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How To Not Feel Guilty About Formula Feeding Your Baby

Updated on November 19, 2013
Feeding a baby should not be a stressful experience.
Feeding a baby should not be a stressful experience. | Source

While feeding a baby mother's milk has many benefits, the pressure and level of guilt that new mothers who must or choose to formula feed is extensive.

Yet studies such as a July 2013, Wall Street Journal article by Avery Johnson indicate that formula use continues to rise.

Formula is constantly being researched, improved and is heavily regulated. It is a safe alternative for many babies.

Many of the anti-formula advocates cite research that indicates that babies fed mother's milk will be healthier and smarter than their formula-fed counterparts. But is this really true?

Is Correlation Really Causation?

In the same Wall Street Journal article, Johnson notes that isolating the effects of natural feeding vs. formula feeding are hard for researchers. Women who are richer and more educated tend to have access to more resources, more ability to devote the time necessary to feeding naturally and a bigger support network if issues or problems arise.

While current studies have tried to note those differences, it still tends to be a much more complicated issue.

Plus, if intelligence is in-born and genetic, and intelligent people tend to get more education, then deciding if the causation of intelligence in naturally fed babies is the result of mother's milk or the result of naturally having smarter parents is still a cloudy issue.

According to a March 2013 study in the Daily Mail by Damien Gayle, studies show that there is a "range of genes" that influence intelligence. While this adds more fuel to the nature vs. nurture issue, it also shows that at least a percentage of intelligence is heritable. So nurture, including food choices, will not necessarily influence intelligence either positively or negatively.

It is more important that the baby is loved and cared for than what kind of food it is fed.
It is more important that the baby is loved and cared for than what kind of food it is fed. | Source

Are Formula Fed Babies Sicker?

Another argument used to make formula-feeding moms feel guilty about the way they feed their babies is that their children will be sicker. While it is true that antibodies can be passed from the mother to the baby during feedings, the research on whether formula-fed babies are sicker BECAUSE they are formula fed remains unclear.

In this argument, we need to look back at why babies are formula fed. If they are formula fed because their mother is working, then the possibility that they are in group care settings increases. And in group situations then chances for exposure and development of illness increases.

While there are some benefits that can't be denied as far as immunity while feeding mother's milk, that immunity does not continue once the child no longer continues. All babies have immature immune systems. For those that must face group care situations early, they are naturally more likely to catch and be affected by many of the diseases that go around the community. But just like everyone else, the more exposure they receive, the more their immune system will build up and be able to fight future illness.

Is Formula Nutritionally Inferior?

Mother's milk is very nutritious and even women with an imperfect diet are able to make a great and nutritionally balanced milk.

However, a mother who needs to formula feed faces a better selection of formulas with balanced nutrition than ever before.

Working with her child's pediatrician, she can find the formula that contains the right components for her baby and meets his or her needs. Mothers who formula feed are not "poisoning" their babies nor are they causing their baby harm. As long as the mother and the pediatrician are working together to insure the best plan for the child, there is no cause for worry.

When choosing the formula, research the nutritional components, search for non-biased, peer reviewed studies of the different formulas and choose those that most closely mimic natural milk.

What Can You Say To Those Who Judge?

Many times, parents will feel that their choices are so superior that they have the right to then comment on the way someone else parents their child. Those kind of judgmental comments hurt a mother who may already feel guilty on top of being tired and overwhelmed with the life transition she is facing.

Here are some idea for what to say when someone questions your feeding choices.

How To Defend Formula Feeding

What They May Say
How You Can Answer
You know that your baby will be sick because of your feeding choice.
Thanks for your concern. My child's pediatrician is happy with her growth and health.
Do you want me to give you the name of a support group for natural feeding.
I appreciate it. We are happy right now with the way we are doing things but I'll keep your information in mind if things change.
You know that all formula is tainted.
Actually baby formula is very heavily regulated and extra precautions are taken because of the vulnerability of the young consumer.
I chose natural feeding because I wanted my kids to have an intellectual advantage.
You know, research is very mixed. There is a lot of indication that intelligence is inherited and can be nurtured in many ways.
All of the above.
Silence. You don't have to answer or defend your decision. Smile. Change the subject.
What to say when someone wants to comment on formula feeding.

What Is Truly Important

Sometimes those who are overly invested in the ways others choose to feed their babies forget that what matters more is that the child is loved, fed, clean and cared for. Mothers who choose to formula feed or have trouble and must switch to formula must not be made to feel guilty.

Motherhood and new babies are a huge life transition and support for each other is important. If natural feeding is truly not the path the new mother wants to pursue, she should be able to make the decision with confidence.

The way a child is fed should truly be a choice between the family and the doctor and no one else.

A Pediatrician Explains that Both Natural and Formula Feeding Have Benefits

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