Formula Shortages Revive the Breast vs. Bottle Debates

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I breastfed one child. I bottle-fed the other. I thought of explaining why I made the decisions I did, but then I realized it didn’t matter. It’s no one’s business. I am so tired of women having to defend the decisions they make concerning their bodies. I’m disgusted by the mom-shaming. If a child is not being fed, it is everyone’s business to report the parent to the authorities. How you choose to feed your child – breast vs. bottle – is no one else’s concern.

The recent formula shortage has brought a resurgence to the breast vs. bottle debates and shaming mothers for their choices. I am amazed at the judgmental and uninformed comments I see hurled at women. Some people think breastfeeding is simple, free, and something every mother must do to earn her place as mother of the year. The reality is that it’s not always that simple.

Here are some common misperceptions about breastfeeding:

1. Breastfeeding is free.

It is more affordable than formula, but it’s not entirely free. Nursing moms often need to hire lactation consultants, and then there are the expenses of pumps, nursing pillows, nipple shields, and other specialized items. The idea that breastfeeding is free also ignores the reality that many working mothers in the United States do not have paid maternity leave or jobs that allow for significant breaks to pump.

2. If you don’t have formula, just start breastfeeding your baby now.

The idea that a woman who has not been breastfeeding can suddenly begin again is a fallacy. It can be done, but it is not an immediate solution to the formula shortage. Relactation, which is reestablishing lactation weeks or months after having stopped, is not an easy process. At best, it’s a time-consuming process that may take weeks or months.

3. Everyone can breastfeed.

Not everyone can breastfeed. Various medical conditions might prohibit the ability to breastfeed or slow milk production. If a woman is on medications, a physician should be consulted about breastfeeding.

4. Everyone should breastfeed.

I despise the judgmental nature of this statement, and it simply isn’t true. For some women, breastfeeding can involve emotional issues that cause psychological stress. What every woman should do is what is best suited for her situation. A happy mother is the best gift for a baby.

5. Your bond with your baby will be stronger if you breastfeed.

While breastfeeding may provide a beautiful time of closeness for many mothers and their infants, it is still just as possible to be closely bonded with a bottle-fed baby. Although breastfeeding creating a stronger maternal-baby bond is an accepted idea, scientific studies do not consistently show this to be a fact.

The shortage of formula has been a crisis, and it has also brought about a resurgence of mom-shaming for women who cannot or choose not to breastfeed. It’s nothing new. Even back in 1651, English herbalist and physician Nicholas Culpeper, in his book “A directory for midwives,”  argued that a woman who did not breastfeed “cannot love her Child; which if she do not, the more inhumane Beast she.” Why does it seem it’s so often men who have the audacity to criticize women’s personal choices about their bodies?

It appears there is relief on the way for formula shortages. Betty Casey explored the subject in her blog last week, Homemade Baby Formula: Is it Safe? This blog also contains essential advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding formula.

I am not anti-breastfeeding. I am not anti-bottle feeding. I am an advocate for feeding your baby in the way that is best for you. As for my children, I breastfed one and bottle-fed the other. It doesn’t matter which one, and it doesn’t matter why. I am happy to report both children have had happy, healthy, productive lives. I am tightly bonded to both of my daughters, with no discernible differences between the child who was bottle-fed and the one who was breastfed. Every woman has the right to choose how to feed her baby. Fed is best!

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