An open letter to a formula-feeding mum from a breastfeeding mum

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"Regardless of the many possible reasons for your decision to give your baby formula, the bottom-line is this: As mothers we share a common goal - which is is to love, nurture and protect our babies. And it doesn't matter whether we do this via our breasts or a bottle."

Dear formula-feeding mum,

Lately, I’ve seen a spike in the whole breastfeeding/ bottle-feeding debate. Mostly, the arguments sway in favour of breastfeeding mums like myself, and there’s a whole lot of judgement happening in relation to those — like you — who choose to give their babies formula milk.

Mothers like you are often called lazy, accused of not doing the best for their babies, made to feel guilty for giving their children “artificial milk”.

And I should be happy, proud, triumphant even, because after all, I chose the widely accepted ‘correct’ way of feeding my child. But I don’t feel any of these. I feel sad, and even a bit angry with those who choose to judge you without knowing anything.

So, I’m here to tell you, I support your choice.

I know, almost without a doubt, that your decision to bottle-feed your baby wasn’t an easy one to make. I know that you would have agonised over your decision, worried about what other people would think or say, even berating yourself for being “a terrible mother”.

You might have opted for the bottle because you were struggling with breastfeeding — and the struggles are real and many. Breastfeeding is often not the cakewalk some make it out to be. It can involve sore, bleeding nipples, blocked ducts, mastititis and more agonizingly painful conditions.

It may also involve latching problems and low supply issues that make you ever so anxious that your baby is not getting enough food, or gaining enough weight. Perhaps you didn’t get the support and guidance you needed at the right time to correct the breastfeeding issues you were facing.

And of course you blame yourself for this because you are supposed to make your baby thrive and grow, and right now, you feel like your body is failing you and your baby. But you won’t just wait passively, watching your baby failing to thrive. So you turn to formula.

Perhaps you decided to switch to exclusive formula-feeding or mixed feeds, because breastfeeding was taking a toll on your energy levels and this way, at least someone else could feed your little one a couple of times a day while you took a much-needed rest.

And so what if you decided to switch to formula because you wanted to get back in shape faster? Or you couldn’t bear to have your breasts ‘handled’ around the clock? You have the right to do that without being judged, because your body belongs to you.

Maybe you had a difficult birth and the thought of breastfeeding was not something you could handle. It’s okay. Formula milk may not be breastmilk but it is still made very carefully, and is designed especially for human babies. It will nourish your baby just fine.

So you decided to switch to formula because you needed to head back to work, and you’d much rather be cuddling your baby in the morning rather than grappling with a breast pump and stressing over the quantity of milk you were able to express. I don’t see a problem with this at all.

Or maybe you’re just sticking to a breastfeeding timeline you gave yourself and now that you’ve reached your target, it’s time to switch.

Regardless of the many possible reasons for your decision to give your baby formula, the bottom-line is this: As mothers we share a common goal — which is is to love, nurture and protect our babies. And it doesn’t matter whether we do this via our breasts or a bottle.

What matters is that we do this via our hearts, that we love and nurture our children, no matter what — and I know you do this.

What matters is that we support our fellow mothers in the decisions they take and the choices they make without being hasty to judge and criticise — parenting is hard enough as it is, anyway, so why make it harder?

In the end, we all do what works best for our children, our families, ourselves.

And if formula feeding your baby is what works for you, so be it. It is your right and your child’s right.

Know that I respect and support your decision, as I know you do mine.

*The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months. In no way is the author of this article urging breastfeeding mothers to switch to formula. 

Please join the Breastfeeding Mums support group on Facebook if you are exclusively breastfeeding and would like to get the support and advice of other breastfeeding mums. 

If you have made the decision to mix-feed (breastmilk supplemented with formula), then the Mixed Feeding Mums support group on Facebook is the ideal place to ask questions and get support and advice. 

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