Monday, January 31, 2011

Avoid formula "like the plague"?

I don't know why I read everything that comes across my facebook feed, but I have a rather unquenchable thirst for I do.  Even stuff that I know is going to "get my goat", and boy did this one! 

100 Reasons to Avoid Formula like the Plague

First, it made me incredibly sad.  I had just finished giving David a bottle of formula; I don't have a donor right now for breast milk, and our family decided that we would only take breast milk donation from people we know well (which is 2 awesome ladies with small freezer stashes).  There is another local baby, newborn and sick, who needs the milk more than my healthy horse of a toddler. The last comment had me crying into my colt's feather-soft hair as he slept in my arms.

"When you don't breastfeed you increase many risks and the child will never know it's true potential."

I cursed my body.  I hated my body for its failure.  I cursed my own inability to stay healthy enough to continue breastfeeding my son.  I kissed his petal-soft skin and tears ran down my face as I considered the list and its comments.  What if it's true?  What if my baby boy will never reach his true potential because my body failed him?

Then, of course, my brain kicked in.

You see, what this list forgot (and the list is not necessarily accurate or 100% truthful, I'll address that later) is that a healthy mother, in both mind and body, trumps every single reason on that list.  I am not a formula pusher.  I am a lactivist, truly told.  I don't think breast is "best"; I think it's "normal."  That is a very, very important distinction.  If you can breastfeed, you should.   If you don't breastfeed because you want pretty boobs or you want to party or because it's simply "convenient", I don't have a lot of respect for your choice.  Sorry.  Doesn't mean I don't respect you, or that you're a bad mother, it means we disagree.

Cesarean section is not "normal".  Vaginal birth is.  Does that mean vaginal is best in every situation?  No.  Everything is relative.  Guggie Daly, bless her amazing and insightful heart, wrote a wonderful piece recently about the need to end the Breast is Best campaign.  I agree with her for all the reasons she mentioned, plus one.  

I didn't take the medicine I needed after my son was born because of lists like The Plague.  I almost DIED.  I needed 2 blood transfusions.  I almost had my large intestine cut out of my body.  My large intestine is still bleeding, a year later, because I actually did avoid formula like the plague.  Smart?  No!  Stupid!  A miserable, sick, barely human breastfeeding mother is not ideal.  Dead mommies don't make milk, duh. 

I am not the only one.  I know 3 other mothers who also avoided medicine that was incompatible with breastfeeding, and who suffered serious health consequences as a result.  One was suffering from PPD, and it got so bad that she attempted suicide and had to be committed.  The low-level antidepressants she was taking weren't working, and the next level meant she couldn't breastfeed.   She avoided formula "like the plague", and slit her wrists.   I'm not making this up.

See, the funny thing is, when you've just had a baby, you just might not think straight, and lists like this haunt you.  I didn't.  Others didn't. 

I am an active member of many online mommy communities.  Lately, I have seen a number of mothers with supply problems, who are trying everything they can to raise their supplies, discuss giving their young babies cow's milk or soy milk, believing that it's healthier than formula.  There is a label now on the soy milk we purchased at Whole Foods - "not to be used as infant formula."  Why, do you think, does it need to be there?  It's not there for the mother who doesn't care what goes into her baby.  It's there so people know that other milks are NOT a viable alternative to breast milk or formula.   

Formula, while deeply flawed, inferior and imperfect, is better than giving a 3 month old baby cow's milk, which is made for baby cows, not baby humans.  Soy milk in particular is exceptionally dangerous for infants, lacking vital nutrients which are necessary to healthy development..

Don't avoid formula like the plague.  Don't avoid it like it's poison.   It is neither plague nor poison.  Avoid it if you have a breast milk alternative, be it pumped or from the breast.  Avoid it as a sub-normal, vastly inferior alternative and don't kid yourself that it's "just as good" as breast milk, because it's not.  It's not close to breast milk, no matter what the formula ads tell you.  But don't avoid it to the detriment of your own health, mental or physical.  Babies need a healthy mother more than than they need her breasts. 

[Related: this whole conversation goes away (or mostly goes away) if mothers who can breastfeed do, and if mothers who can donate do, and if mothers who can't have access to that donated breast milk.  Please support breast milk donation!  Check out Human Milk for Human Babies on Facebook!]


  1. I didnt even read that article because I knew it would piss me off and I breastfed! Im going to read it now though I guess. I know its going to be so judgmental and hurtful to many mothers and babies. Its even going to be hurtful to me because I was formula fed. Its making me feel like Im inept because my mom didnt breastfeed me. I agree with you 100%!

  2. While I can relate to your feelings on lists like these, I think the author was trying to "watch her language," just like you do when you say that breast isn't best, it's normal.

    Moms should not risk their health to avoid formula, but a list like this might encourage mothers who would otherwise choose not to nurse for non-essential reasons (presumed "convenience," belief that formula is just as good, etc.) to see nursing normal and formula as sub-normal.

    I definitely commiserate with you though. Women don't need guilt, we need support, and that doesn't come from long lists of how we've failed. We all do the best we can with what we know and what resources we have. You've done an incredible job of providing for your son, don't let any list make you believe otherwise.

  3. That article was an excellent example of what DH and I like to call, "Statistics Gone Wild". Someone once said that you could play with stats and research to make them show any result you wanted.

    For example, I'm a dispatcher we just had an argument over which of the 3 shifts is the busiest. This arguing continued until I finally said, "Wait what are we considering 'busy'?". You could argue that day shift is busier because they have more calls and more radio traffic, but for the most part its non-emergency, BS stuff. Evenings is as busy as days as far as calls and radio traffic, but it tends to be more real emergencies that require thought and hard work. Nights is no where even close to touching days and evenings call and radio traffic stats but when they do get a call it is much more likely to be a true dire emergency and they are much more likely to have dangerous situations to deal with and fewer resources in the middle of the night. So which shift is busier? I'm on evenings and I think we're the busiest and that dayshift is basically a bunch of secretaries and nights is a bunch of lazy nightowls. See my point?

    I think this article was written to raise some hackles and push an agenda. I doubt the stats on paper are that plain as day. Either way, formula is not going to kill my child and doesn't make me a horrible mother, no matter what my reasons are for formula feeding.

  4. i agree avoid it if there is a natural alternative like breastmilk