HGTV's Erin Napier is consoling mothers who struggle to breastfeed: "Don’t let anyone make you feel less than or belittled because of it." And experts agree.
The television host, who gave birth to her second child on May 28, shared the advice on Instagram with a photo of her bottle-feeding daughter Mae. "Just a little encouragement for you mamas who weren't able to breastfeed, like me," she wrote, reflecting on her first round of motherhood with daughter Helen, 3. "Don't let anyone make you feel less than or belittled because of it. Helen was a formula baby and has no allergies, has always been a healthy weight, no big sicknesses, slept through the night by 6 weeks, smart as a whip, and is just as in love with and attached to her mama as her breastfed friends are to theirs. Formula is our friend at this house! Just watch as these little matchstick legs get chunky and strong."
Fans poured praise onto Napier's post. "I've got 3 formula kids and they're fine," someone wrote while joking, "One of them screams like a freakin pterodactyl but I'm sure it's unrelated."
"As a lactation consultant I support ALL moms and help with whatever feeding method works best!" someone wrote. "Moms are all wonderful!!" Other comments: "There should never be shame for women who can't or choose not to breastfeed" and "Fed is best."
Celebrities have shared their complicated breastfeeding stories and their decisions to formula feed, including Ashley Tisdale, whose daughter struggled to latch. "I was frustrated because she was frustrated," the actress told Today. "So I felt like I didn't really have that experience that a lot of people have with breastfeeding. Emotionally, it was hard."
Jana Kramer told Us Weekly in 2019, “People have questioned if I'm breastfeeding. If you don't breastfeed, you're shamed" about feeding her son, adding, "You've got to do what is best for you and what is best for your child’s health. And what's best for Jace is to be formula fed.” Kramer was relieved to use formula, she said, because it allowed her (now-estranged) husband Mike Caussin to participate in bottle feeding. And although Amy Schumer aimed to nurse her son, it wasn't successful. "…and I just didn't feel that push to make that happen," she told the Informed Pregnancy and Parenting podcast in 2019. "Then I pumped for like the first month. Then I was like, 'Not for me'… This is not for me and I didn't want to do it."
In 2018, Khloé Kardashian tweeted, "I tried breastfeeding for weeks and weeks! For me it was so painful but I also was not producing a lot of milk. So I had to pump every time she was napping. I guess due to stress my milk was not coming in. I tried and I just couldn’t give her enough. So I had to go to formula."
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies are breastfed for their first year of life, paired with solid food after six months, and continued nursing as long it suits both baby and mother. Breast milk has immunity-boosting benefits (from fats, proteins, etc.) and carries antibodies against illnesses. The health organization adds that formula "can provide excellent nutrition" and offers resources for how to shop, prepare and store it.
With so many options to keep babies happy and fed, why do some women feel disappointed when they're unable to breastfeed? Decades of public health campaigns, images of celebrities glamorizing breastfeeding and a misconception of who is actually able to nurse, come to mind. Also, breastfeeding usually demands that women have healthy bodies, extra time and by extension, financial security.
"Women with higher family incomes, those who had or whose partners had higher education levels, and women who had or whose partners had professional or executive occupations were more likely than their counterparts to breastfeed," stated a 2006 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Public Health Reports. The paper noted that educated parents may seek out information on the benefits of nursing more often (and such knowledge predicts breastfeeding) and that working women with full-time jobs are away from their babies more which hinders breastfeeding. And of course, working women who pump breast milk require adequate time and space, afforded to employees whose companies adhere to the Fair Labor Standards Act.
There are myriad reasons women don't breastfeed. Some women take specific medications that aren't safe while nursing. Others don't want to breastfeed for private reasons, which can include a history of trauma. And some may prefer formula, knowing exactly how much nutrition their baby is receiving unlike with breastfeeding, which relies on external signs of satiety, like the number of baby bowel movements or wet diapers.
"I work with mothers who are committed to exclusive breastfeeding as their primary goal and mothers who aren't sure about nursing but feel pressured to do it," Jennifer Meyers, a certified nurse-midwife and Mayo Clinic spokesperson, tells Yahoo Life. "Others are told to formula feed if that's been a tradition in their families."
"As midwives, we want to give unbiased education about breast milk and formula but also consider that society isn't set up for breastfeeding success," says Meyers, pointing to international policies that offer paid family leave, which is not guaranteed in the U.S.
"We don't live in a society that fully values parents and we should stop criticizing parents for how they feed their babies," says Meyers. "It can be impossible to win."
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