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:  https://www.facebook.com/Enfamil?fref=ts)

 

“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: https://www.facebook.com/Enfamil?fref=ts)

 

“breast is best…lord only knows the after affects of chemically made formula……..autism anyone?” (Source: http://news.yahoo.com/fatty-acids-formula-linked-quick-thinking-kids-195825033.html)

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.” (http://community.babycenter.com/post/a41326993/bronze_bottle_award)

 

“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: http://community.babycenter.com/post/a41326993/bronze_bottle_award)

 

“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!”

(Source: http://community.babycenter.com/post/a41326993/bronze_bottle_award)

“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: https://www.facebook.com/askthechicks?hc_location=timeline)

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: thealphaparent.com/2013/07/the-art-of-denouncing-breastfeeding.html)

 

 

“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: thealphaparent.com/2013/07/the-art-of-denouncing-breastfeeding.html)

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: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201108/breastmilk-wipes-out-formula-responses-critical-comments)

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.

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

  1. How would I feel about those comments on public feeding? I would feel so embarrassed, self-conscious and fed up that my method of feeding is constantly being sexualized. How do I feel about the silly comments about formula feeding? Embarrassed, self-conscious and fed up that my method of feeding is constantly being demonised.
    The real enemy I think is a combination between the extremist scientists who blame ff on all the evils of the world, and the journalists who don’t report studies properly. They’re the ones that lead to mothers who are convinced that anything less than breastfeeding is abuse.

  2. As a combo feeder, I can honestly say the comments directed at FF have been insanely hurtful, have made me question my qualifications as a mother, and intensified my grief at the loss of an EBF relationship due to IGT. I have nursed my baby in public on numerous occasions, and if I got sideways glances, or stares (no one ever actually approached me) or if someone posted something nasty about me on twitter, or the like (I’d never know) I had the comforting fact that I was doing the best thing for my baby to back me up, and I could imagine that in any crowd there had to be a good number of people who supported what I was doing, and even if they didn’t say anything, they were cheering me on. When I get a sideways glance, or sneer while giving a bottle, I can’t say I feel like I’d have a cheering section in the mall food court, or the Chinese buffet restaurant.

  3. Whether it is something we have put upon ourselves or society has bred in us, many women operate on a base line level of low self-esteem (me included). Therefore, we seem to spend a large amount of energy criticizing both ourselves and every decision we make, and other women and every decision they make.
    Who is the enemy? At this point it is ourselves, even if it is a larger systemic indoctrination of women into self-hatred and, by extension, hatred or each other. It doesn’t matter where it stems from; we need to stop it by starting with the woman in the mirror, as Michael Jackson would say.
    Most of us as women know that, in many things, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We can’t be too prudish but we can’t be too slutty, and where that balance tips seems to be a mystery to all involved. How do you define a slut? Someone once told me that we define a slut as a woman who has had sex with more people them we have.
    Case in point: The crusade against women breastfeeding in public, in addition to the crusade against women formula feeding if it is not an ABSOLUTE necessity (with medical documentation to boot) is part of a larger misogynistic trend that has not vanished in our supposed progressive society. it is ALWAYS the mother’s fault if the child is messed up, right? The father leaves, well, he’s a deadbeat dad. The mother leaves? She is the devil.

    *Just as a side note, in reaction to some of those comments about formula that made me livid: You know what happened when the only “natural” thing to do was breastfeed and there was no “devil’s juice” to feed your baby? A LOT OF THEM DIED. So, my baby is going to have a few extra pounds from formula feeding? Fine. At least he is healthy and thriving. And are we also expected to live “naturally” like all the other mammals do? With our cars and Iphones and factory farmed meat that we buy in a nice little package at the supermarket? If we are going to strip down society of all of its advancements, both for good and for bad, then let’s do it! More babies (and mothers!) will die in childbirth or shortly thereafter and we also won’t have to worry about those darn stupid fat diabetic formula-fed kids who will be walking around sucking up society’s money that could be spent on people who smoke or eat red meat or die in car accidents.

    • Bravo! I love the side note! It says perfectly everything I’ve been thinking. I’m damn glad that we’ve got ‘devils juice’ if it means my child will thrive (and poo to whoever thinks ff babies don’t thrive!). And double bravo to our so-called need to live naturally. That’s part of being human: we’ve evolved to a point where we can live beyond animalism. Unless they’re expecting us to start living in a ‘might makes right’ world!

  4. P.S. Sorry for any typos and sorry for the anger. It all came out! The bottom line is that we all need to realize that any judgment we are making for another woman’s choice with her own child (within reason, of course) is ultimately an extension of our own insecurities. Once we realize that, maybe we can stop the insanity.

    • So true! It took me a long time to learn that other parents’ judgment comes from THIER insecurities. Once I truly believed that I started to heal from the mean comments.

  5. As a FFF mama, I’m just as disgusted by the comments made towards breastfeeding mothers as those made towards formula feeding mothers. It seems a true case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I don’t see breastfeeding mothers as enemies at all, to be honest I find that concept bizarre – it would be like saying that as the mother of boys, I must view mothers of girls as enemies. The only enemies in the infant feeding discourse are the extremists and antagonists who are hell bent on forcing their opinion on others, and using bullying and abuse as some of their many tools of hatred. None of them are doing anyone any favours, and only serves to damage the view society has of the stance they are taking.

  6. Great read! It made me feel angry to read what such ignorant people had to say about the breastfeeders. “In broad daylight”…. Seriously, are infants only allowed to eat at night?? Are these women who make these comments childless? Maybe they are and once they Have children, they might be the person breastfeeding in public… While people make nasty, ignorant comments.

    I did however, come away from this with some guilt about formula feeding. My child is passed formula now and he’s doing great! I dont understand why FF seems to be zoned in on when there’s SO many other foods out there that are geared towards our children that we should Not be feeding them. Look at the nutrition info on some of the baby/toddler foods out there.
    By the way, some of these breastfeeding women out there who crucify the FF are probably now feeding their kids Awful crap that they shouldn’t be eating… Full of sodium, and GMOs, etc. So I don’t know why we can’t all just Respect each other as Moms. We are all fighting the same fight every day. Keep the child happy while teaching them things… Try to get them to eat Something and maybe get some sleep at some point.

  7. Before I was a mother, I loved seeing women nurse in public. It gave me a sense of empowerment. It made me proud for those women and for myself. After having to switch to FF it was get wrenching to me. Even a few of my closest friends had made comments about how they were better moms because they gave their baby a better start in life than I did for mine. And now every time my toddler gets sick, this same friend talks of how ‘sickly’ my child is and how hers isn’t, so it must be that she BF and I FF. I know its because she is a sahm while my child goes to daycare and is exposed to a larger amount of germs on any given day. I still love seeing a woman BF in public, and would stand behind her in her fight, as long as she has backbone enough to stand behind me in mine.

    • Your post could have been mine (minus the crappy friends part)! I had always dreamed of BFing my baby and educated myself on how to do so. After my baby was born he would cry…all.the.time. I quickly realized it was because he was hungry… all.the.time. I knew I may have problems BFing because of a prior breast reduction, and it broke my heart that this surgery has affected my ability to feed my baby (though, I wouldn’t change my decision to have the reduction!!). The lactation department at my hospital tried to work with us, but in the end I couldn’t watch my baby cry because he was hungry any more, I HAD to supplement. Once I started supplementing he became such a happy and calm baby. Eventually I was producing barely any milk and just had to stop trying to BF as it was becoming too much of a pain for both myself and my baby (dry, bleeding and cracked nipples and baby who is hungry but can’t get much food from the breast). I’m envious of those who can BF… and I feel hurt and demonized by those who make comments about the evils of FFing.

  8. This is such a great post.

    I think in these matters it is super important than we bear in mind how regional a lot of this is. I’ve seen discussions in which mothers basically just tossed disbelieving remarks back and forth:

    A: “I’m so tired of hearing mothers whining about getting unpleasant reactions when they nurse, when it’s actually us formula feeders who are being put on the defensive all the time.”
    B: “But I really can’t believe all this stuff I keep hearing about so-called lactivist bullies…. everyone I know formula feeds, and it’s breastfeeders who get all the evil looks.”
    A: “Well, I don’t know about you, but I can tell you that I’ve had countless people making negative remarks about me bottle feeding.”
    B: “It’s silly to say that formula feeding mothers get treated badly–everyone knows breastfeeders are the minority!”

    …..Etc. etc. If the participants tried to have a bit more empathy, they’d surely realize that they are living in different regions with different infant feeding cultures.

    Anti-breastfeeding nastiness and anti-formula feeding nastiness don’t cancel each other out; they just make the world a shittier place.

  9. As a combo feeder formula comments were much worse. Comments about how bad formula is made me feel like a terrible mother, though of course the other choice was letting my daughter starve which I knew was much worse but didn’t lessen the pain of the comments.
    I never was actually told not to breastfeed anywhere but there were definitely places I felt uncomfortable breastfeeding. But I feel like it is much more acceptable to tell people off who don’t like looking at breastfeeding. It’s like being part of an empowering movement. Even though my daughter received more breastmilk than formula I always feel more kinship with formula feeders because of the shame I felt.

  10. As a mom of two boys, one who was formula fed and one who was breastfed, I can honestly say I have never had someone directly say anything negative to me at all. I formula fed in public. I breastfed in public. No one every said a thing. When I was nursing, I avoided eye contact with anyone that was not in my particular group. I wasn’t looking for trouble, so I didn’t get any (or maybe I was ‘lucky’). Each method of feeding a child has its ups and downs. But how fantastic is it that we (as Americans) can choose to feed however we like? I have to say though, when it came to formula feeding, I didn’t have to look for advice or support. Everyone around me knew how to feed a baby formula, it was the norm. Every packaging material for babies (gift bags, stickers, cards, invites) have bottles on them, everything. You have to look hard for baby images without bottles, and you definitely do not find anything with a pair of boobs! But with breastfeeding I had to search high and low to find support. Being from both worlds, I do not feel that breastfeeding is being pushed in our faces. I feel that it is finally starting to show some support to those who want to nurse their baby. I do think that it is taken too far by extremists (I didn’t use the word supporter). I follow a few breastfeeding forums as well, they don’t bash formula feeders. They just try to support those who want and are trying to breastfeed. Just as with breastfeeding, formula should be researched. Companies should be researched and the best option for you and your family should be the main priority, not price or convenience. We all have the choice between breast milk and formula, it should always stay that way. There should be no negative comments toward a mother doing either of those, whether it is mixing up formula (poison) or feeding their baby in public (porn).

  11. Melissa, my experience was the exact opposite. I had oodles of breastfeeding support. I had to search high and low for accurate formula feeding information. That is how I found this blog.

    • Same for me! I had tons of support for BF, and everyone (including my family) BF. I didn’t know anyone who FF and I had no information. Even my son’s doctor told me to “just get something at the store” when I asked about switching from nursing to formula! I nursed for 9 months, and I still got negative comments about the ‘damaging effects of formula’ from some of my mommy friends. I live in a very pro-BF city, which is great when I BF, but SUCKED when I introduced formula.
      I just wish that women (and people in general) could respect others’ choices and keep their opinions to themsleves!

  12. As a breast feeder – I feel badly for those who are FF and get criticized. I would feel awful if someone accused me of feeding my baby poison. I truely believe that each mother needs to make the right decision that works best for her and her family. No one should be made to feel badly about a decision they made, regardless of the reason. (medical, poor latch, wanted to FF…whatever). I made my decision to breastfeed because I wanted to, it was important to me, and it worked for us. I don’t think FF mothers are the enemy, but our society and it seems even the medical field each have such extreme views, it’s almost like no one can win. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t….

  13. How would those comments make me feel if breastfeeding hadn’t worked out for me and I had to use formula? Honestly, if that were the case, I wouldn’t have ended up in the peer group I did, and would have had a different kind of support because I would have ended up more “mainstream,” so I would probably feel as justified and proud of my formula-feeding as I do my breastfeeding. I would be following different blogs and parenting websites and surrounded by people who get outraged over the militant breastfeeders instead of people who get outraged by aggressive formula marketing. It would piss me off but probably not shame me, just as I feel when someone suggests that breastfeeding past a certain age is child abuse or that I’m spoiling my child by breastfeeding. Or all the hundreds of things besides “ew, breastfeeding in public” that people say about breastfeeding.

    Mothers who feed their babies formula are absolutely not the enemy, and you really have to dig to find breastfeeding advocates (i.e., people who actually advocate for moms, not just moms who say crap on the internet) who say things like you quoted. (Babycenter isn’t exactly known for its intellectual crowd.) The system is the enemy. The aggressive marketers of formula are the enemy. Not parents.

  14. Combo here. I’m still not sure why its anyone’s business but mine. I supplement because bub has an appetite I found impossible to keep up with. It’s worked. When I have tried to explain that formula has actually allowed me to continue BF, I get blank looks.

    Rather than the worst I would say combo is the best of both worlds.

    I am an academic (a professor) and back at work its a relief not to have to pump (I go in just in the mornings now) as it is not understood by my colleagues, and the thought makes students squirm. However, they are college students. Just being pregnant made them squirm. And that is fine. So if I have bub in the office for some reason and he’s hungry, honestly the students are relieved to see a bottle.

    At the same time, as a combo, I feel like the Pediatricians etc. have been more empathetic. They are more likely to say, “well, your doing your best,” let it live than they have to friends of mine who didn’t BF for whatever reason.

    I am straddling two worlds – I haven’t felt judged by anyone but the most extreme. Most people accept that out and about bub gets a bottle. They seem to find it a bit odd that I am not either, but very rarely have I heard anyone comment on it.

    I didn’t plan it this way, but rather than “the worst” I might have it much easier than many. I have heard the disparaging remarks people have made about each other, so I know its out there, but I haven’t experienced much myself.

  15. When we become mothers we are extremely vulnerable, everything we feel can be out of proportion. I remember, I used to feel like horrible about giving formula to my baby. But now I understand that most of the things I felt were insulting or harmful, were not such a thing. Sure, there are awful people who´ll try to make you feel miserable, but are they really that important? Are they really that many? You don´t need to give explanations to people you don´t care about. You are not a better mom because somebody says so. But we can´t go to the extreme of ignoring that bottle feeding is not the best for our baby´s health to prevent mothers from feeling sad. We are human beings, we do what we can (many times what we can is not the ideal, but we do our best) and if we give our children inconditional love they´ll be just fine.

  16. I combination fed and I was lucky enough not to get any negative comments about breastfeeding in public, which was lucky as I think (hope) I would have responded in a really mature, well-reasoned way something like this: ‘Get away to fuck, you sad sack freak, my baby’s hungry and this is the way he gets his food.’ I did wap my breasts out all over the place too, including in church and on public highways.
    As for the formula feeding, I despair. When it comes to anything to do with being pregnant, giving birth or the aftermath, people lose their brains. They seem to be incapable of understanding that the way they did things is not the ONLY right way. I had an emergency Caesarean first time around; luckily I’d avoided the pre-natal groups which see that as a giant FAIL right there, but when it took a few days for my milk to come in and my son lost weight the nurses absolutely did make me feel a failure. Women ought to be able to have confidence that they’re not going to be judged for the serious, well-informed choices that they make about their babies’ wellbeing, their own and that of their other, older children.

    • (Epic phone fail! )…… like a massive failur e myself I’m managing to bf at mo but only two weeks in and im lucky to be getting the sumanaging

    • Support i have. I struggledat the start in hospital too, apparently csection mums do with milk coming in later, or so i was told. At the hospital i had to express to feed. I’m not completely established will bf but do know i would like to avoid formula if possible. Having said that getting over a birth that couldn’t have been further from the natural one i wanted and realizing in the end the outcome though not desired it was the best thing for my baby and i. If bf doesn’t work out for me for whatever reason i will always do what i consider the best thing to be doing for us, it’s personal choice and while other ppl experiences may be similar no ones circumstances are the same you can only work with the hand you have been given and nobody has the right to diminish your experiences. FF or BF if it’s what works for you and your baba then be proud you are doing what you need to. X

      • Millie,
        Tomorrow my baby will be 12 weeks old, and I had a caesarean as last resort. After 14 hours of labour, and wanting to have a bath birth, the doctors came to test when I could go and they found out I had come back to 2 cm from 7 cm after breaking waters. Had to say ok to an epidural shot and to my horror, my baby’s heart rate went crazy after it so they intervened me ASAP. To tell you the truth, I felt sorry I had to go through all that but never as a failure. Birth comes unexpectedly like that whether you like it or not… I had a beautiful pregnancy although I had a Gestational Diabetes, that actually made me to have a healthy diet. After all that, they gave the bottle to my baby straight away he was born, and after that I was expressing colostrum and after 3 days, the milk came.
        My point is, whoever says Caesarean is a failure it is also a clear way to dismiss the mothers that doesn’t stop giving birth to their children, and that is also the common denominator between BF and FF Mums. And I have seen it in the antenatal classes, hospital… everywhere supporting BF and giving evil to FF. You try what ever is needed as first or last resort to make your baby thrive and grow up. Obviously in FF there are better and worse brands, and it is just a matter of trying which is the one that suits your baby better.
        What we need to learn, us mums, is to try and not take comments personal even if they aim at us, stop second guessing and follow our instincts. Because if we don’t we will have to go to a mental health hospital if we get to wound up!

        • By the way, I am a BB mum, and I truly respect FF mums, because I sense that there has to be a good reason to do it so, as sometimes I found BB really trying, even my baby is thankfully thriving and happy.

  17. Could it be that some of the lactivists are convinced that formula feeders are motivated by sexual modesty? The idea that women don’t want to show their breasts is deeply ingrained in our society. Even “Girls Gone Wild” implies that it takes a whole lot of liquor, free beads, and psychological issues to get those pictures. Perhaps lactivists are unconsciously using something like the, “I’ll give you something to cry about” approach that we all consider in our darkest moments of parental discipline. Assuming that the only thing that really holds women back from breastfeeding is body shame, they try to heap so much shame on formula feeders that we feel worse than naked when we whip out a bottle. Maybe the next time I feed my son in public, I should do it with my shirt off. “I want to give the baby a choice,” I’ll explain to passersby.

    • I love this! Only I think some extremists would probably go for it and shame every mother who doesn’t offer both boob and bottle at every feeding to give their baby the freedom to choose what’s best for it.

  18. I EBF and am thankful that so far, despite many obstacles, it is working out. I feel badly for any mother, no matter the method, that is harassed about her choices, or even just the hand she was delt. After all, there are a few who wanted to BF but found they couldn’t. I think we need to embrace each other as moms and respect one another, stand up for each other against the ignorance and intolerance of our society. I may feel Formula is not healthy, that brest milk is a better option, but I would never look down on a woman for feeding her baby, by whatever means. We should unite to support each other.

  19. As a combo feeder, both comments would hurt. But I feel more hurt by the ones made about FF moms and in turn the first few weeks I was ashamed to be a FF momma. I did EVERYTHING I could to get some supply, and my milk never really came in, no more than 10ml at each pumping session. My daughter lost 15% of her birth weight and I had to FF her. I didn’t give up though cause I heard too many stories of moms who gave up and felt forced to give their babies formula when they should have stuck it out. Well I stuck it out and felt terrible that my daughter was starving at two weeks we started using an SNS, and to this day we use it in the morning and at bedtime and during the day she gets the bottle. I was SO ashamed at first and felt like I needed to defend myself. But we shouldn’t have to defend ourselves. Breastfeeding moms, yeah they may get comments about feeding in public, which when I do I ALWAYS cover up and people around here don’t seem to have a problem about that. But that’s one thing. Think/being told I’m feeding my baby the devil’s food, or I’m not giving my baby what’s best? That HURTS worse than some comment about nursing in public! How dare you tell a mother she’s not doing her best?

  20. Wow! I knew it was bad, but not quite how bad. As someone currently breastfeeding a 4 year old and a 1 year old, I’ve only had positive comments in public. However, I’ve seen other people get complete strangers walk up to them and say things like “Such a shame you couldn’t breastfeed” (such a shame you couldn’t mind your own business)

    Or I was in Starbucks (sign on the wall saying “we will heat baby bottles”) and the woman in front of me asked for a bottle warming, to which the barista said “you know, you can breastfeed in here?” Well, unless you’re the intended recipient, that’s none of your business.

    I think the chief benefit of breastfeeding is not having to deal with the sorts of comments formula feeding parents get, and I will try not to be part of the problem.

  21. I think that feeding your child should be a private, personal decision and everyone else should mind their own business. Honestly, unless someone is feeding their kid, I don’t know, Drano or something, then who cares? I don’t care if my friends or family are breast feeding or not, it’s their business not mine. As a FFF, I think the problem is in the wording…for example, at my 6 week PP visit, it would have been better if my OB asked, “How are you feeding the baby?” Instead of “Are you still nursing?”. That subtle change in wording can make a big difference to a new mom who is struggling with her decision.

  22. I didn’t have a chance to read this post until today and I am glad we’ve been encouraged to walk in another mother’s shoes for a minute. I am also pleased the discussion has been very civil and comments well thought out.

    As a combo feeder I can say without a doubt that the negative comments directed toward formula feeding were far more hurtful for me. Although I am outraged when I hear about comments some of my friends and relatives have gotten when breastfeeding, I honestly never experienced anything other than positive responses save the occasional glance showing a person might have been uncomfortable. However, I feel the reason negative responses to ff hurt so much was because they directly attacked me as a mother. The vitriol I got equated my choice to ff, though really not a choice, to laziness, bad mothering, and poisoning my baby. I even got some “if you aren’t going to breasteed, why even have children.” For someone who has known since I can remember that all I wanted to do was be a mom, this was incredibly painful. The glances I got when breastfeeding seemed to simply be about covering up, though I did usually have a cover with me. Oddly enough I felt more uncomfortable breastfeeding in front of LaLecheLeague, since I have some pretty atypical breasts and nipples, than I did breastfeeding in front of strangers. From what I’ve observed, the breastfeeding naysayers don’t seem to have a problem with breastmilk per say, they just don’t want to view the feeding act.

    As one commenter said, it all boils down to “different regions with different feeding cultures.” So I have to think that perhaps my experience would have been different had I lived elsewhere. I admittedly live in a region with one of the highest concentrations of PHDs. I was told by an academic adviser that I was “too smart to enter the field of early childhood education.” This was odd to me since all the research I worked on with him proved that those first three years of life are critical. Don’t we want “smart” people working with young children. So then being viewed again as uneducated because I couldn’t breastfeed was a double blow. But having spent time in other regions where breastfeeding is not the norm, I definitely see a shift happening in favor of breastfeeding.

    I LOVED the reading analogy in regard to defensiveness and this got me thinking about the phrase “Breast is Best.” When someone says I support you, but I believe “breast is best” I feel I get a bit defensive. Although there are health benefits to breastfeeding that cannot be denied or provided through formula, I also feel there are times when breast is not best and in fact contraindicated. In situations where the mother martyrs herself for the sake of the breast or in the case of milk allergy for example, I think it may even be possible to lose any benefits that may have been present initially. Is there another term that can be used to advocate for breastfeeding without making others defensive? I thought through it and couldn’t actually come up with one myself. I’d love to hear what other mothers, breast, formula, and combo feeders might come up with.

    Finally, there was a commenter who stated that had she been a formula feeder she would have found different supports or friends. This may be too simplistic a statement, but why can’t formula feeders and breastfeeders co-mingle? It just doesn’t make sense to me. I was ousted from some of my friend and peer groups during my first combo feeding experience. In my city there is almost no one to turn to if you aren’t breasfeeding, so as a new mother I was hung out to dry. I’m old school and prefer a few close relationships to online communities, so when those relationships are taken away and all you have is a computer it can be a lonely place. Fortunately, some mothers did rally around me, and it was enlightening to see that these mothers were not the academic types I once kept company with, but those mothers who for whatever reason may not have been viewed as “ideal.” And I have to say those were the women who taught me what it was to be a mother and friend. Fortunately I’ve now found a group of women who really do support each other regardless of the parenting choices they make. I am one of the sole formula/combo feeders among them, but these are women who I’ve never felt judged by. I attribute this to the fact that each one of us have had to do something during our time as mothers that has gone against our belief system because for whatever reason it truly was not the best choice for mom, child, and family.

    I could go on and on, but again I loved reading the post and such respectful and thought-provoking comments.

    • Retrospectively I feel that for my first baby breast was NOT best. I nursed him for 9 months, but the lacerations (yes lacerations) on my nipples, 9 month thrush infections and pain all contributed to my anxiety and PPD. I ‘toughed it out’, but it never got better and THAT negatively affected the bond with my first more than formula could. I’m EBF my second now with minimal issues, so I can look back and truly say “if I knew then, what I know now, I would have weaned a LOT earlier!”.

  23. I’ve exclusively breastfed 2 sons until introducing solids, and continued bfing until each was 18 months. I had a fair amount of pain and challenges the first time around, but nothing that made me feel torn over my decision to breastfeed and nothing like many, many mothers experience. I was lucky. I am part of a fairly tight-knit group of moms who all have breastfed exclusively with every child, but almost all of them cover up when feeding in the presence of men or if they can’t do that, they go to another room. We work really hard on being accepting of each other, but I have to say that I would feel implicitly guilty if I had to/chose to formula feed, and do feel guilty and uncomfortable when I bf uncovered. In my case, that comes from not being the norm, not because any of the other women actually object (I know the men feel uncomfortable but I do think they think it’s my right… they often apologize for walking into the room though which makes me feel weird).

    The comments formula feeders face wrench my gut. I sat and listened to a mother cry as she told her story of how she spent 6 months with pain, infections, and stress due to an irregularity in her milk production, and how her baby, although there was enough milk, refused to drink more than the minimum and so they were constantly monitoring her weight and trying to hold off supplementing even though they were worried about the baby. After 6 months, things regulated better and she was able to have a normal nursing relationship. Now she had another baby and the problems were starting again. The bfing mothers present at the time were very supportive when she mentioned formula and told her it might be the best thing for her and her baby, but that they would support her either way. Still, I had such a deep sadness that all the cultural vitriol against formula had this mother AND baby suffering for months on end without the confidence to turn to something that could have helped. I’m not saying she SHOULD have used formula, only she can know that, but how can even she know that (in an internalized sort of way) when there is so little true support for women making complex, individual decisions for their family? I always say this: All things being equal, breast is best. But when are all things equal? Almost never. So take a look at the whole picture and make the best decision for YOUR family.

    As for the comments formula feeders face, in my area they are much worse than those that breastfeeders face. But where I grew up, it would be the other way around. Here, people try to educate you if you are formula feeding whereas there they would never question it–but you would get bullied for NIP without a cover. People genuinely don’t understand that a cover isn’t always an option (my babies would cry until I took the cover off and never nurse under it past about 3 months old), and even if it is, it can be a burden to both mom and baby. I would hate to face either side of the war, but if my friends thought I was being a negligent parent, that would cut deeper than someone who thought I was perverted. That’s why I’m a FFF fan.

  24. We can support each other by remembering that in the end no one gives a crap how you fed your baby when it’s older… seriously. I formula fed my first two children, and I’m breast feeding my 3rd child. The truth is, no one asks me now, if my 15 year old was “Formula or breast”. I’ve never met any adult who told me “I have X chronic medical condition because I wasn’t breast fed”. or “I have self image issues because my mother breastfed me , undoing years of progress in the women’s movement” Please. All this breast vs formula is just like working vs staying at home, or cosleeping vs cry it out – they are all ways mothers compete with each other and make each other feel like crap…. and it works well because your emotional and tired when your kids are babies, so comments about feeding or working or sleeping through the night get under your skin more easily than when your kid is sleeping well and you are rested enough to hear rude comments and think “Man that woman is a B* – what EVER.” and laugh it off.

    Keep your head up and know that when your kids become teenagers, or even entering first grade, no one will still be asking you “Formula or breast feeding?”. In the grand scheme of battles we fight throughout our lives, we all have bigger fish to fry that “breast or formula”.

  25. as a breastfeeding counsellor and a breastfeeding mother, the enemy are those extremists that believe you either do one or the other and whichever is not in their good books you are doing it wrong. if formula was THAT bad all those adults who were formula fed at the peak of formula feeding would probably not be here now to tell their story. Like any prepackaged food formula has a lot of ingredients not good for our health but it doesn’t mean it is not safe for consumption

  26. I’m EBFing my 5.5 month old daughter, and I’ve been lucky to not get anything but positive comments when I nurse her in public. But I agree with the previous commenter who mentioned that attitudes toward breastfeeding vs. formula feeding definitely seem to be a regional thing.

    As far as how I’d feel about the comments if I were formula feeding? Honestly, I think it would depend upon why I was using formula. I think I’d be more offended if it had been a deliberate decision, since people would be questioning my judgment. If I’d truly done everything I could to breastfeed and was using formula as a last resort? I’d probably let the comments roll off my back, because I’d actually be more inclined to agree with them to some extent.

    The fact of the matter is that I obviously personally believe that under normal circumstances (no issues like insufficient glandular tissue or a job that won’t allow me to pump, etc.), breastfeeding is a better choice, or I wouldn’t have chosen it. But my decision goes well beyond the usual reasons of “it’s better for baby,” though the fact that there are benefits to breastmilk that formula can’t replicate did factor in. There’s also the environmental aspect. Yes, I do have a breastpump and some bottles since I work and have to be away from my daughter, but there is no pollution or waste that goes into making the “product” itself, so it’s more environmentally friendly, and I’ll admit I’m a bit of a treehugger.

    But if we’re going to be honest here, I’m also cheap and lazy. I’m saving our family probably upwards of $1000 over the course of a year, since we just had to spend a little over $200 on a pump and then maybe another $50-75 on bottles and storage bags and such. And it takes waaaaay less effort to pop out a boob than to prepare a bottle, so you’ll never hear me accuse a formula feeding of being lazy. 😉

    As for who the enemy is? The people who are sabotaging women’s attempts at breastfeeding, either intentionally (formula companies, whose bottom line depends on as few women as possible succeeding as breastfeeding) or through ignorance (bad advice from nurses, doctors, etc.). I don’t really care how someone CHOOSES to feed their baby, I believe that as parents we have to make the choices that are best for us and our babies, and those choices aren’t always going to be the same. But the fact of the matter is that about 3/4 of women start out trying to breastfeed, and at 6 months less than half are breastfeeding at all, and less than 15% are doing so exclusively. I highly doubt that such a high percentage of women who want to breastfeed are physically incapable of doing so, which means that a lot of women are not receiving adequate support during those crucial early days and weeks.

    I personally experienced some TERRIBLE breastfeeding support at the hospital where I gave birth. While the lactation consultant was fabulous, they only had one on staff and she couldn’t be there 24/7. The morning after my daughter was born, she was very sleepy and was having trouble staying awake to nurse. One of the nurses on duty said that if she didn’t wake up enough to eat soon, they’d have to supplement with formula. I actually had to tell her no and request that they let me pump colostrum. If a new mom is breastfeeding, they should offer the pump FIRST and only if the mom declines or has trouble pumping enough should formula be offered. I was also told to feed my daughter every three hours at the MOST. Fortunately I knew better (a new baby should be fed at LEAST every 3 hours, as they need to eat 8-12 times per day), so I just ignored their advice and continued to aim for every 2-2.5 hours.

    The fact of the matter is that I was likely successful at breastfeeding in spite of the advice of medical professionals, rather than because of it. If I hadn’t stood up to or flat out ignored their advice, it might have interfered with my milk coming in, or I might have started out with supply issues that would have forced me to supplement. And I have to wonder how many new moms at that hospital didn’t have either the knowledge or the guts to stand up to someone they perceive as an authority figure (because I know that for me personally, standing up to that nurse who wanted to give my daughter formula was kind of scary!), and who wound up unable to breastfeed because of it.

    So I guess this was a very long-winded way of saying that I think that regardless of how we decide we WANT to feed our babies, that choice should feel supported. It’s just that breastfeeding requires more support in order to figure out the logistics. You don’t exactly have the issue of women who set out to formula feed but aren’t able to. But there are a lot of women who set out to breastfeed and find that it doesn’t work out, and quite often it’s not because they are truly physically incapable (with obvious exceptions like IGT), it’s because they got crappy advice early on.

    Oh, and I know that their are some “lactivists” out there who are overzealous jerks who go around deliberately making formula feeders feel like crap. I’m actually so far on the other end of the spectrum that when people ask me why I breastfeed, I feel like I need to lie or omit the stuff about antibodies and how breastmilk changes throughout the days/weeks/months to precisely suit a baby’s needs because I am so terrified that someone will take offense. I usually feel the need to default to the “cheap and lazy” reasons just so I don’t accidentally hurt someone’s feelings. I feel like that’s saying something about this whole debate, though I haven’t been able to figure out precisely what or about whom. :-/

  27. What a fantastic article!

    I too am a follower of @Wolf_Mommy. (Isn’t she great?) And loved her supportive #NIP (nursing in public) tweets a couple of weeks ago.

    But it got me thinking: in particular in the UK, where there is infinite information about the benefits of breastfeeding, FFs too are harshly judged when feeding in public. Militant BF advocates come out with (or at least think) comments such as the ones you’ve posted above. It seems that as a society (though in my experience I do think BF mothers have it a little easier in the UK than in the US), we are uncomfortable about any kind of feeding a baby in public – breast or bottle.

    I pretty much exclusively breastfed my two girls until around 6 months, and then combination fed. And I love the fact that it worked out for me and them. However, I myself was pretty much exclusively formula fed. And you know what? I’ve made it past 30 (and the rest!) OK, I’m generally pretty healthy, I don’t think my IQ has been impaired (though maybe if I was BFd I’d have been a nobel prize winning scientist, who knows? ;-)) and I have a close relationship with my mum. When I attended both NCT and NHS breastfeeding workshops prior to the arrival of my first daughter, they were so evangelical about breastfeeding, I honestly felt like I was being made to feel a second-class citizen. This HAS to stop. Campaigns such as Save The Children’s Power of the First Hour are truly amazing where babies are dying due to misinformation about breast vs formula feeding, and there aren’t sanitary conditions. But we are lucky enough to live in much better conditions and have access to a lot more information. What every mum needs is support. Support in her choices. Support to know she’s doing a fantastic job. Not judgement on whatever feeding choice she makes.

  28. Once you got the delivery system down breast feeding or formula, the most important dilemma for new Moms has always been when and how often feeding should occur. Like the battle over breast feeding or bottle, the battle of self demand vs rigid scheduled feedings has long sparked controversy as conventional wisdom shifts with the time. The Mommy wars are nothing new.

    By the time I was born in prosperous flush post-war America the motto was more of everything you want and that applied to baby’s meals as well. Permissivenss was sweeping the nation which contrasted sharply with the previous generations rules of strict scheduled feedings For a humorous look at this retro mommy wars and how it played out in one mid-century family, visit

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