Lactivists fight for the normalization of breastfeeding and with good reason. Many of my friends have shared stories with me about having been shamed for breastfeeding in public, encouraged to retreat to a bathroom, cover up or go elsewhere. But if you think breastfeeding moms are the only ones judged for their feeding choices, try spending a day with a formula feeding mom. I had no idea that strangers had such an interest in infant feeding until I was regularly feeding an infant myself.
Once, a stranger cornered me in a public restroom. She wanted to know if I was breastfeeding my son. And the person sitting next to me on a mall bench who leaned over and said, “That must be formula. It smells terrible.” I hired a lactation consultant for help, who, upon hearing that my child was receiving formula responded, “So you’re feeding your baby corn syrup.”
How to Respond
I used to have a number of responses to these questions. I would rush to explain that I pumped as well as offered formula. That my son had a lip and tongue tie. That I had mastitis. That my child wasn’t gaining weight. That formula was a medical imperative. That I tried cup feeding and spoon-feeding and laser revision for the lip and tongue tie. That I spent hundreds of dollars on lactation consultants who judged my efforts and offered little in the way of solutions. That constant pumping was mentally and physically exhaustive.
Taking a Stand
I am raising three children who thrived on predominantly formula, a choice that has worked remarkably well for our family. Now I know that there is only one honest response to these comments. “It’s none of your business.” I learned this not long after my first child was born when I was in the depths of feeding struggles.
I was unloading all of my guilt over formula feeding to a mom friend that I respected. After dumping all my concerns and insecurities on her I asked, “So did you nurse?” “No,” she responded plainly as she dug into her salad, ready to move on to the next topic. “Why not?” I asked, expecting tales of bloody nipples and undersupply. She paused for a moment, “I didn’t want to,” she said and continued with her meal.
Her answer was as good as any. She didn’t need to qualify or explain how she chose to feed her child, even to a friend. I realized that it wasn’t my business. And it’s not yours either.