Why I've Stopped Apologizing for Feeding My Baby Formula

formula feedingFew parenting choices bring moms to their knees like choosing between breastmilk and formula. Feeding a baby should be the easiest thing in the world -- universally a good thing, so long as they all get fed -- but the rhetoric surrounding our choices has become so toxic that most of us are choking on the fumes. Even in doing what we know is right for our families, many of us still feel the need to justify our choices to friends, family, and even perfect strangers. I’m a mother of two young kids and an unapologetic formula feeder, but I wasn’t always able to say that with such confidence.


My story began like a million other moms. I got pregnant with my first child and was easily swayed to believing breastfeeding was the best and only option for how I’d feed my baby. I still think breastfeeding is a great option, but what I failed to understand then is that breastfeeding isn’t the only acceptable choice. I read the books and knew the rules, and I completely bought into the idea that this one aspect of childrearing was of unparalleled importance. I set my expectations in such a way that there was only breastfeeding or failure, and then when I “failed” I was devastated. Experience has shown I’m not alone in that.

The conversation about how we feed our babies has become so convoluted that people have had to launch movements like I Support You, in which women talk openly about how they feed their kids and remind moms to simply stop attacking one another. Fearless Formula Feeder, a site I’ve read for years that is part blog and part support group for moms who use formula, regularly features stories from women who are shattered by their inability to breastfeed and the negative comments they get from people in their lives. Yes, formula moms actually need a support group. Think about that. In one article about breastfeeding policing, a woman admitted breastfeeding advocates told her to stop taking necessary thyroid medication in order to keep breastfeeding -- and she actually considered it. She said, “I have to take this drug, but many people made me second-guess myself.” That’s how intense the pressure is.

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Breastfeeding advocates have made great strides in educating people about the benefits of breastfeeding and defending a woman’s right to do so -- something I wholeheartedly support. Seventh Generation is putting breastfeeding pods in airports. It’s increasingly socially unacceptable to shame breastfeeding moms. It’s been amazing to witness the cultural shift in support of breastfeeding. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of that shift has been an increased willingness by some to demonize moms who choose formula, and far too many of us are internalizing that negativity.

When I gave up breastfeeding, I got into the habit of explaining myself to everyone I knew. If someone asked how I was feeding my baby, I launched into a lengthy explanation of my daughter’s tongue tie and subsequent latch issues, how I had postpartum depression and anxiety, how breastfeeding made me feel crazy and resentful. I handled the subject with gloves, always careful to admit that yes, breast is best, and yes, I’m a terrible failure for giving it up.

The truth is, I am not a failure.

I did have crippling issues with breastfeeding, but I also hated it. It wasn’t for me for a number of reasons, and as my babies are happy and healthy and I am too, I don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why I use and love formula.

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The shift in my thinking came slowly. I spent the entire first year of my daughter’s life feeling guilty and isolated. I felt the judgmental stares at playgroups every time I whipped out a bottle, and I avoided the subject of feeding entirely with anyone new that I met. As my daughter got older and my new parent panic stopped being so immediate, I realized how silly I was to think this one decision could make or break my child. I realized how ridiculous I was to think studies showing my baby might have six additional I.Q. points from breast milk were more important than my own health and well-being. I became more confident in my skills as a parent, and I realized that no matter what, my baby was going to be just fine.

Oddly enough, I still ended up trying to breastfeed my second child, but I quit within days when my feelings about breastfeeding remained unchanged, and this time I gave myself permission to feel good about my decision. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if other moms don’t like how I feed my babies.

Formula is a viable option -- one that’s worked for millions of parents, including my own -- and being a happy, present mom to my children is more important than what anyone else thinks about my choices. When we have these arguments about how to feed babies, what we’re really fighting for is agency, for moms to have the space and trust to make decisions for themselves and their families. I will fight to the death to demand that for other moms, but have been so reluctant to claim it for myself. I trust women to know what is right for them and their kids, and in choosing to unapologetically formula feed, I’m also claiming that trust for myself.

Do you apologize for formula feeding? Why?


About the Author: Ashley Austrew is a freelance writer who loves tacos, Target, and screen time. Her work has appeared on Mommyish, Scary Mommy, Modern Day Moms, and more. You can read more on her website or follow her on Twitter.

Image via shutterstock



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