Whether it’s breast milk, formula or a combination of both, the way a baby is fed should only really matter to a mother and her baby, but increasingly mums are getting criticised and questioned on their choices online – and judging by the comments several celebrity mums have received, it seems that no one can win.
While stars like Lucy Mecklenburgh have been forced to defend sharing breastfeeding photos and told to cover up when feeding in public, Vogue Williams came under fire after revealing she had packed formula milk in her hospital bag ahead of the birth of her daughter Gigi in July 2020. Meanwhile, new mum Dani Dyer admitted she had become “obsessed” with how to feed her baby, ultimately settling on formula after admitting she “really struggled” with breastfeeding and wasn’t enjoying it the way she thought she would.
So why is it so controversial for women to discuss the way they feed their babies, and why do people get so offended by other mothers’ choices?
Former TOWIE star turned entrepreneur Lucy Mecklenburgh has been open about her own experiences with breastfeeding her son Roman, whom she shares with her fiancé Ryan Thomas, previously admitting it hadn’t been “plain sailing”. She has shared photos of herself feeding her son with her 1.7 million Instagram followers, and even responded to comments that she should cover Roman with a muslin while feeding in public, telling critics: “I will not cover Roman with a muslin the same as you won’t eat pizza with a blanket over your head. I will not hide away or be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed for feeding my baby.”
Understandably, Lucy is proud to be feeding her son, and also keen to normalise breastfeeding, as rates in the UK are among the lowest in the world, for many reasons.
According to UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Initiative, only 17 percent of UK babies are exclusively breastfed at three months, which drops to one percent at six months. This is thought to be due to many factors, including the stigma around feeding in public, and crucially, a lack of support.
The same report found that eight out of ten mothers in the UK stopped breastfeeding before they wanted to, and states that “this is a public health imperative for which government, policy makers, businesses, communities and families all share responsibility”.
So with breastfeeding rates so low, and a lack of support for women who choose to do so or are lucky enough to have the help needed to continue, it doesn’t make sense that other women are also being criticised for formula feeding their babies.
Kate Ferdinand was almost apologetic when she revealed her son Cree is formula fed, and admitted she had thought twice about sharing the information on Instagram.
“I chose not to breastfeed Cree, for so many reasons and I was worried about admitting it at first as there is so much pressure to breastfeed,” she wrote. “But thankfully now I just know a fed baby is a happy baby and Cree is the happiest little soul and we are so grateful.”
Meanwhile, in July 2020, Vogue Williams was trolled for packing formula milk to feed her newborn in case she had any trouble breastfeeding, with one follower telling her she was “playing on a new mum’s insecurity”.
The comments, which also accused her of promoting the formula milk brand, prompted her to hit back: “Breast fed, bottle fed, everyone makes their own choice and that choice is the right choice for you and your baby…”
She continued: “I plan on breastfeeding but it may not always be possible. A fed baby is a happy baby.”
The debate of breast v bottle was reignited in July after an article published on the Tommee Tippee website promoting the benefits of bottle feeding went viral.
Far from simply stating some of the reasons mums may choose to bottle feed, it went as far as denigrating breastfeeding, stating that it can bring “pain and awkwardness”, while suggesting that switching to the bottle can “free up a considerable amount of your time during the day” and allow mums to “enjoy more dietary freedom” and treats such as “wine, coffee and tuna”.
The misinformation and negative slant towards breastfeeding sparked a huge response from mums who had both breast and bottle fed their children, many of whom felt that women were being shamed for their choices no matter what they did.
Breastfeed and you face the stigma of feeding your infant in public or be accused of showing off or making others feel bad, whereas the decision to bottle feed is pinned down to lifestyle choices such as wanting to drink alcohol when the reality is that for many families, formula is the only option.
Tommee Tippee later took down the article and issued an apology, saying it hadn’t been thoroughly reviewed and included comments they don’t agree with as a brand. However, when it comes to the feature and the subsequent debate it has prompted, it seems that there will always be critics no matter what you do.
Ultimately, our babies just need to be fed, loved and cared for, so do what’s best for you and your family, and never feel that you have to justify your choices to anyone, whether you’re breastfeeding longer than is considered the norm or decide to go straight to formula. It shouldn’t matter to anyone but you and your baby.
Have you faced criticism for the way you feed/ fed your baby? Do you feel you would have benefitted from more support? Share your stories below.