baby

"Formula felt like my dirty little secret": I need to talk about the politics of breastfeeding.

Chrissy Teigen caused a stir recently when she shared multiple tweets asking to ‘normalise’ formula feeding

While I agree with anything that would help new mums to navigate a difficult time, I think it is easier said than done considering the complex debate around feeding babies.

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I breastfed both my boys, now aged 10 and three, but I also supplemented with a little formula from when they were around six weeks. I stopped breastfeeding altogether before they were seven months old. My deviation from the Australian guidelines meant I felt like a bit of an outcast, which I shall explain.

Before I was pregnant, I actually felt a bit squeamish at the idea of breastfeeding. Fast forward to 2010 when I was pregnant with my first son Toby, and I soon realised I had to change my attitude.

As any new mum will know, all the flyers, books, websites and health workers tell you that ‘breast is best’ and no one ever asked me how I felt about breastfeeding anyway. 

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After Toby was born by c-section I began trying to feed him. At first, I found it really painful. It wasn’t just my nipples that bled in protest, but my back, neck and arms were sore from having to constantly bend into new positions to get Toby latched on correctly.

It wasn’t just the physical pain I struggled with either. I felt embarrassed and ashamed that this natural thing did not come naturally to me, especially in front of other people or out in public as I awkwardly tried to get comfy using pillows and muslins.

"I felt embarrassed and ashamed that this natural thing did not come naturally to me." Image: Supplied.

As a people-pleaser and because I wanted to do the best by my first-born son, like Chrissy Teigen, I also used a breast pump. And not just any old pump - a dual-action breast pump machine that I hired from the pharmacy.

I was exhausted, sore and confused and yet no one tried to stop me because I was being such a ‘good mother’, spending all these extra hours when I could have been resting, pumping tiny amounts of my milk into freezer bags.

But by breastfeeding AND pumping I felt a weird pride at having reached a pinnacle of new motherhood that for me, soon became unsustainable.

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It wasn’t until a beautiful midwife came to visit at home and saw me hooked up to the pump and crying into my cold tea, that she suggested supplementing one formula feed per day instead. 

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It was a revelation – no one had looked at me and weighed up my needs alongside my baby’s before by offering a practical solution. 

I went to the pharmacy that same day and bought some sample sized sachets of formula. Baby Toby enjoyed his first formula feed and we never looked back. By this stage breastfeeding was also becoming easier and less painful and I enjoyed the benefits of convenience and bonding. 

But the addition of one, then two formula feeds as Toby grew bigger was excellent too. He was a happy baby, my husband Jules got to be more hands-on and I got more sleep.  


I noticed a positive shift in my moods almost instantly, but I didn’t really tell anyone about our introduction of the formula feed because I knew I had broken one of the breastfeeding guidelines and I felt ashamed.

I had stepped away from my gold-class breastfeeding/pumping-at-all-hours pinnacle status and the formula feed felt like my dirty little secret.

When we introduced solids for Toby at five months, our dual interest in breastfeeding began to wane. At six months he became even more distracted at feed times and as I was also starting to do a bit of work and more exercise, it was a natural end point for both of us.

I had enjoyed breastfeeding after that initial pain and stress, and felt happy I had given it a good go.

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That was until another mum asked me if I realised that ‘current Australian guidelines suggest a full 12 months of breastfeeding?’.

I had breastfed, yes, but not for long enough or in the right way, so it was like I no longer belonged. I felt a sense of shame that perhaps I should have tried harder, but I also knew that I did what was right for me and our family at the time.

When baby Leo arrived six years after Toby, I wanted to try breastfeeding again but I decided I wouldn’t bother with pumping. A few weeks into Leo’s life we also began with the one supplementary bottle of formula per day. Leo was happy, I was happy.

"I felt happy that I had given it a good go." Image: Supplied.

As Chrissy said on Twitter, I am not arguing that breast milk is best for babies – the majority of research and the current Australian guidelines say that this is true.

But not only should we normalise formula as being perfectly okay, we also need to normalise and celebrate every type of feeding - factoring in the mother’s mental health and right to choose.

Whatever your reasons and whether you are passionately pro-breastfeeding, giving breastfeeding a red-hot go mixed in with some formula (like I did), or straight up formula feeding only; new motherhood is a hard-enough time without layering shame on each other.

Like Chrissy says, ‘you are doing it right if your baby is fed, mama’.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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