My favorite historian, Ruth Goodman, says that the most important and least celebrated invention that helped women’s liberation progress was the laundry machine. Women no longer had to lose an entire day’s time keeping the family’s clothing clean. Thanks to the laundry machine, we can just toss the dirty clothes into the machine, press a button, and walk away. When it comes to women’s lib, I think we have been ignoring another unsung hero – baby formula.
I know “breast is best,” and I do NOT want those La Leche League chicas coming for me. Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing, providing baby with benefits too many to count. All I want is a world where we can simultaneously celebrate breast feeding and formula feeding – a world where we don’t have to tear one down to praise the other. Breastfeeding celebrates women’s power to feed our children, and thus, celebrates feminism. Let’s recognize that formula is feminism, too.
Hear me out.
Formula is feminism because formula promotes a more balanced workload between parents. Keeping an infant fed is a serious 24-hour task. My hat goes off to those breastfeeding mommas who have the full responsibility for waking up every two hours or less to feed their hungry babe. With formula, my partner could share that task with me. I got up with the baby half the time, and he got up with the baby half the time. When one of us was reeling with exhaustion and just needed a half hour alone, we could tap each other in and out. We were a feeding team getting through those exhausting first months together.
Formula is feminism because formula puts a value on a woman’s time. One of the things pro-breastfeeding moms will tell you is how much money you save when you don’t have to buy formula and bottles. A recent Slate article discussed the true cost of breastfeeding, and the title of the article is “Breast Milk is Only Free If We Think Women’s Time is Worthless.” The article goes on to break down just how massive the time commitment is for breastfeeding moms and how that time commitment negatively effects breastfeeding families economically. Some women will say that the time sacrifice was one hundred percent worth it, and I believe them and support their choice. However, let’s not present breastfeeding as “free.” Let’s respect the sacrifice breastfeeding moms are making every day, and let’s tell the truth to new moms looking for answers.
Formula is feminism because formula is freedom. Like all moms feeding their baby, I made sure that when he was hungry for a bottle, I settled down in a comfortable chair in a peaceful place to feed and bond. I cherished that sweet time. However, life with kids is chaos, and there were times that I needed to get to that meeting or class or cook dinner or do one of a million other chores. Formula provided me that freedom to accept help. If grandpa popped in for a visit and I needed to do the laundry, guess who got to feed the baby? I got help from friends, family, Parents’ Day Out teachers, and neighbors. I was so much better for it.
Formula is feminism because formula is inclusive. Formula doesn’t ask how you got here. Formula just hands you a bottle and says “feed that hungry baby.” All parents have their own journey when it comes to feeding choices. Some moms simply didn’t want to breastfeed. Some moms are still beating themselves up five months later because they tried and tried but couldn’t make breastfeeding work. Some people struggled with infertility or are part of the LGBTQ community where adoption was their best option and breastfeeding couldn’t happen. Whatever their journey, I think most formula feeding parents can attest to feeling judged for their feeding choice. In my experience, formula feeding parents are less likely to judge you on your feeding choices because they have been on their own feeding journey that probably had some bumps in the road along the way.
As parents, we are professionals at beating ourselves up for our choices. Breastfeeding mom, the next time your baby is ready to nurse in a restaurant, don’t go to the bathroom! Feed that baby right at the table. Formula mom, the next time your baby is hungry in public, wherever you may be, mix that formula bottle without shame. We’ve all got this.