willing to let her touch my breast and if it was an abscess I wouldn’t let her near it. Gee and here I thought she had to touch in order to diagnose. Her recommendations went something like this:

“You need to pump every hour that you’re not feeding!”
“Doing that”

“Oh, well you need to massage it as well!”

“Tried that”

“Warm compress…”

“Tried that”

“You need to hire a lactation consultant!”

“My midwife is one, one of the reasons I chose her”

“Well you just need to try harder”


Rather than swearing at her I told her that it was fine but she had to be the one to call my MW, who had seen everything I was trying. Five minutes later I got a call from my MW asking what had happened. I basically repeated everything above and she told me to sit tight because she thought the Registrar was an idiot so she’d gone over her head and straight to the Ob Consultant on call and insisted the Consultant (aka, Registrar’s boss) come and see me herself.

Within a minute of that conversation the Consultant was there dragging with her a very sulky Registrar. The Consultant gave me a proper examination, one where I was gritting my teeth and jamming my nails into the palm of my hand to stop myself from crying. She told the Registrar to refer me for a scan because there was no other way to properly diagnose my lump and that a blocked duct would have moved by now.

It took 4 days and my MW chasing the Registrar before I got my referral. It took the Radiologist less than 10 seconds to diagnose a Breast Abscess, one that was bigger than the palm of my hand and deeper than my fist (10cm x 8cm x 4cm). I was operated on that night where they irrigated a ‘huge amount of frank puss’ according to my surgery notes, and was sent home the next day with a bandage that would have done a breast plate proud. For a whole weekend I could only feed on one side thanks to the bandage and just topped up with formula. It was the best two days since my daughter was born. After the bandage had been removed everyone encouraged me to put her back on that breast but I couldn’t. I sat with her in my lap telling myself to just do it, just put her on, just do it! But then she waved her arm and brushed the operation wound and the pain from that just sent me back to the hell before.

I told my MW that I couldn’t, while logically I understood that physically I could do it, mentally I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Her main concern: “Are you happy with this choice?” She was willing to help me go back to breastfeeding, willing to prescribe me the milk boosters and willing to see me every day but most importantly she was just as willing to let me breastfeed from one side and top up with formula. She was more concerned about my mental health than the supposed health benefits of breastfeeding. “Happy Mama = Happy Baby” she told me and it became my mantra. She was amazing and she was the one that went and took on the doctors that had been so useless (a few days later I got a letter of apology from the Consultant).

I mixed fed like that for about three weeks, but every day my daughter was demanding more and more formula. And one day when my nipple cracked and I felt that pain again I decided that enough was enough. Breastfeeding was not for me, not this time. A few days later my mother took the baby for a night and I didn’t even miss her. I realised that with the pain and torture that I’d gone through that I hadn’t really bonded with my daughter. That one night of freedom cemented my decision to stop breastfeeding and my milk dried up within three days with no engorgement and only one pumping session.

If it wasn’t for the positive support I received from my husband and my midwife (and from my family too) I don’t know what would have happened. I wasn’t medically depressed but I don’t think I was far from it and I hadn’t bonded with my daughter. The fact that my midwife was equally concerned for my health (both mental and physical) as well as for my baby’s is the best thing that could have happened to me and I count myself lucky every day that I chose her.

My daughter is now nearly 9 months old and when she’s in a group of babies you wouldn’t pick her out for being formula fed. She’s a happy and healthy weight, she meets her milestones either early or on time and most importantly she has a mother who has finally bonded with her. Who finally finds feeding her a pleasure and who loves seeing her and her daddy bond over a feed too and also a mother who is enjoying the freedom that bottle feeding gives.

And while everyone harps on about the pros of breastfeeding, I am glad that I have been able to find all the pros of bottle feeding too.


Feel like sharing your story? Send it to me –


How the other half lives: Negative perceptions of formula feeding and breastfeeding, and why they both suck

Over on Twitter, I follow a woman who goes by “WolfMommy”. It’s an appropriate handle; she’s an incredible advocate for breastfeeding moms, a mother-wolf who hunts a nasty prey comprised of people making disparaging remarks about nursing in public, and confronts them. The stuff she unearths is simultaneously depressing and infuriating; people making comments like “This lady Just pulled her saggy ass Boob out & started Breast Feeding in. my face”  and “Come on lady breast feeding your baby in steak and shake that’s disgusting!!”   (To which WolfMommy aptly responded “Another women’s breasts are none of your business. And if she was feeding her baby ‘in your face’ you should step back”  and “A baby eating is not disgusting”, respectively. See? Told you she was awesome.)

I love following her for several reasons – first, she’s funny and brave, and a true champion for women’s rights. But I also like getting a feed of all the crap breastfeeding moms have to endure, because in my fight to end the stigma of formula feeding, I can’t let myself forget that breastfeeding women are being punished for feeding their babies, too. Here are some more comments that I’ve seen via WolfMommy’s rage-inducing Twitter feed:

LIVE PORN!!!!!!! RT @AyeImShanzii: This lady breast feeding the child in front of us 😐

Just saw a Mexican lady breast feeding in the parking lot of work. Broad daylight. Happy Tuesday!

Queen Windjammer@Graceeellen

Some bitch is breast feeding in A&E. Bitch put your titties away.


Shall I go on? Or have you vomited at the ignorance and utter disgustingness of it already?

It’s a complicated issue for me to write about, this shaming of women for different feeding methods. My personal shit rises to the surface – I can’t help feel resentful that breastfeeding moms get New York Times articles and fundraising campaigns and nurse-ins to help them counteract the ignorance and cruelty, while formula feeding moms are told they are being defensive, whiny and overly-sensitive when we complain about the insults directed at us. It’s hard to be objective, because I’m human, and I spend hours every evening reading emails from women who’ve been intensely hurt by this vitriol. So I want to preface this post by admitting to a strong personal bias; I admit that I never had the opportunity to nurse in public (or anywhere other than my house, my hospital room, or my doctor’s office – all places that were unilaterally supportive of breastfeeding) and thus have no experience with that particular brand of shame. I am sure, knowing myself as well as I do, that if some asshat store manager had ever asked me to leave or cover up I’d have been livid, and I’d like to think I’d have turned into the kind of warrior that WolfMommy is (rather than the type of breastfeeding advocate who wastes her passion and anger trying to prove the inferiority of formula and formula feeding moms, as if we were the enemy, instead of the actual, ignorant asshats). But that’s not my story, and my role is to defend a group that (in my estimation) has been ignored, misunderstood, and dismissed, so that’s where I’m coming from.

In preparation for this post, I asked the FFF community to send me examples of negative comments about formula-feeders; things on par with calling a woman “gross” for breastfeeding, or inflicting a sexual overtone to her nurturing act. I wanted to compare the types of hate directed at breastfeeding moms to that directed at formula feeding moms, to try and help people understand where we are coming from.

No offense, but…

Interestingly, a lot of what people sent me were not direct insults towards formula feeders but rather negative comments about formula itself – that it was crap, poison, junk food, etc. I understand how that can be triggering; the implication being that anyone who knowingly fed her baby poison/junk food/crap must not care for her child’s welfare. But this does play into the stereotype that we are “overly sensitive”; some argue that it’s a “hate the sin, love the sinner” type of situation and that no one is blaming us for using a sub-par product since we obviously didn’t have the right education/support/personal drive to do the right thing. The problem is, we only have two choices in responding to such attitudes – we can either admit to not caring about what we feed our kids, or admit to being uneducated/unsupported/lazy victims. The only other option is to defend ourselves, and defend the product, which is often viewed as “defensive” or like we are comparing formula to breastmilk, thus belittling the efforts of those who are exclusively nursing:

“I must state that I regret ever using Enfamil or any other brand of baby formula due to the toxic ingredients that compose these products. The fact that they are developed and marketed to be used by infants that are still developing is just disgusting. I wish I had known what half the ingredients were & the potential side effects when I fed it to my boys, this applies not only to formula but all other forms of infant/toddler ‘food items’. I’m writing this as an now informed consumer not someone who is being paid by some other organization to post random things” (Source:


“Sadly many mothers fall victim to Enfamil’s aggressive marketing. People need to wake up and understand that infant formula should only be used as a last resort. Babies don’t thrive on formula, they only survive.” (Source:


“breast is best…lord only knows the after affects of chemically made formula……..autism anyone?” (Source:

Are you mom enough?

These types of comments are particularly insidious, because of course moms have every right to feel proud if they’ve dedicated themselves to the goal of nursing and overcome hurdles. But this achievement is no more admirable than that of a mom who faced the same odds and had the strength to do what was best for her family. I also think there is a difference between tooting your own horn and smacking someone over the head with a tuba. For example, if I said, “I’m so proud that my 4-year-old has started to read! I read to him every night, and he finally started sounding out words by himself. So exciting!!”, it might make someone feel a bit defensive that their 6-year-old wasn’t reading, but it’s a lot different than saying “Wow, my 4-year-old is reading! I sacrificed my workout time every night to read to him for an hour, and all my hard work is really paying off. I wish every 4-year-old could have the gift of reading – if only their parents were willing to put their children’s education first rather than worrying about their muffin tops.”

“The past three months, I dealt with cracked bleeding nipples, trying to wean off a shield which now makes it hurt every time she latches still, double mastits, thrush, growth spurts where I thought my tits were going to fall off, not being able to take some time to myself because no one else can feed her, rude comments for feeding my child in public, plus many other obstacles. I could have chose to throw some powder and water into a bottle and have my husband feed her but I powered through and THAT is why I deserve an “award” and you don’t. Harsh? Yes. True? Yes.” (


“Sure some people formula feed but I EDUCATED MYSELF and LOVED MY BABY ENOUGH to breastfeed because it’s the right thing to do. Im not just going to opt for convenience at the risk of my baby’s health.” (source: unknown – sent in by reader from her friend’s Facebook feed.)

Liar, liar, pants on fire

Source: Twitter (unknown origin)

Source: Twitter (unknown origin)

These comments accuse women of lying or making excuses for formula feeding. Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more of this type of anti-formula feeder sentiment, perhaps due to the fact that we’ve found our voices – there’s a backlash happening, with women telling their stories in hopes of countering claims that nearly every woman can breastfeed. Again, there’s no real possibility of defending yourself against these comments; there is no way to prove you had a “legitimate medical reason” unless you are willing to post your official medical records; also, for those of us who believe it’s a woman’s right to choose whether to breastfeed, participating in this type of debate is a losing battle. It gives someone the power to qualify a woman’s pain – is emotional pain valid? How much physical pain is enough? – and no matter what, there’s always someone who will claim to have had the same problem and persevered. Or at least found some donor milk.

“I’ll be the bad guy and admit that I do look down on ff when it’s not for a legitimately medical reason. The times that are for real reasons (which doesn’t include not being able to tough it out past the wretched beginning) are not nearly as common as people claim. It bothers me that we have to go out of our way to make sure ff moms don’t get butt hurt but people are allowed to make comments to moms who nurse in public. I’m over it. Do babies survive on formula? Of course, but it’s there for when there are no other options because there it’s a reason breast is best. Go ahead and hate me!” ” (Source:


“I have no problem with women who chose not to breastfeed. My issues are with women who make every excuse in the book. Just be honest and say,’I didn’t want to BF!’ Quit saying you didn’t have enough milk or my baby was allergic, etc. It makes you look stupid to those of us who are actually educated about nursing!”


“How can a baby ever be allergic to breast milk? I believe that is impossible, sound like your doctor works for Nestlé’s. It is the mother’s diet that has to change and that affects the baby. If I were you I’d start pumping my breasts to start nursing your baby again. Any LaLeche league leader has years of experience in this field. Any fake formula is harmful to your child.” (Source:

Consider the source

It’s one thing to see a nasty comment from young non-parents, or teenage boys, or people who don’t have a great grasp on grammar or spelling. It’s a whole other sack of potatoes to be insulted and shamed by government officials, medical experts, and respected breastfeeding advocates. The following comments were in response to a lactivist blogger’s question about “defensive formula feeders”, i.e., people like Hannah Rosin, Joan Wolf, and presumably me, who attempt to approach breastfeeding science a bit more critically. But these experts manage to disparage any formula feeding parent who refuses to feel guilty for the way they feed their infants; this is less about a handful of specific social critics and more about the thousands of women who aren’t interested in self-flaggelating behavior:

“We’re talking exclusively gut-level stuff here. My feeling after hanging around the topic these past four decades is that based on the collective knowledge that is readily available to anyone with a keyboard and a broadband connection, if you don’t understand the facts today, you’re very unlikely to understand them tomorrow…

I suggest referring to this particularly virulent variety of obstinate critic as charter members of the Flat Earth Society. I’m not joking, at least not in terms of the implications of their brand of reality that is being bandied about. We are mammals; this is what we do, or at least what we should be doing. To suggest, imply or otherwise posit that, alone among the 5200 or so mammalian species that have been evolving for the past 200+ million years, we are able to willy-nilly forsake our mammalian imperative with impunity would be risible if it were not so serious in its individual and public health dimensions.” – James Akre (source:



“Of course, the reality is that for many children in the US, bottle-feeding doesn’t represent a ‘miniscule or poorly understood risk’ – it represents a well-established higher risk of many different diseases both in infancy and throughout life, as well as a risk of a lower cognitive functioning. And for some children, their mother’s choice to bottle-feed will result, directly or indirectly, in their death.” – Katherine Dettwyler (source:

Another brand of indirect vitriol comes from experts who irresponsibly perpetuate the idea that formula feeding parents are directly responsible for the ills of our society. One frequent offender is Darcia Navarez, who is a professor at Notre Dame and a blogger for Psychology Today, who floats the following out into the ether:

“When your fellow citizens are not breastfed, it costs you. If you were not breastfed, it is costing you. It is costly for all members of society, whether or not you are a parent or grandparent… People who are breastfed are less likely to be get a host of mental and physical diseases throughout life and are less likely to end up in prison.” (Source:

And then, of course, there’s Dr. Jay Gordon, who either has a complete lack of understanding for the concept of correlation vs. causation, or just doesn’t give a crap:

NOT breastfeeding leads to 13 (!!) extra pounds by early teen years. Formula feeding creates increased obesity!


Now- none of this negates the fact that women’s rights are being infringed upon when they are being asked to leave Target for nursing their babies, or told that they have to cover up on an airplane. Those are issues of basic human rights; I wouldn’t even categorize them as “shaming” because they go so far beyond that. ALL women should be fighting against the misogyny and puritanism that contributes to this type of injustice – when a mom gets harassed for feeding her baby, that’s an insult to ALL moms. But it has to go both ways – we can’t fight for a woman’s right to breastfeed her baby based on feminist and human rights ideals, and then allow formula feeding parents to be disenfranchised instead. There must be a way to support breastfeeding without throwing formula feeding mothers under the bus. The simplistic, us-vs-them thinking that has created the Mommy Wars must end, because it serves no one, and wastes our valuable time with in-fighting. I don’t know about you, but as a working mom of young kids, I barely have time to go to the bathroom, let alone fight social inequities. It’s exhausting having to constantly defend ourselves; imagine what power we would have if we could stop blaming other mothers for our plight and instead, join together in raging against the paternalistic machine that has made infant feeding a pain in the ass for all of us, rather than the joyful experience it should be?

World Breastfeeding Week is coming up (August 1-7), with this year’s theme being “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers”, and I want to throw out a challenge: I want to hear from breastfeeding and formula feeding moms about how we can support BOTH groups better. I think it’s clear that both groups are being harassed, albeit in different ways, and I am hoping that by communicating honestly with each other, we can give adequate support to all parents. I believe that by supporting all moms, we will be able to support breastfeeding mothers better. But more on that later- for now,  I want answers to the following, depending on your perspective:

For formula feeding mothers:

How would the comments made about breastfeeding (above) make you feel? Can you understand why a mother might feel embarrassed, self-conscious and fed up when her method of feeding is constantly sexualized, made fun of, or stereotyped? Do you really think breastfeeding mothers are the enemy? If not, who is?

For breastfeeding mothers:

How would the comments made about formula feeding (above) make you feel if breastfeeding hadn’t worked out? Can you understand why a mother might feel hurt, defensive and angry when her method of feeding is constantly undermined and insulted? Do you really think formula feeding mothers are the enemy? If not, who is?

For combo-feeding mothers:

Considering you have the worst of both worlds when it comes to negative comments about infant feeding, what’s your take? Which make you feel worse- the comments about formula, or the comments about breastfeeding, and why?

I know it can be hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes- er, bra?- but I think if we can all accept that both types of feeding come with their own brand of bullshit, we might be able to let go of some of the anger, resentment and defensiveness that makes this particular mommy war so violent. There are people out there who genuinely believe that formula feeding is downright irresponsible and dangerous (see above comments by Dettwyler and Akre, for starters), and those folks probably have no reason to join this particular revolution. But they are the same people who want to make every woman birth the same, parent the same, and feel the same. I don’t think that the majority of mothers are so dogmatic- I think most of us are simply too caught up in our own personal plight to take a step back and be empathetic. And please notice I said empathetic, not sympathetic. There’s a difference between the two definitions, and in this case, that difference means everything.

FFF Friday: “I hope we’ll get to a time where excuses for why we choose to feed our infants the way we do are no longer required.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

This week, we saw yet another attack on our community from people who believe our stories equate to whining; that they come out of a place of defensiveness rather than a need to connect and commiserate with others (or, like this week’s FFF Friday author, Tabitha’s case, an altruistic desire to work towards a time when moms won’t attack moms for their experiences and beliefs). 

The thing of it is, there’s really no productive way to respond to this vitriol, because no story will make them understand, and no reasons will validate our experiences in their eyes. And even if it did – it certainly won’t help the next woman who tries to share her journey and is told it doesn’t measure up; that her pain doesn’t register on their mythical scale of martyrdom. 

But what we need  to remember is that these people aren’t “breastfeeders”. They aren’t even lactivists. They are bullies; obstinate, dogmatic extremists who will not rest until the world concedes that they are right. And any “expert” who supports them, or who shares a laugh with them at the expense of struggling new moms, is showing his or her true colors; proving that they care more about getting every woman to breastfeed than caring what it does to them (or their babies) in the process.

These people – the bloggers, the “experts”, and the semi-anoymous Facebook trolls- do us FFFs a favor. With their anger, aggression, and totalitarianism, they remind us that it is not mom against mom, but mom against – well, asshole. But I hope to god that they also remind breastfeeding advocates that their words – however well intentioned – have the ability to be morphed (quite easily) into a new brand of supremacy; one that creates an atmosphere that is not conducive to adjusting to breastfeeding or mothering; one that is perfectly, beautifully, heartbreakingly explained in Tabitha’s story. The bullies would probably be bullies no matter what, but only in the infant feeding arena are they backed up by major medical organizations, feminist groups, and government authorities. And I’m not talking about the actual statistics or studies here – I’m talking about the way these statistics and studies are presented to the public, in ways that perpetuate negative myths about formula feeding and that create what Tabitha aptly describes as a culture of competition, where we’re rated on not only how hard we try, but far more heavily on how appropriately we succeed.

Mothering is not the SAT. It’s more like an open essay question. I hope Tabitha’s story reminds all of us of that, and inspires us to start breaking our no. 2 pencils in silent protest.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,



Tabitha’s Story

My struggles with breastfeeding began 5 years ago, but my ideals about breastfeeding formed much earlier.  I was born at a time when breastfeeding was just coming into fashion again.  My mother lived in a rural town at the time and despite little support from those around her, breastfed me.  Pumping was certainly not the norm or even effective at the time and so when she went back to work, I received the occasional bottle of formula.  My sister arrived 2 years after me and was also breastfed.  If I’m not mistaken, she was exclusively breastfed..  As a child I breastfed my dolls, because that’s how I thought all babies were fed.

Fast forward twenty years later.  I chose to go into the field of early childhood development.  In my university classes we discussed breastfeeding and its benefits and looked at the research.  We were taught how to promote breastfeeding to mothers we would encounter in our field.  A couple of years later I was working for Early Head Start.  When I met with mothers who would enroll in my program I would encourage them to breastfeed and brainstorm ways to make it work despite their life circumstances.  Several years later I was pregnant with my first child.

Getting pregnant didn’t come easily, but I just knew breastfeeding would.  My husband and I took a breastfeeding class a few months before our son was born.  I may be mistaken, but I swear the lactation consultant (LC) said, “1in 4 of you will not be breastfeeding by 3 months.”  I turned to my husband and emphatically said, “That will not be me.”  I aced the breastfeeding quiz the LC gave and could answer every question that came up.  I was not going to fail.  And then our son was born.

He was 6 lbs even at 37 weeks, but was healthy by all accounts.  He was born 30 minutes shy of midnight and all three of us were exhausted.  I attempted to feed my son immediately, but he didn’t have much interest at first.  I did my duty and continued feeding on demand throughout the night.  By the next morning, when I asked to see an LC, my nipples were a mess.  I was bleeding like you wouldn’t believe.  I now know I have a skin condition that made cracking inevitable.  When my baby came off my breasts he had blood around his mouth.  I felt like I was feeding a vampire.  I was scared I would hurt him.  I was in a ton of pain, but I persevered after being assured a little blood was ok and to “watch it” because I was now at risk for infection.

We got home and the problems continued.  My son’s weight dropped and then some.  I took supplements galore to increase milk supply.  “You must supplement your baby with formula or banked milk” the doctors said.  I used a supplemental nursing system with formula.  Banked milk would be an ode to my failures.  My baby was not going to have a bottle.  That was a “booby trap”. 3 weeks in I got mastitis and after hearing my story the LC said she wouldn’t blame me if I stopped breastfeeding, but if I was to have any chance at success I had to let my nipples heal..  I hadn’t intended to use a pump.  I had a job where my baby could come with me and nurse when he wanted, but out to purchase a pump I went.  Due to the state of my nipples I had to use special ointments in addition to antibiotics and was advised to pump and dump throughout the infection.  It was hard to see my precious milk go to waste.  For those 2 weeks my son was an exclusive formula feeder.

Eventually I healed, but my baby was used to the bottle now.  I was able to pump about 12 oz a day.  The extra nutrition I provided him came from formula.  My husband was in medical school at the time and we were living on my teacher’s salary.  We had plenty of family members who would have helped us with the cost of formula, but we qualified for WIC.  I decided to swallow my pride and go down to the WIC office (the fact that university trained teachers make so little they qualify for “welfare” is a story for another day).  Being on the other side of WIC really gives one perspective.  And believe me, they don’t push formula feeding as some would lead you to believe.  I was berated for needing formula and lectured about how “breast was best.”  “Yes I know”, I replied, “I used to give the same lecture and know the research, but my baby is starving.”

An aside, formula feeding is not the easy way out so many would have us believe.  I personally can’t stand the smell of formula.  I am a self declared neat freak so having bottles out all the time drives me batty.  And washing bottles is a chore.  On the flip side breastfeeding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either.  I had to remember a nipple shield whenever I went somewhere the first few weeks.  The supplements I used to increase supply cost about as much as formula, and add on to that the cost of lactation consultant visits, doctors’ visits for infection, and prescription antibiotics.  The time spent pumping took precious time away from my new family and the only thing that cured my baby’s jaundice was formula.  But I digress.

At 4 months I decided to try nursing again.  Amazingly, this time my son got it, but it was a comfort thing we did once a day for the next 6 months.  It worked for us. And at 10 months it wasn’t for either of us anymore and we switched to full-time formula feeding.

During my breastfeeding ordeal (yes that’s what it was) people I met out and about would ask if I was breastfeeding.  I learned firsthand how berating “lactivists” could be.  I felt I needed to launch into my story, which is actually much more complicated than what I have already written.  I have just about every medical condition listed in the literature that makes breastfeeding more difficult.  But they didn’t care.  I hadn’t tried “hard” enough.  I would get angry when my husband would use one of my precious breastmilk bottles at home.  I needed those for outings.  If I couldn’t breastfeed, at least maybe those who chided me would see that I was giving my son pumped milk.  When my son turned a year I felt the breastfeeding nightmare was over, but it still haunted me occasionally.

3 years later I was pregnant again.  Old feelings came back.  I thought about how I had “failed” my son according to certain groups of people.  This, despite having a loving, smart child who was rarely sick.  I would not fail again.  While still pregnant, I met with an ob-gyn who had gotten her PhD doing research in breastfeeding, to discuss what went wrong previously.  This doctor was incredible.  All LCs should be like her.  She termed my first experience a “lactastrophe” since both baby and mom had a multitude of problems.  We talked about what to try differently this time around, and I was told to let go of the guilt if things did not work out and think about all the other things I could do to bond with my child.  For me this was easier said than done.

My husband was now out of med school and working as a pediatrician and so I would be able to stay home.  I thought this would give me more time to focus on feeding.  Eventually our daughter arrived.  She was born at 39 weeks and took to feeding more easily than her brother.  In fact she took to breastfeeding like a champ.  The nurses, doctors, and LCs said they wished they could teach all the babies on the floor to nurse so well.  I used Lansinoh like it was going out of style to prevent my nipples from cracking.

Despite minor cracking, nursing was bliss for a couple of days.  And then my daughter’s weight dropped and kept dropping.  Because she was breastfeeding so well supplementing her wasn’t suggested at first.  The doctors decided to give her time for her weight to go up.  It never did.  My daughter got sleepy.  Nursing became agony.  I couldn’t wake her up, but I was attempting to feed all the time to make sure she was getting something.  My husband had access to a scale at the hospital, so I used it incessantly to measure how much my daughter was getting.  You may read that true low supply only happens in 1% of mothers.  To that I say “bologna”!  I know too many women who have struggled with it to believe that.  I did not have perceived low supply because I knew exactly what my daughter’s intake was and it was low.  I pumped after every feed which became a nightmare because I had a 4 year old to take care of as well.  The nurse, bottle, pump cycle became unsustainable, but for some reason I kept doing it.  I began taking supplements including a new one that was supposed to be magic.  It didn’t do much, nor did the other helpful tips for increasing supply.

My pediatrician husband along with our pediatrician eventually said we had to supplement.  I broke down and said “go to the store to get some formula”.  I was heartbroken when my husband pulled out a can of formula he had hidden in the pantry.  It made me feel like more of a failure that he had saved the free can that came in the mail.  I know that wasn’t his intention.  Some incredible, non judgmental friends offered their own extra supplies of breastmilk.  If it wouldn’t be a daily reminder to me of my own guilt I would have definitely taken them up on it.  I “fell harder” this time because things seemed perfect at first and the depression I’d been spiraling into over breastfeeding our daughter hit an all-time low.  I told my husband that if I couldn’t feed our daughter I might as well not be around.  I had no intention of harming myself, but that’s how the culture of “breast is the only right way” had made me feel.  My husband said “our baby is so much more than a thing to feed,” and of course he was right.  Although I’m sure there are still those out there who think that somehow I still didn’t try hard enough.

The plan was to get our little girl’s weight up so she would have more energy to eat and then pull away supplementation.  It did work well and by 2 months I had stopped supplementing with formula.  But without any supplementation my daughter’s weight plateaued and so I learned that she needed just a mere three ounces of formula a day for a little weight gain.  At this point I was seeing someone to discuss my depression.  I was feeling much better, and only occasionally would make a comment about how I still felt bad because I wasn’t breastfeeding exclusively.  My very supportive husband’s response, “it is not a competition, you are still breastfeeding.”  And oh do I wish it weren’t a competition.  But unfortunately women in our society have made it so.

My second breastfeeding relationship also ended at 10 months.  I would have kept going, but I ended up with mastitis and at 10 months I didn’t find it necessary to continue with the risk of repeat infections being much higher for me.  When my daughter slapped me because she wasn’t getting enough milk anymore, that confirmed we were done.  It was a bittersweet end.  I have no problem with extended feeding and would have continued, but my baby, not the world, told me it was time to stop.  Dragging it out would have only been for me.


After my experience I very firmly believe that no one should tell another mother what is best for her child (yes I realize there are exceptions such as abuse).  Research can be presented, but there is always more to the story than just breast vs. formula.  Most mothers are doing the best they can with the cards they are dealt.  Great for you if you can breastfeed exclusively!  I understand and support you if you decide to formula feed.  I think women should have the right to breastfeed, but they should be able to formula feed without guilt.  I was very aware when visiting relatives in VA that I did not have the breastfeeding rights I had in my home state, and women should continue to fight for those rights.  I know there are women who have been made to feel uncomfortable while breastfeeding in public, and I am very sorry for that.  But during my two feeding relationships I was never ostracized for nursing, but was made to feel inferior time and time again and berated because I chose to supplement with formula.  I have taken care of hundreds of infants who were fed in a variety of ways across socioeconomic groups and sadly breastfeeding did not magically make this disparity disappear.  Of course I didn’t do controlled studies, but if I compared children within their socioeconomic groups I certainly couldn’t tell you which were breastfed and which were not.  And in my infant classes, although I know just coincidence, the formula fed babies were the ones who were rarely sick.  Go figure.


Would I choose to breastfeed again?  Yes, but I also have to ask myself if, given my struggles, my reasons for breastfeeding aren’t entirely selfish.  I took a lot of time away from my family and went on a crusade to breastfeed because society told me I wasn’t a good mother if I didn’t.  Can I just say, “thank God we live in a time when an alternative is available to those of us with problems!”?  So, yes I’ll do it again because when it was going well my children and I truly enjoyed the experience.  But you know what? You can bond, be a good mother, and have wonderful, productive children even if you formula feed!  As I wrote this I found out a friend had lost her baby in the second trimester.   As my heart broke for her all I could think was that each mother out there, including myself, should be thankful we have a baby and the opportunity to debate feeding choices.  I hope some day we’ll get to a place where we will support each other as mothers.  I hope we’ll get to a time where excuses for why we choose to feed our infants the way we do are no longer required.  A time when a four page story to support the way I chose to feed my children isn’t necessary.  I know it will be an uphill battle, but one day I dream that motherhood will be a time to build each other up and not tear each other down.  Until then I hope my story will at least be a step in the right direction.


Ready…set…SHARE. Send your story to And like my dad always says, don’t let the bastards get you down.


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