Formula Feeders, You Don’t Owe Anyone an Explanation

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I was shamed for formula feeding only one time.

It was a couple of weeks after the birth of my daughter, and some visiting relatives had stopped by to see the baby. When she started to cry, a well-meaning in-law handed my newborn to me and said, “She’s hungry, Mama!”

I took the baby and asked my husband to pour a bottle. The relative recoiled in horror.

Baby Bottle on High Chair“You’re giving FORMULA? WHY?”

You’d think I’d just asked my husband to fix the baby a whiskey sour with a rat poison floater — the reaction was that extreme.

I was pretty fragile after the birth of my first baby, thanks to a life-threatening postpartum hemorrhage. Even after a blood transfusion and a little extra time in the hospital, I was physically and emotionally wrecked in a way I wouldn’t realize was unusual until I had a more normal birth recovery three years later. Wrap in a creeping case of postpartum depression and anxiety directly related to infant feeding, and I was, to put it gently, a hot mess.

As I absorbed the blow I’d just been dealt — the comment loaded with judgment, delivered by someone who was supposed to care about me, who was sitting in my home, handling my newborn — a stammered explanation started to form on my lips. I was just about to rattle off a long justification about my health, my challenges, my conversations with various care providers…

…and then I stopped myself and said, very simply and very firmly:

“Because that’s what she eats.”

My abruptness might have come across as rude. I’d argue it wasn’t nearly as rude as shaming a formula-feeding mother to her face, in her home, in front of her family. At any rate, the feeding conversation ended there, but it stuck with me.

I knew from the start that formula would be part, if not all, of our baby’s diet. I’d read enough of the baby-feeding Internet to know that some people would judge my decision. I also found great support and resources for formula feeders that helped me feed my child with confidence. And although I hadn’t prepared those words that I spoke — they just popped out of my mouth — I knew they’d be the only explanation I needed if someone ever asked again.

“Because that’s what she eats.”

New moms and moms-to-be, listen to me: You may decide to formula feed, either out of need or because it’s your preference. With the possible exception of your partner, nobody needs to know why but you. No one is entitled to an explanation. Not your mother. Not your friends. Not your doctors or midwife. Not your well-meaning relatives. Definitely not Internet strangers.

Whether you exclusively breastfeed, pump, supplement or use formula, the reasons for your decision are valid. And they are yours to share or not as you choose. Anyone who truly cares about you will support your choice. And anyone who disapproves of your choice is someone whose input you don’t need. 

Fortunately, that moment in my house would turn out to be the only time anyone ever questioned my infant’s diet. Most people, it turns out, subscribe to the sensible notion that “fed is best.”

But just in case you need it, feel free to borrow my line. As long as your child is nourished, the only explanation you ever need to give is the one that flew out of my mouth that day:

“Because that’s what she eats.”

formula feeders

3 COMMENTS

  1. I’m very thankful for this article. I tried and tried to breastfeed, my daughter was losing weight and when I pumped, I could never get out more than an ounce. I put so much shame on myself and my MIL did also.
    While I wholeheartedly support breastfeeding whenever possible, I love the saying Fed is Best.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ll have to remember that line “Because that’s what he/she eats”. I tried so hard to breastfeed, it was incredibly painful for me – I never got used to the pain – and my son would be wailing and wailing because he was so frustrated and hungry that I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt shame to formula feed because people kept giving me grief that it was expensive and I wasn’t “trying hard enough”. I’m so glad my husband was on board with me from the beginning to switch to formula. Now my son is a healthy, happy little guy because mom is happy too!

  3. I desperately wanted to exclusively nurse all my kids until they were at least a year old, but that never came to be. After they hit about 6 mos of age, my milk supply slowly dwindled until by the time they reached a year, I barely made a few drops.
    As a mon, you do what’s best for baby.

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