While most parents know what formula is and at least have a loose idea on how to prepare it, if they haven’t already done so themselves, there are still a lot of misconceptions out there about it.
And although nursing is often highly promoted when moms are expecting and after they’ve delivered, there are plenty of parents who either wind up using formula or choose it from the start. Plus, plenty of other parents supplement with formula and therefore combination feed.
But average parents aren’t the only ones dealing with both breastmilk and formula—there are many celebrities who have spoken out about being criticized for their use of bottles—and formula—and there are also many who have completely shut down naysayers on social media and elsewhere.
After all, feeding a baby is feeding a baby—no matter how the caregiver manages to do it. It might be preferable to use the stuff nature intended, but it doesn’t always work out that way—and formula is a manageable and frankly underrated solution.
Because at the end of the day, a fed baby is a healthy and happy baby, so that’s what many parents choose to focus on. On that note, there are many misconceptions that many parents have about formula, so here are 20 falsehoods that many parents might actually believe.
20 Formula Is The Only Alternative
First off, it’s important to point out that although formula is a helpful alternative when moms either can’t or choose not to breastfeed. However, it isn’t the only alternative these days—and for lots of moms, that’s great news. Because not only is formula prohibitively expensive in many cases, but it can also be tough on babies’ tummies, particularly those who were born premature. So it might be helpful for moms to know there are alternatives—like human milk banks such as Eats on Feets or Human Milk for Human Babies. Another perk of using a thoroughly vetted milk donor is that you’ll often just pay for shipping (if necessary) to get the fresh milk to your baby.
19 Formula Should Be The Last Option
Along with those trolls who criticize celebrities on social media for their apparent apathy toward breastfeeding, there are real-life trolls who like to criticize parents for choosing formula instead of seeking out donor breastmilk. The thing is, there’s a common misconception that formula should be the last option for babies, instead of whatever number option the parents want it to be. Some people aren’t comfortable with sourcing donor milk, some find it inaccessible even with shipping and whatnot, and some just don’t want to deal with the trouble of paying for and tracking all that milk, plus storing it at home.
18 Once You Supplement, You Can’t Go Back
Another falsehood about starting to use formula is that moms won’t be able to go back to breastfeeding if they so choose. Normally this is a concern moms have if they find they need to supplement, either while they’re waiting on their milk to come in, during a temporary illness in them or the baby, or while they’re away and pumping at work or somewhere else. But as long as you keep making milk (or re-lactate later), you can always try to bring your baby back to nursing. Even if they won’t latch, you can still express milk to give them and combination feed—whatever works for you!
17 Formula Is The Same As Mama Milk
Here’s where some of the critics are correct: formula and mother’s milk are not the same. But that can be both positive and negative, depending on your child, your lifestyle, any medical conditions, and other factors. For example, some babies require more calories and fat than either formula or mom’s milk alone, leading medical professionals to combine the milks to get more nutrients in the baby! In other cases, babies benefit from having a milk source that’s hypoallergenic: some babies can have such severe food allergies that mom’s milk simply isn’t tolerable, no matter what she cuts out. Regardless, sometimes the differences between mom’s milk and formula are actually good things.
16 The Two Milks Are Interchangeable
While formula can be a lifesaver in many instances, moms do need to recognize that mixing up a bottle isn’t always as straightforward as they might hope. Some babies are sensitive with formula, whether it’s every kind or just the regular, non-sensitive formulations. Some moms will see a severe dip in their milk supply when supplementing, because their baby isn’t at the tap creating the demand to increase their milk supply. In general, the two milks aren’t interchangeable, whether it’s because of baby’s tummy or mom’s production—and it’s just something to be aware of if you’re thinking of introducing formula.
15 There Are “Good” And “Bad” Choices
Here’s something I worried about a lot when I was formula feeding my first baby, after having struggled with breastfeeding for months: are all formulas created equal? Nowadays there’s even more variety when it comes to infant formula—with special formulas for toddlers, too—so it’s far more challenging to pick something! But overall, there are no “good” or “bad” choices—all formulas that are sold in your local area have to conform to the same standards. The standards vary by country, but when you walk into the store and see the canisters lining the shelves, all the manufacturers have to follow the same nutritional and safety standards.
14 The Cheap Stuff Is Unhealthy
It can definitely help to acknowledge the previous point when it comes to having to purchase “cheaper” infant formula. No parent wants to feel like they’re slacking or not giving their baby enough, but some parents honestly can’t afford higher-priced formula from the likes of Gerber or Enfamil, and some parents can’t afford even the store-brand organic formulas. The thing is, none of it is inherently unhealthy! Sure, there are arguments to be made for grass-fed dairy and even goat’s milk, or organic milks, but overall, all these formula options have the same amount of nutrients and will fill a hungry baby’s belly and help her grow. Which is, after all, the point.
13 Formula Is Unbearably Expensive
Some families might worry about footing the bill for their kiddo’s formula costs, and this can even lead to moms wearing themselves out trying to breastfeed or pump when it’s just not working. Whatever the issue, some families find formula to be way too expensive. The thing is, there are always ways to get help—from asking your doctor for a prescription for your kiddo’s milk to submit to your insurance, to visiting WIC (Women, Infants and Children programs) for some assistance via redeemable milk vouchers. All it takes is for parents to not be too humble to accept help, and for them to do a little legwork to find that help!
12 Formula Fed Babies Are Sick All The Time
Plenty of studies suggest that breastfed babies are, overall, healthier than formula fed ones. And while the general conclusion of these studies is correct, you have to keep in mind a few things. First of all, studies are based off of relatively small sample size—even if they use thousands of participants, that’s still statistically a tiny portion of the population! Second, you can’t control for every single factor in a study, no matter how hard you try. And finally, every baby is different—different genetics, different lifestyle factors, different environments—different germ-attracting siblings! So much is left up to chance that it’s hard to say what really causes one kiddo to be sick more than another!
11 There’s No Bonding Happening
Here’s the deal: no matter what you’re doing with your baby, if you’re speaking to him and looking him in the eye, you’re bonding! Whether that means you’re nursing him or feeding him a bottle of formula, it doesn’t matter. The only way you won’t be bonding during feeding times is if you’re propping your baby’s bottle and walking away—and that’s an obvious safety no-no in the first place! So mamas should recognize that holding her baby close and helping her enjoy a meal is what’s important, not what that meal consists of or even where it comes from!
10 All Babies Eat The Same
Especially for parents of breastfed babies, who typically don’t have a sense of just how much their baby is eating at a feeding, it can be hard to figure out how much food a baby should have in a bottle. And the thing is, although there are general feeding guidelines for bottles, every formula fed baby is different and won’t want to eat the exact same amount at the exact same hour as another baby. Some babies eat two ounces or so at a time and want to eat more often, while other babies are fine with a six-ounce bottle every four hours. You just have to learn what your baby wants and when!
9 Bottle Fed Babies Sleep Through The Night
One of the reasons many parents decide to supplement with formula is because they think their babies aren’t eating enough. One of their indicators? It’s usually that the baby isn’t sleeping through the night! But the thing is, biologically speaking, babies aren’t “made” to sleep through the night, and it can even take up to a year for a baby—bottle fed or otherwise—to become accustomed to sleeping all night. Typically, formula fed babies do sleep more deeply and maybe for a little longer, but it’s not a guarantee! It’s just that their tummies take longer to digest the formula, so it could help them stay asleep a bit longer since they’re not feeling hungry quite as soon.
8 Bottled Milk Is The Lazy Option
I’ve heard this one so often that it makes my eyes roll back in my head. If bottle feeding were the easy way out, would so many moms like myself have tried so hard to give their babies breastmilk? And nursing efforts aside, who would choose to prep, wash, mix, refrigerate, transport, heat, reheat, and sanitize a half a dozen baby bottles every day for fun? Formula feeding is definitely not the easy option when it comes to filling our babies’ tummies, not when you consider that mom’s milk source is always the right temperature and doesn’t require any scrubbing or sanitizing to be safe to eat from.
7 All Moms Who Formula Feed Choose Not To BF
This is another misconception that affected me as a new mom not once but twice. I tried so hard to nurse my babies but it never worked (for endless reasons that I won’t get into here), and every time I went out somewhere and had to carry formula, I felt like if anyone saw me I would be judged for it. Because there’s a misconception that every mom who formula feeds chose not do what’s “best” for her baby by nursing. Of course, those critics don’t acknowledge that a mama may be a cancer survivor without the equipment to nurse, or that she adopted her baby, or that her baby was born with a condition that made them unable to nurse.
6 Formula Milk Is Shelf-Stable
This is one of those formula feeding practices that makes me wince, but I’ve seen it too many times to gloss over it. So many parents who formula feed are super casual about their babies’ bottles—they’ll mix it, hand it to their baby or toddler, and then the bottle rolls around for a few hours or even for half of the day while the baby crawls, sleeps, and whatever else. The problem is, once you mix formula, the baby has to eat it within two hours or it can start growing bacteria. Super gross, and risky for your baby’s health! You also can’t refrigerate it after your baby eats off the bottle—that adds more bacteria, increasing the chances of something icky growing in your kiddo’s meal.
5 The Taste Is Gross
Personally, I’ve always thought that formula is super smelly and not at all like something I’d want to drink daily for at least a year! But babies? They don’t have that same “ick” sense as we do—it tastes like food, so it’s fine to them! And honestly, how do you expect a nutritionally-complete bottle of food to taste? Like broccoli, maybe? That might just about on point! The thing is, formula isn’t the lesser or more gross option in comparison with mom’s milk, so parents shouldn’t think in terms of giving their baby something smelly or non-tasty. It’s food, it’s edible, and it helps them grow—that’s what matters.
4 Baby Bottles Have To Be Just Right
One of the big stressors for parents expecting a baby or turning to bottle feeding after nursing is the search for bottles! And although moms who are combination feeding at the chest and via bottle might worry about confusing their babies with a variety of feeding formats, most experts don’t worry about that. At least, every lactation consultant I’ve seen has told me it’s more important how you feed, not what you feed with. The key is choosing a slow-flow top for the bottle and not pushing your baby to eat too fast. Beyond that, everything is BPA-free these days, and babies can figure out both mom’s milk makers and a bottle equally well.
3 More Is Better
Another thing that’s made me wince while watching parents feed their babies is mixing a massive bottle—eight or ten ounces—for a tiny baby and then expecting them to eat it all. Or, even worse, saving it for later after they’ve eaten half. In general, it’s smarter to do small feeds more frequently so that you don’t overfeed your baby. Not only does overfeeding induce spit up, but it can also set the kiddo up to overeat later in life—part of the connection between formula feeding and babies who develop health problems later. Basically, you’ve got to slow down and give them time to feel full so they can learn to self-regulate later.
2 All Babies Gain Fast On Formula
I know someone who was nursing her baby just fine for the first few months of the baby’s life, but then the doctor wasn’t happy with the little girl’s growth. So he told the mom to supplement with formula, which ended up cutting mom’s milk supply and making her switch to formula full time. And guess what? That baby never grew beyond the percentile she was at when the doctor told her mom to make the switch. Some babies just grow slower, some babies grow faster, and some babies are just destined to be petite. Rather than focusing on percentiles and whatnot, concentrating on them meeting milestones and growing on their own timeline is a better indicator of progress!
1 Formula Fixes All Feeding Issues
Some mamas stop nursing because their babies have bad reflux or colic and they can’t figure out how to help the conditions. But for younger babies, you still need a source of liquid nutrition—so many of those babies wind up on formula. And then, the same problems keep happening and mamas are at a loss! Although formula is a great solution for lots of kiddos (and moms), it’s not the answer for all of them—and many babies continue to have feeding issues even after switching to formula. You can’t really guess how it’ll go, or whether your baby will be worse off with cow’s milk formula than with mom’s dairy diet, so you just have to take things one step at a time!