Anyone who’s had children, or even anyone who knows anyone who’s had children, has probably heard the slogan “breast is best.” Breast milk is the healthiest way to feed a newborn baby — that’s not up for debate.
And while there’s clearly still a lot of progress that needs to be made in terms of normalizing breastfeeding in public spaces, there’s another campaign that could help a lot of parents: normalizing formula feeding.
Chrissy Teigen used her trademark honesty and candour in demanding more acceptance around formula feeding on Twitter over the weekend.
There are many reasons people don’t breastfeed: illness, radiation therapy, past breast-reduction surgery that removed milk ducts, health conditions like insufficient glandular tissue, being on certain prescription medications. There are studies that suggest having trouble breastfeeding may exacerbate postpartum depression.
And of course not all families have lactating mothers: single dads or gay men with infant children don’t have the option to breastfeed, for instance. And while some adoptive mothers of infants may induce lactation to breastfeed their child, supplementation is common in these cases and many adoptive mothers will opt from the start to bottle-feed. All these choices are valid.
Many parents who don’t breastfeed, or who supplement with formula, experience shame or guilt — in part because the messaging around breastfeeding is that it’s natural, and everyone can do it.
″‘Normalize breastfeeding’ is such a huge, wonderful thing,” Teigen wrote on Twitter. “But I absolutely felt way more shame having to use formula because of lack of milk from depression and whatnot.”
Stephanie Walton, a mom of three, previously told HuffPost that “breastfeeding made me feel like I hated my baby.” She kept trying, even after her nipples cracked and bled, and she developed thrush and mastitis.
“There were times when I was home alone, and he’d cry and I’d be like, ‘Oh, God, please no. I don’t want to have to feed him,’” she said. “And that made me feel so awful and guilty as a mom.”
Many parents who experience that kind of difficulty end up feeding their children a combination of breast milk and formula, while some will rely entirely on formula. While Health Canada does recommend breastfeeding as the primary source of infant nutrition, it also offers detailed recommendations for the safe preparation of formula.
Parents who use formula are doing it because it’s their best option. Most Canadian moms — 89 per cent — breastfeed their newborns, but not all of them rely exclusively on breast milk. According to StatCan, the most common reasons to stop breastfeeding before six months are not producing enough breast milk or having difficulty breastfeeding.
Fed is Best, a foundation launched in 2016, is working to change the perception around “breast is best” by encouraging new parents to be less anxious about supplementing low breast milk supply with formula or relying on formula completely.
“Mothers often feel immense pressure by society and by current breastfeeding protocols to only breastfeed their newborns, even when they do not have enough milk to do so,” the group says on their website. Their goal is to support families “whose babies have experienced complications under current breastfeeding protocols or who have been shamed for choosing any number of clinically approved and safe feeding options for their babies.”