How you choose to feed your baby shouldn’t be a decision that defines you as a mother. Unfortunately, the mainstream mommy culture can be pretty unforgiving when it comes to formula-feeding moms.

rare support for formula feeders

Whether you choose to breastfeed, formula-feed or a combination of both, the bottom line is that you are caring for your baby. Isn’t that what really matters?

Journalist Suzanne Barston was unable to breastfeed her first child for a number of reasons, including nerve damage in one of her breasts, latching issues, allergies and severe postpartum depression. Upset by the lack of information available to mothers who formula feed their babies, Barston launched her blog site Fearless Formula Feeder with the hope that it would become a source of community and accurate information for all mothers.

Culture of acceptance

By using a variety of guest posts, essays on the breastfeeding vs. formula wars, factual analysis of studies and critiques of current affairs related to the issue, Fearless Formula Feeder strives to support all new parents. Barston’s goal is to stay away from judgments about any particular parenting choice, and to refrain from attacking breastfeeding mothers. Fans flock to her site in the thousands each day to catch up on the latest information and personal stories shared by readers.

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People might assume that a site encouraging formula feeding moms is anti-breastfeeding. Barston’s goal in starting her site was to do the opposite. “I advocate for breastfeeding wherever and whenever I can — I think it can be one of the most incredible, self-affirming acts a new mother can do,” says Barston. “There are a few women who’ve been reading my blog since they stopped breastfeeding their first children, and who are now breastfeeding subsequent kids. This makes me so incredibly proud and happy, because I feel like I have done my job. Women need to be encouraged no matter what feeding method they choose.”

Is the BFHI supportive of mothers?

The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is being promoted as the best way to increase successful breastfeeding, and is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and several government agencies. What started as a feel-good way to promote breastfeeding has become a sore point for Barston.

“I consider myself a breastfeeding advocate — I think women should be encouraged to breastfeed, and supported at every turn,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean they should be bullied or scared into it, and I do not find the BFHI supportive in the way its creators defend it to be.” Rather than being supportive of mothers, she feels that the initiative actually takes away choice. “There’s no reason why the BFHI couldn’t incorporate policies that encourage and support breastfeeding without taking the option away from parents who want to formula feed.” She does add that there is part of what BFHI is trying to do that she supports. “What I like about the initiative is that it stops medical staff from interfering in the processes of bonding and breastfeeding — which I don’t believe to be mutually exclusive.”

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Support for new book

Barston recently released her new book, Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t, the first book in three decades that specifically addresses the needs and support that formula feeding parents need. Her book is part memoir, part social commentary and part popular science. Barston examines the politics and emotions involved in the ongoing battle of the bottle. She takes a well-researched approach to presenting her view of breastfeeding politics through her personal experiences and the encounters she has had through her blog.

In the end, we all need to feed our babies. How we choose to do that should not reflect on our ability to mother, but on our decision to do what’s best for our own children.

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Nipple confusion: Does it really exist?
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Comments on "Bottle vs. breast: Does how we feed our babies really matter?"

Tiffany November 03, 2012 | 6:55 PM

Maureen, I totally agree with you. Though I'd like to add that breastfeeding mothers often find a lot of criticism too. There are still public breastfeeding stigmas... many people in older generations do not understand breastfeeding and therefore don't or can't support it (like a mother to a daughter who is newly breastfeeding)... there's awkwardness for moms who extended breastfeed. Some might say over 6 months is extended, other say over a year is too long... yet every other culture deems it completely normal to do so for 2-4 years. So really, it's criticism on all ends, and it's THAT alone that we need to get rid of, and continue to make moms aware of the benefits of breastfeeding without the judgement.

Maureen November 03, 2012 | 7:25 AM

BTW, the title of this article is jumbled. "Bottle vs. breast: Does how we feed our babies really matter?" By asking "how" you're implying that formula can be fed from the breast. While breastmilk can be fed with a bottle, formula has to be supplied from a container other than the breast itself. While there are ways to supplement breastfeeding with formula via a tube, the argument of the nursing crowd is not HOW but WHAT is being fed to baby. It's Breastmilk vs. Formula, not "bottle vs. breast." Which brings to mind some people who freak out when hearing about nursing and insist that women pump milk and put it into a bottle because extracting the milk from the breast and putting it into an elongated proxy breast with a huge plastic mutant nipple looks more "natural" to them.

Maureen November 03, 2012 | 7:21 AM

Breastfeeding is best when it is possible. There's no question on that, so yes, it actually does matter how (or what) we feed our babies. Implying that it doesn't matter is just a "feel good" emotional response to a factual question. Yes, breastmilk is better all around and healthier. That is not the question. I think what you want to foster is respect across the board. The question is, "Shouldn't we respect each other no matter how we feed our babies?" Yes, we absolutely should. Formula feeders are WAY touchy -- you can't even say breast without them feeling attacked and judged and it comes from THEM. It is an insecurity because they may not feel their choice is respected or they may want to breastfeed but are reminded that they can't or whatever. Breastfeeders are so psyched about the benefits of nursing that they are sometimes rough and tactless about it and don't allow any room for women who for their own reasons can't or won't do it. It should not be a battleground but also we can't just say formula is "just as good" because it very scientifically is not. (Another thing about "supporting" formula feeding in hospitals has to do with the formula manufacturers and how they barrage mothers with their products. These companies aren't interested in your baby, they want to make money. Let's call a spade a spade, and that's probably the primary reason why these initiatives are trying to rid hospitals of those products. That said, if a woman can't breastfeed she will need to know about alternatives, so perhaps a booklet can be offered on request with coupons or something towards formulas and information for those companies and not only offer ONE (as hospitals tend to do) but at least 2 or 3 choices so the mother has some informed choice.

Jenny October 30, 2012 | 6:33 PM

I love the Fearless Formula Feeder and her blog! It has helped me as a new mom in so many ways!

Hannah October 30, 2012 | 10:08 AM

Though I do think breast milk is best, I formula feed my baby and I don't think that makes me a worse mom. Formula is what works for both of us. My baby is happy, healthy, and surrounded by love. Ultimately, that's what matters!

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