Formula Shaming and the People It Hurts

In my almost five years as a pregnant person/mother, I’ve been the direct and indirect recipient of various forms of shaming {as have all pregnant people/mothers}.  Maybe not in person, by my actual peers, all the time, but through tweets and blogs and replies to posts on message boards and Facebook.  Isn’t social media wonderful?  We can make people feel like crap from across the world.

Truth be told, it started even before I got pregnant.  I was having trouble conceiving and asked my OB/GYN about Clomid after seven months of being on Metformin did not help.  To some people, my inability to conceive without assistance should have just been a sign that I was not supposed to have children.  To those people I say:

Next was my decision to be induced at 39 weeks, after being told that my baby would possibly hit the 10-pound mark if I went to my due date or past full term.  I will own that one, I was just tired of being pregnant and scared of a gigantic baby.  If I had it to do over, I would probably make a different choice but the past is the past.  But then I got an epidural.  Oh the horror.  I couldn’t handle the pain that millions of women have dealt with for thousands of years.  Yep, right again.  But I was also well into Day 2 of a very hard labor, which ultimately resulted in me having to have a C-section.

What?!  A C-section??  Now we’re really getting into shaming territory.  How dare I choose to safely evacuate my baby from my uterus?!  His head was only swelling a little.  His heart rate was only decelerating a skosh.  My water had only been broken since early that morning and I was only closing out my second day of labor.  I should have just dug in, kept my eyes on the prize, and pushed that baby out even if it killed him!  Right?  NO.  He wasn’t coming out, so I put aside MY desire for a vaginal delivery in the interest of his health and well being.  Because THAT’S WHAT GOOD PARENTS DO.

One aspect of mother shaming I’ve never had to deal with is formula shaming.  I nursed both my kids for 16 and 19 months and never used any formula.  But this past weekend I have been bombarded with instances of women being shamed for their decision to feed their baby formula, and I find myself getting really defensive and riled up in support of formula feeding.  In one instance, a woman on a Facebook group for mothers asked how to best transition her baby to formula after exclusively pumping and bottle feeding her baby for six months.  The answers she got ranged from practical and helpful to extremely insulting.  She was told that her baby would not be okay with formula, that breast milk is so much healthier, and that she should continue to pump and pump and pump.  Then it was suggested that she feed her six month old raw, unpasteurized goat milk.  She was told to do research, formula contains chemicals and GMOs that cause cancer, and that her doctors might not support real nutrition.  The original poster even came back to reenforce the fact that she had made her decision and was really looking for helpful comments on how to make the transition easier.  Again, someone suggested raw goat milk and DO THE RESEARCH and FACTS THAT ARE PROVEN BECAUSE REASONS and GMOs CAUSE CANCER.  And I was told I was being nasty for countering this person’s every comment.  I just wanted to say “honey, I spent two years on The Bump and the past three years on a private message board where there isn’t any politeness police, so you have no idea the nastiness I am capable of spewing.”  BUT I DIDN’T.  So here this young mother was, asking for advice after having sacked up and made a very difficult decision, after putting her own comfort aside for SIX MONTHS to provide breast milk for her baby, and she’s getting grief for it.  Being told she’s not doing enough and that if she really loved her baby, she would continue to pump {not in so many words, but it’s not always what you say but how you say it}.  It was absolutely infuriating to read, and I just couldn’t keep quiet.

I also saw another example this weekend of what I would call indirect or passive formula shaming of a friend of mine from college.  When I tweeted about sparring with the aforementioned sanctimommy on Facebook, this friend shared that she was having her own issues with nursing her brand new baby and that she felt immense guilt over having to supplement and over not being able to produce enough and wanting to quit.  It really broke my heart that she isn’t fully enjoying the first few weeks of parenthood as much as she should because of the guilt she feels over a situation that is largely out of her control.  She had a breast reduction as a teenager, so I think she deserves a freaking gold medal for nursing her baby at all!  She is taking supplements, drinking tons of water, eating oatmeal, and trying to get enough rest, all to continue nursing her baby.  I think this is SO great and I absolutely encourage doing everything you can to continue nursing as long as everyone is on the same page and in a good frame of mind about it.  But for her to feel so guilty about not producing enough and going crazy and depriving herself of sleep and nursing/pumping around the clock is not healthy physically or mentally.  And hearing that “breast milk is best” when you aren’t producing enough, due to circumstances completely out of your control, is rubbing salt in the wound and is just not helpful.  No mother should spend any portion of the day crying over how they are feeding their baby.  Yes, breast milk may be “best” nutritionally, but formula is engineered to give babies everything they need.  Being “better” nutritionally {which is debatable nowadays given the advances in science} does not always mean it is the best choice for the mother, the baby, or the family unit.  You’ve heard the phrase “happy wife, happy life”?  Well, I am a firm believer that a happy mommy equals a happy baby.  Babies can pick up on a mother’s mood, and if a mom is feeling tense and exhausted, the baby is going to sense that and mirror it back to her.  The entire family is affected; dads/partners are upset that their loved one is torturing herself and making herself crazy over a preconceived notion of what is “best” for the baby, and that if that “best” thing isn’t being done that it is somehow a disservice to the child.  This could not be further from the truth.  There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way to feed a baby.  I feel pretty strongly that my friend would not be feeling so guilty if not for the pressure that is placed on new mothers to do things a certain way or they are raising their baby wrong.

It really bothers me when women try to make other women feel bad about their parenting choices, and especially about how someone chooses to feed their baby.  Breastfeeding is extremely difficult in the first few weeks when it’s so new to everyone.  It’s painful for the mother, the baby is sleepy and hasn’t perfected the latch yet, getting your supply regulated is hit or miss, you are getting no sleep anyway but even less when you have to get the baby up to feed overnight, it’s just physically and mentally exhausting.  And you know what?  Most of the time there isn’t even anything we can do about it.  I can’t push out babies, but I can nurse them for a long time.  Some people can gracefully handle a med-free vaginal birth, but they might not be able to breastfeed.  And there is no reason that anyone should feel shame or guilt about that.  I thank God for formula.  It is amazing that we have a product, readily available and it vast quantities, that can give babies the specific nourishment they need.  There are formulas for lactose intolerant babies, babies with GI issues, organic, soy, goat, hypoallergenic.  Isn’t that awesome?  All I make is breast milk.  If I want to change my “formula”, I have to completely overhaul my diet {which I have had to do, and it really sucks}.  But babies everywhere can be FED in the absence of milk-producing breasts.  Which is great for adoptive parents, right?  And also for two men who are raising children.  Oh, and for babies whose mothers die in childbirth and are raised by their fathers, who have no milk-producing breasts.  And babies who are being raised by their grandparents or other caregivers, for whatever reason.  And babies placed for adoption as infants.  Mothers who have their own personal reasons for not breastfeeding.  And what about mothers who need to be on medication that is incompatible with breastfeeding?  They can take their potentially lifesaving medication AND still feed their babies.  Amazing, no?  Without formula, where would these babies be?  Starved?  Malnourished?  Is that really what people want?  Give me breast milk or give me death!

No.  Because that’s stupid.  A hungry baby living on a low supply of breast milk is not better off than a fat happy baby with a full belly of formula.

Listen, I know people like to get on their high horses about their “issue,” whatever that issue may be.  Oh yes, everyone has their issue.  But the formula shaming needs to stop.  Babies are beaten, neglected, abused, starved, and killed at the hands of their parents every day.  And people have the audacity to feign concern over the molecular structure of infant formula?  No, you aren’t concerned about the welfare of that baby whose mother you are shaming.  All you want to do is make yourself feel better about a decision you made by making someone who took a different path feel bad about their choice.  And so many of these women who are shaming mothers for their choice to formula feed hold themselves up as champions of the pro-choice cause!  If someone took it upon themselves to shame a woman who had an abortion, a lot of these women would be FROTHING AT THE MOUTH.  You can’t have it both ways.  Either we are free to make choices regarding our own bodies, or we are not.  And last time I checked, my breasts were a part of my body.  Hold on, I’ll check again…… Yep.  Still attached.  We are expected to respect the decisions of the crunchiest, most granola hippie moms out there, decisions to not vaccinate, to raise their children as vegans, to wear only organic clothing made from the yarn of alpacas raised in the Andes and fed on organic grasses and unicorn farts, to breastfeed until their kids are seven years old, to raise their families in the Breatharian tradition.  No judgment!  It’s your choice!  Hear you roar!  Yet mothers who make a choice that is best for them and their baby are subjected to shaming and ridicule.  Does not compute.

When it comes right down to it, how a mother decides to feed her baby really isn’t anyone else’s business.  Breastfeeding is great.  So is formula feeding.  In the end, the same objective is achieved:  a fed baby.  To any mother who is being made to feel guilty over their decision to use formula, please don’t listen to anyone who is spewing such garbage.  If your baby is loved, clothed, sheltered, and fed, then you have succeeded where so many others fail.  Now I want you to walk into your bathroom, look yourself right in the eye in that toothpaste spit-flecked mirror, and say this to yourself with confidence:  YOU ARE A GREAT MOM.

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