Breastfeeding is often praised in our culture—and while it is a beautiful, wonderful gift to celebrate, it is a gift that not all of us receive. There are many moms who are formula feeding, either by choice or necessity, and it can lead to misplaced feelings of shame. You want to give your baby the best, but contrary to what you are told, that does not always include your breasts.
Being a mom who chooses formula feeding is challenging in a society that heavily promotes, and sometimes even glamorizes, the breastfeeding journey. You are left to feel inadequate—like you somehow failed your baby by using formula. And while you are already feeling guilty and questioning your ability to properly parent, you are met with insensitive, thoughtless remarks from a stranger at the grocery store.
I was that formula-feeding mom—the one who felt inadequate and struggled to have confidence in her decision. My breastfeeding journey ended prematurely when my son developed a milk soy protein intolerance (MSPI). Our experience had already been littered with challenges and frustrations, and the intolerance, which would require me to overhaul my entire diet, put me at my limit. By the time we weaned, I had already been pumping around the clock due to a need for fortified bottles, with only two overnight feedings with my baby at breast.
It was exhausting, and the mere thought of carefully watching my diet and meticulously scanning every nutrition label was not something I was prepared to include in my day-to-day routine with a newborn. I knew we needed to transition to formula feeding to prioritize my mental health—and I knew it was the right decision. Still, it was not an easy decision, and the first few weeks were extremely difficult. I could not help but feel that I had let my baby down.
Supporting your formula feeding mama friends is essential to fending off the feelings of guilt and shame that often accompany the decision to use formula. Here are a list of things not to say (and some you can!) to the moms in your life who are formula feeding:
What not to say to a mom who is formula feeding
1. “Why did you stop breastfeeding?”
How a mom chooses to nourish her baby is a personal decision—and it’s her decision. Maybe her supply was low. Maybe it was contributing to her anxiety. Maybe she just did not want to and chose formula feeding instead. Either way, it is none of your concern.
2. “Did you try XYZ?”
Did you try power pumping? Have you talked to a lactation consultant? Did you ask the doctor about a tongue tie?
Yes, she tried all those things. No, they didn’t work for her like they did for you or another mom you know.
3. “Don’t you miss the bond?”
There are many ways to create a healthy bond with your baby. Do not belittle a mom’s bond by suggesting a close relationship can only be achieved by placing her baby at her breast.
4. “You’re lucky—formula is so much easier.”
I promise, formula feeding does not feel easier when you are mixing, warming and washing bottles in the middle of the night. It also does not feel easier when you are purchasing your third can of formula in three weeks.
5. “Don’t you worry about the dangerous chemicals in formula?”
You know what is more dangerous than processed formula? A malnourished baby.
6. “Aren’t you concerned about your baby becoming sick?”
Babies get sick—with or without breastmilk. Growing children are healthy, happy children.
Have you seen my grocery bill lately? I think formula can also qualify for gold status.
8. “Breast is best.”
Each mama is doing her best for both herself and her baby, and she should not be shamed for providing her baby with nutrition—whether from her breast or a store-bought can. So saying “breast is best” should be completely avoided.
What to say to a mom who is formula feeding
If you’re wondering what you can say to support a mama in her formula-feeding journey, give these four encouraging conversation starters a try:
1. “How can I best support you?”
Genuinely ask how you can support her. Most mamas just want someone to hear them and validate their feelings. Be the person who does that for them.
2. “You are the best for your baby.”
Remind her that no matter how she chooses to feed her baby, she is making the choice that is right for her family.
3. “You matter, too.”
Reinforce that she also matters. She deserves to be a priority, and her needs—mental, physical and emotional—must be met for her to be the best mama for her baby.
4. “You are doing a great job.”
Sometimes the simple, understated sentiments mean the most. Tell her she is doing a great job because I promise you, she doesn’t always believe it—and she needs the reminder.
Remember, every mom’s experience is different and genuine empathy is the best approach for navigating these conversations. While your words are important, your true care and concern means more than a perfectly crafted sentiment ever could. Respond with love and know the formula-feeding mom is grateful for your support. After all, she’s simply doing the best she can.
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