We love Ashley Graham for many reasons, but especially for her openness and honesty about motherhood and how she chooses to share her journey. After giving birth to twins Roman and Malachi earlier this year, Graham wants everyone to know that she hasn't been relying on breast milk alone to feed them—she uses formula too.
While it would be easy to assume breastfeeding parents would think it’s the “best” way to feed your baby, in the great and ongoing breast vs. formula debate, that’s just not the case. She's currently featured on a billboard in West Hollywood as part of her campaign with Bobbie, the organic infant formula company, with the slogan “There is no one size feeds all.”
Graham is on a mission to normalize “combo feeding,” referring to using both formula and breastfeeding to nourish a baby, she explains in a recent Instagram post. She recalls, in a video collaboration with Bobbie, reacting to finding out she is having two babies, and asking her mom “How am I going to breastfeed them?” recalling how involved it had been with her first son, Isaac.
“I had only known one way, and that one way with Isaac was my breast,” she says of her eldest son, who is now two. “[The twins] weren’t latching. They had latched and then they’d stopped, and it was this daunting feeling that I can’t feed my babies — I gave birth to you but I can’t feed you,” she said, pointing to the stigma associated with not breastfeeding, and not “doing it all.”
Once the pressure was off a bit, she now does breastfeed her babies still, along with bottle feeding, “and everybody’s okay” she adds. “There should be no shame in either or…do exactly what you want to do.” Fans responded to her advocacy for a parent’s choice, with one commenter writing “Thank you for speaking up about this!!! I felt so much guilt originally when i couldn’t fully breastfeed. but nowwwwww, i’m so proud of myself for prioritizing my mental health instead. 🤍 love youuu.” Another commenter, a breast cancer survivor who couldn’t breastfeed, explained the sadness and overwhelm, thanks to the “breastmilk is best stigma.”
According to research from Bobbie:
- 83% of parents rely on formula during their baby’s first year.
- 70% of formula-feeding parents are combo-feeding, meaning they use some combination of breastmilk and formula.
- 64% of parents feel judged for feeding their baby formula and nearly half (46%) have lied about their feeding choices.
- The cultural stigma and shame surrounding formula is NOT acceptable and must evolve.
The “breast is best” movement stems from a World Health Organization initiative in the 1990s meant to combat infants dying in countries where parents couldn’t afford formula or didn’t have clean drinking water to use it, according to 19thnews.org.
But it quickly turned into a source of shame if a mother couldn’t or didn't want to breastfeed, especially as additional health organizations continued to promote the many benefits of breastfeeding as the healthiest choice.
While breastmilk does “outperform” formula in many health standards, more attention is now paid, through campaigns like Bobbie with Graham, to the mental health toll this level of stress has on parents. Now, organizations like Fed is Best say they are working to “fill the gaps” in breastfeeding and formula feeding education, pointing to statistics like one in 71 exclusively breastfed newborns are readmitted to the hospital from not receiving enough breastmilk.
“As a new mom, you enter this journey assuming you’ll breastfeed, and it will be this beautiful experience. But for the majority of us, that’s not the reality. It certainly wasn’t for me,” said Laura Modi, CEO and Co-Founder of Bobbie, and mom of three, in a statement. “More than anything, it was the immense shame I felt turning to formula that fueled me to create an Organic, high-quality alternative. I envisioned a world where formula could instill a sense of confidence, rather than comparison, and that’s what we’ve been building ever since. No matter what your feeding journey looks like, as a parent, you deserve to feel good about it. Full stop.”
Graham encourages all breastfeeding parents to seek help in the Vogue article, saying, “Your baby comes out and then you’re expected to just be a stellar breast-feeder; I think that’s ridiculous. Instead, she credits her lactation consultant with her success overcoming the “complicated” and “very daunting” process.
She adds “My kids are so happy. They are alive.” And that’s all that matters.