The Other F Word

I don’t know how it is where you are, but around here “breast is best” is tattooed on our bosoms. And it’s true that breast milk is amazing for babies.

But you know what else is amazing for babies? Formula.

I said it. The F word.


(Before I continue, I want to remind you that this entire post is watermarked with Do Whatever Works Best For You. Only you can decide that for yourself and your children. And in case no one has told you lately, you are a really really good mom.)

Let’s continue.

Breastfeeding the first time.

The logistics worked out for me to breastfed my firstborn for seven months. I’m not going to get into nipply details (I elaborate a little more here), but it was tough for both of us.  Many women are teary and nostalgic during their last breastfeeding session, but I wanted to sing Jon Secada’s Hallelujah Chorus from the rooftops once my baby was fully weaned.  I felt free…but I also felt like a quitter for not making it to the one-year mark and guilty for not loving it every step of the way.  In retrospect I realize that I was wishing away precious moments of my baby’s infancy ticking away at an arbitrary deadline (I set for myself) for when I would stop breastfeeding. I wanted things to be different the second go round. I wanted to silence the shoulds swirling around my head and not let them dictate my feeding choices or my feelings surrounding them.

Second time around.

So approaching the birth of my second child, I took the pressure off myself and my boobs and I held the whole experience loosely. I didn’t want that pressure to breastfeed to rob me of any of the joy of parenting. Here was my plan: If breastfeeding was making me and my baby happy and working out well for the other members of our family, then I would stick with it. If it wasn’t, then I would give myself permission to stop.

Things were going okay at first, but it wasn’t long before I started dreading every feeding. I was also dizzying myself with juggling the timing and logistics of nursing the baby while availing myself to lovingly parent the three-year-old. Before or after carpool? At the park? Leave now for the pool, or nurse now and tell big sis she will miss out on swimming with her friends?  How much should I let what is “best” for one child dictate the program for the entire family? The struggle was real.

I knew our nursing days were numbered when I said the real F-word three times before 7am while that sweet baby and I both sobbed topless in her nursery. That day I ditched the all-or-nothing mentality. From then on, my daughter got a mix of breast milk straight from the source, pumped bottles, and bottles of formula. By month three, my sweet baby was getting all bottles all the time and all of them were filled with formula. She was thriving and so was I.

Formula isn’t poison.

It turns out that the alternative to breastfeeding is not poison. And you know what else I discovered? Formula is not made of tiny shards of glass and arsenic! It is actually full of good things that babies need. Feeling the freedom to feed baby #2 formula has made her first year downright damn near delightful for our whole family. I am a happier, more present, more joyful parent to both my children (and a more pleasant wife and human) because I stopped breastfeeding when I did. And I would argue that giving my girls the gift of a happy and available mother has far greater benefits than any amount of breast milk.

If breastfeeding is working for you, then stick with it! You are an awesome mom.

BUT if it isn’t working for whatever reason, or just plain isn’t an option, you are still an awesome mom.

Maybe you are going to great lengths to try to make it work when it just isn’t. Maybe you dread feedings because each one is excruciatingly painful and time-consuming. Maybe you aren’t producing enough milk. Maybe you have had to make extreme modifications to your own diet because your child has an allergy. Maybe you have to head back to work.  Maybe you are feeling guilty for quitting breastfeeding when there was more you could have done. Maybe the sacrifices you are making to breastfeed outweigh the supposed benefits of breast milk. Maybe breastfeeding just wasn’t an option because you are an adoptive parent. Maybe you are the mother of quadruplets and breastfeeding is logistically impossible. Or maybe you just plain don’t like it.

If and if any of the “maybes” mentioned above sound familiar, give yourself some grace – and the permission to try something else.

Pop Quiz!

Question 1: Can you tell which of these adorable children received the most breast milk?

Answer: Me neither. And no IQ test, blood test, juggling contest, spelling bee, regatta or footrace would tell us either.

Question 2: Can you tell which well-adjusted adult in the picture below was breastfed?

Answer: Neither. That’s me on the right and my younger sister on the left. My sister and I didn’t get a drop of breast milk and we both grew into happy healthy adults who enjoy an extremely close relationship with our amazing mother (who still buys us matching clothes). I turned out OK, but my sister turned out great. She is a gorgeous, drug-free, non-obese, valedictorian, marathon running gourmet cook, mother, and all-around gentle, generous, M.D.  She is a shining star—and a walking endorsement demonstrating that formula fed babies experience zero long-term side effects.

The decision to breastfeed is personal to every mother. We all have hopes and expectations going into motherhood about how it will go. We all have histories and convictions that make us more or less determined to make it work. And we all want to give our children the very best. But what if the “best” means different things to each of us?

There are so many choices we make as mothers—and I am here to say that breast or bottle is not the most important one. Not even close. It is so hard to remember that during the throes infancy. As mothers we have to make a lot of decisions regarding our children, decisions with actual long-term impact, and I know the stakes will only get higher as our children grow. So let’s take the pressure off of ourselves and each other about this one. Okay?

I’m awesome. You’re awesome. We’re awesome.

Related: Formula Feeding Gear Basics

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  • Thank you! I wanted to breastfeed so badly. I went to the classes, I read the books, I was ready! After meeting with a couple lactation consultants, trying nipple shields, pumping, the works, nothing worked well. Between low supply and latching issues, I was a mess and my baby was losing weight instead of gaining. I finally had to admit we needed formula to make this baby healthy. I felt like a failure. Women have been doing this for thousands of years, right? Yes, but not always with success. I did a little research and found supplementing or finding alternatives to breastmilk is not a new thing. Not at all. I know some people never need or want to use formula, and that’s fine. But I have a happier, healthier baby now because of it!

  • I agree with the other commentor about this being an extremely disappointing article. Too many women give up so easily because the the support is not advertised well enough. There is usually always a solution to breastfeeding issues and once you are able to overcome these by seeking support from a professional source then it can be such a joyous experience.
    And to quit breastfeeding because you have another child to care for or because you can’t get your laundry done is shocking. It’s not forever for heaven sake, those precious months go so quickly. I’m very surprised that so many women would rather their baby didn’t receive all of the long term health benefits that breast feeding provides just because it’s an inconvenience to their daily life. A bit worrying really. Wouldn’t you agree??

  • This reminded me we’re “not alone” with our choice (due to alot of unfortunate reasons/circumstances) to formula feed. Sometimes it can feel like we’re going against the grain. I feel like I have to explain myself to complete strangers! Reading this again reminded me I’m doing the best thing for my baby

  • For me, the decision to stop breastfeeding was an easy one. On day 6 of her life. the state of California informed me that my baby’s newborn screen was positive for galactosemia, and my breast milk was toxic to her. At the time, she was throwing up after every feeding and had lost so much weight that she was in the NICU. Soy formula literally saved her life and enabled her to thrive. It kind of put the whole formula/breast feeding debate into perspective.

  • As i sit here pumping for the umpteenth time today, I so needed this right now….my baby was born 4 weeks ago 6 weeks early. He has never latched well and I am struggling with supply. I pump around the clock to get 3 two ounce bottles a day for him. I feel like i dont get a thing done around the house and most days I don’t get a shower. Forget trying to leave the house for groceries or a walk. I’m struggling with wanting to quit. I really badly want to quit. The feelings of guilt have kept me at it. I’m not saying I’m going to quit tonight or tomorrow, but when I do this helps a little.

  • Thank you so much for this. Reading this has really helped me. My 4 month old is now mainly on formula and I’ve been crying about it since I gave him his first bottle at 9 weeks old. Its been a slow but necessary transition to formula as I wasn’t producing enough milk for him, we were both miserable and I was not being a very good mum to my 3 y/o. Although I know in my head the switch to formula is for the best I have experienced terrible breastfeeding grief the last couple months that it has not gone the way I hoped. I went through a similar situation with my first born but I had more milk to start off with so managed to exclusively feed her much longer. I felt so sad this time round that breastfeeding was a struggle from day 1 and I couldn’t give my son as long as I gave my daughter. Reading your post helps me to acknowledge, accept and come to terms with formula feeding. Thank you. x

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I wish I could have read this three months ago but reading it now still makes me feel so much better. The guilt that so many of us feel is crushing, and there are so many who judge.

  • Amen. My children, now 27 and 31, have grown to be healthy, happy adults, and were fed formula. I try to tell my daughter who has struggled with nursing that whatever choice she makes is ok, but it has to work for the whole family. And don’t forget, whatever you do now will be wrong in ten years because the "experts" will have changed everything by then.

  • Such a disappointing article. I get the sentiment, and every mother’s choice is their own. But in an overwhelming number of situations, there is a breastfeeding solution to a breastfeeding problem. If a mother wants to stop breastfeeding, of course she can. But if she wants to continue, she needs support, encouragement, assistance from people qualified and educated to help her. She does not need formula, this will end the breastfeeding experience she wanted.

  • You are amazing. I had to make the decision when both of us where miserable and I read a blog from years ago that said "if you’re not enjoying your baby your doing it wrong"… Same lesson but a different view was refreshing!

  • Thank you for this! As a mother of an adopted child who was formula fed and a biological child who was breastfed, I think this is such an important topic. The guilt for not breastfeeding is real and also ridiculous. My kids are equally healthy and bright. Thanks again for sharing!

  • I really needed to read this this morning. I am pumping exclusively and my milk supply is slowly dwindling. I makes me sad because so many people put so much pressure on moms to breastfeed. I’m slowly switching to formula because I know that’s what is best for my sweet one and my family. Thanks for the article and the encouragement!

  • Thank you for this. I struggled so much with breastfeeding and guilt. After so many frustrating attempts to breastfeed and pump, my husband was the voice of reason and reminded me that she was fine on the formula we were supplementing with and that the doctor even said it was good. So together we decided to formula feed only. I cried at first because I felt like a failure, but I soon realized I’d rather spend time with my new baby then sitting around pumping milk and then sitting to feed her when I could just do formula and have more time with her. The guilt is gone, she is thriving and hubby gets to help feed her. WIN, WIN, WIN.

  • Thank you for this great post! Love the idea of taking the stress out of feeding and putting the emphasis back on the connection between mother and child and doing what is right for you and your unique situation!

  • I stopped pumping at work last month and am down to 1-2 feedings now. While fighting off guilt I saw this: Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces.

    Thanks for this article!

  • Thank you for this post! Every time it think I’ve forgiven myself for giving up on breast feeding so early for both my babies I read something or someone makes a comment and I feel guilt all over again. Tonight a pregnant friend said that my experience with breast feeding was the only bad one she’s ever heard. She didn’t mean it with any malice just that she’s not worried about nursing since all of her other friends didn’t have any issues. Of course my mind goes straight to guilt – did I give up too soon? Should I have tried harder? It seems to work for every one else. When really I know that my husband and I made the right decision for our family. Thank you for helping to alleviate some of the guilt.

  • Thank you. I’m almost in tears as I write this, while nursing my 6 week old daughter. Breastfeeding has been a real struggle for us, sometimes she’ll nurse, other times she absolutely refuses. We’ve been having to supplement with formula because she kept dropping weight. I felt like such a failure because I’m not making enough milk for her to grow. We’ve routinely cried together out of frustration. Thank you for the reminder to give myself and my daughter grace. Not always easy to do.

  • This is a great post. I love breastfeeding, and I’m grateful that it’s worked out for us, but I’m even more grateful for women who support each other no matter what. Natural birth? Good for you! Epidural? Good for you! Bottle? Good for you! Breast? Good for you!
    I am a good mother, not because I breastfeed my baby, but because I love him and want the best things in life for him, and for many mothers, the best thing is a bottle.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. Wish I had read this when my baby was a newborn and we were struggling those early months.

  • I wish I read this 3 days ago, when I was battling with my inner guilt about continuing to exclusively pump or formula feed. My pump died on me mid pump and I went through panic and fear over having to breastfeed my child through the night. As expected, the next day my nipples were destroyed (blistered and sore). I couldn’t find the pump that I liked so much anywhere and decided formula was the next best option.. Even though in my head, I can hear the breastfeeding nazis screaming at me, telling me what a terrible mother I am for stopping to give her breastmilk, when I have tons of it. I ended up searching so long that I came across the pump I’ve been using and got up before the crack of dawn to go pick this thing up.
    It’s 2:40AM right now, I just spent the last 45mins pulling double duty.. Fed my daughter, got her changed and then sat here for 20mins pumping. My damn nipples are stretched and sore and my eyes are bloodshot. If I had only stuck with my first decision, I’d be back to sleep already, dreaming about being on a beach somewhere with a margarita in hand. I don’t care that she’s only 6 weeks old, I’m a zombie and all my poor 4 year old wants to do in the afternoon is play outside, but I can’t even keep my eyes open long enough to be an active parent. Something has gotta change and thanks to your blog, I don’t feel so bad for reconsidering formula starting tomorrow. I need to sleep.. At night! My kids need me to be present.

  • Amen sister! I just this week weaned my second baby a month earlier than I did with my firstborn and while I was initially comfortable with my decision was starting to second guess myself. Until I read this. Thanks.

  • I loved this post. So encouraging. I am 5 weeks into the life of my first daughter and breastfeeding has been incredibly challenging. I had an emergency C-section and for whatever reason, milk supply did not come on rapidly and I have done so many things to try and make breastfeeding work. We started supplementing at Day 4, which left me in tears. I put so much pressure onto myself to make it work. Baby is doing well with the mixture of breastmilk and formula. Not sure how much longer I will go with breastfeeding, but for now, it is so comforting to see posts like this that validate and support whatever choice a mother makes in feeding her child. Thank you!

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! I tried to breastfeed my son and I wasn’t making enough milk. I was beating myself up night and day, eating the right foods, taking herbs and supplements, constantly pumping…nothing increased supply. My husband and I planned to exclusively breastfeed, and things weren’t going to plan and I was absolutely sick and an emotional train wreck. Once we finally decided to stop the madness, I was back to my normal happy self and my son is thriving. I’m so glad we made the decision that was right for all of us. My formula-fed son has a happy, somewhat rested mom with a positive attitude, which is better than a breastfed baby with an unstable mother. Thank you for saying this! There is not enough support for formula-feeding moms!

  • Thank you so much for this amazing post! I am expecting my first child and most of my friends have chosen to exclusively breastfeed until their child weaned themselves–no matter how much they hate it (and many of them truly hated it, but did it well into the first year anyway). I applaud their perseverance for doing something they believe to be so beneficial to their child, but I don’t know that I am up for it (or believe it’s necessary). Thank you for making me feel less guilt for already feeling wishy-washy about the whole thing!

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