The debate between formula feeding and breastfeeding is not one that is likely to be settled any time soon. For new parents, the decision might be automatic, easy, or devastating. Formula may be introduced because of low breast milk supply, breast reduction surgery, medications, or preference. There are no right or wrong reasons why a family might opt to introduce formula to their baby; every family is doing what is best for them.
It is unavoidable that the people around a new family will have opinions if they see you feeding your baby formula. One mother tells a story about the first time she went to the mall with her newborn baby:
"First I breastfed, discreetly, and was unsurprised to see dirty looks. Then I pulled out the bottle to supplement and I got dirty looks for that too! I couldn't feed my baby without complete strangers glaring at me and passing judgment for how I was feeding my child. It made me hesitate to go out again, I was so uncomfortable with the idea that people I had never met were thinking bad things about my parenting."
It can be hard enough when the people judging you are strangers you have never met, and will likely never talk to. But what happens when the people who comment on your choice is someone close to you? What if it is your doula? Unfortunately, doulas and formula have a contentious history.
Doulas should guide not breed fear
Historically, doulas have been proponents of natural childbirth and exclusive breastfeeding. That has meant that traditional clients of doulas are people who hold those things in high esteem. But as the pendulum swings, more and more "mainstream" parents are looking to both birth and postpartum doulas for support as they go through the transition of birth and parenting. These families want a guide beside them through birth and the early days and weeks of parenting, but they do not want the judgment. When doulas demonize formula, they do more than harm the confidence and self-esteem of that particular family, the ripples caused by that comment or moment could be far flung.
A family who has felt disapproval from their doula about their use of infant formula is going to assume that all doulas will feel the same way. While they may logically know that isn't the case, it is understandable that they don't do the thorough investigation of other doulas while in those early, sleep-deprived days. Those parents, who might benefit from continued doula support, are unlikely to hire or bring back a postpartum doula. They will also likely tell their friends, their social media followers, and new parent groups they might join in their community. Bad stories travel faster than good stories. Too often, other families who could benefit from a doula's support will opt to not hire a doula, because they are afraid of being judged.
The necessary changing doula mindset
As long as doulas continue to demonize formula, or formula companies because in the eyes of new parents they are one and the same, the mainstream family will not hire and benefit from the support of a professional doula. It is always important to ask doulas about their stance on "breast is best," "fed is best," or even the latest "informed is best." The answer a doula gives will help new parents to see how that doula will support them through their parenting journey.
Doulas who express opinions on formula also put themselves on the opposite side of health care professionals. Even the most breastfeeding supporting pediatricians will acknowledge that supplementation is, at times, necessary for the health and safety of baby. When doulas demonize infant formula that has been recommended by a pediatrician, they are setting themselves up as medical professionals. Talk about stepping on toes! If doulas want to work with medical professionals as members of a care team for each client, they need to lose the "formula is poison" language and mentality.
Doulas should never be the person in a new family's life that is passing judgment. A doula is there to be a non-judgmental support person who helps a family to have the best birth and postpartum experience possible. And the best experience can, and does, include formula for many families.
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