In Defense of the Bottle

Is it National Feed-Your-Baby-the-Best-Way-You-Know-How Month, yet?

My baby is made entirely out of formula. She’s been on formula since the day she was born. She’s happy and healthy and gorgeous. She’s the second baby in my family to be made out of formula. The other one is 2-years-old now, and she’s happy and healthy and gorgeous, too.

When I was pregnant, I didn’t know you could make such happy, healthy, gorgeous children out of formula. Because when you read about it in baby books, or hear about it in child-birthing classes, formula is made to sound like soda for babies — or worse, cigarettes. Breastfed babies are said to be healthier, more adjusted and have higher IQs. If you don’t breastfeed, say the experts, your baby will be at a disadvantage for life. Life? Really? Should we assume breastfed babies more loved by their moms then too?

Despite the well-known benefits of breastfeeding, I chose formula. My decision to introduce the bottle to my babies was just that: my decision. Neither me, nor my babies, had health issues that kept me from nursing. I didn’t have work commitments that forced me to rely on someone else to give a bottle, or other “legitimate” reasons to throw in the breastfeeding towel. I stopped breastfeeding because it was hard. And I was unhappy. Sound a little selfish?

I don’t see it that way. One of the best pieces of advice I got in my first few days postpartum was the simple, yet powerful, truth: Happy Mommy = Happy Baby. It’s sort of like how a bear can smell your fear — a baby can sense your nervousness, feel your anxiety, and most certainly, reflect your unhappiness. Not the best way to start off a lifelong relationship.

For me, the day I stopped breastfeeding was the day I became a mother. As mealtimes became easier, and the stress of nursing melted away, I could indulge in all of those oh-so-magical newborn moments that I was missing before I started the bottle. And once I discarded the notion that I had to do everything “by the book” in order to be a great mom, I began to trust my instincts. “The book” had 95 pages about breastfeeding, and two about formula-feeding, so maybe “the book” wasn’t for me. I could do this. I could be the best mother for my baby, which was not necessarily the mother that “the book” said I should be.

Two years later, I congratulate myself on a mothering job well done each night (sometimes just making it through another day can feel like cause for celebration!). It works the other way around too: Happy Baby (or in my case, Babies) = Happy Mommy.

Yet, unfortunately, when it comes to talk of breastfeeding, I — and others who chose formula over the boob — still feel judged. We get stares from the other moms at the cafe when we pull out the life-sustaining powder. We feel we have to apologize, justify or defend our particular happenstances when asked about our decision to turn to the bottle. We’re not supposed to say: I formula-feed because it makes me — and my baby — happy.

Society applauds those that can “make it” to three months, six months, a year, or longer of breastfeeding. And I applaud you too. But I also wholeheartedly applaud formula-feeding moms. Because are we not all mothers after all?

Earlier this month — National Breastfeeding Month — I read Lisa Belkin’s touching Huffington Post article about the incredible “I Support You” movement, started by Kim Simon of Mama by the Bay, Suzanne Barston of Fearless Formula Feeder and Jamie-Lynne Grumet of I am Not the Babysitter (aka, Time Magazine cover breastfeeder). If you haven’t already tuned in, I Support You is “the first step in helping formula-feeding, breast-feeding, and combo-feeding parents to come together and lift each other up with kindness and understanding.” Now that’s something worth applauding. For much longer than just a month.

I lied when I said my babies were made entirely out of formula. They — just like the babies of breastfeeding moms and combo-feeding moms — are also filled with love.

Image source.

Jessica Pallay

Jessica Pallay

Jessica Pallay is Co-Founder and Editor of Well Rounded NY. She is a Brooklyn mama to Libby and Elsie, and writes about all things pregnancy and new motherhood.

Comments {29}

  1. I’ve never felt so judged in my life as I have since becoming a mother. My baby is too over dressed, too under dressed, not getting enough stimulation, is over stimulated… Every single person feels they have the right to tell us what they think we’re doing wrong. Maybe you feel judged pulling out the bottle of formula in the restaurant, but at the same time I feel judged pulling out my boob! Ugh! We just have to own our decisions and know they’re right for our family! #ISUPPORTYOU mama!!

    Heather
  2. This was music to my ears! Exactly what I needed to hear as I tried breast feeding for 10 days and decided it just wasn’t right for me and my baby. Yes, I was capable of breast feeding, but I was absolutely miserable. I didn’t enjoy it and could feel that I was not mentally there for my baby big. He is now 3 weeks old and we are both so much happier using formula. I love happy mommy = happy baby! It’s so true. For me, I dealt with a lot of guilt switching to formula due to all the attention on breast feeding being best. However, I just keep reminding myself its better for me to he here mentally for my baby, be happy and enjoy our time, than continuing to breast feed and every time dreading the next feeding and then immediately wanting to hand my baby off to my husband as soon as I was done. Thank you so much for writing this article!!

    Jennifer
    1. Thanks for your thoughts Jennifer! Keep on doing what feels right to you and enjoying that beautiful newborn!

      Jessica Pallay Post author
  3. ISUPPORTYOU. You are an amazing mother with gorgeous girls!

    Courtney
  4. Great article Jess! Those are some beautiful children!

    Meredith
  5. Even 32 years ago I felt pressured to breast feed. I chose to bottle feed my 2 babies who grew up to be 2 awesome adults! I can’t imagine they would have turned out any healthier, smarter, or happier if I breast fed. Loved your article!

    Aunt Fern
  6. Your article has stirred a bit of unrest amongst us breastfeeders. Especially your statement about “becoming a mother”. I for one understand way mommies go to the bottle. It’s hard work and painful getting through those first days. But not trying and being proud of it I don’t. I love people who boast: I did this or that despite what the recommendations are and “my baby is fine”… Maybe so, but maybe you robbed him of being the next MENSA student, or maybe you robbed him of his “right to beauty” (to quote a famous nutritionist. Just saying?

    Tamsyn
    1. Thanks for your comment, Tamsyn – it is so helpful to hear different perspectives. This is just my personal story, and I am proud of my decisions and my children. I know that motherhood is a different experience for everyone, and I support you and all the other mothers out there that choose to feed their children in the best way that works for them and their families.

      Jessica Pallay Post author
  7. Tamsyn – Do you really think that bottle-fed babies are being robbed of their chance to be MENSA students??? I imagine there are plenty of terrible people in the world who were breast-feed and I imagine there are plenty of wonderful, intelligent people in the world who were bottle-fed. Your comments are hurtful. I believe Jessica is saying that she is proud that she is a mother who can share happiness with her children instead of the stress she felt while trying to nurse.

    Chess
  8. I don’t think that the timing of this article is by accident…The title “Is it National Feed-Your-Baby-the-Best-Way-You-Know-How Month, yet?” devalues National Breastfeeding Month, and in my opinion, is even mocking of it. There’s a very good reason that we have it…the World Health Organization states that the lives of over 200,000 babies could be saved from breastfeeding alone.
    ” If you don’t breastfeed, say the experts, your baby will be at a disadvantage for life. Life? Really? Should we assume breastfed babies more loved by their moms then too?”
    The experts are right and are not assumptions. They are backed by science. You will not find one reputable study that finds that formula feeding does not have long term consequences. Further, there are no “benefits” to breastfeeding, but rather there are risks & consequences, sometimes unfortunately fatal ones for some babies, to not breastfeeding. That last statement “Should we assume breastfed babies more loved by their moms then too?” is strictly your words and assumptions, not the experts, and has nothing to do with the fact that formula fed babies are indeed at a disadvantage.
    It seems to me by the tone of the piece that you are all about wanting support from breastfeeding mothers, but yet you are unwilling to give that same support back, or else you wouldn’t feel the need to write such an in-your-face article about how breastfeeding was just too hard for that 4 minutes that you actually tried it. I hardly think that breastfeeding for one day gives anyone the credibility to have an opinion on it either way, but I’ve got news for you, coming from a mother of 4 babies ranging from 16 months to 16 years, NOTHING about being a parent is easy! Let’s hope you don’t “throw in the towel” so easily when REAL problems arise.
    As far as this statement:
    ” Because when you read about it in baby books, or hear about it in child-birthing classes, formula is made to sound like soda for babies”
    The main ingredient in soda is corn syrup. Guess what the main ingredient in formula is?
    Go ahead…look it up. I’ll wait.
    I DO support formula feeding mothers, wholeheartedly and without condition. What I do not support are the attitudes from some mothers who presume that just because we are advocating for breastfeeding that it means that we are judging the ones who don’t. Breastfeeding NEEDS to be advocated for, not mocked, because WE are the ones who not only get “dirty looks”, but get asked to leave places solely because we are feeding our babies. Because we have to have laws in place to ensure that we can feed our babies when they are hungry. Because we hear & see comments that equate breastfeeding our babies in public to defacating & urinating. Because we have to worry about finding a clean place to pump while we are away & are told to use the bathroom to do it.
    But in all honesty, I really do support you, even if we have different opinions.

    Brandy
  9. I completely disagree. And you won’t like what I have to say;
    Being a midwife and recently having my first child, I chose to breastfeed. So I may be slightly biased. But for you to say you feel “judged” when you pull out a bottle in public to feed your child, how do you think breastfeeding mothers feel?? There’s so much stigma stuck to the fact you are pulling a “private” part of your anatomy out to feed your child. And I tell you now, my little one won’t sit with anything over his head while he’s feeding.
    So; when my 6mo was first born by CS (are you going to judge me for that too…?) he had numerous problems. I was told he had a heart murmur, clicky hips, and was tongue tied. He had to go to SCBU, so was taken from me before I even got the feeling back in my legs. I was practically forced to give him a bottle until I could move. But I did. At 3am when the feeling came back, I went to see him. Do you know why? Because he is my son. And he needed feeding. I was in AGONY. But hey, I’d just become a mother and I no longer put myself first. So; I’m SCBU (after taking 15 mins to walk down there…) they told me he wouldn’t latch on because he was so badly tongue tied (it needed to be cut) but I insisted. And I sat there ALL night attempting to nurse (even though he kept slipping off) but did I get angry? Upset? Stressed? No. Because he is my SON and he needed food. To think you stopped feeding on DAY 1 suggests to me that you never wanted to do it in the first place (you get to know the judge of character working in a maternity ward). And that’s fine. Honestly. Because I’d never suggest anyone was doing the right or wrong thing when it comes to feeding their babies. In fact, I despise people that do make comments. However, you’re kind of mocking the fact this is supposed to be for the “breastfeeding month”… Which I don’t really think is fair.
    Now I’m not saying I had a breeze with breastfeeding… I have overcome more obstacles with it than I have has to deal with anything in my life. But I persisted. Even when I was bawling my eyes out at 2 weeks pp because I was so sore. Now THAT’S hard. Not giving up on the first day. Going through a CS, tongues tie, having his tongue cut, having heart scans, hip scans etc, I persisted. Because no matter how much you try to convince yourself; BREAST IS BEST. And it’s proven. And I’m sorry, (well, not really) but you’re making excuses for not breastfeeding and it’s pathetic. Becoming a mother is putting your child before your own needs. Being miserable is your own problem. Your baby is defenceless, and has no control over your decisions, but stop trying to make it sound like it was so hard for you when you didn’t even try for a whole day!! It took me at least 6 weeks to establish breastfeeding. If you gave up on the first hurdle so easily because it was “too hard”, I dread to think what other things you’ll give up on with your children because it’s “too hard” to deal with.
    I am 22. And proud to be a midwife, proud to be a mother that will always put my son first, and most importantly, I am HAPPY (especially when I don’t have to get up at 3am to make a bottle…)

    Steff
  10. Chess, it is possible that, yes, a formula fed baby could be robbed of their chance at being a MENSA student. It is a statistical fact that breastfed babies have a generally higher IQ. Of course, there are variants to the rule. My formula fed sister is probably a bit smarter than me, and I nursed for 12 months. So I have personal experience with a variant. But still, the science is there and the stats don’t lie. There are LIFE LONG health benefits to breastfeeding that simply do not exist with formula. And yes. It is hard in the beginning, but after the hurdle, it is worth it. You don’t get a do over.

    A
  11. “Is it National Feed-Your-Baby-the-Best-Way-You-Know-How Month, yet?”

    Really? That is every month. Unfortunately, the best that many people know is formula, because of media and lack of support. THAT is why there is a national breastfeeding month. This article is dismissive of something that has become an actual health crisis. Please, Jessica, do more research on the absolute necessity that is breast milk before you give it up so readily.

    A
  12. As a breastfeeding mother, I applaud any mother’s decision on how to feed and raise her own child(ren)! No need to judge or throw around expert options – you are the expert on your own child. We all have hardships with our method of feeding! Rather than be offended at all, ISUPPORTYOU – all of you!

    Courtney
  13. I was a breastfeeding mother for eleven months before Marlo self-weaned and I loved it. In fact, I miss it. After reading your piece, I stand even more so behind my decision because it was right for us- for ME and MY baby. However, if it hadn’t been the right decision for us for whatever reason, you can bet your last damn dollar that I would’ve been just as proud to formula-feed my baby. And if I’m not mistaken, I think that was the point of your article. You weren’t advocating that one was greater than the other or that breast isn’t best. You were advocating being the best mother possible to YOUR baby and making decisions that are best for the BOTH OF YOU, the exact opposite of being selfish. These comments alone stress the importance for the #ISUPPORTYOU movement. People read this open, brave, and honest piece and ripped it to shreds, making it yet another argument about #BREASTISBEST and #NORMALIZEIT. They read it and turn it into yet another fight among mamas who are all just trying to keep their head above water. It’s truly shameful behavior.

    Christine Fadel
  14. Why be so critical, negative, and judgmental. As mothers we all do the best we can for our children but we will always be doing something wrong in others’ eyes. I support everyone’s decisions, and to attack a women who voices her opinions is very disheartening. That Mensa comment seems a bit ridiculous if I don’t say so myself, seriously, just because a baby isn’t breast fed??!

    April
  15. Thank you for everyone’s thoughtful comments. I felt this was an important (very personal) perspective to share during National Breastfeeding Month, as while there is a wonderful and healthy trend to move back to breastfeeding, there is still a lot of judgment in the mothering community around all types of feeding. For most (including myself), the decision to breast- bottle- or combo-feed is one that is incredibly thought-out and often difficult. My intention with this piece was not to encourage bottle-feeding, or discourage breastfeeding, but to support the many, many mothers that have made very personal decisions — no matter why they made them — to feed their babies in the best way they knew how. I am also proud of the many resourceful and beautiful pieces about breastfeeding across our site — it is our intention to create a diverse atmosphere of perspectives, and to provide a welcoming community during pregnancy and motherhood. I applaud the brave women that have shared their personal stories about nursing, pregnancy and motherhood on our site and in the comments above. And I support you all.

    Jessica Pallay Post author
  16. I was a breast fed baby and had to look up what a MENSA student is. Oy.
    I nurse my baby and it is because of Jessica that I do. I had a very difficult time at first and was ready to give up. Jessica recommended a few different resources for one last try so I did not regret my decision. She didn’t try to convince me to go straight to the bottle. It was the best advise and I appreciate her being able to support her friend that wanted to nurse even though that was not the best option for her. Thank you for supporting everyone!

    Marisa
  17. Wow. Just… wow.

    As one of the creators of #ISupportYou, I am appalled at some of these comments- and even more inspired than ever to keep this movement afloat.

    ” DO support formula feeding mothers, wholeheartedly and without condition. What I do not support are the attitudes from some mothers who presume that just because we are advocating for breastfeeding that it means that we are judging the ones who don’t.”

    Um, actually, you just spend your entire comment judging formula feeding mothers- especially the one who wrote this PERSONAL piece. She never claimed to be an expert. She wasn’t devaluing breastfeeding or calling it “gross” or saying that breastfeeding moms don’t need support. She was simply telling her story and giving voice to the thousands of women who share the same thoughts and keep them buried, too shamed and scared by people like you who equate a highly personal decision with someone’s “grit” as a mother.

    For the record, the World Health Organization recently released an updated meta-analysis of breastfeeding research which suggested that there was insufficient evidence that those feeding formula in the developed world would suffer from much “risk”. There are AMPLE studies that show a negligible effect of formula on the future health of babies. We just don’t hear about them as often because they aren’t as sexy at the moment to the media, and they don’t support initiatives to support breastfeeding. And those initiatives are important – we are a results-oriented culture, and without evidence that breastfeeding will create a stronger, healthier population, we can’t convince employers to give us accommodations for breastfeeding or insurance companies to pay for lactation services or breastpumps- necessities for working women who want to breastfeed. So I’m fine with us promoting the benefits (and I don’t dispute the benefits – I just believe, based on thorough review of the science, that most of these benefits can be gained through other means as well, and if formula feeding parents are given proper support and education, we can most likely mitigate any small risks of artificial feeding in the developed world). But the risks are not so severe that it justifies lambasting a mother who is simply sharing her story. She made a choice that worked for her and her family. Leave it alone. She’s not making a political statement or judging your choices.

    #ISupportYou believes that every parent can decide what’s best for them and their children. And we believe that the focus should be on ensuring that we all have adequate support, education, and resources for safe and healthy feeding, regardless of that decision. This means allowing people to tell their stories and rejoice in the health and happiness of their families. There’s a time and place to get political about breastfeeding, and it is not when a mother is sharing her personal story.

    Jessica’s graceful and understanding responses give ample evidence of the type of human being she is, and I’d assume this extends into her parenting. Breastmilk does not make a child immune to becoming a bully, for the record; it’s a learned behavior.

    Suzanne Barston
  18. “There are AMPLE studies that show a negligible effect of formula on the future health of babies. We just don’t hear about them as often because they aren’t as sexy at the moment to the media, and they don’t support initiatives to support breastfeeding. ” One would have to be pretty naive to believe such nonsense. If there were any studies showing the formula fed babies are just as healthy as breastfed babies, the formula industry a million or two making sure we all heard about it.

    P Pink
  19. Well said! All 3 of my kids (6,4, and 4 months) have been 100% bottle fed. I didn’t have any reason not to breastfeed other then I didn’t want to. I had to learn from day 1 not to let people give me grief about it. I in turn, try not to be a judge on anybody for their choice of feeding their baby. I think breasfeeding looks tiring, it grosses me out, and I don’t want to ever do it, BUT I don’t ever say that to a breastfeeding mom or pregnant friend that wants to try it. They might not feel that way. I do feel in the minority for only bottle feeding and this post was refreshing. It’s like women are afraid to speak in favor of bottle feeding. I think it’s because we get bullied by breast-feeding advocates. Lets just all get along! :) You do what you got to do to enjoy those precious baby moments and I’ll do what I gotta do. I’ll also smile to myself that I’m not as tired because I took turns with the night feeds with my husband.

    Ginny
  20. Suzanne, well said! I am a woman who tried TWICE to breast feed and was unsuccessful. I too had CS. Because I was convinced that I “had to get past the pain etc,” by the time I brought my daughter for her well child visit at two weeks old, she was already exhibiting signs of malnutrition. A mother’s choice on how she will nourish her child is not an easy decision. Most new moms hardly have a clue how their lives will change as a result of the birth of their beloved newborn whether it is their first, second or third. I wish I was successful breast feeding. I wish I could have experienced a delivery vaginally. Oh well, there are many ways to skin a cat. I think my three children are perfect. By the way, they all very intelligent, successful thirty-somethings. None applied to MENSA but I have no doubt they would qualify.

    Thea
  21. The judgmental comments from those who feel breastfeeding is the ONLY way are why this piece of writing is so important. I felt extremely judged when I had my first daughter & had to formula feed. I had one woman from La Leche League tell me that I just didn’t” “try” hard enough for my baby. Really? I nursed her immediately after my c-section and for my entire stay in the hospital. She became so dehydrated in the hospital that they had to hook me up to an apparatus that was formula but came out from tubes by my nipples. I continued on. We had to take her to the ER after coming home because I still was producing nothing. I tried pumping. I had the medical breast pump from the hospital on level #10.for an hour. Still nothing. My body never did produce any milk. I felt like a complete failure. The books, media & even total strangers were all about breast over bottle. It caused some post-partum depression. All over how my body wasn’t doing what every other woman’s was. Luckily I was smarter with my second daughter & didn’t cause her to go through what my oldest went through. The comments above about how we are putting our children at a disadvantage in life are ridiculous!! I’m sorry but the breastfeeding radicals are seeing themselves as “holier than thou” and looking down on mothers who choose something different for themselves & their babies or are forced to due to health conditions.

    Connie Lichtenberg
  22. It’s cute how formula moms think that can get away with calling other moms judgmental, ridiculous, “holier than thou” and accuse them of saying things like “breastfeeding is the only way” and “you didn’t try hard enough” and “you made me tell my breastfeeding story” when they did not such thing. Then they put down their keyboards thinking they are nice people.

    Anne G
  23. In response to Steff’s rather superfluous commentary .. instead of focusing all of your energy on judging others’ choices, perhaps you should practice less intolerance and more open-mindedness so that you can lead your child by example. While not all people will believe in the same methodologies that you do; it does not make them any less informed, any less correct, or any less reverent of life and motherhood. Rather than “bawling her eyes out for 2 weeks” because of the pain and discomfort of feeding; Jessica chose to smile, embrace, enjoy the serenity and give positive, healthy energy to her time with her baby. If you have the audacity to look down on that- you’ve embraced a very unhealthy view of what motherhood is. I wish you luck in finding the peace you need.

    Amanda M
  24. Jessica, Thank you so much for your story. I couldn’t believe my eyes at first. I wish I had been able to read this article when I had my son 2 years ago when I was struggling with big post-partum depression and I was trying to breastfeed him. I also was bawling my eyes out trying to feed him through the physical and emotional pain, I hated it, and I didn’t want to go back on the anti-depressant that I normally need anyway because they would go to him through the milk. I truly believed the Horrible Lies They Tell Us about how breastfeeding is the only thing to do if you love your child. I finally decided that my son deserved to have a happy, healthy Mommy who would be there for him. The minute I made that choice to stop breastfeeding, with the help of 2 mental healthcare providers, I felt also like I had really become a Mother in the Larger sense of the word. And I found the serenity and JOY that motherhood can bring us. My baby is happy, healthy, super smart. If we have another baby, I’m going to do the same thing. I’m so glad I didn’t give in to that underhanded bullying. Why do we do this to each other?

    Christina McClain
  25. Thank you for telling your story! I wrote on this topic very recently at http://shriverreport.org/has-breast-is-best-jumped-the-shark-jessica-shortall/. “Breast is Best” and “Every Ounce Counts” have been hugely valuable in promoting breastfeeding in our culture that had devalued it in our mothers’ generation. But the media – and other mothers – have twisted those promotional statements to somehow tell us that our worth as mothers is measured in ounces. It’s not.

    Jessica Shortall

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