Why Breast Isn't Always Best


Today wraps up National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. I hope your social media feeds weren't over-flooded with articles and photos about the joy and benefits of breastfeeding. Lactivists telling you why breastmilk is the only way to ensure a healthy, happy baby. Studies claiming that breastmilk will make your baby more intelligent and have less ear infections and allergies. Then there’s my all-time favorite claim: Breastfeeding can reduce a mom’s stress level and risk for postpartum depression. Um, yeah, not so much…have they met me? And let us not forget about the infamous mom-shamers criticizing anyone who chooses the alternative or not to breastfeed for as long as they have ruled acceptable. I mean, can’t we all just get along. I’m here to tell you, breast is not always best. Also, formula is not always best. You know what’s best? What works for you, makes you happy and keeps your baby’s belly full. Moms have all different reasons for how they choose to feed their babies and they are none of your business.

When I had my son, I thought I would be a breastfeeding master. He would latch easily and we would be unbreakably bonded. I would breastfeed at least until the baby weight melted off. (Why shouldn’t I reap the benefits too?) Full disclosure, I had always planned to supplement with formula because I wanted to be able to sleep and let my husband help with feedings, but I never thought I would suck at breastfeeding. And It never occurred to me that I might hate it too.

My son latched like a champ and ate for 45 minutes right after I delivered him. After that, he just couldn’t find the nipple. And when he did, he couldn’t hold on. Latching was just not his thing. Breastfeeding stressed me out very quickly and I didn’t feel anything resembling a bond to this tiny little boy who constantly screamed because he was starving and couldn’t properly get on my boob. I tried to pump, but that just stressed me out even more and it hurt and I was exhausted after an almost 24 hour labor followed by C-section.

I left the hospital determined to win at breastfeeding. What did it say about me as a mother if I couldn’t? Instead, I became a breastfeeding quitter. I only lasted five days. Breastfeeding didn’t reduce this mom’s risk for postpartum depression, which began to make its presence known somewhere in those five days as I lost my sanity and needed someone else to be able to feed my son because I decided I would never be leaving my bed for the rest of my life. I could barely keep my shit together let alone follow a strict pumping and feeding schedule. And in the midst of feeling all those horrible feelings, I still didn’t want to let go of my breastfeeding dream. To this day, I don’t even know why it was so important for me to be a breastfeeding champion.

What became more important than how I fed my son was figuring out how to get healthy and happy for my son. I needed medicine more than he needed breastmilk. I needed sleep. I needed weekly therapy appointments. I needed a village to help take care of my son. I needed to not have to stop every three hours and hook myself up to a milking machine. Spoiler Alert: In my son's four years of life, he knows all his letters, colors, numbers, shapes, Shabbat prayers, has had no allergies and only one ear infection.

Using the phrase “breast is best” robs moms of choice. Moms should be allowed to choose how they feed their little ones without feeling any sort of stigma or judgment when they don’t exclusively breastfeed. They should be able to receive the support they need whether they choose formula or breastmilk. I can’t tell you how many moms I know who were made to feel as if they had to breastfeed by lactation consultants and nurses at the hospitals where they delivered. Professionals who rolled their eyes or dragged their feet when a mom asked for formula. That’s just wrong, insensitive, and does nothing to give a new mom confidence.

Motherhood is not one size fits all. Whoever came up with “breast is best” doesn’t know what’s best for every single mom. Only you know what's best for you. Some moms don’t have the option of breastfeeding. How do you think those moms feel when they hear, “breast is best” and it’s not something they are capable of doing? They are immediately set up to feel guilty from the beginning. And what about the moms who feel the overwhelming pressure of “breast is best” and make themselves crazy trying to breastfeed, only to discover they aren’t producing enough and by then, it’s too late. Yes, these are extreme cases, but even one case is too many, especially when it could have been prevented with some formula.

Breastfeeding is hard. It doesn’t come naturally for all moms. Not all babies latch easily. Nipples get sore and cracked, sometimes even infected. Milk leaks through that new blouse you’re wearing on date night. Date night ends with pumping in the bathroom. Your designer bag has been replaced with a large black canvas one carrying your breast pump, milk bags, and ice packs. A mom who wants to stick with it needs support and to know that it’s normal to struggle. They don’t need your “breast is best” judgments if they decide to stop or supplement.

Social media hasn’t done new moms any favors when it comes to breastfeeding. The reality of breastfeeding is not Gisele holding her naked baby on her boob with one hand while she adorns a white robe, gets her hair blown out, make up done, and free hand manicured. At least Olivia Wilde let us know her baby peed all over her gorgeous sequin gown while staging her breastfeeding photo and Yael Braun keeps it real by showing us her breast pump that accompanies her to The Grammys.

At least Olivia Wilde let us know her baby peed all over her gorgeous sequin gown while staging her breastfeeding photo.

And Yael Braun keeps it real by showing us her breast pump that accompanies her to The Grammys.


When a mom sees those Gisele-like images and that’s not her reality, she might wonder, “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I breastfeed like that? Why don't I have that look of bliss on my face? Why isn’t this easier for me?” The breast is best culture accompanied with these photos contributes to the idea of the perfect mother. And when a mom fails to reach this level of perfect, which doesn’t exist, she will ultimately feel like a failure. 

To all the new moms out there: Do what’s best for you. If you love breastfeeding, more power to you. If you prefer formula, that’s awesome too. Every mom is different and that should be cause for celebration, not shame. Most days it’s about survival, sanity, and sleep (if you’re one of the lucky ones). There is no wrong way to feed your baby. Fed is best. Choice is best. What works for you is best.

And the next time you are about to criticize a mom’s decision, remember what your own mom taught you when you were young. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Or tell her she’s doing an incredible job and let her know you’re there for her if she needs help. Now repeat after me just so I know you got it: “Fed is best.”

My Second Favorite F-Word


I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of the F-word. It’s extremely versatile and can be used in so many different situations. As a writer, I love that it can be a noun, verb, adjective, and more. As a mom, it comes in very handy when I’m frustrated, tired, and overwhelmed or I feel the need to be dramatic about all the above. You step on a Lego and scream, “FUCK!” Your kid wakes up four times in the middle of the night and you quietly pray each time, “Stay the fuck asleep.” You get projectile vomited on and blurt out, “Fuck me!” And when you can’t take it anymore you dramatically declare that if anyone needs you, you can be found hiding in your closet with that pint of Haagen Dazs chocolate-chocolate-chip ice cream because you are frustrated, tired, and overwhelmed “As Fuck” (AF). I’ve even recently heard it used to describe the phase my son just entered: “The Fucking Fours.”

When I gave birth to my son almost four years ago (before I made regular use of the F-word in everyday motherhood), I discovered my second favorite F word. Formula. Yes, you heard me correctly. Formula. Let me say now that this is not an anti-breastfeeding, pro-formula-feeding post, nor am I exclusively in support of one food source over the other. I am exclusively for feeding your baby, however that works best for you. Now back to our regularly scheduled program…

During my pregnancy, I had always believed I would breastfeed my son and supplement with formula if necessary. But really, I would just breastfeed him and be a breastfeeding superstar— because breastfeeding would simply be that easy for me… like it was for all the moms I knew (they must have forgot to mention the struggles they experienced while going on about how much they loved it). And it was easy that first time my son latched right after being evicted from my stomach. Then it wasn’t.

After that first feeding, he repeatedly struggled to latch and would cry out in frustration. I just wanted to give him a bottle because I was exhausted. My mind and body shattered from 24 hours of labor, pushing for two of them, and having a C-section after all that. I wanted him to be fed and I wanted to be sleeping. Also at that time, the beginnings of postpartum depression were beginning to slowly creep into my brain. I just didn’t know it yet.

I refused to admit defeat. I did everything you are supposed to do. I saw lactation consultants in the hospital. They tried to fix our latching issues and helped me pump. I made an appointment to see the one at his pediatrician the week after we got home from the hospital. My son continued to struggle with latching so I continued pumping. I started to hate pumping because it took too much effort and I just wanted to go to sleep and never get out of bed. That was the postpartum depression making its entrance.

Even as the postpartum depression symptoms made themselves more visible in those first few days home from the hospital, I still thought I had to breastfeed. Even when I didn’t want to. I remained determined to be that breastfeeding superstar. Yes, I had been supplementing with formula, but what would it say about me as a mother if I couldn’t make breastfeeding in any capacity work? I was already failing at wanting to be a mom and feeling close to my son. At least I could succeed at feeding him the way I believed he needed to be fed.

A few days later at my son’s bris, a group of New York Jewish Grandmothers (mostly friends of my mother-in-law) saw the despair in my eyes when I asked them how their kids chose to feed their babies. And just like Jewish Grandmothers do, they told ordered me to “F**k breastfeeding!” Their kids were formula-fed, and now, most of their grandchildren were too. I needed to do what was best for me and that would be the best way to take care of my new baby. It was then I discovered my second favorite F-word, which also sounded pretty awesome used in conjunction with my other favorite F-word.

The next morning at my appointment with the lactation consultant, I immediately informed her, “I’m not doing this anymore. Tell me how to make the milk go away.” And so, after a week of being a mom, I quit breastfeeding and began exclusively formula feeding my son. My son and I were not destined to share the experience of breastfeeding together and I came to accept that. Today if you ask me if I breastfed my son when he was a baby, I would tell you without any guilt, “I sucked at breastfeeding. I quit after a week.” The reality is I had to take care of my health so I could get to a place where I could love and take care of my baby. My second favorite F-word, formula, allowed me to do that.

Would I have stuck with breastfeeding if I hadn’t been hit with severe postpartum depression one week into motherhood? I don’t know. What I do know is that choosing formula was the best decision for me and allowed me to hold on to some peace of mind while the rest of it surrendered to what would be a year-long battle with postpartum depression.

My new favorite F-word provided me with a way to feed my son so I could take care of myself. Formula also allowed others to feed my son while I focused on my health and fought my illness until I won. Some might call that selfish, but I would argue that a happy, healthy mommy is the best gift we can give to our babies. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the F-club like me or you rock the breastfeeding thing like I could never do. Some moms don’t ever get the luxury of choosing.

Whatever the reason is behind a mom’s decision for how she feeds her baby, we need to remember, fed is fed and we are all on this rollercoaster ride together. And if someone ever tries to shame you for choosing formula, I give you permission to use my other favorite F-word for some extra emphasis when you tell them you don’t remember asking for- nor do you give a f**k about- their opinion.

This post originally appeared at Motherlucker.

Postpartum Depression and Breastfeeding


I have very strong feelings about breastfeeding. It's not because I'm anti-breastfeeding or anti-formula. In fact, I'm the opposite...I'm pro- women should choose what works best for them and their mental health and sanity during what might be the biggest transition of their lives...motherhood. And no woman should ever be made to feel like she is a failure or a terrible mother because she chooses formula over breastfeeding or even supplements breast milk with formula. Now I know there are the people who believe that becoming a parent is all about sacrifice. We sacrifice for the well-being of our children and therefore moms should breastfeed no matter what. Well I'm here to call bullshit...because at the end of the day, giving your baby a happy, healthy mommy is just as if not more important than giving your baby breastmilk at the expense of your well-being. What about women who don't produce enough milk? What about exclusively breastfed babies who don't gain enough weight? No mom should ever be made to feel bad about how she nourishes her children.

Social media is filled with celebrities promoting breastfeeding. Celebrities not so subtly telling you that breast is best...the only proper way to feed your baby. And it's not just celebrities...regular women like you and me love to judge and shame moms who choose not to breastfeed. Doctors and lactation consultants lay the guilt on thick for new moms who struggle with the decision between breast milk and formula. None of this is fair to new mothers. Plenty of studies show breastfeeding to be the better option and the same number of studies claim that these studies have no merit...which brings me back to my main point...choose what works for you...because your baby will be fine... and fuck the haters and everyone else.

Here is my breastfeeding story: It's not a fairly tale.

When I got pregnant, I decided that I would to try breastfeeding my son when he was born. I had this vision in my head that he would come into this world, perfectly latch onto my boob, we would bond immediately, I would love every minute of breastfeeding, and the baby weight would melt off. Yeah...not so much!

I sort of blame my perfect breastfeeding fantasy on a close friend who was the champion breastfeeder with all of her children. It was never a question for her. She loved it and breastfed her first son for 17 months and her second for a year. This was going to be me too! The funny thing is, if you asked any one of my close friends, they would have told you I was delusional...knowing my me for years and my personality, this fantasy would not become my reality. I was determined to prove them all wrong.

My son was born via C-section late on a Tuesday night. When the nurse asked what I wanted to feed him, I of course said breastmilk. In the recovery room, he latched right away and fed for almost 30 minutes. I knew it! This was going to be easy...my breastfeeding fantasy had come true.

Well my breastfeeding fantasy lasted for those 30 minutes and then poof! It was gone. My son never latched like that again. I tried every position. I tried pumping. I called the lactation consultant every day I was in the hospital. Nothing helped, but I was still determined. I let the nurses supplement with formula when my son was in the nursery. I was okay with this because I was still trying to breastfeed. I was still going to have my breastfeeding fairy tale, even with a little formula mixed in.

Two days after arriving home from the hospital, I would realize I suffered from the beginnings of postpartum depression. I continued to try breastfeeding my son but he always struggled to latch and would just scream and cry. So I switched to pumping because I didn't want to be a failure but the truth was, I hated it. I was miserable and exhausted and anxious all the time. I could barely manage my postpartum depression induced emotions. Breastfeeding was making me feel worse. It didn't make me feel closer to my baby. It didn't bond us at all. In fact, I didn't feel much of anything. I needed others to be able to feed my son because I could barely get out of bed to take care of him or myself.

On my son's fifth day of life, I decided enough was enough. I already suffered from paralyzing depression and anxiety. I didn't need the extra frustration breastfeeding was causing me. I had to give up my perfect breastfeeding fantasy. I had to take care of myself and that meant sleeping, giving in to the anxiety, and letting others give my son a bottle of formula.

On that fifth day, My mom took me to meet with a lactation consultant at my son's pediatrician's office. When she came into the office, I didn't ask for help. I had decided on the car ride over that I was done and my son would be raised on formula. I told her the same thing. "I'm done. tell me how to get rid of my milk." I was scared she would judge and try to convince me to keep breastfeeding. She didn't. She said it was great that I decided to stop on my own terms and told me how to wean away the milk supply. I ended up stopping cold turkey. There was pain and my boobs were hard as rocks for two days, but then the milk stopped coming. I felt relief.

It took some convincing on the part of friends, family, and my therapist that I did the right thing choosing to exclusively formula feed. This would never have even been an issue if I didn't feel so much pressure from outside sources to be super breastfeeding mom. I would have just stopped...no guilt, no shame, no feeling like I failed as a mom and failed my child.

If I decided to have more children, I wouldn't even try to breastfeed them and I don't care what others or the media think of that. I would do what's best for my baby and me and that would be putting my mental health first so I can be there to properly love and care for my child.

I know I already said it, but I'm going to say it again. There is no wrong way to feed your baby. Whether you choose breast milk or formula, you are still a wonderful, capable mother. Don't have too many expectations because there is no way to predict what motherhood will be like for you. Babies don't care about your plans and fantasies. And if people try to tell you differently, screw them! Women need to support women no matter what. Motherhood is hard enough!

Q&A with Suzanne Barston, The Fearless Formula Feeder (Part Two)


Welcome back to my Q&A with Suzanne Barston, The Fearless Formula Feeder. Let’s dive right in because she has some very wise words to share about how moms choose to feed their babies.    The Pressure to Breastfeed Because they are told that it's the most important thing they can do for their babies; that it's the healthy thing; the RIGHT thing. They see celebrities and role models and their peers celebrating their breastfeeding success, which they have every right to be doing - but we hear more about breastfeeding than any other aspect of new motherhood, so it becomes this measuring stick, this way to compare yourself to others and gauge how you're doing at this scary new job. Plus, there are some overzealous physicians and lactation professionals out there who really do make it seem like life or death.

The Problem with “Breast is Best” It's problematic, because it's NOT. Breast is the biological way to feed a baby. It is normal, and healthy, and every woman's right. And yes, breastmilk is a biologically phenomenal substance. But that does not make it best - it makes it great. Best is a subjective term - because what does that even mean? Best nutritionally? Sure, unless your baby is reacting to something in your milk, or you don't have enough to feed him. Best emotionally? No, not unless it's what makes you happy and helps you bond, because for some women, the opposite is true.

What About “Fed is Best?” I know the term "fed is best" is popular now, and I think I used this myself many years back, but I'm not sure using that phrase helps, either. The point is, we shouldn't be using absolutes or superlatives to describe the very basic act of feeding a baby. Breastfeeding is not a super power. Formula feeding isn't either. We all need to feed our babies - can't we just shut up about what is best and focus on the important work of making sure every baby - and every mother - has the nutrition, love, and resources she needs?

Changing the Conversation We can start by ending the fear tactics. Your baby is not going to be stupid, sick or obese if you formula feed. Likewise, your baby is not going to be brain damaged or starving if you breastfeed. There are always going to be horror stories, and downsides to every feeding method. Babies die while nursing. Babies die from contaminated formula. Those are freak incidents, not the norm.

Let’s Start Over I think we need to start from the beginning. Give parents neutral information from a neutral source - not breastfeeding advocates, and not formula companies - long before the emotional landmine of the delivery room. Let them know they will be supported and given evidence-based information for any safe feeding method. Stop making it all or nothing, so that moms can combo feed if they want and not feel like they are torn between two dueling sides. Let parents change their minds, and adapt, and not feel as if the way they feed has anything to do with how they will love and nurture this child.

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me That the first few years are hard because of how YOU are growing up, and the rest is hard because of how THEY are growing up. What I mean is that while I find parenting harder the older my kids get, the roughest part for me was transitioning from "me" to "mother". That identity shift can be so hard- and since babies don't do much except eat, sleep, and poop, it's easy to fixate on these things as the litmus test of your ability to parent. I promise you, it isn't.

The Future of The Fearless Formula Feeder That's a tough question for me because in many ways, I've been slowly weaning (ha) myself from this world. I still feel a responsibility to be on the periphery of the conversation, because I have the advantage of a long-term perspective that most of the people arguing about these issues don't have. On the other hand, I don't have the energy or passion for the cause that I used to, because my kids are older, and I've moved on to another stage in life and in my career. But I'd like to think I'll always be here as a resource for new champions of choice - there are great groups like Fed is Best and the I Support You Movement (which I started with Kim Simon five years ago, and has been resurrected by an incredible group of women in the UK), that are doing stellar work in this area. I will always be there to support them as needed. And who knows - maybe I'll write a sequel to Bottled Up. It can be called Bottled Down: Why the Way We Feed Babies Means Nothing Once They are Ornery Teenagers. Or something like that. :)

More From The Fearless Formula Feeder My book, Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn't (University of California Press, 2012) is available on Amazon. You can also visit the archived website, which has a ton of resources for formula feeding and stories from fellow FFFs at FearlessFormulaFeeder.com, or follow me at Facebook.com/TheFearlessFormulaFeeder.

 In case you missed it, you can find Part One here.


BIO: Suzanne Barston is the author of Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t and the creator of the “Fearless Formula Feeder” website and community. Barston was raised just outside of Boston and earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Northwestern University. A former freelance writer, she now lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with her husband and children, and works as a corporate content producer. Her writing and work with FFF has been featured in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, SheKnows, Babble, Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine, Parenting, Babytalk, OhBaby!, Fit Pregnancy, The Observer, Yahoo Shine!, Australia’s Good Weekend magazine, and on a variety of radio programs including KPCC’s “Take Two”, numerous NPR affiliates, “Parenting Unplugged”, “Positive Parenting”, “Mom Enough”, “For Crying Out Loud”, “Voice of Russia”, and more.

Q&A with Suzanne Barston, The Fearless Formula Feeder (Part One)


August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, which means our social media feeds will likely be filled with articles and photos about the joys and benefits of breastfeeding. So, I wanted to talk to someone who could share more about the joys and benefits of simply feeding your baby, because there are alternatives and breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. And shouldn’t that be okay? Meet Suzanne Barston, also known as The Fearless Formula Feeder and author of the book, Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn't. After experiencing many breastfeeding complications with her son, having postpartum depression and switching to formula (the best decision for her family) only to realize that there was a severe lack of information and way too much judgment when it came to formula feeding, she decided to create a support network for moms who also went the formula route.

Suzanne’s judgement-free advice and determination to change the conversation about how moms choose to feed their babies and the support they should receive are a breath of fresh air. Her work is a testament to the fact that whether a mom chooses breastmilk, formula, or both has everything to do with the right choice for her and nothing to do with how much she loves her baby.

Becoming The Fearless Formula Feeder When I had my first child, I was fully expecting to breastfeed - although truth be told, I had a very romantic notion of what that meant, and what motherhood meant in the first place. We had a slew of problems right off the bat - he couldn't latch, I had nerve damage in one breast that made nursing excruciatingly painful, he had a milk allergy, etc., etc. I pumped for a while, but was suffering from postpartum depression and all the drama with feeding exacerbated it. So, I switched to formula, and while I knew it was the best thing for my family, I still felt the judgment from doctors, friends, fellow moms, and society. Worst of all, whenever I searched for information on formula or bottle feeding, the only things that popped up were admonishments - warnings about the dangers of not breastfeeding instead of practical information on safe formula feeding. I wanted to change that, and to provide a resource for parents like me who wanted support and evidence-based information on infant feeding. I also wanted to explain the reality of news headlines about research - I knew how to read and interpret scientific studies, so I felt like I could help mitigate some of the fear-mongering.

Reception of The Fearless Formula Feeder It was surprisingly positive at first. I got a lot of traffic right away, which just made me sad - because I was some random, new blogger on the internet and all these women were writing to me in desperate need of support and advice. I didn't really feel equipped to give it, so I made it my goal to become worthy of that responsibility. I decided to write a book that would examine both the sociological and scientific implications of the breast vs. bottle debate, and I basically read everything I could on lactation and the science behind infant formula development. I realized that there weren't really any formula experts out there, so I thought, “I better become one quickly - because there were a lot of parents needing solid, non-judgmental info.”  

The Haters Of course, as soon as people started becoming aware of my blog, the name Fearless Formula Feeder drew a lot of critical eyes. People were NOT happy that someone was encouraging people to be fearless about formula, especially when they were trying to scare moms out of even the smallest amount of supplementation. Reading hate mail became a daily event - but for every angry, mean email came five more from parents needing support, so I just focused on those instead.

Why So Much Controversy You know, I used to think I knew the answer. Heck, I wrote a whole book about it. But as I've been doing this for 8 years now, I've seen the controversy ebb and flow - and I'm not sure things are as simple as I once believed them to be. I do think it mostly comes down to history - formula companies made some terrible errors in the past, and continue to do some pretty tone-deaf things in resource-poor countries - and deep-rooted ideas about motherhood. I also think the rise of the natural parenting movement has made food a moral issue for some groups, something that starts with breastmilk and continues into later childhood with orthorexia behaviors. But in the end, I think it comes down to this erroneous belief that there can only be one "right" way to feed a baby. There are so many things that factor into what makes a choice "right".

The Importance of Choice Choice is imperative, because every family has its own specific needs. We can't take what happens in a tribal society and impose it on a mother living in suburban Illinois, and vice versa. Heck, we can't take what happens to the mom in one room of a hospital and impose that on the mom in the next room over. There has NEVER been a time in history when every baby was fed solely on breastmilk for 6 months. There have always been mothers with issues breastfeeding and babies who were too weak to suck. There have always been pre-lacteal feeds and supplementary foods used prior to this magical, made-up 6-month mark.

When You Take Choice Away When you take away choice, you force a woman into using her body in a way that may not feel right to her. You force a baby into eating in a way that could hurt her chances of thriving. You create a perfect storm for postpartum depression and a prison sentence for moms who don't respond to a pump, but need to work to feed the rest of their families. Choice is something we are lucky to have - the fact that babies can be fed and healthy no matter what the lactation status is of the primary caregiver is something we should celebrate, not restrict.

On The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative There are many good aspects of BFHI, but I have trouble with positioning a breastfeeding initiative as "baby friendly", First of all, it should be "family friendly" - babies thrive with happy, functional caregivers. Also, it is not friendly to starve a baby, and making a mother jump through hoops in order to give formula isn't helping to get that baby fed. If we could take the part of BFHI that ensures formula isn't forced on moms, and that they are given good lactation support, but do away with the rest of it, I think it could be something really fantastic. But as it stands, the program is judged on the number of babies who leave exclusively breastfeeding - and that should not be the goal, in my opinion. The goal should be parents and babies leaving the hospital with the resources they need to safely feed their babies, and mothers leaving with support in place for all the challenges of new motherhood and the postpartum period.

Amen to that! Come back tomorrow for part two of my Q&A with the amazing Fearless Formula Feeder. Suzanne will be talking about the pressures new moms feel when it comes to breastfeeding, the problems with the catchphrase “Breast is best” and more.

BIO: Suzanne Barston is the author of Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t and the creator of the “Fearless Formula Feeder” website and community. Barston was raised just outside of Boston and earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Northwestern University. A former freelance writer, she now lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with her husband and children, and works as a corporate content producer. Her writing and work with FFF has been featured in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, SheKnows, Babble, Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine, Parenting, Babytalk, OhBaby!, Fit Pregnancy, The Observer, Yahoo Shine!, Australia’s Good Weekend magazine, and on a variety of radio programs including KPCC’s “Take Two”, numerous NPR affiliates, “Parenting Unplugged”, “Positive Parenting”, “Mom Enough”, “For Crying Out Loud”, “Voice of Russia”, and more.

How Mommy-Friendly Is The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative?


A mom delivers her second child at a local hospital and decides to try formula after her baby girl struggles to latch. She informs the lactation consultant about her decision to feed her baby half a bottle of formula and asks for a remedy for her sore nipples. When the lactation consultant suggests coconut oil, the mom expresses concern over her baby ingesting it while she breastfeeds. The lactation consultants responds, “You already destroyed her gut by feeding her formula. What’s it matter if she has some coconut oil?” The same mom, who has now been up for over 24 hours, later begs the nurses to take her newborn to the nursery so she can get a few hours of rest. They tell her no, hardly check in on her, and as a result, she falls asleep while breastfeeding her baby. Thankfully, no harm comes to the child. I’m not saying the two are linked, but this mom is diagnosed with postpartum depression shortly after going home from the hospital.

Another mom delivers her first son at the same hospital. During her pregnancy, she makes the decision to both pump and formula feed because she will return to work (her own business) soon after delivery. While getting ready to feed her new baby, the nurse drops off a breast pump and tells her she probably won’t be successful with it, gives her a log and some diapers, and tells her to write down when she changes and feeds him. The mom repeatedly asks for formula and is met with an eye roll from the nurse who tells her she will bring it when she can get to it.

Mom is in tears when her sister arrives at the hospital two hours later. She is so overwhelmed from the lack of care and the harsh treatment she experiences after requesting formula that she requests early release because she would rather fend for herself at home than stay at the hospital any longer. She tells me: “As soon as I told them I wasn’t breastfeeding they pretty much wrote me off. The nurse told me that since I was supplementing, I should feed him every 4-5 hours. The first night home, he screamed the entire night because he was starving. When our baby nurse came, she told me he was supposed to eat every 2-3 hours. I felt like I was set up to fail before I even left the hospital.”

Not all nurses at this hospital greet their patients with eye rolls and judgement. Another mom delivers her third son at this same hospital via C-section. After delivery, her baby refuses to latch so mom, with the help of her nurse, decides to pump and supplement with formula. Her nurse is compassionate, supportive, and helps the baby latch better than anyone else. She tries to be helpful and find what works for this mom of three no matter what method of feeding that might be. At night, mom asks the nurse to take her son to the nursery so she can rest, the nurse agrees and even feeds him some formula.

But the following morning, after a shift change, a new nurse comes in looking annoyed to see mom pumping. The nurse tells her that no lactation consultant would have suggested giving as much formula as she did because it would make the baby extremely fussy. Mom speaks up and tells the nurse her son is the happiest he’s been since his arrival because he isn’t starving anymore. That she is doing what she needs to do because she has no interest in fighting with a screaming baby to latch when she has two other boys at home to take care of as well. The same nurse proceeds to take away his pacifier because if the baby wants to suck on something, it should be on mom’s breast. Mom assertively asks the nurse to leave.

What do these three moms all have in common? They delivered their most recent children at a hospital that has adopted the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) was launched by UNICEF and the World Health Organization in 1991 to promote breastfeeding as the normal way for infants to be nourished and encourage mother-baby bonding. While the initiative has been around for almost 20 years, it has gained momentum in the last several years with more hospitals adopting its 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding that include: on demand breastfeeding, no pacifiers or artificial nipples, and rooming in where mothers are no longer allowed to send their newborns to the nursery so they can get some much needed rest and recovery.

I delivered my son at this same hospital almost four years ago, before they fully adopted the initiative. I breastfed my son right after he was born following an extremely long labor that ultimately resulted in a C-section. He latched so easily and ate for almost 45 minutes. I thought in that moment, “Wow, this breastfeeding thing is going to be so easy.” It wasn’t. I tried pumping in the hospital but supplemented with formula often. I used a pacifier when he got fussy. I sent my baby to the nursery for a few hours during each day and every night where the nurses fed him formula so I could sleep. They did so willingly, without judgment and checked in on me often.

Clearly, I do not fit the “Baby-Friendly” criteria, so does this make me and all moms who choose to formula feed, use pacifiers, and send their babies to the nursery horrible mothers? Does this mean we are not “Baby-Friendly” mommies? 403 hospitals across the United States might argue yes. I also quit breastfeeding and went the exclusively formula route after five days when I was hit with a severe case of postpartum depression. What would the lactation consultants say about that? I chose to take care of my health as the best way to take care of my baby. And he never starved.

Why are we judging and shaming moms before they even step foot outside the hospital? Shouldn’t the care and support of the mother, her health, and that of her baby combined be the first priority rather than the immediate and obsessive promotion of breastfeeding? The best way to take care of a new baby is to take care of his or her mother too. It seems that the more “Baby-Friendly” hospitals become, the less “Mommy-Friendly” they tend to be.

The mom above who fell asleep while breastfeeding her infant daughter could have rolled over and suffocated her. The baby could have fallen out of the bed. This new mom was beyond exhausted and the simple solution of taking the baby to the nursery for a few hours could have prevented an almost-tragedy and the guilt she suffered from ever occurring. How many other moms have experienced the same or even fell while holding their babies because they were given no opportunity to rest and recover after the depleting, mind and body-shattering experience of labor?

New moms are tired, have been awake for hours upon hours, are taking strong pain medication, and many have undergone major surgery. Then they’re, “Hey, I hope you’re ready to stay up even longer because your baby will be in this room with you 24-7 and if you’re not kept awake from the crying, you will be from obsessing over every noise, breath, and movement your new little one makes.”

While you do all this, try to ignore the excruciating pain you might be feeling from those stitches holding your stomach together. And by the way, we are doing this so you have the best possible chance to bond with, breastfeed and learn the cues of your new little one because that is what our hospital believes makes you a good mother. Good mothers would never send their babies to the nursery. If you send them to the nursery, you will have trouble bonding. You won’t pick up on their cues that let you know when they’re hungry.

Say goodbye to your confidence if you can’t seem to make this work and hello to the guilt you will now feel from believing you are a shitty mother, a view that you will probably follow you home from the hospital and shape your early experiences as a mother.

The mom who asked for her third son to go to the nursery overnight and talked back to the nurse who judged her for pumping and pacifier use knew how to advocate for herself. This was her third go around. What about first time moms who don’t and take what they are told by their nurses and lactations consultants to be the right and only acceptable way to feed and care for their babies? Hospitals and their staff should be cultivating an environment of support and choice, rather than one that makes women feel ashamed or like failures when they struggle to meet the unfair expectation that “good mothers are the ones who exclusively breastfeed and want their babies by their sides at all times.” They need to empower new moms to make their health and recovery a priority.

Having a little bit of rest and knowing your baby is safe and well-cared for in the nursery can make a world of difference for a new mom. Moms who feel well-rested and cared for have more energy to make the effort to breastfeed even when it’s a struggle. They are more awake and alert and can fully engage in bonding with their babies when they aren’t fighting off the overwhelming exhaustion from not being able to recover after giving birth.

Is the “Baby-Friendly Initiative” successful in its endeavor to increase the number of moms who wish to exclusively breastfeed or is it only acting to increase the pressure on the ones who can’t or don’t want to? Why are lactation consultants and nurses, who should be there to educate and help new moms in a loving, supportive manor judging and shaming them instead? Do pacifiers actually get in the way of successful breastfeeding? Does rooming in really increase the likelihood of new moms to exclusively breastfeed? Or does the initiative simply shame moms for choosing alternative methods of feeding as well as decrease the level of safe care for infants by not having a nursery to send them to?

What is the opposite of baby-friendly? Does using the term “Baby-Friendly” imply that any mother who doesn’t follow the initiative’s guidelines is not? How do we think that will make a new mom feel? No mom deserves to be accused of not being “baby-friendly” because of how she chooses to feed and bond with her new baby.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to motherhood. I wasn’t breastfed. My husband wasn’t breastfed. Together we made a pretty incredible baby boy, who was breastfed for only five days before he lived exclusively on formula. Did I mention how intelligent, funny, and compassionate he is? He also has no food allergies, doesn’t get sick very often, and has had one ear infection in his four-year life.

My good friend, Jennifer Bronsnick, a social worker on a mission to redefine what it means to be a “good mom” by inspiring mothers to make make mindful living, self-care and pleasure a daily habit, sums it up perfectly. “The purpose of Baby-Friendly Hospitals is to encourage bonding and breastfeeding, which as long as it allows mothers to rest before going home is a fantastic thing. However, breastfeeding can be wonderful OR it can be torture and lead to moms feeling inadequate and exhausted. As a mom of three and a licensed professional, I can say with certainty that it should be the mother’s choice whether she wants to breastfeed, bottle feed, co-sleep, send the baby to the nursery, have visitors, use a swaddle, use a pacifier and any other non-medical decision regarding infant care. In the hospital, mothers need to be empowered with accurate information about postpartum mood and anxiety, the benefits of breastfeeding and given adequate support so she has all she needs to heal her mind, body, and spirit after giving birth. All you have to do to be a ‘good mom’ is to feed your baby.”