Self Magazine: Can We Stop Formula Shaming Once and for All?

From Self Magazine

by Allison Tsai

June 23, 2022

Here’s an idea that can release you from that thinking: The benefits of breastfeeding are slightly exaggerated.

While studies have shown that chestfeeding may play a role in many of the health benefits mentioned, you need to keep in mind the type of studies being done, Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, MD, a board-certified emergency physician, newborn brain injury and breastfeeding complications researcher, and cofounder of The Fed Is Best Foundation, tells SELF. “In properly controlled trials, the only health benefits of breastfeeding that have really panned out are reductions in G.I. infections, respiratory infections, and eczema,” she says. “So there may be some kind of immunologic infectious benefits, but for the most part that only lasts for the duration of breastfeeding.”

The effects seen in things like high blood pressure and diabetes, Dr. del Castillo-Hegyi says, are found in observational studies—meaning you can’t parse out certain lifestyle behaviors or genetics that may affect the results.2 “You can’t fully control for variables like socioeconomic status and differences between breastfeeding households and non-breastfeeding households that may affect the baby,” she says. “That is the reason why we refer to properly controlled studies to tell the difference between breastfed and formula-fed babies.”…

In severe situations, it can even lead to inadvertently starving your baby—a scenario Dr. del Castillo-Hegyi knows firsthand. “I found myself with a dehydrated, jaundiced baby because of my inability to produce milk when he needed it.”

Imagine if the nursing staff at the hospital where you gave birth didn’t even give you the option to formula feed. This is the reality at hospitals that adopt the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative—a designation given to hospitals that enforce guidelines and practices that meet strict criteria around breastfeeding. In practice, this can look like a nurse who repeatedly discourages you from using formula or the complete removal of nurseries, which historically have been used to give new parents a few hours to sleep and can involve supplementing with formula. Again, this adds to the undue pressure on birthing parents to chestfeed exclusively.

Perhaps if the message were different, fewer people would find themselves in situations like the one Dr. del Castillo-Hegyi faced. “Formula has been demonized, weaponized, and moralized, but as far as nutritional content goes, it’s so expertly developed for absorption, and it contains every macronutrient, micronutrient, vitamin, and mineral that breast milk contains,” Jody Segrave-Daly RN, MS, IBCLC, a former NICU nurse and lactation consultant, and cofounder of the Fed Is Best Foundation, tells SELF.

To read the full article, go to Self Magazine.