Why Breast v Formula Should Not Be a Debate

baby-105063_1280 We all know the breastfeeding versus formula feeding debate. We’ve all heard the passionate, and often outright hostile, arguments on each side. Many of us probably have an opinion one way or the other. Well, this post is not going to be about mine. No, I am not here to wade into the debate, I am here to ask whether it should be a debate at all.

I think not. You see, in this country (and the rest of the developed world), both breast and formula feeding are valid options. This feeding dilemma is not, in fact, a dilemma. It is a choice. An extremely fortunate choice between two options that are both ultimately safe and acceptable.

Yes, breastfeeding is obviously what nature intended. No, it being a natural process does not mean that all mothers and babies can do it. That is not how nature works. In nature, in all species, there are young who are unable to feed effectively. They die. It is natural selection. We as a species have developed to the point where we deem it unacceptable for some of our young to simply be allowed to starve. As with so many aspects of life, we have interfered in nature and developed alternatives. That’s great. But some of us seem to have forgotten along the way that, of course, not every mother and baby is able to breastfeed just because it is nature. We should appreciate the amazing alternatives that have been developed, rather than insist that all mothers must be able to breastfeed if they really tried.

About these alternatives. So they aren’t natural. A lot of things in modern life aren’t. They have been carefully formulated, used for generations. They are safe. They work. Formula fed babies grow up just fine. Yes, there are certain benefits to breast milk that formula milk cannot replicate but, in the developed world, the difference won’t be life or death, the impact is not significant.

Breast milk is cheaper, it’s quicker, it’s ready prepared. Of course, it puts every feed onto the mother. That is not always very convenient or practical in a modern world. Mothers do not sit in a cave and suckle young these days. They are expected to do things, see people, go out, often work. 2-3 hourly feeds, requiring the partial exposing of body parts, can be a strain. Formula, meanwhile, is more difficult to prepare, costs money, doesn’t benefit the immune system. On the other hand, feeding can be shared with other people, and no one feels awkward about doing it in public. It’s swings and roundabouts. There are positives and negatives to both options.

The key is that we have this choice. We have a choice and it really doesn’t matter which option we choose. Not in the grand scheme of things. Whichever way you decide to feed your baby, there will have been pluses and minuses, and your baby will have received nutrition, will have grown and thrived.

This is not a dilemma. There is nothing to debate. A dilemma is when you are HIV positive (communicable through breast milk), and have no option but to breastfeed your baby or allow it to starve. A dilemma is when formula milk has been aggressively pushed as an alternative by the formula companies, but there is no clean water to make it with, no sterilisation facilities, and you cannot afford enough formula to properly feed your baby. A dilemma is when you are too weak yourself to effectively breastfeed an infant, but have no other safe options available.

The choice we have in Britain is between two non-harmful, acceptable alternatives. Yet, we manage to fight about this choice. For some women in the world, their choices are between which potential cause of death they want for their baby. AIDS? Deadly water borne infections? Starvation? That is a ‘choice’ people should be fighting about.

Arguing over breast or formula, judging and criticising others for making a different – but still perfectly safe – choice for their child, is surely a monumental waste of time and energy. Preaching to another British mother for feeding in a different way from you is pointless. Nothing is achieved. She won’t appreciate your interference. Wouldn’t that energy and passion for the cause be better spent campaigning for those mothers in the world who desperately need help to be able to give adequate and safe milk to their babies? They would appreciate your interference.

Put the effort into a real crisis, a debate worth having. Make a difference. Because irritating Cheryl next door over breast being best isn’t making a difference to anything, except maybe Cheryl’s Christmas card list.

Post Comment LoveA Cornish MumThe Dad NetworkMami 2 FiveBrilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com
Post Comment LoveA Cornish MumThe Dad NetworkMami 2 FiveBrilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com


  1. Sarah norris says:

    Bloody brilliant post !!!!!!
    I wish I could render this message down and have it injected in to every opinionated/thoughtless/insensitive or bullying interfering busybody everywhere.
    I am a maternity nurse and spend my entire working life trying to help and support mothers trying to feed their babies which should, as you point out, not be a big deal. Instead, I have stressed, worried, upset, depressed, anxious confused parents because of the pressure from outsiders…and everyone except the 1 or 2 parents IS an outsider.
    I wish every one would just get on with their own lives and leave parents alone.
    Great post, thanks. I am going to share it on my FB page and Twitter in the hope it might just make people think,
    Sarah x

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Thank you so much. Yes, it is such a shame for people to feel pressure, guilt and stress over this – it is that, and not the method by which they are feeding, that risks interfering with their important bonding experiences with their children, surely. We need to keep a sense of perspective in this country and, as you say, leave people alone! Thanks for reading and sharing (and, of course, all your work as a maternity nurse!)

  2. Becster says:

    Hear hear! I completely agree that this debate over breat v bottle is a pointless waste if time and in all honesty I hadn’t thought about the other issues you mentioned. But now you’ve mentioned them it is something we ought to debate and interfere in. Fantastic post and most definitely will be sharing it.

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Thank you so much! Yes, we should – if we want to get worked up over babies not getting fed properly, there are plenty of cases in the world to be upset about, they just aren’t going to be found in the formula aisle of our local Asdas! Thank you for reading & supporting!

  3. Very well said! Sometimes people are so blinded by their own self righteousness that they forget how blooming blessed we are to have a choice at all. I watched a documentary about an African woman who was so malnourished she wasn’t producing milk. She was feeding her baby a mix of flour and water because it’s all she had and could afford. We are very fortunate to have alternatives. Also, love your blog font!!

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Thank you. It is so sad that there are so many in the world who don’t have the luck and choices we do, and are struggling to keep their babies alive. I am sure they would wonder why on earth we are arguing about two perfectly good options, and our perfectly healthy however they were fed children. Thank you for reading. (& I like my font too – I’m having an issue with it not doing left quotations, but I don’t want to change font so determined to find a solution (or switch to more American double quotes!) It’s called Love ya Like a Sister!)

  4. Emma's Mamma says:

    Well said and so true! I’ve always found the breast vs formula debate (once I realised there was such a thing) completely ridiculous and you’ve voiced exactly what I’ve been thinking. Great post! #picknmix

  5. Min says:

    Brilliantly written, as always. Totally agree. I have read a lot of posts decrying the breast vs bottle debate, but this is the first one that has really put it into perspective. We are lucky to have a choice at all.

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Mine are still very young, but as they get older I imagine most people start wondering why it seemed like such a big decision in the first place. Thanks for popping by!

  6. I couldn’t agree more. Everyone has their opinion on which way is best and that’s fine. It’s also fine to tell people your opinion in a blog post (respectfully) or if they ask you. It is not fine to approach a complete stranger who is feeding her baby and give her your opinion.
    To me, you can only jump on the “breast feeding is what nature intended why aren’t you doing it, you are a terrible mother” bandwagon if you gave birth naturally, at home, with no drugs and no medical staff on hand – after all, that’s what nature intended, right?
    I think people need to stop judging each other and show some compassion!
    Sorry about the rant 🙂 #bigfatlinky

    • Silly Mummy says:

      I agree! It’s fine to have opinions and preferences. But there is no reason for anyone to be feeling pressure or judgement from others. Yes, I often wonder if people who make a big fuss about things being natural in one area actually do live that way throughout their lives. I wonder it with people who oppose vaccines on the basis of ‘chemicals’ and ‘toxins’ and medical interventions into nature, actually. Because to me there is immediately an inconsistency there if you had any kind of drugs for labour. Thanks for popping by and, yes, compassion is always what is needed!

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Thank you! & ‘I wish I’d blogged that…just stop’ would be an even more brilliant title for your feature than the current one!

  7. Mrs H says:

    Amazing post. And I am so pleased that someone has actually written this. We should celebrate that we have a choice. As you say, many women are less fortunate and only have a choice on how they harm their baby. We shouldn’t be having this debate and when I was combination feeding my baby I did get fed up with feeling judged by people on both sides of the argument. Thanks for writing s such important post. Hugs Mrs H xxxx

    • Silly Mummy says:

      Thank you for such a lovely comment. We should celebrate the choice we have, yes. How unfortunate to incur the wrath of both ‘teams’ – presumably on the grounds of how dare you take on the hard work of both methods of feeding?! No one should feel judged for how they are doing it, and I am sorry that you did. Thank you for reading.

  8. NewMummyBlog says:

    Fabulous post! Very well said and I absolutely agree, we have a choice and should do whatever suits us best and not be judged. Your comparisons really bring us in the UK into perspective, we are fortunate to have a choice. I believe in the 70s formula feeding was very much encouraged and I don’t think we have a generation who are less intelligent or less healthy as a result.

    • Silly Mummy says:

      We are very fortunate. Yes, I thought formula was encouraged around the 70s too. & I believe many people in France consider it craziness to do anything else, as well! I agree – I don’t think it has an impact. Thank you for reading and a lovely comment!

  9. tots2travel says:

    Really well summed up. Where there is choice there will always be debate, even if there are more pressing topics to debate!, but really like how you’ve put your points across. Well thought out and expressed.

  10. Silly Mummy says:

    Thank you! &, yes, I expect you are right about choice breeding debate. Still, I don’t think it hurts to inject some perspective now and again about how fortunate we actually are.

  11. Adrian says:

    So glad to read this. I have debated writing about this issue and held back for fear of incurring the wrath of the pro breast lobby. You said it perfectly, it’s a choice. No one who can’t or doesnt want to breast feed or decides to mix it up or switch to formula at any point is doing that to harm their child. No one who keeps breast feeding for however long they want to is doing anything wrong or weird. But I see so many mums wracked by guilt about this and feeling like failures if they cant or dont want to breast feed. Come on mums (and dads) lets all support each other and raise healthy happy babies together,

    • Silly Mummy says:

      The ridiculous thing is that people feel so stressed and guilty about this issue, but really, by the time the kids are in school, I bet no one ever asks how you fed them, and certainly no one would be able to tell the difference. So really all that is happening is that people are having their newborn moments ruined worrying about something quite unimportant in the scheme of things. As you say, whatever decision is made should be supported as personal choice, and the kids are healthy and totally fine regardless.

      I did worry a little bit about whether I would incur any wrath (I have done exactly one controversial post before, and I didn’t love that type of attention), but I decided how controversial really is it to say both methods are perfectly fine and we just need some perspective. I suppose there is a small risk that really, really pro breast people could criticise me for not saying breastfeeding is the only way, but it hasn’t happened yet! I’ve had a really lovely response to this piece so far – it’s been really nice.

      Thank you for reading and for your comment.

  12. Rebecca says:

    I love this, what a fantastic post. I was just thinking about it again this morning, wishing I could still breastfeed.. and then realising that if I didn’t have the formula option then my boy would starve.. as it is he is happy and healthy, and that’s all that matters!

  13. Brilliant post – you are completely right. It should not be a debate at all. It is a choice and we are all entitled to make our own choices for which we should not be judged.

    I struggled to breastfeed both of my boys. I ended up pumping breastmilk for their first 8 weeks of life before switching to formula. The pumping was twice the amount of work as either breastfeeding or formula feeding as I was having to sterilise everything and making sure I pumped regularly. However, it was a choice I made for my boys.


  14. Honest mum says:

    It saddens me it’s a debate, no woman should be made to feel inadequate for their choice and in many cases what is out of their control. We must all do what feels right and makes us happy. Brilliant post x

  15. This is such a fantastic post! I agree 100% with you. This is not something that should be debated and let alone lead to judgement. Each mother should be free to make the choice based on her needs and what works best for mom and child, without fearing judgement from anyone else. Fabulous post!

  16. Now if only the entire world would grow a collective brain and stop batting one another over this and so many other topics that really just have no basis for even being a battleground. Live and let live, my Grandfather always said. Let people make their own choices and you make yours. End of story.
    Definitely sharing. Maybe it will help!

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