Sticking Up for Baby Formula


I have a confession to make: I feed Maggie, my nine-month-old daughter, formula. When we go to our mom and baby yoga class, I’m the one in the back, fumbling in my diaper bag for a bottle and trying to mask the sound of the can opening with a strategically timed cough.

Then, I hunch my back and curve protectively around the two of us, trying to hide the bottle in my daughter’s mouth from the eyes of breastfeeding moms around me. Although no one has ever frowned at me, or told me outright that I’m a bad mother, I know many of them are thinking it. I know it for a fact—because I used to think it, back in the days when I was one of those breastfeeding moms with my first child. I was always careful not to stare or show any outward signs of disapproval, but I admit that seeing someone else bottle-feeding made me feel slightly superior. And, yes, I sometimes thought, “maybe she didn’t try hard enough.”

The Stigma of Bottle-Feeding

Ah, karma. So now I know what it’s like to be the only mother in the room who isn’t nursing her baby. I worry that perhaps I’ve already failed my daughter in some way and that my son, Charlie, will be healthier, stronger and smarter—according to books I’ve read—because I breastfed him. Whenever anyone asks if I “tried” breastfeeding, I launch into my well-rehearsed explanation. It goes something like this:

I start by telling people that I have breastfed before, (thereby proving that I’m not all bad). Although I struggled for the first few weeks with breast pumps, syringes and cup feeding, I did successfully breastfeed my son until he was about eight months old.

Then, when he was almost two, I got pregnant again and vowed that this time, breastfeeding was going to be a breeze. I lined up a post-partum doula, printed pages of tips on latching techniques, which I reviewed during labour, and attended the hospital breastfeeding clinic just hours after Maggie was born.

Candida and Pain During Breastfeeding

But breastfeeding was, once again, an ordeal. Despite the help of my doula, two lactation consultants and a handful of well-intentioned nurses, I left the hospital with deep cracks in my nipples and a diagnosis of Candida—a yeast infection in both of my breasts.

Breastfeeding was excruciatingly painful. I cried through every feeding with my toes curled, my teeth gritted and my husband periodically wiping my nose. In between feedings, my options were to go topless, or wear plastic shields over my nipples so that I could get dressed without the risk of fabric brushing my skin. Showering was almost unbearable.

We went to a breastfeeding clinic for help, where I was prescribed one drug to clear up the infection and another to increase my milk supply. I also had several lotions and potions to apply, part of a seven-step treatment regimen, but things didn’t improve. I held out for two weeks. Then, one night at 2 a.m., my husband brought Maggie to me to be fed. The stabbing pain in my breasts hadn’t subsided since the last feeding and just the sight of my hungry daughter made me burst into tears. I fed her as best I could, then I sent my husband to the nearest drugstore to pick up a can of formula — I simply couldn’t bear the thought of having to nurse her again.

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life because “breast milk is the optimal food for infants.” When my husband and I took the prenatal classes at the hospital where I delivered, we were told that every woman can breastfeed. And that every woman should breastfeed, period. The posters that papered the hospital walls showed pictures of smiling, nursing women with captions that read “Breastfeeding: as nature intended.” There were no posters of women holding bottles.

It bothered me at the time, even though I fully intended to breastfeed. I hadn’t even given birth, yet I felt that the pressure was already on. Everywhere I went, the message was clear: breastfeeding is the only option for moms who want what’s best for their babies.

Breastfeeding Training and Support Needed

Personally, I think if women are to breastfeed successfully, there needs to be more support—right from the beginning. Breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Compared to it, labour and delivery were a dream, and yet that’s what my prenatal classes focused on: breathing techniques I never used and birthing positions I couldn’t try because I was hooked up to an IV. But there was little said about the fact that breastfeeding a baby is not easy, it doesn’t necessarily come naturally and that there are resources for moms, yet they’re not always easy to find.

There should also be an acknowledgement that some women may not be able to, or simply choose not to, nurse their babies—and that that’s okay. I’m grateful for the very existence of the breastfeeding clinic I went to, and yet the pressure they put on me to keep at it was intense. When I asked about giving my breasts a break with the occasional bottle, I was met with disapproval and dire warnings of nipple confusion. On my last visit, I sat topless in a room while four women (three lactation consultants and one pediatrician) poked at my breasts and tried to help me feed my daughter without pain. None of them told me it was okay if it didn’t work out, or that I’d done my best but maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, I was told it was fine that my daughter was spitting up blood from nursing on my damaged nipples, and that the main thing was that she was getting breast milk.

“Formula is Not Poison”

The only reassurance I received was from my own pediatrician (who wanted me to supplement with formula from the beginning when it was clear that I was in agony and my daughter wasn’t gaining weight), and from my favourite parenting book: The New Basics: A-to-Z Baby & Child Care for the Modern Parent (William Morrow) by Dr. Michel Cohen. It was there that I read, for the first time that “formula is not poison.”

Yet it’s only when I share my story with (most) other mothers that I feel like less of a failure. At least half of the moms I’ve met in the past few years ended up at the very same breastfeeding clinic I did. Some persevered, and some didn’t. But of those who switched to formula, only one mom that I know of did it without looking back, secure in the knowledge that she was doing what was best for her and her baby.

I do realize now that switching to formula was necessary — both for me, and for my daughter. When I gave Maggie that first bottle, it was the first time the two of us didn’t cry our way through the feeding and it was the first time I actually relaxed and felt the way a mother is supposed to feel when holding her newborn. My experience taught me that it should be up to a mother to decide what is best for her body — and for her baby.

Now when I see other mothers breastfeeding and feel a pang of guilt, I try to remember that no matter what anyone else says or thinks, I am a good mom. I did everything I could to make it work but, for us, breast just was not best. And I am thankful to report that both my breastfed and formula-fed children are thriving. In fact, you can’t even tell by looking at them which one is which.

Sydney Loney is a Toronto writer who, as her mother likes to point out, was formula- fed and turned out just fine.


new-baby-find-itThis story is part of our New Baby Guide. Check it out for more info on bringing home, planning for and surviving having a new baby.

4 responses to “Sticking Up for Baby Formula”

  1. Gabriela Gudino says:

    Hi my baby is 6 weeks old. When he was born he weigthed it 4.325 kg a big baby but his birth lost weight was 9% almost the normal maximin(10%) porcentage mark by doctors . He did breastfeed for the first couple days at the hospital but i didn’t had a good supply of milk a the time and since he was a big boy he did need to get back on his birth weight so I had to cup feed him formula meanwhile I started pumping to increase my milk supply. The cup feading only last couple days and he was pretty upset with the cup feading. the comunity health nurses advice me to bottle feed him to get him on the rigth weight. But since it did took me a good couple weeks of pumping and taking medication for the milk suplly to go up my baby was pretty much into bottle feeding. Since then I have been attending to breastfeeding clinic and been advice for several nurses they even have come to my house: we have try pretty much everything nipple shield, lactation aid, try to feeding him when he half as sleep, etc but he not coperating a lot at one point a did mede him to lach on the breast for no more the 10 min active sucking whit the nipple shield on each breast but for some reason a coplue days latter that i achived that he refueses to go in the breast is like I am punishing him. I don’t even have him down inthe breastfeeding pillow and he is already crying. Meanwhile I have been pumping and feeding him express milk in the blottle. But I still believe He may breastfeed . PLeas I hope you guys can advice to try something that may work. Thank you so much.

  2. Holly says:

    Hi, Firstly- you are doing the right thing, feding your baby.Don’t get stressed as that will not help! It sounds like you really want to make breasfeeding happen, so keep at it. Check out the facebook group called The Leaky B@@B- it is a breastfeeding community of over 20,000 people. I would paste your questions there and get some more tips and tricks. I am breastfeeding 9 month old twins and it took us a few months to get the latch established and get breastfeeding going- I supplemented with my own breast milk, formula and fed them with a medicine cup and syringe. It wasn’t until they were a little over 3 months old that I finally felt like “Yahoo! We are breastfeeding!” I found the side lying position the best to get the latch established and comfortable for all of us to learn to breastfeed. To keep your supply up, keep doing the skin to skin, pump as much as you can and keep putting him to the breast. The more he is there, the more your body gets ready to feed him. You can do it!! Hope it works out!!!

  3. Diana says:

    New moms should also be made aware that there is a third option to help get them through the rough times, milk banks or milk sharing with moms who are more than happy to share their “liquid gold” with a little one in need.

    You can find Human Milk 4 Human Babies International and local communities on Facebook (click on “Community Pages” from the main FB site):

    Or you can find a local group by searching the HM4HB website:

    Here is a link to an FAQ for moms to help make the best informed choice for their child based on their own individual needs:

  4. natasha says:

    Thank you so much for this a mom like me needed to read it

    when I was 15 years old I had already developed a massive chest by 17 they were just huge. I am all of 5 foot 3 inches and wore a 36 DDD. My bras had to be custom made, back in the 80’s it was not easy to find this large size. My back hurt all the time, the straps dug in my shoulders. But more then all the pain was the shame. I was picked on, bullied, made fun of, got attention from boys for all the wrong reasons. I was depressed and suicidal. I looked like no one else in my entire school. When I was 17 my Doctor gave me the option for a breast reduction, it just made total sense. I did not hesitate a few months later I had it done. It changed my life. I had confidence, self esteem, I felt pretty. I was finally proportional and with that getting the right kind of attention. It was the best thing to ever happen to me.

    Fast forward 15 years I became a mom. And now the one thing that was the best decision of my life now is my biggest challenge. Because now I could not breast feed. Back a long time ago the breast reduction surgery was one that would cut your milk ducts and create an anchor scar. None of this was an issue to me when I was 17. The word is out breast is best. I felt like the worse mom in the word, the guilt was unbearable. I had a lactation coach I tried so hard to breastfeed. They told me to at least try and try I did all the way until the lactation coach gave us a bottle of formula and said here feed your baby she’s starving. No words any mother wants to hear. My daughter was loosing too much weight too fast and all the lactation coach kept saying was keep trying. My breasts were so soar, cracked and bloody it was like a nightmare. But formula was just not the option that is what the bad mom’s do. Then almost a week in my own lactation coach gave me a little bottle of formula and said feed your baby she’s starving. You should have seen how fast a week old baby consumed that formula, it was unbelievable and for the first time she looked rested, content, healthy, happy. That was it screw the bad press on formula it looked great on my baby.

    Don’t get me wrong my child is now 3 the and the guilt is still in my heart. As the word is still out on how terrible formula is. An issue I feel needs to change !

    The truth is, if not for my breast reduction there might of been no me. The bullying had me want to kill myself and it might have worked if not for that surgery. So I’m alive today and brought a new soul into the world all thanks to that one thing that took away my shot to breastfeed. Their is hardly any support for woman like me or woman who formula feed for whatever reason ( we all have a reason that matters to us).

    All in all my child is healthy, strong, smart, rarely get’s sick. Her weight is proportionate to her height. At her school you can’t tell her apart from the breast fed babies.The guilt lives with me still as so many groups out there shun women like me a formula feeding mom. Everyone has a story moms should support mom’s. What matters most is your child has love, is cared for with hugs, education and laughter. A good mom is not just the breastfeeding one a good mom is the unconditional loving one. I formula fed my baby because I love her so much I wanted her fed and happy and I did what I had to do as a loving good mother.