Struggling to accept the idea of bottle feeding your baby?

In my experience, if you’ve stumbled upon this page it’s most likely because you’re an advocate of breastfeeding and want to encourage more mums to do it, or you’ve had a terrible experience and are seeking some reassurance that being unable to, choosing not to or switching to bottle feeding doesn’t label you as a terrible mother who’s ‘poisoning’ her child with formula.

Breast is best

If you want to be a good mother, it seems breastfeeding is the ONLY way to feed your baby. It’s encouraged at ante-natal classes, in reports citing the multitude of benefits for mother and baby, and nationwide at the plethora of drop-in clinics, support groups and lactation consultants on hand to help.

The benefits of breastfeeding means it’s the first choice for 73% of new mothers in the UK, according to the NHS.  They claim key health benefits for your baby include a reduced risk of infections, SIDS, type 2 diabetes, diarrhoea/vomiting, obesity, childhood leukaemia, and cardiovascular disease in adulthood. For you, it means a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and obesity.  What’s more, according to Bridget Halnan, infant feeding lead and Fellow of the Institute of Health Visiting, “Formula milk doesn’t provide the same protection from illness and doesn’t give you any health benefits.”  A report I recently read on the NCT website even went so far to say that breastfeeding can lead to better IQ and could save the NHS £40m a year.

With so many advantages and support on offer, it’s enough to make you wonder about the other 27% of mothers who are bottle feeding their baby. And what about the 90% of mums who switch to bottle feeding in the first six weeks?  Do they just slack it off?  Aren’t they wracked with guilt, knowing they’re practically poisoning their babies, as a lot of breastfeeding supporters may have us believe?  I certainly know plenty of mums who’ve tortured themselves over this and I really feel for them.

Bottle feeding or breast feeding, it’s a personal choice

The truth is, whether you breastfeed or bottle feed your baby is ultimately a personal matter and I don’t think anyone should be judged for their choice.  For every woman who’s chosen to breastfeed, whether it’s come easily to them or they’ve pushed through the obstacles along the way, I think it’s wonderful and the health professionals will agree.  But for those who don’t, for whatever reason, I’d like to offer a bit of moral support if you’re feeling judged or beating yourself up for not doing what the majority of experts claim to be ‘best’ for your baby.

Why bottle feeding is right for me

I think what puts me in the unique position to offer an alternative perspective on the subject of breastfeeding is that I quite simply don’t have a choice in the matter, making it much harder for people to judge me (although as a mum, there’ll be plenty of other opportunities!)  Let me briefly explain.  I inherited the faulty BRCA2 gene from my mum, which puts me at a much greater risk (between 45-90%) of breast and ovarian cancer compared to the average person – you can find out more on this at Breast Cancer Research UK.  Having lost my mum and aunt to breast cancer in their 40s and 50s, and having discovered (thankfully benign) lumps in my first MRI scan when I was 36, I took the (not-so-light) decision to have a risk-reducing double mastectomy with reconstruction.  I was well aware at the time it meant I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed my future babies, but I figured it was a small price to pay if it meant I’d still be around for them further down the line.

There are advantages of bottle feeding your baby

Frenchie feeding GDon’t get me wrong, I’m not going against the experts and saying formula feeding is better. But it is still a bit of a taboo subject and far too many women are judged for not breastfeeding, so I’d like to share my unique perspective on why you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you can’t, choose not to or make the switch to formula.

Top five benefits I’ve found in bottle feeding my two babies:

1.  Your other half and other family members can get involved

The close bonding experience mothers describe when breastfeeding their baby can be shared with other members of the family. And let’s face it, when it comes to the 2am night feed, who wouldn’t be happy for their other half to take over?

2. You know exactly how much milk your baby has had

Quite quickly, both of my babies put themselves onto their own schedule as they fell into a 3-4 hour cycle between bottles. This made it much easier to know that, if they were crying, we could eliminate hunger as one of the reasons. It also meant we could plan the day around when we’d need to feed them.

3. A well fed baby makes for a happy baby

My first baby started sleeping for a good 5-6 hours at night from the age of six weeks – result! But in case you’re reading this at 4am after being up for the last three hours with a screaming baby and muttering what a right smug cow I am, my second baby was less cooperative. He’s now five months old and still wakes up every 4 hours to be fed.  I can’t imagine how I’d ever be able to keep up with his food intake if I was breastfeeding him. The little chubber.

Matthew feeding R

My nephew feeding his little cousin

4. No frozen cabbages in my bra

Clearly I can’t relate to this, but most mums I know who breastfeed say it hurts. A LOT. I’ve heard tales of bleeding, nipples literally peeling off, women in so much agony they can’t leave the house for fear of appearing unable to cope in public. And while this may be the case for just a number of unlucky mums, I can only imagine how frustrating and demoralising it must be. Add to that a healthy dose of sleep deprivation and all the unsolicited ‘advice’ given by some other mums and experts, it’s no wonder so many women switch to formula six weeks in.

5. Like G&T, formula is in constant supply at our house

As long as you don’t forget to buy formula in the weekly shop (yup, been there and sent the hubby to the 24hr Tesco), you don’t have to worry about an inconsistent supply of breast milk. With so many articles helping you troubleshoot the reasons behind your low milk supply, from ‘insufficient glandular tissue’ to ‘hormonal imbalance’, it’s clearly a source of anxiety for many. And that’s before you even consider expressing, or being able to pop out on your own for a few hours without passing over a crate of precious breast milk along with your little bundle. It sounds exhausting, and enough to drive you to gin.  Which, given I don’t breastfeed, is a little guilt-free pleasure I have been able to enjoy following both pregnancies.

Let’s support each other 

When it comes to breast or bottle, I’d like to close by asking you to be kind to yourself and others. I’d like to read fewer stories of mothers being criticised for breastfeeding in public places but I’d equally like more opportunities for women to openly admit they are using formula, without being judged.  At the ante-natal class I attended, the agenda item was ‘breastfeeding’, not ‘feeding your baby’ and it was just assumed everyone would choose, or at least attempt, the former. With so many new emotions and unknowns to fathom out when you become a mum, let’s make this one less thing for us all to worry or judge each other about.

Have you had any reflections on your choice to breast or formula feed your baby?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.



  1. September 29, 2016 / 10:07

    It’s such an emotive and divisive topic which is difficult as people don’t feel able to speak honestly about it (whether they are promoting/sharing their experience of formula feeding or breastfeeding). I think you made the choice anybody would make regarding the mastectomy and perhaps that’s why you feel more confident discussing this? Anyway, thank you for sharing your experience. I have been really lucky that breastfeeding has been easy and I’ve loved it. It’s so convenient 😂 But I think, unfortunately, I am in a minority as lots of people I know have struggled with it. Conversely, especially as my son has got older I have found people telling me ‘just give him a bottle’ – despite the fact we have no issues at all with breastfeeding and both enjoy it?! There definitely needs to be more honest discussion, useful information and less judgement around feeding in whatever form that takes. And other people should just mind their own business, really!

    • October 2, 2016 / 14:07

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience Ellen. People are definitely far too quick to judge and how ridiculous to advise you to give your son a bottle if everything is going well for you both. Most of my friends have all breastfed for varying periods of time and I always support their choices. I’ve had friends who wanted to give up as it was so debilitatingly painful and I’ve had friends who would try anything to keep it up even when struggling to produce enough milk. I always try to be considerate of their wishes – I’d never just say to give up if they are struggling and want help. I’ve also had a few experiences where people have known about my situation but talk about how they don’t want to switch to formula as it would feel like they’re poisoning their baby. I just give a wry smile!

    • topfivemum
      October 3, 2016 / 15:33

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment Ellen. Apologies if I’m replying twice – I thought I’d already done so but it’s not showing up. I definitely support whatever decision people make around feeding their babies, as it’s such a personal choice. For people to have told you to switch to bottles when everything was going well, though is crazy! If it’s going well, all the evidence suggests it’s the best thing for you and your baby so there’s no reason to switch unless you want to. Thanks for dropping by – I’m new to this whole blogging thing so you’re one of my first ever commentators! (if only I had a prize to five away…!) xx

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