I haven’t written about breastfeeding in quite some time. It hasn’t been a big factor in my life recently, as we weaned in December and I quit my job as lactation consultant in January. I’ve kept a small presence in the online portion of a breastfeeding support group I helped found (just can’t quite let go) and when someone recently equated formula to poison, it ruffled my feathers.

Wait, a lactation consultant who doesn’t think formula is the devil?  (Trust me, we’re out there).

The short answer is no. I do think that formula-feeding moms deserve a product with better ingredients (lose the GMO’s, guys, or at least label that you use them so parents can make informed decisions about what they feed their babies!!). However, infant formula is not a substance that, when introduced into or absorbed by a living organism, causes death or injury, esp. one that kills by rapid action. Nor is it an American butt rock band that gave us such classics as “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Nothin’ But a Good Time.”

Well, why would it bother me if someone else bad-mouths formula?

Because I used to be one of those judgmental assholes and I feel ashamed of my past.

When I was pregnant, I was determined to breastfeed. I knew it was the best option for my baby and I couldn’t believe that everyone else didn’t think the same as me! I railed on and on to my friend who was pregnant at the same time about how I couldn’t imagine mothers not wanting to breastfeed, what’s wrong with them, how could they harm their babies that way. My friend admitted that she might have to formula feed because of a previous breast reduction surgery, and I pitied her. I embodied the stereotype of the militant lactivist.

Then, I had my baby and got to experience the reality of breastfeeding. It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s downright hellish. I started to see why some moms not want to do it, or might not be able to do it, and my rock-solid belief of “breast is best” started to crack a little (along with my nipples). I began to realize I may have been wrong to be so judgmental.

My friend had her baby and told me that she had never planned to breastfeed; she just used the excuse of her breast reduction surgery to placate me. She told me that she felt uncomfortable with so much attention on her breasts and didn’t want to do it, but was worried how I would judge her if she admitted that. I felt like a world class scumbag. Back then, she was one of my best friends. During a time that was so special to both of us (how many people are lucky enough to experience their first pregnancies alongside their best friend?), I ruined some of the excitement with my narrow-minded views. This took those small cracks in my “breast is best” belief and shattered it.

What little pieces of my judgmental self remained were obliterated when I started working as a lactation consultant. I worked in a hospital with around 500 births a year. In the beginning, I know there were a few moms I upset with my reaction to them using formula. This was in part due to the pressure being put on me to produce higher breastfeeding rates, and every mom that used formula cut into that. Thankfully, I quickly realized that numbers were not as important as the moms and babies who represented them. I also realized that it was not my job to shame a mom into breastfeeding, and being disappointed in a mom for using formula was extremely arrogant and inappropriate. To those moms, I apologize.

Though I did help our hospital achieve amazing breastfeeding rates, I feel my most important job was building up moms – especially those for whom breastfeeding was not working out. Moms would show up in my office, exhausted and worn out from a constant merry-go-round of feeding, pumping, supplementing and tearfully admit that they couldn’t do it anymore. They would then break down and sob, proclaiming themselves failures for not being able to breastfeed and for having to use formula. This is usually the part where my heart broke, and I’d often tear up with them. I looked those moms straight in the eye and told them they were good mothers. I told them that the bond between mom and baby was more important than how baby was fed. I told them their babies were going to thrive and be happy, no matter how baby was fed. I told them they were amazing, strong mamas for loving their babies so much. They would look at me in disbelief, with tears in their eyes, and I would keep repeating it until I saw a glimmer of acceptance. I believed it was my job to be one of the lone breastfeeding supporters who could also (gasp!) support moms who didn’t breastfeed.

It’s because of those moms that I bristle when I see someone call formula poison or insinuate that formula-feeding moms are somehow less than breastfeeding moms. Seeing crap like that only rubs salt in those mothers’ wounds. They beat themselves up enough as it is; they don’t need random people spewing garbage like that. I wish I could go back in time and smack my judgmental self on the forehead. If I could, I would then tell her this:

breast or bottle




14 thoughts on “Infant formula is not poison

  1. I was one of those moms in your office. Thank you for supporting me. I gave up at four weeks because I was in so much pain and had been feeding, pumping, and supplementing for two weeks. It was hell. I still regret quitting nine months later, but I know my baby is healthy and happy. I was also not enjoying the first weeks of his life, but that dramatically improved with formula. Breast feeding is HARD

  2. What a wonderful post! I love that you could give the perspective of both a professional and a mom. And bless your heart for admitting you felt bad about your judgment. At first, I had no intention of nursing. But after my twins were born, it was a no-brainer for me. One of my twins was born with a cleft lip and palate, and try as we might, he just couldn’t nurse. I pumped and fed him breast milk, but there came a time I had to supplement with formula. I felt horrible. Three more babies later, and they are all perfectly fine. I wish moms would realize its not these little issues that matter as much as the love and care they give their babies and the support we can give each other that make us great moms.

  3. This is great! A happy and supported mama is the best thing for a baby! The most important thing we can do as women is support each other’s informed choices, and not feel guilty about making those decisions. Thanks for spreading the word – I love the image at the bottom!

  4. Thank you for this. I was one of those moms. I put so much pressure on myself and when it didn’t work I was devastated. My boys are smart, healthy, and thriving. It is all about what works for each individual. Love this post!

    1. You are so right. I believe each mommy knows what’s best for her family and shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for any decision she makes.

  5. I nursed for 9 months. Using formula occasionally. I wanted to do it for 12 months but it just didn’t work out. I appreciate this post. Hugs!

  6. I really appreciate this post. I breastfed my first until I was committed in a psych ward for postpartum psychosis, when she was 8 months old. I was in denial of my PPD for months, geographically isolated from support, and my husband had to leave for weeks on end for his stressful job. This whole time though, I had “breast is best” ingrained in my mind. Even after that horrible ordeal, I still had the doctors insist that breast was best with my second child, who came 22 months later. So instead of putting my newborn on formula and taking the meds immediately, I breastfed. I knew it was possible that I could lose my mind again, but trusted the doctors. Two months after my second beautiful child was born, I put them in daycare and attempted suicide. The only thing that saved my life was my mom’s intuition when she received my “I love you” text message and called 911. When the medics arrived at my door I blacked out, since I had swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills and other meds, chased with tequila.

    I have completely swung to the other side of this debate, and hate the fact that formula vs. breast is even a debate at all. To every judgmental person out there—please think twice before spewing your “knowledge” on how bad formula is. For the record, my second child has never had an ear infection, even though he was only breastfed for a short time; whereas my firstborn had multiple ear infections during the 8 months she was breastfed. They are both happy, healthy, and well adjusted preschoolers. If I could change one thing ever, I would NEVER have breastfed either of them! –Considering how at-risk I was for PPD, and how much I needed to be on an antidepressant postpartum.

    I’m now living a fulfilling, happy, healthy life with two kids I would do anything for, and a husband who has stood behind me through it all. I almost lost out on all of this, because I thought I could never be a good enough mama for my kids, and that I was somehow doomed to forever live under depression and delusions. To any new mom who is at risk for PPD–don’t think twice about feeding with formula. Your child needs their mom to be in her right mind.

    1. You are so right – a happy, healthy mom is the most important thing a kid needs. Formula or breast shouldn’t be a debate, you are absolutely correct. Women should be allowed to make informed choices without pressure – pressure from pushy breastfeeding advocates or pressure from insidious formula marketing. I love your honesty and I’m so sorry breastfeeding pressure contributed to your PPD/PPP.

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