Are you a ‘breastfeeding mum’ or ‘formula feeding mum’?

Are you a ‘breastfeeding mum’ or a ‘formula feeding mum’?

Where do I begin with how much is wrong with this question…

  1. According to the UNICEF baby friendly initiative, 76% of families will have introduced SOME formula by 6 weeks. (source: )

I’m not certain though that all of those families would like to be described as formula feeding families. Bear in mind they might be giving 1 bottle a day or 6 bottles a day. Big difference! Or is it? 

Who is being a purist here? As far as I’m concerned, ANY breastfeeding is breastfeeding, may it be expressed milk via bottle, SNS or direct breastfeeding. What society (or formula company trolls) consider as ‘breastfeeding’ may be neither here nor there. 

  1. In her brilliant book Why Breastfeeding Grief and Trauma Matter, Prof Amy Brown quotes research that shows 85% of mothers experiencing some level of breastfeeding grief and feel like they haven’t achieved their breastfeeding goals (may it be 3 weeks or 3 years of breastfeeding their child). 

This tells me that these labels and categories are artificial and harmful. Who has the right to say to a mother: ‘you have failed at breastfeeding unless you breastfeed for at least 6 months’ if that is NOT what they want for themselves? And equally. Who dares say to a mother who breastfed for a year and a half but then contracted some illness and was told to wean, WAY before they or their offspring were ready? ‘You have done really well getting this far!’ Really?!

  1. When you were pregnant, did you plan to breastfeed? If so, was it a strongly considered choice or that of ‘I will give it a go and if it works great, if it doesn’t that’s fine too’. 

Have we, as a society, gone too far in worrying so much about being judged or taking sides, that we can’t even make a clear statement for our own bodies, children and families that we DO very strongly desire to breastfeed our babies. Is it the image of all the ‘failed attempts’ to breastfeed, that brings us the feeling of caution, in case we too ‘fail’?

There is a common misconception that is prevailing amongst health professionals and lay people alike: pushing a mother too hard to breastfeed can cause perinatal mental health issues. Research shows a more subtle picture:

Successful breastfeeding is considered a protective factor against postnatal depression. Unsuccessful breastfeeding: ongoing pain, lack of support, trauma, a sense of failure can indeed increase the likelihood of developing PND.

  1. “postpartum depression is associated with disturbance in mother-infant interactions and bonding, as well as deficient parenting and parental safety practices” 

(source: ) so we really want to get this right, don’t we? The consequences of failing to do so are potentially far reaching and detrimental for the next generation!

In the 2016 article: Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression: An Overview and Methodological Recommendations for Future Research by Carley J. Pope * and Dwight Mazmanian, the authors state: “while postpartum depression may reduce rates of breastfeeding, not engaging in breastfeeding may increase the risk of postpartum depression. Additionally, there is some evidence that breastfeeding may protect against postpartum depression or assist in a swifter recovery from symptoms”.

Shouldn’t this be a call for action when it comes to equipping our families with ALL the motivation, ongoing support, encouragement and high quality information they deserve BEFORE and AFTER the birth?

  1. ‘Breast is best’ is an outdated, cruel and potentially harmful statement IF not accompanied by high quality support, time spent with postpartum women and parents.

If I could get a pound for every family I met who complained about the lack of breastfeeding, infant feeding and pumping support when it came to immediate postpartum care… I would be a sadly rich person!

  1. Formula is medicine and is necessary and can be life saving if mother and baby need some time for breastfeeding to master. The need for small top ups of formula in the early days should not be devastating and the beginning of a downward spiral and a slippery slope that ends in giving up breastfeeding altogether by week 4! 


  • It doesn’t need to be an either or choice.
  • It doesn’t need to be ‘mummy wars’!
  • It doesn’t need to put you in a ‘tribe’ of formula or breastfeeding mums. 
  • Breastfeeding to a year or 2 doesn’t need to mean you will start knitting your own armchair and eat quinoa with kale for every snack of the day!
  • Formula is not the product of the devil himself and renders you to a lifetime of repenting because you messed up your baby’s health for life.
  1. Who even IS the ‘breastapo’? 

Let’s get real and balanced here.

No breastfeeding ‘nacis’ here, what an utterly horrible expression! 

Everyone who calls themselves a breastfeeding supporter on whatever level: may it be peer support or IBCLC, will agree that we love the listening and meeting mothers where they’re at part of the job.

We would ALL love to raise breastfeeding rates, but not by torture or at the expense of anyone’s mental health. We see you, we hear you and we come up with solutions that suit your family, your situation and we refer you on if we don’t know the answers. 

Let’s hear it in the words of the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative:

“Indeed, the UK context has become so fraught that those who advocate for breastfeeding are regularly accused of being breastfeeding Nazis or part of the “breastapo“. Any chance of having an inclusive, factual and non-judgemental conversation about breastfeeding is shut down.

So it is time to change. First, we need to be upfront and admit that yes, sometimes, well-meaning efforts to promote breastfeeding have been insensitive and over-zealous. No mother should feel pressurised, or manhandled, around feeding her baby; we must do better than that and provide non-judgemental information and support so that a woman can genuinely choose how she wants to feed her baby, and is able to follow through on that choice.

Second, we must also be upfront with the evidence around breastfeeding. Recently three new major studies funded by the Gates Foundation have been published, including a series in the Lancet, which delivered resounding and extensive evidence that breastfeeding saves lives, improves health and cuts health service costs in every country, rich or poor. Children who are breastfed for longer periods have higher intelligence, fewer infections, fewer dental problems, reduced morbidity and mortality, and are less likely to be overweight or diabetic in later life. For mothers, breastfeeding protects against breast and ovarian cancer and diabetes.

This is powerful information that mothers will want to know when making a decision about how to feed their child. But even writing it down here presents a dilemma as it will be upsetting for many families who have not breastfed, or who have experienced the trauma of trying very hard to breastfeed and not succeeding. We all understand that pain because we know those women – many of them are our friends, our families, and some of us.

So thirdly, we need to change the conversation. We can stop laying the blame for a major public health issue in the laps of individual women, and acknowledge the collective responsibility of us all to remove the barriers to breastfeeding which lead to eight out of 10 women reporting they had to stop breastfeeding before they had wanted to.

These include:

1) Cultural norms that discourage long term breastfeeding

2) A widespread misconception by almost everyone that formula milk can replace breast milk without any harm

3) A lack of postnatal care and trained support to help women get breastfeeding off to a good start, and

4) Formula company marketing that invests huge amounts of money in normalising bottle feeding and undermining breastfeeding.

On the back of the recent new evidence around breastfeeding, our Baby Friendly Initiative is calling on the UK and all devolved governments to implement four key actions that will kick start a supportive, enabling environment for women who want to breastfeed.”


“A number of studies report that women who are not breastfeeding are more likely to have higher levels of depressive symptoms than women who are breastfeeding”

Let this statement from the above quoted article keep us going and shining the torch on good and high quality support and truly informed choice to get ALL of those who are whispering a hesitant ‘ I will try to breastfeed my baby’ to be successful, fall in love with it and keep going for as long as they and their babies are happy doing so!

So let’s change our title question to:

  • Are you a mum who wants the best for your baby? 
  • Are you a mum who wants to be happily breastfeeding?
  • Are you a mum who is looking for community and support at this deep and testing but most profound and rewarding transition of their life?
  • Are you a mum who was advised to give some formula to help your baby gain weight in the early days and now you want to simplify your life to exclusive breastfeeding? 
  • Are you a mum who has done all you could with breastfeeding for a few months and now you are exhausted and want your partner to help and introduce a bottle or 2 a day?
  • Are you a mum who has been given confusing advice and now, with a clear head, want to make the best decision for your and your family AND be supported with it?

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