Let's Stop Bottle Shaming: Why It's Okay Not to Breastfeed

bottle feeding baby
(Photo: iStock)

Have a baby and you’ll quickly realize everyone has an opinion on everything — and a strong one at that. And often they’re not afraid to share it with you, even if you haven't asked.

Here's something refreshing: you are the one in charge of deciding what’s best for your baby. Your neighbor isn’t, the narrow-minded woman in your spin class isn’t, and your opinionated mother-in-law certainly isn’t. You are. And that’s why it’s perfectly okay if you aren’t breast-feeding your child. Spoiler alert: he or she will still turn out to be amazing.

From the moment she finds out she’s pregnant, a woman is pummeled over the head with the “breast is best” mentality; from books to mommy blogs to Facebook posts to birthing classes at the hospital, it seems as if breastfeeding is the only logical path if you want your baby to have a fighting chance in this life. Not to mention the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers breastfeed for at least the first year of a child’s life — a pretty tall order to fill. So if a new mom who desires to breastfeed finds that she’s unable to, it’s easy to see how feelings of guilt can become insurmountable, making her feel as if she’s already failed miserably at motherhood only a few days in.

Unfortunately, the disappointment that comes with not being able to nurse is only exacerbated with the unfeeling, unsolicited opinions of others who turn it into something shameful.

So let’s stop the bottle shaming, shall we?

If you’re mixing up a bottle full of formula for your little one, you are an incredible mom. Yep, you. You’re feeding and nourishing your child, and you’re doing it with love. 

There are a variety of reasons why a woman might not be able to breastfeed, from not producing enough milk to restricting lifestyle circumstances and medications. Or, maybe she never had a desire to breastfeed in the first place. Whatever the reason may be, the subject of breastfeeding is a very personal and intimate situation that doesn’t at all dictate a woman’s ability to be an incredible parent.

If breastfeeding is something you and your baby both enjoy, great. If it’s not, don’t sweat it. If a bad latch or a low supply turns your nursing sessions into something stressful and something you and your baby both dread, there is absolutely no shame in considering alternatives. 

In fact, many doctors maintain that a sleep-deprived, stressed-out mama is much more harmful than feeding an infant formula.

“Feelings of anxiety and fatigue are already common among new mothers,” says Dr. Nicole Avena, a research neuroscientist and author who didn’t breast-feed her children. “If breastfeeding only adds more stress, it may further amplify symptoms associated with postpartum depressions, and feelings of guilt for choosing to formula-feed don’t help the situation.”

Also, studies show that high stress in mothers can be detrimental to the bonding process in those precious weeks after birth, even hindering a mother’s ability to respond correctly to certain infant signals.

And speaking of bonding, it’s time we debunk the outdated mentality that the only way to truly bond with your baby is by breastfeeding. There are countless ways to feel connected with your little bundle while bottle-feeding that have nothing to do with nursing.

Another advantage to bottle-feeding is the fact that anyone can feed your baby, taking a load off of a new mom’s shoulders. If you’re totally exhausted or just needing a break from the constant demands of a newborn, your spouse, family or friends can step in and relieve you from your motherly duties a time or two. 

So take heart, non-breastfeeding mamas: for every mom out there touting breastfeeding as the best and only way, there are just as many happy, healthy babies who subsisted on formula alone and grew into happy, healthy kids.

We love Dr. Avena’s mantra on this subject: “My stance isn’t anti-breastfeeding or pro-formula feeding. It is pro-mom.”

Amen, mama.