In Defense of Formula

World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center

Welcome to the World Breastfeeding 2013 Blog Carnival cohosted by and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center!

This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.


Amy-Smolinski-HeadshotThis is a guest post by Amy Barron Smolinski, MA, CLC, and the Community Outreach Director of Mom2Mom KMC, the first breastfeeding peer support group formed specifically for U.S. Military families.  She is the wife of an Active Duty Army officer, and the mother of four sons.  She breastfed premature twins, and is currently tandem breastfeeding her youngest two.  She is writing this post as part of the 2013 World Breastfeeding Week Carnival and Breastfeeding in Combat Boots is proud to run her post! 


As a Certified Lactation Counselor, I am frequently surprised to find myself defending formula.  Not nearly as surprised, I think, as those against whom I am defending it.  After all, these are my peers, my tribe, my breastfeeding sisters who fiercely and tenaciously advocate for every child’s right to be breastfed—and every mother’s right to the support she needs to meet her own goal for breastfeeding.  I agree this is a fundamental biological need, and as mammals we intrinsically possess the resources we need to nourish and nurture our children through breastfeeding.


When we can’t.  For whatever reason.  Sometimes it’s a medical reason, like a mother with Insufficient Glandular Tissue.  Sometimes it’s a psychological issue, such as a mother who’s suffered sexual trauma.   Sometimes it’s circumstances beyond our control.  Our peer support group, Mom2Mom KMC, has a large number of Active Duty Military moms, who are often separated from their babies because their country needs them.  As we all know, formula feeding commonly happens because a mom is undermined by “booby traps,” as Best for Babes has so aptly named the myriad ways in which mothers are brainwashed into believing that breastfeeding is just not possible for them.  And isn’t formula one of the biggest booby traps out there?  Isn’t it the biggest, worst enemy of breastfeeding mothers and children?

Well, in a word, no.  Wait, before you stone the heretic (or drown my CLC card in breastmilk)!  Really, formula isn’t bad.  It isn’t good, either.  Formula is a tool, and just like any other tool, it can cause harm if used without proper training, or it can save a life if used judiciously.  I believe we have lost sight of the fact that formula is a tool.  Through unethical marketing and lax regulations, we’ve been brainwashed by the formula companies into believing that formula is food.

Ok, so maybe it’s not “perfect” food.  Nestle and its competitors will yield that breastmilk is the organic, free-range, non-GMO Garden-of-Eden balanced meal.  But hey, how accessible is that?  We don’t live in the Garden of Eden, and besides, do you know how much WORK it takes to cultivate that kind of perfect food?  You have to be on your knees in the garden, with the right nutrients and the right amount of water, and it takes over your whole life.   So take formula—it’s not perfect food, but it’s still food.  It has basically all the same ingredients—fat, sugar, protein, a few enzymes.  Yeah, ok, it’s got some chemicals in it, and yeah, ok, it’s not exactly the healthiest thing on the market.  But hey, babies will eat it!  It’s like the protein powder of baby nutrition—fast, easily measured and full of calories.

But we don’t call protein powder “food,” do we?  We call it a supplement.  As we often call formula a supplement.  In some cases, formula is a substitute for breastmilk, and this can mean the difference between a baby who eats and thrives, and a baby who doesn’t.  But referring to formula as “food,” even supplemental or substitute food, misses the mark.

Formula is a medical assistive device.bottle formula

Think about it. Breastfeeding is the normal biological process for nourishing and nurturing mammalian young.  Just like walking, for example, is the normal biological process for human locomotion.   Just as with breastfeeding, the vast majority of human beings are capable of developing the skills to utilize this process.  It’s instinctual; we are genetically and biologically programmed to walk.  We fully expect to grow up and be able to walk by about the end of the first year of our lives.  We don’t doubt our bodies’ ability to walk, we accept that this is how human beings are designed to complete this process of getting from one place to another.

We don’t say to babies, “well, you can certainly give it a shot, but really, there aren’t very many people who are successful walkers.”  Nor do we swoop in when our little ones stumble, fall, and get up again and declare, “Well, you tried walking, but it just didn’t work out.  Let’s get you fitted for a wheelchair.”  We offer them help, support, encouragement, guidance, and patience as they try over and over again, until they master this normal biological process.  As human beings, we have lost assumption that the vast majority of our female members are completely capable of breastfeeding the vast majority of our babies.

Just like with breastfeeding, there are occasionally members of our species who, for various reasons, cannot walk.  Sometimes this is a temporary condition, as when a broken leg is healing.  Sometimes it’s a permanent, resulting from either an inborn condition or a later trauma.  We wouldn’t say,  “walking is best, but a wheelchair is easier,” would we?  Nor would we permit wheelchair manufacturers to market their medical assistive devices to healthy people, especially under the guise of purporting to be equal to or superior to autonomous movement.  Wheelchairs are expensive, and require regular maintenance and servicing.  Besides the expense and upkeep, a healthy person who opts to use a wheelchair rather than the biologically designed process of walking will, in fact, suffer adverse effects—which end up costing more in the long run.  Constant wheelchair use causes atrophy and loss of strength.  It can lead to sores and infection if not carefully maintained and adjusted.  It is not the optimal way for healthy people to move around.

Yet, too often, this is exactly what happens to breastfeeding mothers.

Because we view wheelchairs as assistive devices to be used only when medically necessary, our cultural and medical approach to someone who needs one is with the goal of restoring maximum functionality and quality to their lives—and to use the wheelchair as little as possible in order to maximize the patient’s innate health and strength.  Because we view formula as food—and because it is strongly marketed in unethical ways that undermine breastfeeding women—our cultural and often medical approach to formula is to view it as equal, and often preferable to breastmilk. We permit formula companies—manufacturers of a medical assistive device—to market their expensive device to completely healthy babies and mothers.  We allow formula companies to undermine the biologically normal process of breastfeeding, with gross disregard to the very real risks to the health of both baby and mother.

And then there’s the defensive posture.   It usually comes in one of two ways: If formula is food, and breastmilk is food, then what do you care what I feed my kid?  Or, the ever-present mommy guilt:  If formula is the equivalent of junk food, and I can’t give my kid breastmilk, then I am a lousy mother for feeding my kid junk.  The whole conversation is destructive and ends up pitting mothers against each other—and selling more formula, because moms are then cut off from the breastfeeding support of their peers.

But if formula isn’t food, that eliminates the guilt factor.  We wouldn’t say to a patient with a spinal cord injury, “Well, if you just tried a little harder, I’m sure you could get up and walk.”  When a normal biological process is impaired, there is a sense of sadness, loss, even tragedy, occasionally outrage or injustice.  We do not shame the quadriplegic for getting hit by a car and becoming dependent on a wheelchair. We should not shame the mother who formula feeds.  In all likelihood, she is already experiencing all of these feelings—while caring for her baby.

What if we changed the dialogue around formula?  What if we returned formula to its rightful standing as a medical assistive device?  Breastfeeding, rather than being held up as the “gold (and lofty, unattainable) standard,” would return to being “the normal way to feed human young.”  Formula, as a medical assistive device, would be available when necessary and administered in a way that supports normal human biology and development.  Formula companies would be required to have FDA approval as medical tools.  In a radically pro-breastfeeding world, it might only be dispensed with a prescription, under the supervision of a trained lactation professional, with the ultimate goal of getting the baby back to breast.

A version of this is already happening in Baby-Friendly Hospitals and NICU settings worldwide.  When formula supplementation is deemed necessary by a health care provider, and the parents consent to it, formula is used in ways that support breastfeeding.  Mother is taught to breastfeed on both sides before supplementing with formula, in order to maintain and establish her supply.  Formula is administered using non-nipple methods, in order to ensure that the baby doesn’t become accustomed to the ease of bottle-feeding.  In many cases, formula is administered via a Supplemental Nursing System, in which the baby receives formula at the breast while breastfeeding.  If a baby is exclusively formula-fed, parents are taught to bottle-feed in a way that mimics breastfeeding—holding baby close, looking in his eyes, following his cues for feeding rather than emptying the bottle as quickly as possible, switching sides to promote optimal eye, jaw, and face development, perhaps even bottle-feeding skin-to-skin to increase the release of oxytocin and promote bonding.

When someone is required to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life, we teach him to use it in a way that optimizes mobility and normal quality of life.  We ensure that he has the proper tools and the right fit to move around and to engage in a wide variety of enriching activities, albeit with a few modifications when necessary.  When babies require formula-feeding, why don’t we do it in a way that also encourages optimal normal experience?


Mom2Mom KMC is a network of breastfeeding families that helps new mothers overcome the difficulties of living far from family support in an overseas military community.  Our core mission has always been to support each mother in meeting her individual breastfeeding goals.  We provide support, encouragement, and assistance through peer mentorship, education and outreach, and opportunities to meet other local breastfeeding families.  Our vision is a community-wide culture in which breastfeeding is the standard for nourishing and nurturing infants and young children, where each mother has the reassurance and acceptance necessary to attain her own personal success.

Mom2Mom KMC is designated an official Private Organization through Ramstein Air Base.  Our membership through our facebook page currently numbers 700 people around the world, and is growing daily.  That figure includes a local voluntary team of peer mentors numbering approximately 40, and a 5-member Board of Directors.   In addition, several other Mom2Mom organizations have been founded at other military installations.  A key component of Mom2Mom worldwide is commitment to helping both military spouses and Active Duty mothers to reach their breastfeeding goals. 



World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center Visit and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center for more breastfeeding resources and WBW Carnival details!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today’s participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:

(This list will be updated by afternoon August 3 with all the carnival links.)

  • Breastfeeding and NIP: A Primer — Rachel Rainbolt of Ohana Wellness, featured today at, uses her informative and candid voice to share with you everything you need to know to breastfeed successfully in public, from the practical how-to’s to handling the social stigma.
  • Lactivist Ryan Gosling — Breastfeeding mamas, the time is long overdue for a Lactivist Ryan Gosling. Fortunately, Dionna of Code Name: Mama has created some for your viewing pleasure.
  • In Defense of Formula — Amy of Mom2Mom KMC, guest blogging for Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, asserts that formula is a medical tool rather than a food. She examines how this perspective supports breastfeeding as normal and eliminates the negative tensions between breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers.
  • World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival – Breastfeeding Tips & Tricks — Throughout her breastfeeding journey (since March 2009), Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy has shared countless tips and tricks on the topic of breastfeeding.
  • Nursing in the Wild — Meredith at Thank You Ma’am posts about how seeing other moms nurse can make all of us more comfortable with nursing in public.
  • Normalizing Breastfeeding — Sara Stepford of The Stepford Sisters confronts the social stigma vs. the reality of breastfeeding and opens up about the steps she takes to make herself and others more comfortable with the process.
  • Breastfeeding Alrik at two years old — This is where Lauren at Hobo Mama and her second-born are at in their nursing relationship, two years in.
  • Perfectly Normal — Stephanie from Urban Hippie writes about the way she and her family have done their part to try and normalize breastfeeding in a society that doesn’t get to see breastfeeding as often as they should.
  • Diagnosis: Excess Lipase — Learn about excess lipase and how to test if your expressed milk has it. That Mama Gretchen shares her own experience.
  • Redefining Normal — Diana at Munchkin’s Mommy reflects on how we can normalize breastfeeding in our society.
  • Nursing Openly and Honestly — Amy W. at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work feels that the most socially responsible thing she can do as a mother is to nurse and nurture her children openly, honestly, and with pride.
  • Wet-nursing, Cross-nursing and Milk-sharing: Outdated? — Jamie Grumet of I Am Not the Babysitter shares a response to the Wendy Williams quote about milk sharing being akin to slavery, by giving a brief history of the wet nurse.
  • Tackling Mastitis with an Older Nursling — Much of the advice available for supporting recovery from mastitis seems to be aimed at mamas with younger nurslings. Juliet of Twisting Vines, posting at Natural Parents Network shares tips for dealing with mastitis while breastfeeding a toddler.
  • Milk in the eye — Gena from Nutrition Basics discusses how breastmilk cured her 3 year old’s case of pink eye.
  • Boobie Biter — Rachel Rainbolt at Ohana Wellness offers guidance on how to survive and thrive a boobie biter with your breastfeeding relationship intact.
  • My take on breastfeeding advice — Diana at Munchkin’s Mommy shares her insights on nursing for both new moms and new dads.
  • My Top Five Breastfeeding Tips for Delivery Day: Think “A-B-C-D-E”Mothernova shares how her continued success at breastfeeding with her second child rests on a foundation of five key things she did to prepare for baby’s arrival, along with things she did when she and baby first met. Easily enough, these tips can be categorized as “A-B-C-D-E”: Access to lactation consultant, Baby-friendly hospital, Communicate your plan to breastfeed exclusively, Demand, and Expect to room in.
  • Breastfeeding Buddies: Twin Brothers Nurse while Living in the NICU — Twintrospectives at How Do You Do It? shares her 5 tips for learning to breastfeed multiples while in the NICU.
  • Breastfeeding on a Dairy-Free Diet: Our Journey and Our Tips — Finding herself nursing a baby with food allergies, Jenny at Spinning Jenny embarked upon a dairy-free journey with her son for eight months. Here she relates her reasons for making the decision to give up dairy in her diet, why it was worth it, and tips for moms on the same path.
  • Normalizing Breastfeeding in my Home — Shannah at The Touch of Life shares how she plans to help keep breastfeeding normal for her own children, even when her breastfeeding years are over.
  • A Year With My Nursling — The more you see and hear, the more normal it becomes, so That Mama Gretchen is sharing her heart on the last year of breastfeeding – the ups and downs, but mostly the joy of her priceless relationship with her son.
  • From Covered to Confident — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares her personal NIP evolution: she started by covering up from neck to ankle while nursing in public. Eight years later, she has gained confidence and the ability to nurse without stressing about flashing a little skin. She shares her views on normalizing breastfeeding – what influenced her and how she hopes to help others.
  • Normalizing Breastfeeding for Older Kids — Sadia at How Do You Do It? hopes that openly discussing breastfeeding with her (now weaned) daughters will help her children feel comfortable with breastfeeding and their bodies in general as they grow.
  • Nursing in Public — Listen up, mammas. Those other people around . . . they don’t matter. It’s not about them. It’s about you and that beautiful baby. Nurse on, says The Swaddled Sprout!
  • How to Nurse a Teenager — Sarah at The Touch of Life declares: the purpose is to help normalize breastfeeding a toddler.

10 Responses to In Defense of Formula

  1. […] In Defense of Formula — Amy of Mom2Mom KMC, guest blogging for Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, asserts that formula is a medical tool rather than a food. She examines how this perspective supports breastfeeding as normal and eliminates the negative tensions between breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers. […]

  2. […] In Defense of Formula — Amy of Mom2Mom KMC, guest blogging for Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, asserts that formula is a medical tool rather than a food. She examines how this perspective supports breastfeeding as normal and eliminates the negative tensions between breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers. […]

  3. Oh good grief. Lactivist are just the worst. Formula IS food. “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth.” That’s the definition of food. Exclusively formula fed babies, like mine, do thrive every single day. Get over it lactivist. As far as your silly comparison, sorry but lactating is not the same as walking. It’s a temporary function that not all people go through that actually has a high rate of failure. A more accurate comparison would be comparing lactation to pregnancy. Complications such as miscarriages are common.

  4. […] In Defense of Formula — Amy of Mom2Mom KMC, guest blogging for Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, asserts that formula is a medical tool rather than a food. She examines how this perspective supports breastfeeding as normal and eliminates the negative tensions between breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers. […]

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