The Common Misconceptions of Formula Feeding Mothers
Deflating the Fallacies of Formula Feeders
Women formula feed their babies because they aren't educated in the benefits of breastfeeding.
Actually, women formula feed for a number of legitimate, compassionate reasons, whether that be medicinal contraindications, strict and stressful work environments, physical and mental health, sexual experiences, or the simple intuition that formula feeding is the best fit for their family structure, personalities, and schedules. Regardless of their reasons, any boob who has taken a child birth class, participated in WIC, read a pregnancy book, given birth accompanied by knowledgeable and experienced attendants (whether in the hospital or home) has heard the mantra, "Breast Is Best;" it's a disclaimer that is even advertised on the can of formula.
Does that knowledge make it the best decision for your individual circumstances? No. Does the knowledge of the complex fats, carbohydrates, proteins, enzymes, immune boosters, hormones, and vitamins in breastmilk change the individual circumstances that lead mothers to consider formula? No. But does that knowledge improve the science of formula? Yes.
Feeding on demand.
Too often, I've seen smug behavior elicited in the form of cards passed out to mothers nursing in public that read, "Thank you for feeding your baby on demand." Many people believe that breastfeeding mothers are the only women who feed their babies when they are hungry. Let me POP that bubble of misinformation for you. Instead, replace it with a simple truism. All babies eat when they're hungry. Since formula digests slower than breastmilk, formula fed babies eat slightly less often. As you learn the habits of your baby, a pattern will reveal itself and you will be more likely to predict when your little one will be hungry. This is a rhythm. Not a forced schedule.
Formula feeding mamas don't bond as well with their infants as their breast feeding counterparts.
The emotional connection between a mother and her child is personal and not influenced by a feeding method. You can't predict the strength of a bond by hormones; love is something that statistical anaylsis cannot place a value on. In observational studies over the last thirty years, breastfeeding dyads had more eye contact and physical touching than bottle fed dyads, but bottle fed dyads by no means displayed characteristics of a lower quality relationship. Bowlby's theory of attachment is a product of the 1950s; the basic component of his theory is that infants will form a secure attachment to caregivers who are responsive to the infant's needs. While breastfeeding may have a positive correlation to the proximity in which a mother keeps her infant, suggesting a more sensitive response to an infant's needs, Bowlby himself, the father of the attachment theory, observed that feeding methods do not contribute to the quality of a bond.
A recent longitudinal cohort study, "Breastfeeding, Sensitivity and Attachment," conducted by the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, reaffirms Bowlby's observations in testing the hypothesis that, "mothers who breastfed during infancy would be more likely than those who formula fed to have secure attachment with their infants...None of these differences were significant...direct relationship between attachment security and breastfeeding practice was not identified. The quality of the mother-infant interaction at 6 months, rather than the type of feeding, predicted security of attachment."
According to Diane Eyer, a doctorate of development psychology and author of Mother-Infant Bonding, A Scientific Fiction, "[P]oorly constructed research programs were published in major journals and became a part of hospital policy because the bonding concept was politically useful in the struggle between advocates of natural childbirth and managers of the medical model of birth. The concept was also uncritically accepted because it was consistent with a longstanding ideology of motherhood that sees women as the prime architects of their children’s personalities."
Formula feeding is harder than breastfeeding.
You have to wake up to make bottles in the middle of the night. You have to pack bottles in diaper bags, plan for future feedings, buy the necessary materials. Who would've thought that feeding a baby would require some effort. It's much easier just to whip a boob out without thinking. No measuring. No bottles. No sweat. Right?
Tell that to the woman with flat or inverted nipples struggling to latch a crying baby onto her breast! Caring for an infant in general is a hard task; it is up to the individual mother to define the path of least resistance. For some, anatomical anomalies, past experiences, sleep deprivation, post partum depression, and personality differences make formula feeding the best option for their families. While it does require some planning and preparation, it also allows for other family members to aid in the tasks of keeping a hungry baby fed and happy.
Formula feeding is easier than breastfeeding.
It doesn't require the dedication of the early feeding marathon nursers. It's a cop out; you can just prop a bottle in your baby's mouth and get on with your day. I've seen these sentiments echoed on several social networks and blogs. While it doesn't require a Ph.D. to read the instructions on a can of formula, caring for a baby is not easy, no matter the feeding method. I feel like this is often said out of spite, by new mothers who who didn't realize how much of a dedication of time and patience breastfeeding can require in the beginning. Your nipples are sore, possibly even cracked. You've been stuck in the same spot on the couch for over an hour and every time you unlatch your newborn, he cries and roots for your breast again. It can be exasperating. But insulting other mothers will not help your situation. Support, a good book, experimenting with other breastfeeding positions, possibly introducing a pacifier- that is proactive. Attacking the dignity of other mothers because they chose a different feeding method is just immature.
Formula is expensive.
Children, in general, can be expensive. It starts with diapers, formula, developmental toys and then you flash forward to college tuition bills and car insurance payments. The necessity of nutrition is the tip of the iceberg, I'm afraid. With either feeding method, you encounter expenses. While bottle feeding is slightly more obvious; you have to buy bottles and formula, breastfeeding expenses accrue off screen. A breastfeeding mother consumes roughly $600 more a year in nutrition and prenatal vitamins, according to Dr. Sears. Not to mention nursing bras, support pillows, pads, creams, literature, classes- there are multibillion dollar industries dedicated to both methods of feeding. Also, if a breastfeeding mother chooses to occasionally pump, there is the expense of not only the pump, but pump accessories, sterilizers, and bottles. While there are organizations like WIC, breastfeeding coalitions, and food stamps, they aid in affording the cost of both feeding methods.
Formula fed babies are overfed.
Often, I have heard that bottle fed babies are at a substantial risk of being over fed. It is physiologically normal for babies to lose weight within their first few days of life; their losing retained water, intaking a very small amount of liquid, and passing meconium.
A study published in 2010 followed 2002 mother and baby dyads from 24 weeks gestation until they were discharged from the hospital after birth. Their "main explanatory variables were maternal pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI), gestational weight gain, gestational diabetes, birth weight, gestational age and feeding mode." Factors associated with greater weight loss measured on the third day of life (for clarification, they label this D3WL), " whatever the feeding mode, were: higher birth weight, gestational diabetes and caesarean section; higher gestational age was associated with a reduced D3WL." However, the mean D3WL was higher in breastfed babies with underweight mothers and lowest in formula fed babies with obese mothers. Most interpret this data as indicative to overfeeding a baby.
The real risk of overfeeding lies in the early use of bottles and our ability to read a baby's cues, not necessarily what is in the bottles, and there are many ways to counteract the potential to overfeed:
- Listen to your baby's feeding cues- (s)he'll tell you when (s)he's hungry, you can bet you'll know when (s)he's full!
- Don't try to get your baby to finish a bottle. Let your baby determine when a feeding should end.
- Use a slow flow nipple.
- If you formula feed, remember that formula digests slower than breastmilk. Your baby may not require so many feedings.
With a little intuition, following these guidelines will incredibly lessen the risk of overfeeding a baby. Don't worry that your baby is eating too much; if the baby isn't hungry, the baby isn't going to latch on to anything. In the early stages of postpartum, countless mothers often offer the breast or bottle when a baby is crying and often, the baby won't latch to either of these feeding methods!
We're mothers; we feed our children. How does such a simplistic altruism create such a gap between women? Breast or bottle, we feed our babies with compassion and love.
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