It's an amazing substance that provides our babies with the nutrients they need, and mamas hate to waste a drop. We could be talking about breastmilk, or we could be talking about formula, but it doesn't really matter because they both feed babies and are both amazing in different ways.
What does matter is that In 2018, mothers are no longer being grouped based on whether they feed their babies with a bottle or breast. The social media conversations around infant feeding— once known for being divisive discussions—are changing, and more and more moms are feeling included and supported in their infant feeding choices, even by moms whose choices aren't the same as their own.
Now, though, it's time for those who support mothers—physicians, midwives and those leading mom and baby support groups—to offer "solid, sensitive, personalized advice" to all mothers. This, says Suzanne Barston, the author of Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn't, is the key to creating a shame-free infant feeding experience.
"My hope is that that will be the next frontier. I think we've conquered the social media thing," says Barston, who has witnessed the evolution of online discussion of infant feeding go from "beast is breast" to "fed is best" since launching her blog, The Fearless Formula Feeder nearly a decade ago.
Times have changed
"I think it's a very different experience being a parent who uses formula now than it was when I started doing this work back in 2008," Barston tells Motherly. "I've actually seen quite a positive turn I would say in the last two years."
According to Barston, moms who physically can't breastfeed or who don't produce enough milk are more supported now than ever before, thanks in large part to the efforts of organizations like The Fed is Best Foundation and its co-founders, Dr. Christie del Castillo-Hegyi and B. Jody Segrave-Daly, who advocate against formula stigma in an effort to protect babies from dehydration and starvation.
There's been a big shift in how people speak to and about moms who choose to supplement with formula, but according to Barston, what hasn't changed is the perception that moms should at least try to breastfeed before switching to or supplementing with formula. "There is support for people who cannot breastfeed, who have physical limitations, but I still don't think people look at choosing to formula feed from the get-go as a legitimate choice," she says.
Mom is qualified to choose
While the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, it also officially recognizes that a baby's mother "is uniquely qualified to decide whether exclusive breastfeeding, mixed feeding or formula feeding is optimal for her and her infant."
Unfortunately, some moms still don't feel like they're being supported if they choose to use formula, says Barston, who believes health care provides are still approaching infant feeding education as if breastfeeding needs to be sold to mothers, but she believes it's not a lack of education, but a lack of societal supports that contribute to low breastfeeding rates.
"Whether you're feeling physically uncomfortable from your birth or you have to make dinner for your two other kids or you have to go back to work in three weeks, those are all very real issues that women have to deal with and no amount of awareness or education about breastfeeding changes," she explains.
And even if we woke up tomorrow to find paid parental leave and lactation break rooms were the standard and not the exception, some moms would still still choose to use formula from birth, and that choice should be respected, according to Barston and the ACOG's official position.
In 2018 the online conversation about infant feeding isn't about breasts and bottles as much as it's about moms supporting other moms. Barston hopes 2019 will be the year health care providers and those leading support groups for new mothers join that conversation and replace 'breast is best' messaging with something more inclusive. Bottle, breast or both, mama's choice is best.