Oh, the poor pitiful beleaguered formula-feeding majority

You know, I didn’t want to write this.  I tried not to write this.  I tried to ignore Mel’s first post on breastfeeding, as inflammatory as it was.  And I tried to ignore her second post.  And today, after the third one, I gave up trying.

Because you know why?  The whole breastfeeding vs formula debate?  Yeah, it’s a lie.  There is no debate.  The whole fucking world “knows” that breastfeeding is better than formula feeding.  But MOST WOMEN IGNORE IT.

You know what women whining about how “guilty” people make them feel for feeding formula sound like?  It is the same whining that fertile people make about having to deal with birth control.  Or maybe more closely, how when feminists start talking, someone invariably pops up with “but what about the men?”  Because FORMULA FEEDERS ARE THE MAJORITY IN THE UNITED STATES.  So you know what?  I don’t care how “guilty” you feel.  I don’t really give a shit about how you don’t like breastfeeding campaigns or that people say mean things when you complain about breastfeeding mothers who are strident in their positions.

See this?

In 2003, about 70 percent of women in the United States were breastfeeding their babies when they left the hospital (4). About 36 percent of women were still breastfeeding their babies at 6 months of age (4). These are the highest numbers ever recorded in the United States.  

and this?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that in 2004, due to mounting evidence that breastfeeding offers significant lifetime benefits to children, 74% of American women who gave birth breastfed their infants for at least some period of time. This almost reaches the government’s target of 75%. Unfortunately, most women did not continue breastfeeding beyond the first month. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first six months, and then recommend that they continue breastfeeding at least through the first year as other foods are introduced. Among infants born in 2004, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding through the first three months after birth was 31%, shy of the government’s goal of 60%, and through six months was 11%, below the government target of 25%.
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 56 (2007): 760-63.


And my personal take on the matter?  If you looked at your circumstances, whatever they are, and decided after fully examining your situation that formula feeding was right for you — THEN YOU WOULDN’T FEEL GUILTY.  If you really believed that formula feeding was the right decision, you would defend it to the hilt.  If you wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t, and felt sad about it or mad about it (and I can see this a LOT in women who learned after the fact that they could have actually breastfed) then I completely understand.  But GUILT.  My ass.  If you feel guilty, then you made a decision that you can’t defend.  You were wrong and you fucking know it. 

And what pisses me off even more?  Women who choose to formula feed, have no problem with it, but still act all like “I didn’t have enough milk” or “He wasn’t gaining weight” or or or.  Whatever excuse they think will justify their actions.  Guilt, bad enough.  Play acting guilt when you don’t even feel it because you think other people expect you to feel guilty?  That’s fucking bullshit.


9 thoughts on “Oh, the poor pitiful beleaguered formula-feeding majority

  1. I have had to bite my lip a number of times too reading Mel’s posts and the comment threads after. A bit like the breast feeding stats the pro breast feeding comments are outnumbered by the formula feeding comments about 20 to 1. And you can tell from the b/f ones that the writers have agonised over each word to be as non-judgmental as possible and are tip toeing round the incontrovertible point that there are proven advantages to breastmilk that formula still cant match. Sometimes you really can say something is, all other things being equal, better than something else. I took until almost the last comment on the 2nd post to get my thoughts together to comment. And even then I lacked the courage to say that I thought a lot of the commenters were protesting a bit too much. Not even the most committed breastfeeding activist would rather a baby starve than use formula. I see it like a c-section – you wouldn’t choose surgery potentially under a GA over no surgery at all but if its necessary its necessary and thankfully we have that option. If someone doesnt want to breast feed I dont care one way or another but dont complain about a public health message they have ignored.

  2. I don’t feel guilty for formula feeding, and I definitely support everyone who is lucky enough to be able to breastfeed.

    Mel’s point is that rather than attack either side, supporting each other in our personal choices is what matters. I’d love it if more women felt comfortable breastfeeding, but also don’t feel the need to villify those who choose formula feeding for whatever reason.

  3. Hi Sharah,

    I too read the posts but haven’t gotten my words together to comment yet. I’ve had what I do understand is the privilege to exclusively breastfeed — everything has gone well (though not without a lot of what some might consider ‘inconvenience’, I suppose but I’ve never felt that way at all — I’ve felt it to be an incredibly rewarding experience –something I am so grateful to have had and proud to have done and still am doing though my doctor is pushing me to feed her three meals a day with an offhand ‘oh she should be eating three times a day’)

    The posts are tricky in my mind for a few reasons but one of them is that Mel is undoubtedly the queen of the IF/ALI world and so her words have weight and power and there is a different dynamic when that’s the case I think — I’m not sure everyone would feel free to have an open dialogue about it.

    I think when you wield power — including the inclusion or exclusion of readership — it changes the conversation.

    I also sensed a sharpness in that post that made me treat it as a third rail.

    My experience was very different; I could hardly scare up a lactation consultant at my top-rated metropolitan hospital — everyone gave us formula — and in fact had us feeding her colostrum and formula by dropper initially because I had a c-section and there was a delay in my milk coming in… my doctor openly scoffed at the possibility that I was still almost exclusively breastfeeding at nine months.

    The posts, though worded to give voice to an open dialogue, convey something different in their word choice and syntax.

    The feminist movement could never gather the power it could have had because of the fractures within it — I see this particular debate as drawing us further apart rather than together.

    That said, I felt alienated by the posts too.

  4. I do feel guilty for not breast feeding my daughter. She was early and couldn’t latch…no matter HOW HARD I TRIED OR HOW MANY LC’S I SAW. SHE DIDN’T WANT THE BOOB.

    So yes I feel extremely guilty for not doing it, but NOT for lack of trying.

  5. I had a breast reduction 11 years prior to having my daughter (for health reasons)…I breastfed her and she was a champ and I enjoyed it so much, but my supply was nowhere near enough for her. I continued pumping to giver her every little bit I could. I feel guilty that I couldn’t breastfeed her exclusively, but I don’t feel guilty for formula feeding her.

    I have an issue with people who just didn’t want to bother and then play the “I feel guilty” card with formula feeding.

  6. […] September 28, 2010 Part 2 of why I’m so irritated at Mel’s breastfeeding series Posted by sharah under Breastfeeding is best, response, stirrup queens Leave a Comment  “The posts are tricky in my mind for a few reasons but one of them is that Mel is undoubtedly the queen of the IF/ALI world and so her words have weight and power and there is a different dynamic when that’s the case…” –Pam, comments […]

  7. I have to respectfully disagree on the issue of guilt and regret. I don’t think it’s as clear cut as you state: “If you feel guilty, then you made a decision that you can’t defend.” It’s just not always that simple.

    Many women have very tough decisions to make about whether or not to continue trying, for how long, and at what cost (emotionally, physically, financially) or at what risk (to mother’s well being or baby’s).

    There may always be the question lingering — if/when a mother decides to supplement or switch to formula — if I had only done more of X, Y or Z, might I have produced a more sufficient supply to sustain my child? This is true regardless whether the answer is yes, no or maybe. There may well be a certain amount of guilt and regret regardless how sincere her intention or how valiant her effort.

    It’s quite easy for someone who has been successful breastfeeding to laud its benefits. And honestly, I agree, women do need support and education. But mothers need to be free to make their own decisions based on their own circumstances, without recrimination from others who presume to know what is best for them and their families.

    So when a mother who has tried to breastfeed and been unsuccessful — for whatever reason — I think it’s unfair to make that judgment. Calling her decision “wrong” and indefensible if she feels guilt about her inability or unwillingness to do more/try harder or longer, well, that’s just wrong.

  8. Respectfully, I also feel the need to disagree.

    I’m with Luna.
    I fought tooth and nail to BF exclusively. Nothing worked. 2 LC’s told me I had tried everything, to the limit. And still I regret that it didn’t work.
    But I don’t regret feeding my baby with the best I had available. I don’t feel guilty for it, though I had wished it otherwise.

    Also, I’m not convinced by your argument that because formula feeders are the majority, it’s ok to treat them like shit. ALL of them. (make that all of us, then).

    Is it ok to treat all obese people as shits, as soon as they become the majority?
    Or old people? Just because they’re the majority?

    I understand that you’re inflamed at the title of Mel’s point. But being equally inflammatory in your counter-arguments isn’t convincing.

    I wanted to BF so badly, not because of some guilt-trip, not because a lobby group had told my I’d be a bad mother otherwise, or told me formula was evil.
    I wanted to so badly because of the science that supports it so squarely, because there was no reason to presume it wouldn’t work – given some effort – I had even checked out LC’s in advance – because I wanted my body to work for once.

    I’m pro campaigning for BF. But there are good strategies and bad ones. That’s what the debate ought to be about.

  9. I went and read these posts after reading yours,and left a comment at Mel’s. I thought the posts indicated a real lack of understanding and kindness, and indeed, are just factually wrong on a couple of points, as othes have pointed out. Clearly most times when someone doesn’t breastfeed there is a real sense of loss – not necessarily guilt, but loss – and that can lead to all sorts of hand waving and rather pointy posts like Mel’s. Strikes me rather than saying ‘formula feeding is just as good, nyah nyah nyah,’ which does lead to misinformation (it’s not as good. If you can’t breastfeed of course it’s your best and right option. But it’s not as good.) we are all better off acknowledging the pain and the tension and the difficulty and helping people get the support they need and then helping them move on if it doesn’t work for them.

    And for some of the other commenters, note I could not produce enough to feed my daughter breastmilk, although I did for a few months for my son. I tried very very hard and I felt the guilt, and the loss. I think some breastfeeders don’t understand how awful it is not to be able to breastfeed. But that doesn’t mean I am going to tell anyone formula is just as good because I know that it’s not. I will tell them I feel their pain and I know just how miserable it is not to do what everyone else can do so (seemingly) easily. I will send them to MOBI so they can be with people who understant that sadness, and I’ll encourage them to acknowledge the loss, and to start to feel acceptance that it just didn’t work that way for them and their baby will be fine.

    Surprised no one has commented on how different these posts might read if you substituted the word ‘infertility’ for ‘breastfeeding’

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