Why is formula the saviour?

It’s World Breastfeeding Week and we are celebrating at Fusion Parenting.  Come back for a new post on breastfeeding every day!


I have had 2 friends in the past few days tell me that they’re so tired they almost gave their baby formula. Both of them have children under 16 weeks. I haven’t slept more than 4 hours in a row for over 17 months and it has never once entered my mind that formula would be something that might be my saviour.

Not that this is a sleep-deprivation competition! There seems to be many other reasons why people state that formula is their saviour whilst in the same breath saying “I wish I could breastfeed though, I would have if I could have”. However if you sit down and nut it out with them their love for formula seems to stem from either ill-advice or expectations of their baby that just weren’t realistic.

I do not judge parents who feed their baby formula – that should go without saying. We’re all trying to do the best job we can do and that also goes without saying. However when I get my back up is when I’m accused of making someone feel guilty because they fed formula. “Not everyone’s as lucky as you Tiff” or “I wish I had as much milk as you” are comments I have heard frequently. Why have I not needed formula? Why do I have so much milk? Could it be because sleeping through the night is not a priority for me but feeding my baby regularly whenever they tell me they need me is? Sure, what I wouldn’t give for a block of sleep longer than 3-4 hours but not at the expense of my milk supply and certainly not in the first 6 months. That’s not to say that breastfed babies don’t sleep through the night (considered a 5-6 hour stretch) and formula fed babies don’t wake during the night but by and large it seems that many people consider formula to be the sleeping through the night saviour. Formula top-ups for babies that could be exclusively breastfed without a problem seem to be becoming the norm. Recommended by child health nurses and GPs are routinely as the reminder for your 2, 4, and 6 months vaccinations. Why? I have no idea! My breasts work just fine, my babies love breastmilk and it wouldn’t occur to me to buy a tin of formula let alone hope for better sleep patterns after giving it!

The old “breast is best” debate seems to be frequently rehashed when it comes to the question of whether formula was necessary in a breastfeeding relationship. This is where the guilt-trips come into play too. I hear “I was exhausted and it was best for my baby because I wasn’t the best mother I could be. You are not going to make me feel guilty for doing what was best for my family”. Ummmm no. I have no intention of making you feel guilty. In fact a guilt-trip was never on my list of things to impart when we sat down and started chatting about our babies yet it is the first thing I am accused of giving when I dare to mention that I have been breastfeeding my 2 children for 39 months.  Why is that? Are Mum’s feeling guilty for their own choices and looking for someone to blame? Is the media responsible with it’s “breast is best” message? I read an opinion piece in Saturday’s West Australian Newspaper that ended with (paraphrasing) “it doesn’t matter if my baby suckles on a human nipple or a silicone one” – well of course it doesn’t but what is coming out of the nipple DOES matter. Breastmilk can come out of the silicone nipple in the form of expressed breastmilk or it can come straight from the breast and there is no debate that that IS best for both baby and mother.

If you chose not to breastfeed and you made an informed choice then own it. If you ended up not breastfeeding due to misinformation and poor advice then own that. The more we place formula on a pedestal as the saviour when it comes to infant (and toddler) feeding the more I believe our breastfeeding rates will decline. With only 1 – 2% of women actually medically unable to breastfeed there is either a lot of women given poor information so that they think they couldn’t breastfeed, had no milk, their milk dried up or was bad or their crying baby wasn’t crying because that’s what many baby’s do but because of a problem with their milk supply or that figure of 1-2% is incredibly inaccurate.

4 responses to this post.

  1. I stumbled on a study the other day that I think we should all memorise – it found that exclusive breastfeeding gave both parents an extra 40-45 minutes of sleep. Topping up with formula increased sleep disturbance and decreased parent’s sleep. This is only the abstract but I saw it in the LRC library, if anyone can get the full study I’d love to see it and I’d definitely write it up as a post!

    I’m tired of hearing “I’m trying to space him out because I don’t want to just give him the boob all the time,” and then “It’s hard work because he cries all the time” in the same conversation. Does it occur to you they might be related? It’s the two things I keep arguing over and over – breastfeeding is not just feeding, it’s about the whole mothering package, and people shouldn’t feel guilty over not breastfeeding, they should be angry that someone convinced them their body doesn’t work. Of course as you say they should own their decisions – the right information is out there, they have to decide how hard they are going to fight and what their priorities are. Some people don’t have the support to make it happen, and for a very few people it’s not going to happen no matter how hard they try, but the numbers we see can’t possibly be right.


  2. The only thing I would add is that moms who receive bad advice might not be able to own it because they don’t know that the advice they received was bad. People generally trust their health care practitioners and friends or relatives who give them the advice they follow. It takes caring enough to want to find out the truth (after sensing something might be amiss) before being able to own up to their mistakes and the mistakes of others. Otherwise great post!


  3. Great post!!

    I’ve been made to feel guilty about exclusively breastfeeding too. How do I say, “it’s not my fault you didn’t seek help with it when you needed!” without trying to lay blame on the other mom??


  4. Posted by Kaz on August 2, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    I totally agree. It dismays me that our society seems to have decided that perfectly normal baby behaviour (waking in the night to be fed) is somehow a problem that needs to be fixed. I’m amazed at the unrealistic expectations that people have about what babies ‘should’ do. I couldn’t imagine not feeding my 18 month old whenever he needs it.

    I, too have never thought of opening a tin of formula as some sort of magical ‘fix’ for what is essentially a normal part of baby growing up.

    It’s wonderful to read posts like this and know there are others out there on the same wavelength.


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