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Bottle vs. breast: Does how we feed our babies really matter?

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.

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.

More on caring for babies

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Nipple confusion: Does it really exist?
8 Signs your baby is sick

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