A Translation Guide for Navigating the Terrain Between Breastfeeders and Formula-Feeders

Talking about breastmilk or formula can be difficult to navigate with a loose, slippery, and uneven terrain.  One second you think you have sure-footing and the next you’re on your butt.

I’m not going to deny that hurtful phrases come from breastfeeding supporters, occasionally in the form of personal attacks, and if you’ve personally experienced that, I’m truly sorry.  Please know that most of us just want to get information out there, encourage others and want to see babies fed.  Including me.

More often I see what are truly meant as innocuous statements of information and education that are simply misunderstood.  All of us experience life through a variety of personal filters and we often have sensitive areas that automatically put us on our guard and we may take things as a personal attack when that’s hardly the intent.  When it comes to feeding babies all those devoted moms doing their best have some serious passion.

An article is released sharing the findings of a new study that revealing some new findings about breastmilk or there may be some issues with formula and hundreds of comments pour in with things like “formula is the same thing, really and all the breastfed kids I know are sick all the time but my formula fed kids have genius IQs and are never sick” or “you know, not everyone can breastfeed so I guess I’m a bad mom because my breasts just didn’t work.”  To add fuel to the fire there are the comments that say things like “See, this is why I’m so glad I gave my babies the best and breastfed.”  And really, what does saying something like that do for anyone?  Heaven forbid it be an article on a formula recall and the “so glad I breastfeed, breastmilk is never recalled” comments start flooding Facebook newsfeeds and loading the comments section on blogs and articles.  Nothing like rubbing someone’s face in their scary circumstances and flaunting “sucks to be you!”  If we’re not careful we cross the line from passionate advocacy into plain ol’ bullying.

Then there’s the mom celebrating her success in breastfeeding, sharing “So excited we’ve made it to 6 months without even one drop of formula!  GO BOOBIE MILK!  WOOT!”  In that moment that mom is inviting everyone to a party at her house because she’s truly excited about her accomplishment.  But just as sure as she’s about to pop the cork on that sparkling grape juice to pour a round for everyone someone says something like “I don’t know why everyone has to be so down on formula, it makes moms that use it feel bad.”

They probably don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer and they don’t intend to dismiss the celebration of that mom (or maybe they do, I can’t really say) but stirring in their internal narrative of parenting confidence are insecurities on this issue, perhaps closer to the surface than they realized.  Instead of being able to celebrate with that mom, they are having to deal with their own less than happy feelings and defend, at least to themselves, their reality.

Thankfully, most of the time people can just say some encouraging and supportive words.  Once in a while, far more often than I’d like, the communication deteriorates.  Quickly.  As though we’re trying to have an important conversation but lack the skills.  Like we’re speaking different languages.

Maybe we need an interpreter?  What follows is my light-hearted attempt at some translations to help us navigate these slippery slopes.


It’s not a put down on formula feeding mothers when breastfeeding advocates say:


“Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby.”

What we don’t mean:  “Formula feeding moms are less of a mother and less than normal.”  We know that’s not true.  We also know that breastfeeding isn’t (yet) accepted as normal in society.  We certainly don’t mean that it is always easy or even possible for every mom.  Or that formula feeding moms don’t deserve to be treated as normal, loving, caring mothers because we know they are normal, loving, caring mothers.  Nope, none of those things are what we mean.

What we do mean:  Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed a baby.  A mother’s body is programmed to breastfeed and a newborn baby is programmed TO breastfeed.  Meaning that, barring any physical difficulties, babies are born ready to breastfeed; the delivery of the placenta signals the mother’s breasts to produce milk to feed, the mother’s body biologically responds to birth by producing milk, and human milk is (usually) the perfectly formulated food biologically for a human baby.


“I’m proud to breastfeed.”

We don’t mean:  “I’m better than a formula feeding mom.”  Just like being proud to be a mother isn’t a put down to those aren’t mothers, so being proud of breastfeeding isn’t a put down to those that don’t breastfeed.

We do mean:  Breastfeeding is important to us and sometimes it’s hard and comes with recognized challenges.  We’re celebrating our accomplishment of something we value as important for ourselves.  We’re also recognizing that there is a lot in our society that sabotages moms that want to breastfeed and combating that can be challenging.


“I love the bond I have with my baby with breastfeeding.”

We don’t mean:  “Moms that don’t breastfeed aren’t as connected to their babies.”  Feeding a baby is a deep connection no matter how it’s done and is just one way parents bond with their babies.  Most of us know moms that formula-fed and are incredibly bonded to their children and don’t doubt for a second that formula-feeding moms deeply love their children.

We do mean:  This is something we consider special and helps us feel connected to our child.  That, to us, breastfeeding has a deep feeling of interconnection that goes beyond something we can explain but we try even thought words fail us.  Feeding our babies with our milk and at our breasts is one way we feel deeply bonded to our babies.


“I’m so glad I’ve never had to give my baby formula” or “I’m so glad she’s not had 1 drop of formula.”

We don’t mean:  “Formula feeding moms are lazy or giving their babies poison.”  Nope, it’s not a commentary on what someone else does.  We’re not saying that somehow formula feeding moms should be ashamed of giving their babies formula or that never giving a baby formula is some dividing line between the good moms and the bad moms.

We do mean:  Like being proud of breastfeeding, not giving their baby formula just feels like a personal accomplishment.  It is in no way a reflection of our opinion of anyone else’s choice or situation, merely an acknowledgment of a personal goal.


“Breastfeeding is beautiful!”

We don’t mean:  “It’s perfectly beautiful all the time.”  Finding something beautiful doesn’t mean it’s easy or right for everyone and it doesn’t even mean we always enjoy the experience.

We do mean:  Not only do we NOT find it gross, we also think it is special, something wonderful, and to be celebrated.  It is more than nutrition to us and is a beautiful experience we treasure even though it has plenty of challenges along the way.  We also know that not everyone agrees with us, that’s part of why we say it though so we can hope to change negative cultural attitudes toward breastfeeding.


“Breast is best!”

We don’t mean:  “The moms that breastfeed are the best moms and the moms that don’t are just ok or bad.”  That’s not it at all.  In fact, this slogan came first from formula companies when they were forced to acknowledge that breastmilk was a superior product to formula.  They had to acknowledge that but had to find a way that could make formula sound normal and breastfeeding to sound like it was a parenting “extra,” an optional choice.

We do mean:  Breast milk is the best food choice available for a baby and young child.  Personally, I don’t care for this statement myself (you can find more on that here) but I know when people say it they aren’t intending anything other than their enthusiasm for breastfeeding and stating a simple fact: breast milk is good for babies.  It’s not a put down towards anyone.


“I feel sorry for babies that aren’t breastfed.”

We don’t mean:  “Those kids are just so screwed.”  This comment makes me uncomfortable, I don’t like it.  But I understand where it’s coming from and why it’s said.  Those of us that breastfeed see the joy and delight our own children have in the experience, how they love breastfeeding.  We are completely convinced it is special for both them and ourselves in a purely innocent, sweet way.  While it can be very close to a put down, I don’t believe it usually is intended as such and we don’t actually full on pity children that didn’t get to breastfeed but rather mourn the loss of an experience we consider special.

We do mean:  This is an awkward but genuine expression of sadness for those missing out on something we feel is so special.  Should it be said?  I don’t think so.  But if it is I hope formula-feeding moms can understand it is most likely only because the speaker/writer truly believes every child should get to have the marvelous experience her own enjoyed so much.


“There need to be strict regulations regarding the manufacturing and marketing of formula.”

We don’t mean:  “Formula-feeding parents are gullible and fall for the marketing of poisonous formula.”  Voicing the view point that there need to be standards in how formula is marketed and that there should be strict regulations for formula as a product isn’t a reflection on the parents at all.  It may reflect a cynical distrust that formula manufactures have anything other than a bottom line on their mind (Unsupportive Support- For a Profit).  Ultimately though, those of us that believe that the manufacturing and marketing of artificial breastmilk substitutes in infant and toddler nutrition believe so for the good of the children’ receiving the product.

We do mean:  Even if our children don’t receive formula, the children that do are worth higher standards of excellence.  We demand transparency and better regulations for artificial breastmilk substitutes manufacturing for the babies that need it. Formula is necessary, the health of many children depend on it being manufactured with integrity.


Before you find yourself careening down a conversation on your butt, try to remember that most people aren’t trying to start something and those that are probably aren’t worth your time.  As a breastfeeding mother, I promise, I’m not trying to push formula feeding parents down.  We’re all just carefully trying to pick our way over the rocks, slippery spots, and potential jabs to enjoy the view life has to offer and with a little bit of sensitivity and understanding going both ways, we can all offer a hand to each other in spite of our differences.


  1. thanks for this!

  2. I love this! Sometimes as a breastfeeding mother I feel guilty that I breastfeed and others don’t even if by choice.

  3. This is such a tender subject for me. I have 5 children. I have nursed all of them. My sister tried nursing her first child, and due to emotional issues as well as difficulty nursing she switched to formula. With her second child she didn’t even try. I was there offering real support the whole way through, even when she decided to stop nursing and exclusively pump, and eventually switched to formula. I never have said one negative thing about formula or her choices. But now she automatically thinks that anything I say (or do) about breastfeeding is a jab at her and the choices she made. She has made rude comments while I am pumping in the car during a girls day out, she has compared tasting breastmilk to drinking urine, and other hurtful things. She tells me that I just don’t understand how difficult it was for her and that she is a proud formula feeding mother. What she doesn’t know (and nobody except my husband knows,) is how much I have struggled through breastfeeding.
    I try to let it roll of my back. I know that she just feels defensive and probably doesn’t mean to be so nasty to me, but it still hurts. I don’t care how anybody feeds their kid, as long as they feed them and do so safely. I keep reminding myself that I haven’t done anything to cause her behavior, but some other members of the breastfeeding community have. She feels defensive about formula feeding the same way I feel defensive about nursing in public. We all need to be aware of each others feelings. That doesn’t mean we aren’t truthful, but tone is everything.

    • Why does no one but your husband know that you struggled? When I was pregnant and planning on breastfeeding, nearly everyone touted how long they breastfed, how much they loved it, etc. Then I had MAJOR issues with breastfeeding and felt worthless and that I was a horrible mother. Afterall, “95%” of women are able, right? Why am I having trouble? When I expressed (HA!) my struggles to these same women, it was only then that they opened up and admitted the issues they had dealt with. Life would have been a lot easier for me if I hadn’t been fed the line that it’s smooth sailing once you get past the first few weeks. Week three is when our troubles began.
      Eventually, after rotating through a cast of crazy lactation consultants and finally finding a reasonable one, we pulled through and became successful, weaning when my child was 13 months old. Now when I speak with an expectant mom, I let them know my struggle. That way, if they have issues, they know they’re not alone. The few people who were honest with me helped me more than they could ever know.

      • As I posted in my response to Amy below, it is not that I didn’t share my struggles with her. But there is a huge difference between hearing a mother who has sucessfully nursed five children honestly share her struggles and how horrible it was for me with my first child, and being the husband who was there through every early feeding, every night, every tear and every triumph. To my sister all I am is a success story, so I don’t really understand what SHE was going through. By her reasong I made it through my struggles, therefore it must not have been that bad as what she was going through.

  4. I wonder if the communication issues arise from a competitiveness that exists between mothers.
    I notice in my group of friends that we never compliment each other or positively comment on each other’s children. I feel like we are competition to have the best, brightest, cutest child. Family members and elders (in age) are always commenting positively on my family, but not my peers. How can we change that? I try to make and effort but if it’s only one way then eventually I give up.
    Also, talking about breastfeeding still feels taboo, and I never know if someone is or isn’t breastfeeding, and if they aren’t/didn’t I don’t know the reasons. Then I don’t say anything on the topic because I don’t want them to feel bad when I tlak about nursing my 9.5 month old twins.

    • What an interesting observation. I think perhaps my group of mom friends was like that in the beginning, but ever since we have gotten closer as a group and the kids are mostly 2 now, I think there has been a paradigm shift. While a lot of our talk seems to center around whose kid is sick, and whether they too sick to attend playdates, I think we do a great job with complimenting and encouraging each other and all of the children.

      At first I was a lot like you – didn’t ask questions because I didn’t want to seem like I was questioning choices that differed from my own. But eventually, I simply wanted to know about what my friends had experienced that led them to make the choices they made, and it just became about sharing our ups & downs. We have a great group of people, and our experiences vary widely. We all have wonderful, sweet children, and while everyone is always going to see their own kid as “the best”, it doesn’t mean all the other kids can’t be one half-step below and still be amazing people.

      I hope you are able to guide your friends into “the positive zone”. The grass really IS greener here.

    • Stop trying to change your friends and go find new ones. The ones in your circle don’t sound very supportive of one another.

    • In my play groups and groups of Mom’s friends, we ALWAYS are complimenting other people’s children, and always making allowance for any pitfalls. It’s the total opposite. Like if someone says my daughter is so active and so great at walking then I immediately say “Oh, but your son is such a great talker! He’s saying twice as much as Kali!” I think maybe inwardly we compete and want our child to be super impressive to anyone that sees them, but at the same time, it looks bad and smug to sit their and have your child complimented with out returning the favor. I don’t know, I live in Hawaii which is very influenced by the more humble eastern culture versus western culture.

      Also, anytime someone is concerned “Maybe so and so isn’t saying enough words” or “Should so and so be sitting up already, why isn’t he?” the mom’s who already have kids might say “Well, my first was sitting up by your child’s age, but my second wasn’t, so everyone is different, I wouldn’t worry.” I feel really grateful I haven’t experienced that one-upmanship anywhere in real life except on internet forums.

      I did notice, however, that breastfeeding mothers, openly talked about struggles, engorgement, swapping “Mother’s Milk Tea” samples and suggestions for milk blebs, while the bottle feeding mothers never talked about it. I was a breastfeeding mother and I was so grateful for the support and to know that other people were struggling, but I hope that the bottle feeding mothers weren’t offended by us talking about it. I’m certainly not going to feel ashamed of breast feeding in front of someone because I don’t want to hurt their feelings.

      I think part of the problem with this issue is that breastfeeding still feels like something you have to fight society for. You get weird looks from people, and you get people in your own family telling you not to do it in public, or to cover up, or to wean them already. So it’s not only formula feeding mothers that feel defensive from the get go, it’s breastfeeding mothers that feel like they have to defend something that really shouldn’t even need defending. If breastfeeding wasn’t made so difficult by the vast majority of people being completely ignorant about every aspect of it, breastfeeding mothers wouldn’t feel the need to be personal advocates for it. I know that I have felt that it was my job to breastfeed in public just to normalize it and put it out there.

      I do appreciate this article!

  5. A lot of this is true. We also need to remember that some of these moms that are formula-feeding do have guilt about it (not all, but some do, like me). I really didn’t have a choice at a certain point (baby was only 6 weeks old), and although I hadn’t planned to nurse for long, I felt like I lost something. I don’t feel guilt over the fact that I did exactly what was best for my son. I feel guilt over the fact that my body didn’t work exactly the way that I wanted. We all need to mourn the loss of expectations like that, no matter how far into the nursing process we are. I have made my peace with what I needed to do, and I am glad my son thrived in spite of me. That’s all that makes a good mom, and that’s the part we need to remember. It isn’t a battle of breast vs bottle; just trying to be the best mom we each can be. 🙂

    • I too have a lot of guilt about formula feeding my son. My ex-husband attempted suicide when my son was 2 weeks old and I dried up. I feel terrible about it. I truly believe that breastfeeding is best for a child, but in the same sentence, every child needs fed regardless if it is from formula or breast. A child doesn’t deserve to starve just because someone can’t/won’t nurse.

      I wish that we could get all mothers to stand together regardless of breastfeeding or formula feeding and realize that we are all trying to be good mothers. Saying hurtful things to people doesn’t help anyone.

      • I don’t think you have anything to feel guilty about , you did what was best for you and baby at that time . being a mom is hard enough no need to throw guilt in there too. We all must do what is right for us and baby

  6. Maybe if she *did* know how much of a struggle it was, then it would be a different story. Part of the whole problem, IMO, is that so many people who are for breastfeeding and say the above kind of things, so rarely, if ever, mention exactly how hard it is sometimes. As long as there is this idea floating around that breastfeeding is “normal” and no one ever talks about how *hard* it can be, then anyone who fails at breastfeeding is going to feel this way.

    I failed at breastfeeding twice. The first time because I couldn’t get past the cracked bleeding painful stage, and the second time because my milk dried up before my child could ever even feed (she never would have been able to nurse anyway since she was in a coma for the first 2 months of her life). This time, I consider myself a success – but it was a damn hard success – and even now at 8.5 months old, she still gets a bottle or two here and there for a variety of reasons.

    Am I happy that we’ve made it this long? Of course I am. But because I have struggled with it so much, and because I know how it felt to fail the first two times, I don’t ever “celebrate” it publicly, because doing so publicly without the mention of the struggles with poor latch, too forceful let downs, cracked bleeding nipples, Raynauds of the nipples, blocked ducts, mastitis, and on and on, would just be furthering the problem: it may be natural, but it is not normal, and thus more people will have problems with it than not. Making it sound easy does no one any favors.

    • I assume your post is in response to mine. I just wanted to say that I have never made breastfeeding sound easy to anyone, and I have never sugar coated or hid my struggles from my family. But quite frankly, they could care less. I say that my husband is the only one who knew how much I struggled because he was the only one who was there. Every baby, every night, he has seen every struggle and every tear. With my first baby any time I shared a breastfeeding struggle or didn’t quite know what to do every member of my family (except my grandfather) encouraged me to just stop nursing. At 3 months old I started getting questions about how long I was going to do “that” for. I have had family members cover me and my baby up, been asked to go into another room, and had family members leave the room when I nurse. The problems with my sister don’t stem from making breastfeeding seem easy or hiding my struggles. I was the only one telling her what she was going through was typical and normal for new moms, that I went through similiar things, and how to fix some of the problems. Everyone else in her life told her to quit and that it would be easier to do formula and that she just couldn’t make enough milk, etc. She trusted her mom and mother-in-law (two experienced mothers) over her big sister who was still a young mother.

    • Wouldn’t celebrating something be an acknowledgement that it is hard? You don’t celebrate something that is easy. (Maybe birthdays being the exception.) If something is hard work, that’s an accomplishment, and an accomplishment is worth celebrating in my book. I think all women deserve more encouragement and less put downs, formula feeding moms included, perhaps especially. I think if a woman tried to breastfeed at all, she should celebrate the time that she managed to, not put herself down for the time she didn’t.

  7. I enjoyed reading this but I have to say, if anyone is offended by any of those comments (I’m a formula feeding mom) they need to grow up. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, people are just becoming too sensitive. I do agree with you on the “I feel sorry for babies that aren’t breastfed.” comment though, that does give a little punch to the gut.

    I don’t know maybe I’m different but I didn’t find any of those really insulting or at least not enough for me to post that I would be upset about it.

  8. We need to change the terminology we use when talking about our own experiences, too. Mothers can be their own harshest critic. @Eliana, your baby thrived *because* of you, not in spite of you. 🙂 Every drop of breastmilk counts. I wish women would stop using the word failure when it comes to how long they managed to breastfeed for – I see every attempt as a success. And thank goodness formula exists for when things are just too difficult. As others have said, it’s love and nurturing that count, and every mama does their very best.

  9. The only thing that bothers me is when people assume that breastfeeding must’ve been easy for me and that’s why i am still doing it.

    I had cracked bleeding nipples, anxiety over whether or not he was getting enough, sleepless nights getting up every 1.5 hours for a 45 minute nursing session, weighing him before and after feedings because I was so worried about how much milk he was consuming, etc etc but we got help with his latch, he started going longer between feedings and I got more confident as he was gaining weight.

    It wasn’t easy but I really wanted to nurse him and now 8 months later we are still going strong and I do get comments like “lucky you it was so easy…” and I just say “nope, it wasn’t easy for me, it was hard but I kept trying.”

    I am a working mom so I have to pump 3 times a day (once before work and twice at work) and I ended up giving up with my first son when he was 4 months old so he was on formula for 8 months so obviously I’m not against it or angered by it I just want people to realize that yes, breastfeeding can be very difficult and painful, but you can get through all of that and enjoy the beautiful benefits of breastfeeding…plus it’s free!! It’s like extreme couponing LOL 🙂

  10. I knew a woman who, when she gave up trying to breastfeed because she had bleeding nipples, became ANTI-breastfeeding and started making up reasons why it was bad. I just wanted to say “not breastfeeding is your call, but don’t come onto my facebook and start telling women to cover up when nursing in public!” Instead I just defriended her…

    But back to the point, I do speak quite strongly in favour of breastfeeding sometimes and post articles about the benefits of breastmilk, not because I think that those people who use formula should be shamed (obviously not, it’d be hard enough having to sterilise bottles, boil water, make the formula in the middle of the night…) but to show women who are yet to have kids or who are pregnant that they should breastfeed. And if that makes the other women feel bad, well sorry dudes, but it’s not about them. People who do formula feed on my Facebook generally get that, except for that horrible troll girl who I deleted who thought that every single breastfeeding article was aimed at her and her life choices, which she clearly wasn’t comfortable with…

  11. I like this post and everything it’s about.. I just wish I could celebrate my breastfeeding journey without others taking it personally.. Wether they formula feed or just have a really hard time breastfeeding. I don’t like having to worry that I’m going to offend someone just because I’ve been successful at breastfeeding my children. Ya know? People take things too personally!

  12. I think for the average person (the “we” you refer to as you write) what you write is correct but there are still women out there that DO mean exactly what you say “they” don’t mean. It’s sad but it’s true.

  13. Thanks for this! It is important for women to start supporting day other. I have friends who range from never breastfed to lactivists. It is important to be a true friend and a decent person to consider others before you consider yourself. My friends who use formula know I don’t. We each make decisions that are best for our kids and we each face different challenges. If we start by understanding that everyone wants what is best for their child, we can better support friends and family members who need it. Sometimes the best response to negative comments is to say, “that hurt me.” Life isn’t a competition. We can all afford to be more supportive and loving to everyone we meet.

  14. And amen to that!! Well said as always x

  15. thumbs up for this post! Even though I am a BFing mom, I still find it awkward and somehow tactless when people say mean stuff to moms who made the choice of using formula.
    I mean, its their choice right? I know most of us really rub the “breastfeeding is best” campaign but let us not judge those who cannot or won’t breastfeed.

    Sometimes it does look like bullying. there is a fine line between encouraging and pushing, especially on the net where you aren’t face to face- words on screen can be read and interpreted in different ways because you can’t hear the intonation of the voice and see the expression of the speaker.

  16. I have 5 children and have only been successful at breastfeeding with my youngest. Nine years ago when I was pregnant for the first time with my twins I thought that it would be so easy. After all, it’s the natural thing to do right? Well, while we were still waiting for Baby B to make her appearance an hour after her brother had been born they turned my Pitocin back on and gave my son glucose water. I was young, dumb and naive and never knew until much later that bfing was pretty much sabotaged. I was exhausted and we had no clue what we were doing. It was just so easy to pop another nipple on those convenient pre-made bottles they have at the hospital and sent home with us. I pumped for two weeks but had no clue how much it took to establish your supply. With my next son I was successful for 4 days until I couldn’t handle the screaming from my 17 month old son out of jealousy any longer. With my fourth baby I was on Wellbutrin which, at the time, wasn’t considered safe with bfing so I never even got to try.

    This time I was in a different place as a mother and grilled my friends who had been successful at it. They told me the brutal, honest truth about how hard it is at the beginning and they were my champions when I was struggling to get my 9 pound 7 oz baby back up to her birth weight. It took 6 weeks to get there but we did it. Now at 10 months I can’t imagine her giving up any time in the near future and plan on continuing until at least 18 months.

    I carried guilt for years over formula feeding my other babies. Was I bonded to them? Absolutely. But I also could never get rid of the feeling that there was this exclusive club that I was never good enough for. Out of all my children to be sucessfully breastfeeding, I’m so glad it’ was my last. The other children see that breastfeeding is normal and I’m hoping that image with stay with them into adulthood. My girls will remember it when they have their own babies and I will be right there, cheering them on. My boys will remember it and become loving, supportive husbands to their wives. Hopefully I will be allowed to cheer them on too!

  17. I don’t think there’s a way to promote breastfeeding and not make some formula feeders sad. It really doesn’t matter how BF’s say it, it still insinuates that they are right and FF’s are wrong.

    Everybody loves their babies. BF’s don’t love them more than FF’s. But sometimes, BF’s makes FF’s feel like that.

    • There are many other times when the father and baby can bond. Believe me NOBODY is bodning 3am in the morning. 3am in the morning is when you’re hoping and praying the baby goes to sleep so you can get some rest! I’ve heard at night is the most crucial time for you’re milk supply. If you really want him to do the feedings why don’t you pump some breast milk and he can feed a bottle in the morning and the bottle before bed. There’s no reason to use formula if you really plan on breastfeeding. Babys don’t stay satisfied longer on formula. During the first few weeks I bottle fed a couple of times a day. I still wasn’t really sure of what I was doing and the pain was pretty intense. So I really know first hand that formula doesn’t really keep them asleep too much longer. Either way they’re going to have to be fed several times throughout the night.Also when I told my nurse about it she told me that I didn’t need to be substituting with formula- that it could potentialy hurt my supply and that I was all the baby needed.

  18. I love this post. I admire that you are trying to bridge the divide between breastfeeders and formula feeders, and I think you make a lot of really astute points here.

    Hope you don’t mind, but you inspired me to add a few entries from the “other” perspective on my blog – would love to hear your thoughts! http://www.fearlessformulafeeder.com/2012/02/formula-feeder-to-breastfeeding.html

    And btw – how embarrassing is it that I had to think for a second to answer the “simple math” security question in order to post this?

  19. That’s so funny. But I’m pretty sure breast-feeding mums do actually mean those things under “What we don’t mean”

    • I completely agree. If you inserted “formula” in place of breastfeeding in all of those statement, we would be attacked. It is okay to be all of those things if you are breastfeeder, but if I said “Formula feeding is a normal way to feed my baby” or “I am glad I never had to give my baby one drop of breastmilk” I would be crucified. I was also told my someone that there was no way I could bond with my baby since I formula fed and that if I continued to cosleep with her, that I would probably smother her since I didn’t have that bond.

      • To Antonio and Joline and other that feel this way
        I disagree I have done both and have never felt guilty about feeding formula to my first child as it was the right choice for me at that point in my life. Breast Feeding is hard, and so yes many want celebrate this accomplishment because so many have struggled through the process to finally succeed. I honestly believe as long as you did what was right for you and baby, than why feel guilty. Life is rarely fair, sometimes we try and things just don’t work out or for our own reason we choose a different path, that doesn’t make it wrong. Everyone must do what is best for them and their children, this only makes sense. Sadly people are becoming very over sensitive about what others do or don’t do (or say). I was unable after 2 attempts to have what would be considered a normal birth, and so I have now had 3 C-sections, should I tell everyone who wants to tell me about their birth story to be quiet because mine didn’t go as I had planned. They aren’t telling me this to upset me or make me feel inadequate; they are telling me because it’s important to them. Women talk about BF because many never try or give up because they feel it’s weird or feel they have no one to turn to when thing become difficult, and yes to normalize it, there is no reason to normalize formula as it is already thought of as normal and something that should be seen as normal is seen to many as taboo, something that should only been done in your own home, because our society have turned Breasts into a sexual object and in truth they are truly intended for nourishing a child ( think cows udder..lol). But why feel guilt, I did what I had to do in order to make things easier and smoother for me and my child this made me a better mom due to my circumstances at home, an non understanding husband and having to cater to a sick MIL, being afraid to nurse in public and the list goes on, so I made a choice and I would do it again, do I believe one is as good as the other no (formula vs. Breast milk). But I believe if BF is interfering with you being a good mother (under constant stress for example) , then you do what is best for you , because what is best for you sometimes is best for baby. That whole take care of yourself first, that most moms never do. Sometimes you have too, for me it was the right choice.
        We mothers are very good at feeling guilty, even after 36hrs of labour, my pain meds never took properly why I’ll never know, I pushed until my daughter got stuck and then I had an emergency section, even after how hard I tried I felt guilty ,like somehow I failed, until my mom told me “you and baby are ok and that is all that matters” the same can be said for a formula fed babies. And even though it did take me a while to come to terms with that, I did at some point realize she was right. So I ask why feel guilty? , why say another’s accomplishments make you feel guilty, we are all trying to do what is best for our children. There is no reason to be upset with someone just because they are happy about what they have personally accomplished just because this didn’t work out for you or you choose something that was better suited for you and your life. It doesn’t make anyone wrong or right.

      • Quite rightly if you said ‘formula feeding is the normal way to feed my baby’ you would be corrected. You seem to have missed the point. We are biologically programmed to breastfeed. Formula is NOT normal. In the same way c-sections are NOT normal. This is not to say they aren’t life-saving or sometimes necessary, and I am in no means against either of these interventions. I just believe in clear statement of fact.
        On the co-sleeping front, whilst what has been said to you is lacking tact it is based on fact. Co-sleeping studies have shown the incredible link a breastfeeding mum and baby have, they are far more in tune whilst sleeping. (This isn’t a dig, and doesn’t mean your bond isn’t as strong because you use formula.) So yes, the chances of smothering are significantly higher with a ff baby. However, I’m a huge co-sleeping advocate and would argue that the benefits for both mum and baby still outweigh the risks.
        All I hope for is Mums being able to make informed decisions based purely on facts and evidence. Only then can they make a true choice, and yes this means sharing information that may make some people feel uncomfortable.

        • Do you have sound research to support that? The problem with the research that has been presented to me is that is is not peer reviewed and correlation does not equal causation. Here is the research presented to me and why it isn’t sound:

          http://www.naturalchild.org/james_mckenna/cosleeping.pdf (see page 12)



          ” ‘Circum- stances and conditions’ associated with bedsharing can always range from safe to risky, regardless of whether the co-sleepers sleep on the same or a different surface but when breast feeding is involved outcomes always take a step toward the positive. We suggest, therefore, that bedsharing outcomes are best conceptualised as falling somewhere on a benefits–risk continuum with outcomes being determined by the presence or absence of known adverse or protective ‘factors’ (see Fig. 4). For example, when non-smoking breast feeding mothers elect to bedshare specifically to nurture their infants having eliminated all known factors associated with risky bedsharing, the outcomes will probably be very positive compared with the 16-year-old unsupported mother, who bottle feeds and bedshares because she cannot afford a crib and places her infant on a pillow in the bed to sleep.”

          This is purely opinion and correlational based on a million factors which the author admits. People misconstrue the information to make it fit what they want.

          The second link is a collection of the author’s interpretation of a bunch of studies. The study about FF and bed sharing to which the article refers is a student’s thesis which was never published and therefore never reviewed by a panel of peers to determine if it was a sound study

          The third is also the author’s interpretation of various studies but does yield that FF moms tend to bed share inconsistently which correlates to less safe bed sharing. That does NOT say that FF moms bed share unsafely, but that inconsistent and unplanned bed sharing is more dangerous and the FF tend to do that more – it is NOT simply because they are FFers.

  20. I don’t think one should underestimate the place that feeling “bad” or “guilty” has in the spectrum of emotions. I know that the trend in America is the de facto notion that one should feel great all the time, but sometimes we gain great strength and insite from feeling ‘bad’. When my baby was born i went to a mothering circle where a woman said that she was so proud her two children had never had a drop of formula. My instinct as a mother, and the rigor of intellectual and medical analysis, told me that this woman was spot on, and her story was one that i aspired to.
    When my baby was 6 months old and i had been back at a very demanding job for about 3 months my milk supply started to drop off despite frequent pumping. For the first time i had to supplement with formula and it felt awful. It was, however, much much easier on my schedule, my breasts, my sleep, etc.

    But the “bad” feeling I had about not feeding my baby in the best possible way is what made me redouble my efforts to continue breast feeding. I made time to see a lactation consultant, I sought herbal support, and i just pumped more when i thought i was pumping a lot already. Now at 11 months I continue to breastfeed as much as possible and accept gracefuly that a few times a week i need to supplement.

    i don’t always love breastfeeding and sometimes it’s damned inconvenient, but i am glad i felt bad enough to try harder. i think feeling bad about giving up was healthy, i think that it sent an important neurological signal.

    All this to say that if a few words on the internet can “make” someone feel bad, they are no doubt feeling bad already, and while that feeling should never be a profound or continuous state for anyone, seeking to avoid it entirely would be to deny a rich and healthy part of the human condition.

    • Yes! Excellent points. It’s time for people to own their emotions – if someone “makes” you feel guilty there is no doubt a reason that should be explored.

  21. This is a great article. I am very proud of the fact that I breastfed both my kids…my youngest is 22 months and still breastfeeding. Unlike many of you, breastfeeding came easy to me, but what people don’t understand is what I had to struggle through just to get there….fertility issues, sickness during my whole pregnancy, unplanned & unwanted c-sections both times (I was trying to go all natural), etc…..Breastfeeding was easy for me and it was the first time I actually felt like I “worked” the way I was supposed to….I find it empowering! I feel sorry for the moms who were duped into thinking that they were not good enough to breastfeed, and I let them know everytime that I support their choices and the sacrifices they have made on their mothering journey.

  22. I like all mothers understand mother’s guilt; however I have never understood why some women get so defensive about the fact that they feed formula. You made a choice which was in you and babies best interest and you really don’t need to defend that to anyone. It bothers me when others assume that I BF because it must have been or is easy, but like so many moms here have stated it is anything but. BF is a learning curve for mom and baby so the first time can be a tough , some will preserver not letting anything stop then, cracked bleeding nipples (can we say ouch!!) blocked ducts and so on, but for some there comes a point that you realise that something has to give . I’ve been there, unlike so many women who want to breastfeed I didn’t, I had never seen anyone BF .however after I married I left my family behind and moved very far away to where my husband was from and where I had no one but him and his family to rely on. Made for an interesting first few years of marriage…lol…however when I got pregnant his mom really pushed BF on me, which kind of weirded me out…after talking to my mom she found it weird that I found it weird as I was also BF .however I of course did not remember this. I still thought it was weird but wanting to make everyone around me happy I decided to try it as even my doctor kept pushing towards BF. The problem is no one ever tells you how hard it can be and the bad advice seems endless, usually from women who weren’t successful at BF themselves. Sadly having my first baby came with a lot of unexpected things, like bed rest and high blood pressure, to being in 36 hrs of labour and then ending up with a C-section. I simply never envisioned any problems giving birth after all how hard could it be, women have been doing it always and forever… (lol). After wards I was once again pushed to BF and so I tried. Of course once I saw that little face who was all mine well then it did seem right, but of course things did not go smoothly. However I was determined to BF as the section had left me feeling hollow inside, like somehow I was less than. Those first 2 weeks were hell but somehow we made it through. I’d like to say that I had great support but really I didn’t. Those same people that insisted I BF , where also the same people who would get mad and impatient anytime I had to feed baby and I was with them or had to pull the vehicle over because baby needed to eat , in fact these same people would hurry me up “hasn’t she had enough” “ we really need to go “ and so on or tell me just let her cry its only another 45 mins, you want to see a new mom totally stressed to the max that would do it , then my husband would get home and expect dinner to be ready but I had been feeding the baby, or things wouldn’t be done and so on I always felt like I was on somebody’s sh#@ list and don’t even get me started on trying to feed her in public (sigh). Sadly it got where I was messing up my milk production to the point that my daughter would latch and try to nurse for 5 min or so and then com of the boob and cry and cry then latch on and try again this went on for a month I went to the doctor he gave me pills that were suppose to help with milk production and so on however after 5 and ½ months I just could not do it anymore I was so unsure , was she getting enough, should she be bigger (people kept telling me how petite she was) , that last while she never seemed satisfied she seemed to be crying more than not , so one day I too went and purchased formula . She didn’t cry anymore and would only show normal feeding cues like sucking and such. And my breast never got so full after that I had to pump, in fact they never changed , even though I simply went from exclusive Bf to Formula , obviously my milk just wasn’t there. I was ok with my choice as it made my life easier in one sense though more difficult in another, as bottle feeding does have its pros and cons as does anything , but it was the right choice for me at that time , I do not feel ashamed of that. Only later did I get some much better advice and knowledge about what I did wrong. With my second it was me who was determined to BF and this time nothing was going to stop me, and nothing did, everything went really smooth and those same people who had bullied me to do things on their terms now found a new confident women who did things on her terms everyone else be dammed. And now I am currently Bf number 3, things have not been easy with this one but we have persevered and she to is doing really well. Moms need to realise that other moms are doing the best they can, actually all moms need to take a long look in the mirror and tell themselves that they really are doing what is right for their child or children as well as for themselves, that none of us are perfect , and that sometimes things just don’t go as planned and nobody but you can make you feel guilty as long as you know and believe that what you are doing is the best for your child as this article states sometimes things get taken out of context, as for the “I feel sorry for babies who aren’t BF “ comment well I think that maybe directed to the mothers who tell women that BFing is gross and that boobs are for sex and sex only, when in reality Breast’s are not a sexual organ and really are intended for nourishing a child (yes like a cows udder..lol). I’m not saying to wrongs make right or that I agree, but it’s one thing to say you tried and failed ,however I don’t see it that way, after all you tried , the only way you really fail is by not trying at all. Sometimes things just aren’t meant to be, being a mother is hard, we are all trying to do the best for our children and no matter what anyone else says , no one can ask for more, and none of us are perfect.

  23. I couldn’t be bothered even to try – I never liked the thought of it and it just seemed way too much hassle, especially at night! Yes – I breastfed my kids because I’m a lazy slob. I had more than enough to do with looking after the kids and the house without the added hassle of remembering to buy formula, wash/sterilize bottles, etc

    • lol…. after doing both with my first, that’s what I always say, BF is just so much easier in so many ways as you stated. Suffice to say my last 2 children have been BF , as there was nothing worse than travelling, which I do a lot of and having to worry whether or not I had brought enough formula ….lol…let alone making sure I had boiled water and sterilized everything…never again I told myself , and so far thats been true…..

  24. I never understood this whole debate. formula is the safest alternative to breastmilk and it feeds a baby suffciently. I honestly believe the formula could be made safer and strict regulations should be put in place to make sure that every baby has the highest quality formula possible. I worry just as much abouy all my friends babies as I would my own and we are supportive ot there isf each other and ask quest tions too learn from each other. Parenting is hard. We need to accept each others choices and I personally will only say something if I feel that there is a danger to the baby or something that could help following their parenting choice. For example a product recall and helping a friend chose which formula was the safest and that didnt make baby have a reaction.

  25. Not sure I agree on all of these. The “so glad my child hasn’t had one drop of formula.” So, I’m a crazy lactavist, and I am happy that my baby hasn’t recieved a drop of formula, but I don’t say that outloud because it IS anti-formula. I feel anti-formula for my baby. I really don’t care what others feed their baby, but I don’t want my baby to have formula. Why? Because I think it’s inferior to breastmilk. How can the statement not reflect the feeling of breastmilk’s superiority? I made a choice, I looked at the options and I judged one of them. So not everyone can BF, but everyone can FF. if we choose not to we’ve judged it.

  26. I thought this was well put and plan to share it.

    Personally, though, I’m not sure there’s ever an appropriate way to say “I feel bad for babies that aren’t breastfed.”

    Most of the women I know who use formula wanted to breastfeed and didn’t have the right support. Since I didn’t go to their homes and help them out, who am I to comment on their decisions? I am nursing a baby because I had the right support with my first child. (I still supplemented a few times, but his reaction to formula cemented my commitment to breastfeeding – I think he would have ended up on one of the more expensive types of formula, and we didn’t qualify for WIC, and were in a terrible place financially… it would have killed us)

    I know, however, that I was a bit more strident with my first child, because I was trying so hard to be perfect. Now that I am easier on myself, I am easier to be around LOL

  27. It’s nice to know that all breastfeeding moms aren’t totally down on us formula feeding moms. I know you’re “what we’re not saying” translations are ment to show that you aren’t trying to be mean, but coming from a formula using mom, I had one mom tell me I might as well be giving my baby rat poison, and other who asked if I missed out on the bonding my baby and I could have done.

    That’s the filter that moms who formula fed are coming from when breastfeeding moms tell us “breast is best”. We know most of you are nice and well meaning, but we’re remembering is that other mom who told us we might as well be giving our baby rat poison.

    I’m totally pro-breastfeeding, don’t get me wrong. I think Moms should be able to feed their baby in whatever way is best for them without fear of being told what a terrible mom she is for her choice, whichever it is. If I am lucky enough to have another baby, I’m going to try to breastfeed. But at least I have formula as a backup if it doesn’t work out again.

  28. I personally am afraid to share all of my struggles with breastfeeding to a new mom because many already have this image that it is too hard. Not everyone shares my perseverance, and if I told someone that bf’ing is great, but you can also look forward to blisters if they are tongue tied, Raynaud’s, cracked nipples, blocked ducts, thrush, latch problems, distractions, etc… I’m sure they couldn’t wait to nurse then ;-). Instead, you try to focus on all that is good and wonderful and made it worth the hard times. I think if our culture accepted breastfeeding as normal, we’d have a much more open exchange. Now I only speak up to troubleshoot.

  29. Wonderful article. I am still nursing my two and a half year old daughter, who has never had a drop of formula. I persevered through bleeding crakcled nipples, fear, severe criticism from family ( super support from hubby though) etc. Breastfeeding my daughter like this is the greatest accomplishment of my life because it was important to me ( and the family criticusm really helped me push through the rough times). BUT my closest mommy friend with a little boy the same age as my daughter ( who I met when our kids were a few months old) did not breastfeed for very long if at all.. she formula fed him early due to complications from a C-section. And I think she is the greatest, most loving, and best mother I know. She is very close and bonded with her little boy, she is an excellent loving caring mother.. and honestly the formula vs. breastmilk difference has NEVER been an issue between us. She fully supports my breastfeedig journey ( she’ s encouraged me to nurse my toddler in public even while we are on a pizza playdate) and I have never thought ill of her once, or judged her decisions, or questioned her love for her child. We respect each other very much, and she is one of the few people I trust with my child. Its just a non issue between us both ways, and I am very grateful for that or we would have missed out on an incredible freindship. ( as an aside, my closet breastfeeding mommy friend asked me ‘how could I be friends with someone who formula fed their baby??” I think this comes from a place of competitiveness, and a desire to feel superior to others thereby reinforcing our choices as better). I am a wholehearted supporter of spreading awareness of the importance fo breastfeeding, and support to mothers who need it. but I do not judge other mothers for what sometimes are more compliacted circumstances than others realise. Love to all the loving mamas!

  30. Thanks so much for posting this. There ends up being so much polarizing language in the birth world and we end up eating our own, creating divides and hurt feelings rather than safe environments where we can all talk honestly about our successes and challenges with pregnancy, labor, birth, and parenting.

  31. I felt guilty when I couldn’t nurse my son. When he was 2 months old, I had emergency surgery & was in the hospital on morphine for a week. I tried pumping, but dried up completely. We’d been supplementing at times previous to that because I just couldn’t produce enough. I was miserable and cried for days because I felt like I was being a bad mother. That I should have had the ability to nurse him. Thankfully my husband was very supportive and my son thrived on formula. When I had my second child, I again couldn’t produce much and he was also supplemented from about 3 weeks old on. He nursed longer, 6 months, before he up & decided that he didn’t want to nurse. I continued to pump & try to feed him what I could make, but he even refused that. He went to formula full time at 7 months.

    I appreciate this article. And it’s nice to have clarification on some comments. But others, such as “I’m so glad my child has never had a drop of formula” or “I’m sorry for non-breastfed babies” just needs to not be said. Ever. You’re going to insult a formula mom regardless. I did what was best for my children. And I’m not sorry for it. They both gained weight more consistently on formula, my eldest child who was formula fed longest is now 3 years old, super skinny & healthy. In fact I get comments about how he must have been breastfed as opposed to my very chubby 1 year old… Like formula made my little guy fat.

    I also really disliked breastfeeding. I tried my hardest to feed them myself because I know it’s the healthiest way to go, but I really didn’t like it. And they would fight my breast but wouldn’t fight a bottle… I feel I bonded with both of them better when feeding from a bottle. I could more easily see them, and they me, I could touch & rub their faces (I’m very large breasted & when breastfeeding, actually had to hold my breast back so as not to cover their faces, leaving no hand for extra love).

    I only ask breastfeeding enthusiasts to think about how they would feel if their comments were reversed on them before speaking. If suddenly you found out that, for whatever odd ball reason, formula ended up being the better choice. Would you feel upset if suddenly nearly every comment you came across was “I’m so glad my child has never had a drop of breastmilk” or “I’d never sink so low as to breastfeed my child”?

  32. “Would you feel upset if suddenly nearly every comment you came across was “I’m so glad my child has never had a drop of breastmilk” or “I’d never sink so low as to breastfeed my child”?”

    While this is less and less common these things have been said. I have family and friends who are very happy their baby didn’t have a drop of breastmilk since they had no desire to ever put their baby to their breast…because they think it’s weird. One person even said she found it creepy. So if they think it’s weird to nurse a baby then I must be weird if I nurse my baby, right? So someone who wants their baby to never have any breastmilk is just as insulting as someone who never wanted their baby to have any formula. I happen to think both people should get off their high horses and just do what’s best for their babies. It’s never best for a healthy mother to not try to breastfeed at all and it isn’t always best to not supplement if your baby is failing to thrive etc. My baby is almost exclusively breastfed at 9 months since he has little interest in solid food. I have, however, given him some formula in a sippy cup a 3 or 4 times when I was out (I don’t pump well and he usually just waits until I come home) So he’s had a few drops of formula. I don’t get that gold star. He is a big, beautiful healthy baby who thrives on my milk and I won’t feel bad that he’s had a few ounces of formula. I love breastfeeding and it does make me sad when someone decides before the baby is even born to just let their amazing breastmilk dry up untouched. This isn’t as uncommon as you think, in fact most of the formula moms I know are not the result of struggle or failure to thrive but preference.

  33. ValkyriePhoenix says

    re:”“I love the bond I have with my baby with breastfeeding.”
    We don’t mean: “Moms that don’t breastfeed aren’t as connected to their babies.” ”

    Except, of course, when “I love the bond I have with my baby with breastfeeding.” is immediately followed by, “Moms that don’t breastfeed aren’t as connected to their babies.”

    Also, part of the reason why I’m so turned off by the phrase “Breast is best” is because of what I’ve often seen follow IT, “there’s no good reason why a mom wouldn’t want to give her baby the very best”.
    Most moms don’t mean anything by it, but some…some do.

    As for me, i breastfed all 3 of my kids for 2-4 months, and then something always happened. Both the boys lost dramatic amounts of weight, well after that newborn “few ounces” that is normal, after gaining instead of losing during those first few weeks. With my daughter, both myself and my oldest son got so sick nothing but sugar-water would stay down for more than a week, by the end of day 2 I had NOTHING left for her.