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The Common Misconceptions of Formula Feeding Mothers

Updated on August 8, 2011

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 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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    • profile image

      Wow really we aren't educated 

      3 years ago

      Sorry to disappoint all breastfeeding moms but us formula feeding moms are educated! I had no choice but to formula feed my twins! I chose to not let my kids die of starvation. I know the benefits for breastfeeding however my body decided to not produce not nearly enough for even just one baby let alone twins. And by the way my boys are just as heathy, growing just as fast, and happy; sorry to disappoint. So stop judging myself and every other mother out there who formula feeds you don't know the story behind the reason for THEIR choice NOT YOURS!

    • profile image

      Mr. Cat 

      3 years ago

      I'm here because I'M being put down by others for breastfeeding, which I chose because that's what nature intended. I don't care what other people do. It irks me that you make it seem as though breastfeeding mothers attack formula feeding mothers when but I've been getting sick of people who formula fed judging me for what I do.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      It was popular to both breast and bottle feed. And what ever your choice , well that's your choice. But gee if It didn't sound like a young mum standing up for her right to bottle feed because she's has obviously been put down for it a lot, then well I'll be damned.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      this topic will always be an issue to reader, I have bottle fed my first not know the information I knew now and have breastfed the other children by choice. Service aren't being used to properly and the bottle and formula is being use more then we think, wither a mother breast feeds or formula feeds is their choice and not other peoples. I myself prefer breastfeed due to the plusses you and the baby gain out of the experience. It is not my place to say breast is best for others to do with theirs.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Good article. There are much more important things to worry about than breast or bottle. If we're freaking out over this topic, then we don't have enough problems on our hands. No one is a bad mother because they use a bottle. They'd be a bad mother if they DIDN'T feed their child. There is too much pressure on mothers today. Instead of being divided, we need to be unified as mothers. To encourage, love and support one another.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      thx for standing up for women who cannot breastfeed. my wife cried when she was diagnosed w breast cancer a few weeks after learning we were pregnant. however, she cried more and for much longer when she realized she could not breastfeed. she was so worried that we would not be able to give our little one a good start in life. ppl like monday are not capable of imagining any other reality than the one in their own little world, their kitchen, possibly their street. what a sad life.

    • SkeptiMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Monday- what a sad and pointless retort. NOT all women can breastfeed. And of course I support seat belts- that's a terrible analogy in comparison to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a personal choice and not compulsory. I assume you are one of the people who have the opinion that since you breastfeed, you are a far better parent than anyone else. Smug is not a good look for you- I wish you the best. When you realize you are human just like everyone else, it's going to slap you in the face. Hard.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      What a sad way for you to spend your time. Not breastfeeding is a public health issue. Are you also on the side of not wearing seat belts?

    • jacqui2011 profile image


      7 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      I had both my daughters in hospital and was always being criticized for not even trying to breastfeed. It was personal choice as I can't bear the thought of my baby feeding from my breast. I bottlefed both my children and its so true what you said "Breast or bottle, we feed our babies with love and compassion". Well written and very interesting. Voted up and interesting.

    • SkeptiMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      That's a pretty general- could you be a little more specific? You'll get a much better answer.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      7 years ago from Summerland

      SkeptiMommy - why so skeptical of so many things?

    • SkeptiMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      "Powdered formula sold by Enfamil and Similac are reduced-risk choices, because only the metal tops and bottoms of their packages – not the cardboard sides – are metal and lined with BPA-based plastic. Earth's Best Organic and PBM (which make dozens of store brands) are more of a concern: they are sold in an entirely metal can, which means the formula has more contact with a BPA-coated surface." This is a better, more credible source than babycenter- however, both articles are from 2007, when most bottles were still being manufactured with BPA. Since that was 4 years ago, there are no recent reports to go on.

      Furthermore, this is not an article on the safety of formula; it is an article debunking the myths I constantly see echoed by breastfeeding sanctimommies.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      You may want to consider the problem of BPA in the lining of formula cans and baby bottles. Although many baby bottle manufacturers have switched to BPA free plastics, the can lining is still an issue =(. Unfortunately the formula is canned and THEN heat sterilized, which causes significant leaching of BPA into the formula. Here is a good article on it.


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