"Why is baby formula such a dirty little secret?"


Is baby formula so absolutely terrible that we (as a society) refuse to educate new mums about it or even how to use it?

When I reserved my “spot” at the hospital, I was provided with “your baby is coming” leaflets. About half of those talked about breastfeeding. How to do it. Who to go to for help. What’s normal and not normal. They even recommended I take the breastfeeding pre-birth class.

“The more information you know about breastfeeding, the more likely you are to successfully breastfeed,” they said.

At the “this is what happens when you give birth” class, they even mentioned breastfeeding (and how all the mums in the class should go to the breastfeeding class before giving birth).

Before I gave birth, my obstetrician’s midwife sat me down and talked to me about breastfeeding. She went so far as to recommend that I milk myself in my last week of pregnancy to have some colostrum on hand. For the record, I didn’t take her recommendation.


"I was inundated with information on how to successfully breastfeed." Image via iStock.

As I sat in the hospital room waiting to be taken to the operation theatre for my caesarean, there was a chart beside the bed on how to position your nipple and baby for successful breastfeeding. I studied that chart while I waited for two hours.

In the days after the birth, I had the "breastfeeding" channel on the TV on replay. I watched every episode, including the one about breastfeeding twins - those mums deserve an award or something. I attended the breastfeeding class in the hospital, had a one-on-one consultation three times with the lactation consultant, had a midwife with me every time I breastfed to make sure my daughter latched correctly and I Googled breastfeeding tips. When I got home the Early Childhood Health nurse gave me tips on how to breastfeed and gave me more breastfeeding pamphlets.

Despite everything I did, my boobs just did not want to produce enough milk for my baby. After beating myself up and swearing to never treat my boobs to a nice bra in the future, I switched to formula.


This was the information that I received:

How to prepare formula. Image supplied.

That's a photo of the instructions on the back of the tin.

That's it. Oh, one of the midwives let me know that if I did go with formula (she knew my boob struggles) to always check the temperature of the milk before giving it to my baby. That's it.

For all the information on how to successfully breastfeed, there is a very small amount on how to successfully formula feed. I understand that it seems easier than breastfeeding - put the bottle in the babies mouth and they drink. There are just as many questions though...

Which formula should I use? Which bottle? What should I do if my baby doesn't take the bottle?

How long can I keep the formula? Do I have to boil the water each and every time? What if my baby is screaming their head off - I don't have time to boil water and then cool it!

How much should I give my baby? How do I know they've had enough? How do I know if they need more? How often should I feed them?

Do I let them drink the whole bottle and then burp them?

Until what age should I sterilise the bottles? How do I take formula with me so I can leave the house when I feed them?


I have asked every single one of these questions. I have asked even more.

"I had to search on information on how to formula feed." Image via iStock.

While the information on breastfeeding was shoved in my face from the minute I peed on the stick, I had to search for the information on formula. There was no class for me to ask my silly but highly important (to me) questions. While I can Google how to prepare a bottle of formula, many of the other questions are contained within threads on the corners of the Internet where formula-feeding mums go to try to find answers.


You can't even be informed which formula is the best for your baby. There are no adverts on formula (only for toddlers). The shelf in a supermarket is far to overwhelming for a new mum surviving on a few hours of sleep with their baby in the pram to read each label and determine which is the best. Even to get into a retailers baby formula website you need to tick the "I know breast is best" disclosure pop up.

But, why? Why is that formula is so horrible, we can't even speak about it?

I understand that once upon a time everyone chanted  "formula is best". I understand there is a huge push to ensure that never happens again. I understand that breast is best.

My breasts weren't best though. In the words of my very kind doctor, thankfully I have a second option. It's a good option. It's a healthy and nutritious option.


What's so horrible about this picture? Image via iStock.

So why is my second, but still good, option so terrible to talk about? Why isn't there a pamphlet on "If your boobs don't work: how to make formula work for you and your baby"?

I would've appreciated a little more information than what's on the back of a tin.

Jamila Rizvi on returning to work after the birth of her son: