I had planned to breastfeed my little one, but it ended up not working out. I can’t help but feel a tinge of guilt, shame and embarrassment when I pull out a bottle to feed my baby. How can I get over this? I want to be a confident mom!
A: Formula-feeding guilt is like a badly stained bodysuit. You do everything in your power to get rid of the spot, but even when you think the stain is gone, you step out into harsh daylight and find that it’s still there—faded, but definitely visible.
Guilt, shame and embarrassment are three distinctly different emotions. Guilt is something you feel when you know you’ve done something wrong—and by feeding your child formula, you haven’t done anything wrong. Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to feed a baby, but formula-feeding is a wonderful alternative. Whatever caused you to opt for the alternative, that is your story, your truth.
Shame is a bit harder to deal with, because unlike guilt, it’s something you feel when other people tell you that you’ve done something wrong. These people may include doctors, mothers-in-law, husbands, friends, lactation professionals and strangers on Facebook. It’s tough to block these voices out when you’re already feeling insecure about your parenting skills, and it certainly doesn’t help when headlines are screaming at you daily about how breastfed babies have a lower risk of x, y and z. You can’t control what these people do, but knowledge is your superpower. Read all you can about the reality of infant-feeding research and what the term “relative risk” means; learn about formula safety and feeding cues. No one can shame you when you understand there’s nothing to be ashamed about.
Embarrassment stems from the belief that others will judge you. And you know what? They might. It happens, just like our breastfeeding sisters get judged for nursing in public. The best way to counteract the embarrassment is to face that judgment head on. Speak up about your feelings at your next mommy-and-me group. Tell your friends how it feels to pull that bottle out when they are all happily nursing. Seek out like-minded moms who make you feel good about your parenting decisions and who couldn’t care less how your child is getting fed. Focus on how happy your baby is when you’re feeding her—how she looks into your eyes and grabs your finger.
One day, you’ll be watching your beautiful, healthy, strong child and realize that who she is has nothing to do with the type of milk she was fed. You’ll grow out of the guilt, just like your baby will grow out of that stained bodysuit, and you’ll finally be able to throw it away, once and for all.
—Suzanne Barston, infant feeding consultant, creator of FearlessFormulaFeeder.com, co-creator of the #ISupportYou movement and author of Bottled Up