confessions of a modern mom

How is Formula as Deadly as Cigarettes? Silly Lactivists…

The Breastfeeding versus Formula Feeding war is heating up once again. Time Magazine published an article about the connection between Mitt Romney and Formula. Basically, it was a look at why Massachusetts has enacted a ban on free formula samples in all their hospitals six years after Romney overturned the first go at this ban. Peggy O’Mara, editor in chief of Mothering magazine, was quoted in the article in support of the ban (you can read her whole critique titled “Choice is a Red Herring” here):

“It is naïve to believe that the formula industry’s distribution of formula to you is an innocent gift. A “gift” of formula is like a “gift” of a pack of cigarettes when you’re trying to quit smoking; it will undermine your resolve. The formula company has bought your name and address from the hospital, without your knowledge, and will now solicit you for sales. Do you really want this commercial intrusion into your life?”

Excuse me? How on earth did she come up with THAT???

I have several issues with this view. First of all the comparison between a nourishing substance that helps children grow and develop and a toxic, cancer-causing stick of tobacco makes me really angry. There are still no studies showing that there is any REAL advantage that can be attributed to breast fed children over ones who were formula fed. To call formula poisonous is just a ludicrous statement and makes the Lactivists (breast feeding advocates) seem overzealous at best, crazy at worst. It also doesn’t help to bolster their argument that breast is best. If they really want to encourage breast feeding, they should show the positive aspects of the practice, they don’t need to trash and demonize formula.

Lactivists are adamant that our society pressures women to formula feed. I find the exact opposite is true. Everywhere I turn, someone is telling me how horrible formula is for children, how much better breastfeeding is for both mother and child and how horrible mothers who formula feed are to their kids. I was pressured to breastfeed in the hospital with both girls. I literally had a minimum of 5 different nurses and lactation consultants come to (what felt like) harass me to try to get me to breastfeed. I was made to feel bad about the route I had chosen.

Is it me or did a myriad of pro-breastfeeding ads and campaigns just start popping up all over? The New York State Health Department, Michelle Obama and the USDA have all recently launched campaigns. Seems like our society is pushing “breast is best” NOT formula…

The first pediatrician I had with Bella kept pressuring me to breastfeed, too. Although I clearly stated that I was giving Bella formula, the doctor asked me each and every single time I came in how breastfeeding was going. After the fifth time I had to ask her to put it in the chart, I got too frustrated and changed to a different practice.

I don’t understand why people take this issue so personally. I don’t get why you care how I feed my child. Is it an affront to you? Are you affected IN ANY WAY by my not pulling out my boob to feed my kid? Does it not matter what is best for me and/or my family?

O’Mara and the merry band of Lactivists think we women should not be given a choice between breastfeeding and formula. Obviously, O’Mara thinks most women are too easily swayed and because of one free sample, will desert their plan to breastfeed. Give me a break. I have gotten hundreds of free samples in my life. They did not affect my life choices unless they were right for me. Are women that lacking in free will that they can’t think for themselves? Why do we need this ban?

The “marketing” of formula in hospitals is not overt in any way. First, most hospitals carry multiple brands of formula. For example, I gave birth at the same hospital for both girls. Bella took to Enfamil while Anya took to Similac. I did not go home with a random brand of formula that the hospital was pushing. I requested the type each girl liked. The nurses ASKED me whether I wanted the formula sample. They did not force it on me or make me feel like they were a sales rep from the manufacturer.

I gladly took as many samples as the nurses would give me. Formula is not cheap. I was grateful for the gift, as it meant that we had a few days’ worth of food for our baby. I don’t understand why these samples have to be banned. A woman who chooses to breastfeed and hates formula because she thinks it may kill her child can just say no thank you. Take it or leave it. No one is holding a gun to your head.

If you want to breastfeed – whether for one minute, one month, one year – you should be able to do as you wish without judgement. The same holds true for formula feeding parents. Live and let live. Let’s help women figure out what is right for them – whether it’s formula or the breast. Whether a woman is able or unable, willing or unwilling to breastfeed should not matter. We should help make the first few months of motherhood easier. Lactivists shouldn’t bully mothers who want to formula feed.

I hate that women feel guilty, ashamed and afraid – on both sides of this “discussion.” Let’s just support women and meet their needs and concerns no matter how they feed their children. Are you breastfeeding? Good for you. Are you formula feeding? Good for you. Are you mixing formula and breast milk? Good for you. For me, the more important question is, “Are your children nourished? Are they thriving?” That seems much more pertinent. If we took half the amount of energy we waste on these ridiculous feeding wars and put them into helping and supporting women in their choices, we would all be much better off.


12 thoughts on “How is Formula as Deadly as Cigarettes? Silly Lactivists…”

  • I just want to say that I completely agree with you. I always feel so guilty that I didn’t breast feed my younger son. The nurses, doctors, pediatricians and society make you feel horrible about it. I always feel the need to justify why I wasn’t nursing him, he would violently throw up every time I tried, he would scream and cry the whole time it was uncomfortable for me as well as for him. It was just a terrible experience. I would nurse for 1/2 hr total and he would still drink 2 ounces when he was first born. He just wasn’t getting what he needed from me.
    The samples helped me figure out a formula that worked without having to buy all the different brands. He ended up needing the most expensive one alimentum bc he was allergic to everything else. But I shouldn’t have to explain this and get that judging look when I mention he was formula fed.
    By the way, glad to see you doing so well, your girls are adorable and I love reading your blog, Mickey Mouse ! –Alli

  • Michal,
    I have been reading your blog for a long time now and am a huge fan. My second child is one month younger than Anya and my older child was a newborn when you started the blog. Your posts have provided me with much needed laughs and have helped me develop my own parenting style, thank you for that.
    I respect you for writing this post. I hope my response does not offend you. I think the reason women who don’t breastfeed are so often questioned regarding their decision not to breasfeed is because people simply want to know WHY. Its hard to say, no I don’t desire that for my child and not provide a reason why. I understand that this may be personal but people believe that if they know why someone doesn’t want to breastfeed, they can help solve that issue/help them see it differently and open the door for them doing something they believe will be a wonderful experience. By not saying why someone doesn’t want to breastfeed, a curiosity is created. It is human nature to be curious.
    I breastfeed my daughter for about 7 months, everyone assumed I would stop around 6 months (work friends, my Mom, husband, etc.). If I let people close to me at work know I had to pump, each time they would say something like, “oh, just feed her at night or stop, she doesn’t need it now.” If I was around extended family, it was uncomfortable if I said I had to go feed my daughter in the other room, bc it implied I was breastfeeding. No one had this response when she was a newborn, but at 6 months, they treated me like I was breastfeeding a 4 year old. Even, the baby book I had included a section at 6 months about weaning. I was naive and thought weaning was the right move. It turned out it wasn’t. I really regretted it and it was a major cause of depression for me. I felt really stupid for not acknowledging its importance to me.
    With my son, I breastfeed until 10 months. I live in Marin, California now, a super organic, earthy place, I assumed everyone would be totally supportive. I had 3 new friends say “wow, you’re still breastfeeding” when my baby was 8 months old. This doesn’t exactly make it comfortable to discreetly breastfeed.
    My point is, that in the media, breastfeeding advocates are winning the debate, in real life, women breastfeeding need more support. They need to feel that they are not bad employees when they have to take time out of their work day to pump, they need to feel comfortable in social situations involving people not in their age group (older generations are typically the ones who are very uncomfortable with it). So, yes, it is hard for those who decide not to breastfeed to deal with this media frenzy and with certain doctors. But, the truth is the American attitude and the attitude of older generations does need to change. A woman feeding a newborn is seen as loving, a woman breastfeeding a 8 month old is viewed as doing something that evokes discomfort. This is bizarre.
    I’m sorry that you have to deal with what you view as an attack. In any kind of debate, there will always be stupid people and those who have no idea how to express their point. Maybe it would be helpful to see this media debate as a means to support certain women. I know its hard, other people’s parenting choices always make us analyze our own/create conflict. Just please know that most breastfeeding women, particularly those in certain work environments DO NOT have it easy.

  • I love reading your blogs. They always make me feel ok about the way I am with my first child. I tried SO hard to breastfeed and it just didn’t work. I hate the way doctors, nurses, lactation consultants made me feel. I tried, we couldn’t, he had formula (soy formula at that) and he seems to be ok. He is on regular cows milk now, happy, healthy and thriving.

    I am with you- good job moms on feeding your baby, what ever way works for you and your family. The rest of the world- BE SUPPORTIVE!!!

  • Alli! So nice to reconnect with friends from the past here! Thanks for reading! Sorry you went through a bad experience. I think I’m realizing that all mothers go through a rough patch at the beginning regarding formula OR breastfeeding. That’s why I’m so upset that there’s this feeding war. We should all band together as women and mothers to create better environments for other moms, no matter how they choose to feed their babies…

  • Nicole,

    Thank you so much for your comment. First of all, I want to let you know that nothing you wrote is even remotely offensive. In fact, I think you make my point at the end – that we need more support for all moms.

    I completely understand that when we choose something that is different, people want to understand why. I’ll tell you why I chose to formula feed. Five weeks after Bella was born, I had a 2 week long installation of a project where I was on my feet, with my clients and working for more than 12 hours each day. I knew that there would be no opportunity for me to take a breastfeeding/pumping break and opted not to even start the process, only to wean the baby off after a few weeks. Frankly, I enjoyed the freedom of not being attached physically to my infant, too. The fact that my husband could do the night time feedings, my family members and friends could feed Bella when they came to visit and that my nanny could feed her when she started was a huge benefit. Also, the fact that I could sleep for longer stretches of time meant I was a lot less irritable. As you know with breastfeeding, when your breasts are full, you need to either feed or pump, making nights not so restful.

    Since this worked so well for me with Bella, I figured I’d formula feed with my next one, but wasn’t dead set on it. My pregnancy with Anya was much more difficult than with Bella’s. She was MUCH bigger, I was bigger and the last 2 months of my pregnancy were some of the hottest on record. I was incredibly uncomfortable. Then she was born – 9 lbs, 4 oz. It was very clear to me that I need to literally and figuratively cut the cord with her. The pregnancy had really drained me. Plus, unlike pregnancy #1, where I could rest whenever I was exhausted, I now had a little kid running around. There was no rest or downtime.

    That’s why I formula fed my kids. If you see them now, I think you’ll agree that no harm was done to them by drinking formula. Bella is a talented, smart and funny whip of a child. She is incredibly entertaining, eats like it’s going out of style and is physically daring. Anya is 26 pounds at one year of age. I think the proof is in the pudding there…I started feeding my kids regular food at age 4 months anyway, so for me that was more important…

    Listen, I am not advocating breast is best or formula is best. I think each individual mother has to figure out for herself what works. That was the point of my post – not to make ANYONE feel bad. I hope I didn’t do that. I know I have plenty of bresatfeeding friends who had a really hard time because they had to go out to their cars to pump in the middle of their work day, or sit in the bathroom and pump. I have other friends who had carefree time breastfeeding – they pulled out their boobs anywhere and everywhere without shame or judgement.

    All I am asking is that as women and mothers, we STOP the mommy wars, feeding wars and all this stupid stuff that pit women one against the other. I hope we can all get together and make policy that will positively affect mothers and enable them to be confident in the choices they make.

  • Thanks, Lyndsey! I’m so sorry that you were made to feel that way. As new moms, we don’t need anything extra to make us feel bad. Already, we are exhausted, we have insane amount of hormones shocking our systems, our bodies are foreign and we don’t feel confident because of that and so much more. I hope we can find a way to make mothers feel good and confident about the choices they make and create a supportive environment in which we can all raise our children.

  • I also enjoy your blog and I respect a variety of opinions on this issue. I do strongly feel that whatever is best for the health and wellbeing of mom and baby is no one else’s business. But there are a few things I feel compelled to say.
    There is research pointing towards the benefits of breastfeeding. Check out one titled: Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries (April 2007) from the Tufts-New England Medical Center Evidence-Based Practice Center. There are others too.
    I have worked in public health for a long time. I have read many papers and see a variety of data sets. I don’t have to hash through all of it now. But the benefits for the child seem to be strongest in the first few weeks of life. It is not the act of feeding from the breast (which is more beneficial for some as far as developing emotional bonds and cuing – which in your case is not an issue as you did that on your own,) but rather what is in the mother’s milk that helps build immunity, can delay or mitigate food allergies for people with sensitivities to ingredients in formula, among others. Children are not allergic to breast milk but some struggle with formulas because of sensitivities – again not an issue in your case but this is huge for some families and can be terribly challenging when a new baby cannot tolerate a variety of formals. I have seen this repeatedly. There are a few other things I could tack on to this list – asthma, diabetes, SIDS, childhood leukemia, etc. Plus, the benefits are not only for the child but also for the health of the mother. There are studies and they are starting to become convincing.
    With that said, I was not breastfeed and have good health as do millions of other people and of course your kids are healthy and thriving. But in some instances, typically for people who may not have the resources and support (social, economic, etc.) to ensure their kids are eating well all through development, breastfeeding can make big a difference. We have major issues with diet in this country. Obesity can start in early childhood and getting the right start can make all the difference.
    Plus as you say, formula is very expensive. Breast milk is free. So for people with economic disadvantages, breast feeding is a great way to cut costs.
    I agree that support is needed for mothers regardless of what they choose. But with enough support and encouragement, breastfeeding is a wonderful option, especially in the first few weeks. I breastfed both of my children and did not see it as an obstacle to my recovering or to having my husband and family take over baby care so I could rest. But there was a steep learning curve at the start and I was blessed to have enough support to make it work. I think giving samples of formula to people who choose formula is a great help but not all hospitals do provide enough support for nursing. You may have encountered nurses who made you feel bad for your choice but so many times I have seen the opposite happening, especially for women who have had complicated births or C-sections. It would be ideal if each family had access to all of the support and information to make the best choices for them but so often it does not turn out that way.

  • Carol Anne,

    You make very good points. I completely agree that all mothers should receive support and information. They should be allowed to make the right choice for them and their families.

    I have an issue with all the studies and data that comes out in support of or attacking the choice to breastfeed. Most studies done to prove that breastfeeding is best have been shown to be inaccurate. Basically, what we know is that women who breastfeed tend to be more educated and wealthier (on the whole) than women who formula feed. Yes, breastmilk can be much cheaper (if you don’t factor in the cost of nursing bras, breast pumps, nursing pads, etc.) than formula. However, women who are in the lower economic strata tend to work in jobs that do not allow for them to breastfeed. Hence, they formula feed. If you’re working one or two 8 hour shift jobs to make ends meet, you’re not going to breastfeed your child. Most times, those kids are cared for by someone other than the mother and formula is the only way to go.

    As for immunity and allergy prevention – I don’t buy those studies either. My kids were very healthy in their first year of life and rarely got sick. When they were sick, they got back to normal in a few days. I know plenty of breastfed babies who were much sicker during their first year of life – visiting their doctor nearly every week due to some sort of infection, virus, fever, etc. I think the immunity and allergy prevention has more to do with the whole environment the child is raised in – if the mother breastfeeds but Purells the home 5 times a day and doesn’t let the child near anything that could possibly have bacteria, I think she is doing more harm than good. We can’t take these studies out of the context of real life. Unless the test subjects are all from the same socio-economic level and have relatively similar home and parenting styles, it’s very difficult for the data to be conclusive.

    Again, breast might be best for many people. Formula is also a great option. I’m just asking that we don’t put any undue and unnecessary stress on women when they have JUST GIVEN BIRTH! It’s a stressful, hormonal and difficult time regardless. Let a woman decide what is best for her so she can be the best mother to her child. And let’s support her in her decision.

  • THANK YOU Michal for this post! I completely agree with you. We should respect each other’s choice on how to feed our children.
    I gave birth to my fabulous daughter 8 weeks ago and have been struggling to breastfeed her since day one. Prior to Emily’s delivery, I was 100% committed to breastfeed my baby 3 (min) to 6 (max) months; however, God had another plan. Due to her traumatic birth – I lost a lot of blood, seizures, BP dropped dramatically, several blood transfusions, etc. – I had a very low milk supply. My immense desire to breastfeed (and frankly peer pressure) drove me to the extreme as a new Mom. I was clueless that my breast milk could be compromised by a complicated birth; therefore, was unaware that my daughter was starving first 2 1/2 days home. Despite feeding her for 30+ minutes on each boob, every other hour, my body was only producing enough milk to satiate her for an hour, tops. Emily was so miserable (& I was beyond exhausted), that we thought she had colic! I was devastated when the doctor told me that despite my best efforts, I had been starving my daughter. Thankfully, Emily’s doctors talked me off the ledge and told me it was ok to supplement with formula. They tried to relieve my massive guilt and shared their own experience with difficulties breastfeeding. I have been working with 2 lactation consultants and one MD who specializes in breast / breastfeeding (yes, there is such a practice) to increase my breast milk supply. I pump like mad (8x per day) to be able to feed Emily some breast milk (1.5-3oz if I am lucky) and then formula. I am completely grateful that I have the resources to get expert help AND purchase the formula she needs. THANK YOU Enfimal!
    You are absolutely correct that breastfeeding is not cheap: lactation consultants, support group fees, pumps, accessories for pumps, etc. Perhaps its because I live in NY City (I am your neighbor actually Michal, we met at the pool while I was pregnant :), but I find there is immense pressure and serious judgement to breastfeed. I still struggle with my guilt and feel the need to explain why my daughter eats formula (the stares while at doctor’s office feeding Emily formula was classic NYC BS) . Emily is thriving at 8 weeks old. She is 12lbs (born 8lbs 3oz), healthy and happy baby (80% in height and weight, head is 60%). While I love being able to provide her some breast milk, I am looking forward to no longer pumping when she reaches 12 weeks (actually have a little countdown going). Living your life attached to a machine every 2-4 hours has an empty feeling. I would rather get that time back to snuggle / play more with Emily and SLEEP!!!!!!! Think all mommies choices should be respected: formula, breast, exclusive pumping, mix of breast and formula, etc.
    Thank you again for sharing.
    Cheers – Peggy (23L)

  • Peggy,

    I am so sorry to hear about the difficulties you have had with feeding, though I’m super happy to hear Emily is doing so well now. I hope you have been able to let go of the guilt – it’s unnecessary and does no good for you OR Emily. You should be enjoying your new bundle of love, not stressing.

    Hope to see you around the building. If you want to grab a coffee or have a playdate, let me know!

    All my best,

  • Please forgve a terribly late reply considering the date you posted this but I would just like to say how brilliantly you addressed this issue. “. I have gotten hundreds of free samples in my life. They did not affect my life choices unless they were right for me. Are women that lacking in free will that they can’t think for themselves?”
    Very well said, I wholeheartedly agree that many of these “professionals” infantilise mothers more than the children and it is wrong. Also I feel it needed to be said that they are infact bullies by pushing their own views (oft unsolicited) on feeding on new mothers when they are at their most vulnerable.

    I was so convinced I would be a breastfeeder when I was pregnant, and all those that cry “you just dont want to do it enough shame on you/ you aren’t trying hard enough” are infact very callous and cold to the reality that it just isn’t the case. Even the perfect latch was agony for me and after 2 weeks I started a mix of pumping and formula, by 2 months I had dried up and had no choice but to use formula completely. The guilt I fealt I now understand to have stemmed not so much from using formula but that the lactivists had convinced me that breast is best and because it’s natural it should “come naturally = be easy” had I had the foresight that trying and failing to breastfeed would actually hinder and delay the bonding process I would have chosen not to. I still had the skin to skin cuddles with my baby even though I was giving formula in a bottle. And by taking the pressure off I found I was much more able to get into mom-mode. The thing most important for bonding in my opinion now is to RELAX. What further proved I was right to let go of anything that wasn’t working for us was that I saw in a group pf children of the same age I cannot tell those who were exclusively breastfed from those who were partially breastfed from those who were exclusively formula fed.

    Bit of a story there I know, but share and share alike, thankyou for sharing yours.
    “Are you breastfeeding? Good for you. Are you formula feeding? Good for you. Are you mixing formula and breast milk? Good for you. For me, the more important question is, “Are your children nourished? Are they thriving?” That seems much more pertinent”
    And thankyou for saying what needed to be said.

  • Thank you!!! I don’t know why we think it’s ok to judge others and cast aspersions. Let’s all try to make parenting easier and less of a competitive sport.

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