Recently I took my son to the pediatrician for his 6 month well visit. After a brief physical exam and three scream-inducing shots, I was sent on my way with a handful of informational handouts. That night at home, I sat down to go through my stack of paperwork.
As my little guy had recently started solid foods, I settled in to learn some tips on how to proceed with this adventure. I began to read the "handy dandy guide to your 6-month-old" and looked for the feeding guidelines. I located the section. The first line read "If you are still breastfeeding your baby, that's great!" It went on to encourage you to continue breast feeding as long as possible.
As I am not breastfeeding, I kept reading. After that, it stated, "If you are formula feeding, then you are a bad mom."
Well, okay, it did not say the last part, but it may as well have. That is exactly how I felt when I read this, and how I have felt many times over the past 6 months. Of course, no positive affirmations followed the statement about formula feeding, much like what is common in daily life.
The first time I felt "formula shamed" was when my son was only 5 days old in the NICU. He was having issues taking food by mouth and needed a feeding tube to help get the balance of calories that he didn't take. During this stressful and emotional time, one of the NICU nurses asked why I wasn't breastfeeding. Maybe it was her tone or maybe it was just self-imposed, but this question made me feel guilty and almost like it was my fault my son was struggling to eat (which, by the way, it wasn't).
Although it was the first time, it was not the last time I felt guilty about my choice. Although it's rare that someone will say something directly to me about this, there are indirect and passive messages everywhere - from the "breast is best" mantra to celebrity breastfeeding advocates loudly speaking out everywhere to the "brelfie" posts liked and shared on social media daily.
Messages are constantly sent, however subtle, that if you are not feeding your baby the "natural" and "correct" way, then you are not doing what you are supposed to do as a mom. Formula feeding my son was not a decision made lightly. I put much thought and emotion into making that choice. I weighed pros and cons. I discussed the two options at length with my family and my healthcare professionals. I contacted lactation consultants. I went back and forth on what I was going to do.
Ultimately formula feeding was what I felt was the best decision for my son and our family. There are many reasons why moms choose to formula feed. These are always very personal, and women may not want to talk about why they made this choice. In fact, they shouldn't have to. Maybe someone physically cannot breastfeed or has a medical condition that doesn't allow for it. Maybe there are life circumstances which are not conducive to nursing or pumping. Maybe it doesn't work out for mama and baby. Maybe they just choose not to. You cannot assume everyone's situations are the same as yours. I, nor any mom, should not feel like we need to explain ourselves or justify our decision to the world.
If I could offer some handout editing advice for the pediatricians' office, the one I received would read as follows, "If you are still breastfeeding your baby, that's great! If you are formula feeding your baby, that's great too!" Because, it is. If you are doing either of those things, your baby is being fed and nourished and given everything they need to grow and thrive, and that is great. Good job, mama! I am a huge supporter of moms who can and want to nurse, but breast is not always best.
Let's finally stop the shaming on this issue and embrace that there are different ways to raise a healthy baby. Let's post our "FFelfies" right next to those "brelfies" and be proud! We are all in this together, mamas. Let's support each other, no matter how we choose to feed our babies.