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Wherein I Jump into the Breast Milk Vs. Formula Thing Head-On

This is one of those neverending issues where everyone has to pussyfoot, and I’ve been thinking long and hard about what exactly I want to write.

If I write things that sound mean and harsh, even if they are my opinions, I know I will hurt people I have gotten to know and respect.

If I write platitudes, that is all they will be: platitudes. Good as the three dollar bill they’re worth.

So I will try to tackle it and here it goes.

Yes, breast is better than bottle and even the formula companies will tell you that all over their happy ducky and bear packaging.

The doctor will tell you that, even if he or she does not know the particulars of how to breastfeed and therefore ends up recommending that you do switch to formula should your baby not gain weight to their utter satisfaction right away.

The nurses, while sometimes trying to shove a bottle in your baby’s mouth, will also tell you that breast is best.

Perhaps your mother or mother-in-law might concede that it is. Then they’ll tell you that you were fed formula and you turned out just fine, didn’t you? Plus, do you really want to go around showing your breasts to anyone who cares to see them?


Babies and bottles seem to go together in our society. It’s one of those regular conventions one sees everywhere– a little tiny bottle, for a little tiny baby.

Blue nipples for baby boys. Pink nipples for baby girls.

Paparazzi captured Brad Pitt’s butt bulging out with little Zahara’s bottle as definite proof that he was with Angelina, after all.

Bottles and babies. Babies and bottles.

If it’s so widespread, is there really anything to feel guilty about?

Of course there is, for the main part. But our society hates anything that makes us feel completely responsible. It takes an enlightened person who can fully admit that they have failed at something, and that the reason is of their own making. That it is their own damned fault.

We love to blame The Man.

We love to tell ourselves that things are hard. That they are painful and that we are misunderstood. We love to have excuses, such as that we’re prudish or that we didn’t have enough information.

Sometimes those excuses are valid: inverted nipples don’t look like a picnic– I don’t want to imagine how must harder it must be to learn how to latch a helpless infant, and the stress it must cause. Chronic illnesses that demand constant medication are sad realities that prevent any kind of breastfeeding, of course. And sometimes the good intentions of the hospital staff prevent any establishment of a breastfeeding relationship. Also, the infant’s fragile state can prevent breastfeeding, as can previous surgeries.

Yes. There are reasons why breastfeeding cannot, will not, or should not happen.

But sometimes the reason is something more to do with a mother’s discomfort with her own body. Or a lack of thorough research and therefore ignorance. Or simply the feeling that she does not want to nurse because her breast will sag.

So you can get pregnant but you can’t feed the baby? You can withstand one abuse but not the other?

You will have the baby but you will not feed it.

“But that’s what the formula is for,” she might cry.

And I have to say that as reviled as Dr. Nestlé has been, his intentions were good: develop an artificial baby food so that Swiss orphans don’t starve to death or die of malnutrition in orphanages.


Choosing to use formula when you’re able to breastfeed is in a way making a statement about your willingness to mother, isn’t it?

I know that this is not a popular stance, but I feel that this selfishness that masquerades as “my choice as a mother” needs to be exposed.


Breastfeeding is not easy and can hurt awfully and plenty can go wrong with it, but the feeling alone that you’re doing something essentially sacrificial for someone else is enough to keep me going, at least.

Maybe it is true that it’s not a good idea that everyone should breastfeed. And maybe I have no business judging those who’ve chosen the formula. But from this height, my fall should not be too hard: I’ve been breastfeeding for three months and things could happen to make me quit tomorrow. But at least I, able-bodied, able-bosomed woman that I am, have tried. I have not denied my child a mother in the simplest sense of the word.

And yes, if you’re able-bodied and able-breasted and chose not to breastfeed from the beginning I think you’re selfish. It’s your choice not to breastfeed, and it’s my choice to say you’re selfish. I hope that we can at least agree to disagree. Am I saying you’re a bad person? No. There are plenty of otherwise selfish people who are nice. Just, well… you know… they are selfish.


Next week: do not get me started on feeding a two-month old solids.

This entry was published on March 3, 2006 at 12:14 am and is filed under Soapboxing. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “Wherein I Jump into the Breast Milk Vs. Formula Thing Head-On

  1. STANDING UP APPLAUDING YOU! you said it all so brilliantly! now maybe someone should kindly send this to all the women with “bottlefeeding and proud” blinkies 😉

  2. SarsiMom on said:

    Welcome to the Church of the Meow….Lovin it’. Boobies away here. It “ain’t” always easy but I have tried and as of today am prevailing. To us!

  3. I agree that breast is best and breastfeed my second child. I gave up too easily with the first and the hospital pushed the bottle on my baby who “was big and needed food” and I gave up because I thought something would happen to him.
    I was determined with the second not to give up and I nursed him right after my c-section in the recovery room. It was tough but I knew how sad I was when I completely gave up with the first. Then I had post partum depression and it was not pleasurable at all but I still pushed on and after I got on meds — it was finially everything I thought it should be.
    Now with my surprise third baby — I knew I wanted to breastfeed — I was just as determined but God had other plans.
    I had complications that almost killed me and she had to go to the nicu because she couldnt breathe and had ‘other problems’. I worried about breast feeding her as soon as I woke up and started pumping from the ICU bed. Then they told me I couldnt even hold her — she had to stay in the incubater — but I still worried about her latching on and my milk coming in. Then I just wanted to hold her.
    Soon she came out and was breathing room air but would fall asleep as soon as she latched on. I tried every 3 hours and we would get the same results. She had many IV’s but when the last one blew, they couldnt find a good place to stick her and told me that if she didnt latch on she would get the feeding tube.
    She never nursed for more than a couple seconds, they wouldnt let her come home unless she was eating, we gave up on the nursing and just wanted her to drink from the bottle (even though she got pumped breast milk) she still wasnt staying awake for the feedings and her milk was feed through the tube.
    We got to the stage where she would drink the bottle but it would take an hour for her to drink a couple of ounces. By this time, I was not thinking of nursing anymore — I just wanted my baby to drink and come home.
    She did come home after we got her to stay awake and drink a few ounces and she gained some weight. She never was ‘into’ the bottle — never drinking more than 4 ounces and that was at a good feeding, ussually she drank less than that. She was always under weight and we had to bring her every week to get weighed in. She would sleep through the night when she was a few weeks old and we had to wake her up to feed her.
    After she was a few months old, the doctor suggested we start cereal to see if she would gain weight. So before you start judging people on when they are feeding their babies — please try to remember that there are sometimes reasons why — that are way out of our control that forces you to give you perceive as being the best for your baby for something that is really the best for your baby and you.
    Is it more important for me to establish nursing and leave my baby in the NICU or feed her a bottle and get to be able to take her home?
    We found out when she was a couple months old that she has a rare disorder and it effects or affects whatever the heck is the right word her muscles on the effected side of her face. She didnt have the ability to suck like a healthy baby. She still doesnt have a good suck and she is now almost 14 months old.
    Everyday i drive past a big billboard that says “babys are made for breastfeeding” and I have to say that it really hurts me.
    I wanted to nurse her and have that wonderous bond between us — I wanted to be the one to sustain her with my breastmilk and it just was not possible.
    I do believe some woman or maybe even most woman dont breastfeed because it ‘just doesnt feel right’ to them and that is a matter of education in this country. I think we should judge less and try to come from a loving place and maybe more woman will be open to it.

  4. Well Anne, I am very sorry that in your particular case you were not able to breastfeed on account of some of the reasons I listed in my original entry. However I think that you are needlessly defensive, considering that my post refers to people who do not long whatsoever to breastfeed but instead think it a chore and even kinda gross. You sound like you wanted desperately to breastfeed but were unable due to very sad and various circumstances.
    I personally do not feel loving toward those women who have chosen not to breastfeed and make us breastfeeding women feel like we’re some sort of weird hippies for wanting to do right by our kids. And I’m very sorry that “Babies are made for breastfeeding” makes you sad on account of your special condition: it does sound very sad, but I reckon you’re in the minority rather than in the mainstream.

  5. MrzNutz on said:

    3 meows for MM!!!! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Perhaps I could be a guest blogger re: early introduction of solids???

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