A mother has just delivered a beautiful healthy baby in hospital. As she holds her newborn baby close to her chest, she feels an overwhelming sense of joy and love. After a few days together, the mother starts to worry: her milk has not come in. The narrative that the mother keeps hearing is that “breast is best”, and that she should try at all costs to breastfeed her child. She feels stress and anxiety that her child is not getting enough milk at a vital time in her baby’s development, so she continues to try and breastfeed. Out of hospital, the breastfeeding journey is still not going well, so she decides to supplement with formula. Cue feelings of shame, inadequacy, sadness and even more stress. To make matters worse, this new mother is experiencing poverty, has had a history of substance use and faces multiple barriers to supports.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
At Boyle Street Community Services, we believe that fed is best and that a happy and healthy mom and baby are at the forefront of any decision in the method of feeding a child. We believe that the decision of how to feed a baby should lie within the hands of the parent and no one else. We recognize that there is a lot of shaming and discourse around how to be a “good mother”, and at the beginning, there is a lot of pressure on a mother to breastfeed, even when that method may not be in the best interest of the mother and the baby.
At Boyle Street, we are a trauma-informed organization and work from a harm reduction perspective. We do not place conditions on people being treated with respect, regardless of their background and life circumstances.
The mothers who we serve often face many barriers to breastfeeding, including malnutrition, lack of supports, and past experiences of trauma. We advocate for both mothers who cannot breastfeed and for those who choose not to. Women who have survived sexual abuse may not feel comfortable breastfeeding their babies as a result of having experienced sexual trauma. This is a barrier that is rarely discussed, and an issue that we need to be aware of when discussing the ability to breastfeed a baby.
The average mom will face judgement and stigma for choosing to bottle feed her baby, and mothers who are in vulnerable circumstances are even further marginalized. Providing formula to our families through our Family Supports Program is one small way we can support these women in their motherhood journeys.
“We receive fewer formula donations over diaper donations,” says MyLe LeChalifoux, Family and Prenatal Supports Supervisor at Boyle Street Community Services. “We want to have a conversation about why this is happening. We believe that if you're meeting your child's needs by feeding them formula, you will bond with them just the same as you would if you're breastfeeding. Fed is best.”
It is time to end the stigma around formula feeding and recognize that coming from a fed is best approach is integral for the health and wellness of a mother and her baby.
“The debate around formula feeding is preventing us from getting adequate formula donations,” explains LeChalifoux. “The narrative is often: ‘Why are you breastfeeding if you’re undernourished or substance using?’ Someone else asks: ‘Why are you using formula?’ This level of mom-shaming, poverty shaming, food security shaming is a whole other level of shaming that makes our community members suffer. Formula is an essential item for us because it’s so expensive, and program participants often cannot afford it.”
Ultimately, it is about the health of the mother and child. Our values dictate that we ensure we are us