I breastfed my first son. I honestly did not consider another option. Even when I faced difficulties, I did not stop. When I developed an abscess about two weeks postpartum that needed to be drained regularly, I continued. When I cried in pain and from sleep deprivation, I continued. When I dreaded every single feeding, I continued. My mental health was steadily declining, my physical health was suffering, but I ignored my own needs completely.
My second son was born via surrogacy, so formula was the best option for us all. This was honestly a game changer for me in every way—and he was still very healthy! My husband and I were able to take shifts for sleep, we shared the feeding responsibility and more. We actually tried to do a mix of breastmilk (donated from our surrogate) and formula, but our son did not react well to that at all. For him, formula was actually the best option, and I will never be sorry for that.
Now we have a third son, who is also formula-fed, and there is a baby formula shortage. It is terrifying. Many mothers are in desperate and scary situations with their babies. They are scrounging together any formula they can find, considering making their own (very dangerous, do not attempt), or thinking about relactating. Relactating is by no means easy or possible for every woman—but this is what is being asked of them.
I am very disappointed with the reaction from the general public. Instead of reacting with empathy, many people are blaming mothers. The mothers are being condemned because they should be able to make food for “free”. First of all, breastfeeding is not actually possible for every mother. Babies are born via surrogacy, adoption, fostering, and more. Also, some mothers just do not have milk, or at least not enough to sustain what their babies need. And this is not their fault!
There is one thing I am sure of—breastfeeding is not free. Even if a mother technically can breastfeed, there are so many reasons breastfeeding it is not free. These reasons include supplies to pump and store milk, the potential loss of income or sacrificing time at work, physical costs to the mother, and mental health concerns.
Breastfeeding supplies to pump and store milk cost money.
For the pumping and supplies, this includes bottles, a pump, storage bags, nursing bras, nipple cream, and more. Some people will say these are unnecessary costs—and maybe that is true for the select few. But if you never choose to pump, that means that you are able to stay at home, and you are the only person that can ever feed your baby. You can never be away from your child for more than a few hours at most, for the entire time your baby feeds. And if you never want to use formula, that means you need to be at your baby's side, every few hours, until they are at least one year old. That is a lot of time. A mother’s time is not worthless or “free”. In reality, most people need most of these supplies to breastfeed—and the costs really add up.
There is a potential loss of income.
Many mothers also work, and in addition to pumping costs, there can be the potential loss of income. Although jobs should ideally let a woman take paid time to pump, and give her a safe place to do so, this is not realistic for most mothers. Mothers find themselves in impossible situations, taking unpaid breaks just to make enough milk for their child. Many times, the milk supply dips, and they are still sacrificing their time and income to do so. This is a huge strain on so many people, but it is a reality.
The physical cost of breastfeeding adds up.
The physical costs are often underestimated. When you are the sole person responsible for feeding your child, you can easily become sleep deprived. I know from experience, and this was extremely difficult for me. In addition to the lack of sleep, many breastfeeding women also deal with engorgement, cracked and bleeding nipples, cramping and clogged ducts. For me, my clogged duct was so bad that it became an abscess. I needed to go to a breast surgeon weekly to have it relieved. I was also put on a new medication to fight the infection and quickly found out I was allergic to it. My face felt like it was on fire and my body was covered in hives, and I needed to have a steroid shot to address the reaction. Not only was this physically taxing, but I had to spend a lot of extra money on all of these appointments. Once again, none of this was free.
There are mental health concerns to consider.
While the physical costs are underestimated, the mental health issues are almost completely ignored. Mothers are expected to sacrifice every single ounce of themselves once a child is born—and this includes breastfeeding. You have a significant loss of time to yourself, and a huge amount of time feeding your child. For many newborns, it takes 45 minutes or more for one feeding, and they can feed every hour or two. And the gap between the feedings counts from when the feeding starts. You are also exhausted most of the time, from physically feeding and sleep deprivation. You do not feel like your body is your own, and you can feel disconnected from yourself. And even with all of that, you still get judgment about how you are feeding and if you are doing things “correctly”.
Kindness is free.
I know that breastfeeding can be beautiful and wonderful for some people, but it is never actually free. For the mothers who have to or chose to formula feed, I want to encourage people to meet this shortage with empathy. You can try to help women find the formula they need for their children, instead of facing them with judgment, shame, and hurtful opinions. Breastfeeding is not free, but kindness can be.