Moms seeking formula tire of those who say, just breastfeed
As Morgan Fabry drives around Chicago looking for baby formula that is in short supply, she can’t help but be bothered by comments from people who don’t understand why she can’t breastfeed.
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of life by major medical entities like the World Health Organization, giving rise to the saying, “breast is best.” But breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone, and that mantra is only adding to the stress Fabry and other parents feel as the shortage drags on.
“The bottom line is fed is best,’’ said Fabry, 34. “I’m getting triggered by people who say, ‘Oh, just breastfeed.’”
At the center of the shortage is the largest domestic manufacturing plant in Michigan, which the U.S. government is working to reopen. The Biden administration is also allowing more imports from other countries.
Corryn Chini avoided the baby formula aisle during her grocery shopping trip in Dayton, Ohio this week. With enough formula in her cupboard at home for a week or two, there was no sense in letting the empty shelves trigger feelings of anxiety and guilt.
For Chini, the guilt comes from lingering feelings of failure after she was unable to exclusively breastfeed, starting with her first baby in 2018.
“Breastfeeding was a huge struggle and I felt an immense amount of guilt around not succeeding,” Chini said. “In the end I was never able to produce enough, and we had a late diagnosis of tongue-tie, and it was a mess. When I had my second, I thought, ‘I can do this, I can advocate for myself,’ and again, it just didn’t work.”
Her youngest, Evangeline, was born three months ago. Chini is supplementing with formula.
There are various barriers to breastfeeding, including medical issues for the baby or mom and work and living conditions.
Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ breastfeeding group, said exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is recommended and safe for most babies, but meeting the recommendations can be “very challenging.”
Infants with an uncommon condition called classic galactosemia are unable to metabolize sugar in breast milk and need to be fed formula, Feldman-Winter said.
Some medical conditions make it difficult for women to breastfeed, and it isn’t recommended for those with HIV or undergoing cancer treatment. And exclusive breastfeeding is difficult for working women, who have to pump repeatedly throughout the day.
“There’s even greater barriers in underserved areas, women working for hourly wages in low-paying jobs. Those women tend to have even fewer supports to be able to continue to breastfeed.”
Stress releases a hormone that makes it difficult to produce milk, she said.
Millions of babies in the U.S. rely on formula, which is the only source of nutrition recommended for infants who aren’t exclusively breastfed. Shortages have forced some parents to switch formulas, which doctors say is fine in most cases.