“Just Breastfeed” – How Not to Encourage Moms During the Formula Crisis

I had an awkward conversation with a grandma when I was a new mom. I was nursing my baby on my friend’s couch when her grandma smiled at me and said, “It’s so good to see a mom nursing her baby! So many moms use formula these days. Breast milk is much better.”

I smiled and continued to feed my baby. When I had nursed him all I could, I did what I always did. I pulled a bottle of prepared formula out of my diaper bag and finished his feeding. The look on the grandma’s face suddenly changed. She was obviously confused. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t feel the need to explain that I didn’t produce enough milk for my baby. I didn’t explain that for the last five months I had tried supplements, lactation groups, extra water and food intake, lactation teas, extra feeds, and tons of prayer. I didn’t explain how thankful I was that formula could pick up where I left off after every feed. I simply fed my baby.

A Desperate Situation  

Isn’t that our most basic job as moms – feeding our babies? Yet thousands of moms across the country are struggling to feed their babies right now. We are in crisis mode.

In February of this year, Abbott Laboratories, the largest producer of powdered infant formula initiated a recall after life-threatening bacteria was found in four infants who used their products. Combined with Covid related supply chain interruptions and the war in Ukraine (a major supplier of an ingredient in formula), grocery store shelves are empty. Think toilet paper in 2020, but with much more serious consequences.

It’s a nightmare for moms. They are searching high and low for different options for purchasing formula. It could be weeks or months before we see it back on store shelves.

A Compounded Problem

Amid the fear of not being able to feed their babies, there is an added pressure weighing on formula feeding moms: breastfeeding moms. Many in the “Breast is Best” community are asking, “Why don’t you just breastfeed?” There is an assumption that now all the formula feeding moms will finally do it “right.” Mamas are jumping on social media to offer advice such as, “Uhhh, maybe it’s time to breastfeed. It’s work, but it’s free.”

This doesn’t help the anxious mom who mixes her baby’s bottle, carefully counting how many more she can make before she runs out. It doesn’t help the mom who is scouring the internet and calling grocery stores to locate one more can of formula just to get through the next few days. These moms aren’t looking for breastfeeding advice. They are looking for food for their babies.

There are many reasons a mom might not breastfeed. Medications, poor latch, low supply, and adoption are just a few. There are moms who choose to use formula so they can go to work. Breastfeeding mamas are confusing the real issue. It’s as though the real problem is not Covid, a recall, or the war with Ukraine, but a mom’s decision to feed her baby formula. This only heaps more negativity on moms who are already in an extremely distressing situation. Yes, we have a formula problem. But we also have a major attitude problem in the mom community.

It’s a false notion that every mom can breastfeed, yet this was what was communicated to me many times when I was struggling to feed my baby. Even well-meaning Christian moms would try to encourage me by saying, “God made your body to do this, so you can.” All that meant was that something was wrong with me.  And yes, something was wrong with me: I was living in a fallen world with a fallen body. As Christians, we know that all of creation groans with the weight of the curse (Romans 8:22). Sometimes nature works against us. This insight should fuel our humility and our compassion. The ability to breastfeed is a gift. Gifts aren’t meant to be used to guilt-trip other moms.

Formula can also be a gift. Before it’s invention in 1865, moms who couldn’t breastfeed were limited in safe ways to feed their babies. Formula has provided nutrition for countless babies who might not have had nutrition otherwise, yet it has become an object of criticism instead of thankfulness. How can we get past this negativity and help our fellow moms?

A Better Way to Help

At a time when moms should come together more than ever, the lines are becoming deeper. The Christian mom community should be the first to erase the lines. Instead of burdening formula feeding mamas, we can come alongside them and ask, “What do you need?” They will probably say, “FORMULA.” But they might also need a sympathetic ear, encouragement if they do decide to tackle breastfeeding, and an extra pair of eyes on grocery store shelves.

Just as we should not assume every mom can nurse, we also shouldn’t assume that every mom wants to nurse. Even if you are convinced that breastmilk is best, this is an issue you can hold loosely. Why? Because it’s not a gospel issue. The Bible does not tell us what kind of milk to give our babies. It does tell us that if we see our brothers or sisters in need, we should not close our hearts to them (1 John 3:17). This could be as simple as offering compassion instead of advice or holding our tongues on social media.

Do you want to help formula feeding mamas? Don’t participate in the guilt trip. Protect them. Defend them. There might be many mamas who turn to breastfeeding as a result of the formula shortage, but that is not the goal. The goal is that the most vulnerable among us are fed. Our hearts should break for these babies and for their mamas who desperately want to feed them. We are all on the same team. It’s not the breastmilk team or the formula team. It’s the “Feed the Babies” team.

If you are a mama in need of food for your baby, check out this list of resources. If you’re a mama looking to help, check out milk banking.

Books by Sara Wallace:

Created to Care
“The gospel is the foundation for what it means to be a mother. It is always through this lens that Sara’s wisdom comes shining into our daily lives where joining all the dots can be tricky.” – Kristyn Getty, soloist; composer; hymnwriter; coauthor of Sing!
For the Love of Discipline
“The culmination of 30 years of evangelical thinking about parenting. Clear guidelines, great illustrations, and very practical.” – Pastor Steve, Atlanta
The Gospel-Centered Mom
“The Gospel-Centered Mom is a huge gulp of refreshing air for moms who are in the thick of raising kids. It takes your eyes off of your performance and places them on the one who performed perfectly for us.” – Jessica Thompson, co-author of Give Them Grace

Follow me on Instagram! gospelcenteredmomsarawallace

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