When Breast Isn’t Best: Formula Feeding with a Clear Conscience

Let’s get something out of the way, so you know the direction this post is heading (as if the title didn’t give it away): I have two precious boys, ages six and almost five, and they were both formula fed. They are happy, healthy, and if I must say, super smart and all-around cool guys. If you are choosing to continue reading without an eye roll, thank you! If you’re choosing to pass judgment at this point, try to keep reading with an open mind.

I’m a researcher, a problem I have written about before, and it drives my mom and sometimes my husband crazy! So it goes like this: I have a problem, I read up on it, and then I make a decision based on what my gut is telling me. When we got pregnant, I researched and read and planned, and breastfeeding was firmly in that plan. I work full-time, so I planned to breastfeed when at home, and pump at work to supply my bundle of joy with all the nutrients he needed while I was at work.

As with most things in life, plans went down the crapper when that sweet boy was born. I will spare the details and reasons, but within a week or two, it was clear that breastfeeding was not working. I was dreading feeding him, I cried every single time, and I resented my child. I was not in a good place.

Thank God for a pediatrician who grabbed me by the tired shoulders and told me that the healthiest, best decision for my baby was the one that made me the best mom I could be. A thank you is just not big enough for that moment in my life. She recognized something in my tears and my uncertainty that changed the course of my motherhood. I can honestly say that from that moment, I was a better mother for being able to let go with validation.

Breastfeeding was not that for me at the time, and once I was given permission to let it go, I felt so relieved.

That decision was not taken lightly. Remember I’m a researcher? I looked up formula, formula feeding, and anything related to that topic. Oh.My.Goodness. Just don’t do it if you’re already an emotional basketcase from not being able to do the most natural thing in the world, because you will leave your search feeling like a failure. Nothing I saw was positive.

There is clear evidence to support breastfeeding, but what about when breast isn’t best for you? 

I realize there is a movement to normalize breastfeeding, and I am all for it! I am happy to see a mom providing for her child in the most natural way possible. Just look at this post, and this post, and this post! I celebrate all of you moms who breastfeed your children — you are providing a natural, healthy meal for your child EVERY DAY, MULTIPLE TIMES A DAY! I mean, your body produces food. I also celebrate those of us who manage to feed our babies by whatever means is necessary or chosen!

I remember feeling like I had to hide the fact that my kids were formula fed. I felt the need to explain myself. I felt that I was trying to be converted and was judged on several occasions because of the choice we made. I can remember several lectures/lessons/tips I was given which sounded, to me, a lot like failure.

Go ahead and try to tell me these kids aren’t thriving…

What I needed was validation. Validation that I am a good mom. Validation that my child is safe, happy, and healthy. So here is some validation for those of us who have chosen (for whatever reason) to feed our angels with formula or for the moms out there struggling to reconcile their decision:

  1. You know how much food your baby is eating.

    This is particularly helpful at the doctor, and/or during early phases when it is hard to tell whether your baby is hungry or not, or how to gauge weight gain.

  2. You can choose a formula that works for your baby without changing your diet.

    This is selfish, sure, but it is a benefit nonetheless.

  3. Anyone can feed your baby.

    You can work, go to church, go out with friends or on a date, let Dad get up and feed the baby in the middle of the night so you can sleep…and nipple confusion is not a problem.

  4. You can mix and match (breastfeed and formula feed) — it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

    I did this method with my second child, where I was able to breastfeed him a bit longer, so I did a bit of both (breastfeeding in the morning and at bedtime).

Breast is best. Except when it’s not. Having a fed baby is best. Being functional is best. Being emotionally available is best. Making the best decision for you is best. Trusting your internal compass is best. 

So let’s celebrate however we are choosing to do this parenting thing. Own your choices and respect the choices of those around you. Offer advice when it’s asked and otherwise keep your opinions to yourself. We are all doing the best we can.

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9 Responses to When Breast Isn’t Best: Formula Feeding with a Clear Conscience

  1. Jama April 12, 2017 at 7:31 am #

    After successfully breastfeeding my first for 13 months and my second for 20 months, number was diagnosed as a “failure to thrive” baby at 9 weeks old.
    He was a lazy murder, I started donating and exercising too soon, and my milk supply disappeared. I fought and cried and took nursing vacations and nearly lost every last one of my marbles. Then my Lactation consultant looked at me in my eyeballs and said “exclusively breastfeeding this baby is keeping you from being a good mom to your other two boys. Give him some formula. It’s not worth it.”
    So I did.
    And he grew and thrived and everything turned out just fine.
    I continued to breastfeed him, but never made enough milk to sustain him. So we did breast milk and formula and it was just the right thing. I am so very thankful to my darling Lactation consultant who gave me “permission” to formula feed without guilt!! Well written, Melissa!

    • Melissa
      Melissa April 13, 2017 at 10:19 am #

      “And he grew and thrives and everything turned out just fine.” Amen, and amen. Thanks, girl!

  2. Jama April 12, 2017 at 7:32 am #

    Haha…
    *number three
    And by the way, I’m still nursing number 4 at 22 months!

  3. Cindy April 12, 2017 at 11:21 am #

    This is incredibly similar to my story! Thanks so much for writing this post. We tried so hard to breastfeed but it made me crazy. I was crying all the time and I was so relieved in that moment my husband made the decision to be done with breastfeeding. Thanks! And both of my sons are very healthy and happy.

    • Melissa
      Melissa April 13, 2017 at 10:17 am #

      Cindy – as I talk about it with people, I learn that many people share this story, but it’s not often told because of shame, guilt, or not wanting a lecture (which is my main reason). Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. Jessica April 26, 2017 at 11:07 am #

    Thank you so much for writing this. I just posted this on facebook and here’s what I wrote with the post:I couldn’t agree more with this article! All three of my kids are exclusively formula fed. They are happy, healthy, smart, and we are totally bonded. (If we were any more bonded I’d need surgery to remove them. ;)) I fully support breastfeeding (in public, at will, etc!), which is a wonderful, significant thing for many moms and babies. But no one should feel shame for feeding their baby with formula. Formula is a healthful feeding choice that was right for us for lots of reasons. As the author says: “Breast is best. Except when it’s not. Having a fed baby is best. Being functional is best. Being emotionally available is best. Making the best decision for you is best. Trusting your internal compass is best.” Formula feeding was the right choice for me, my family, and my babies.

    • Melissa
      Melissa April 26, 2017 at 8:26 pm #

      Thanks Jessica! Seems to me like you should have written this article! Thanks for sharing the post and thanks for sharing your similar story!

    • Carol Maida April 30, 2017 at 5:32 pm #

      Amen! I couldn’t have said it better myself! Bottom line is that a fed healthy baby is what’s best and it doesn’t matter if you breastfeed or formula feed. You have to do what is best for you and your baby!

      • Melissa
        Melissa May 2, 2017 at 6:44 pm #

        Thanks for reading and understanding, Carol!