Parenting

Touting the benefits of breast milk during a formula shortage isn't helping anyone

There are times and places for breastfeeding advocacy. This isn't it.

babies, breastfeeding
Photos via Canva

A formula shortage crisis is not the time to push breastfeeding advocacy.

By now, you've likely seen news stories about the baby formula shortage in the U.S. According to CBS News, the formula shortage has been coming for months, with supply chain issues, labor shortages, product recalls and inflation creating a perfect storm and hampering manufacturers' ability to keep up with demand.

The shortage is causing intense stress for families that rely on formula as retailers resort to rationing purchases and customers find store shelves empty of major brands.

It's genuinely a crisis. And unfortunately, some breastfeeding advocates are using the shortage to tout the benefits of breastfeeding: This isn't a problem if you breastfeed! It's "free!" It's "readily available!" It's nature's perfect food! It's "what God intended!" It'll never be recalled!

Folks? Now is not the time or the place.


To be clear, I'm an enormous fan of breastfeeding. My mother is a retired lactation consultant and I was raised in La Leche League meetings. I breastfed my own three kids through toddlerhood and pumped breastmilk to feed my adopted nephew. I've written articles and made videos defending breastfeeding in public. I am enamored with the miraculous way our bodies can grow a whole person and also create food for that person. It's amazing. Breastfeeding is awesome in my book.

But I also live in the real world. I know that breastfeeding doesn't always work out for a huge variety of reasons, none of which I have the authority to judge. I know how most moms agonize over every decision they make and how easy it is to feel shamed for not doing what people tell you is "best." I know that baby formula saves lives.

For years now, there's been a slogan battle between "breast is best" and "fed is best," when really neither statement is really accurate. The "breast is best" idea is a simple way of stating that breast milk is the most nutritionally beneficial food for most babies. That's not a judgment; it's the medical consensus. The "fed is best" idea is a simple way of stating that the most important thing is that a baby is fed. That's not a dismissal; it's reality. But neither statement encompasses the complex truth, which is that there's a lot of bad information out there that makes informed decisions difficult and that there are millions of individual circumstances that can impact how a baby ultimately gets fed.

However, none of that matters when there's a baby formula shortage. Babies that rely on formula need it. And they need it immediately. Period.

Now is not the time to advocate for breastfeeding, no matter how passionate you feel about it. Parents impacted by the formula shortage are already worried enough; adding to their stress with messaging that might induce guilt or shame is an entirely crappy thing to do at this moment. It's like saying to someone who fell off a boat and is floundering in the water, "See, this is why people should learn to swim." That's not advocacy—it's cruelty.

I know that some people will take any and all mention of breastfeeding as a slam on formula feeding, and I'm not of the mind that people should avoid talking about the benefits of breastfeeding in general. But there are times and places for advocacy and education and there are times and places where it's not helpful at all. We're in the latter time and place right now. This formula shortage might naturally push some new moms toward breastfeeding, but it's not a situation that should be exploited to convince people to breastfeed.

If we want to be helpful, the best thing we can do at the moment is to offer advice and support that may actually help. Dr. Steven A. Abrams, MD, a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, suggests the following when a parent is in an urgent need situation. These are things we can help with:

  • Talk with your pediatrician and ask if they are able to get you a can from the local formula representatives or one of the charities that has some. Your local WIC office may also be able to suggest places to look.

  • Check smaller stores and drug stores, which may not be out of supply when the bigger stores are.

  • If you can afford it, buy formula online until store shortages ease. Purchase from well-recognized distributors and pharmacies rather than individually sold or auction sites. Do not import formula from overseas, as imported formula is not FDA-reviewed.

  • For most babies, it is OK to switch to any available formula, including store brands, unless your baby is on a specific extensively hydrolyzed or amino acid-based formula such as EleCare (no store brand exists). Ask your pediatrician about recommended specialty formula alternatives available for your baby.

  • Check social media groups. There are groups dedicated to infant feeding and formula, and members may have ideas for where to find formula. Make sure to check any advice with your pediatrician.
Experts are warning parents not to water down formula or make homemade formula, as neither is a safe option, so do not share recipes for formula that are circulating on the internet.

The best support people can offer right now is locating formula for a family who needs it. That's it. Let's save the breastfeeding education and advocacy for people who are actually seeking information, not for those who are dealing with an already stressful crisis.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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It can be hard to find hope in hard times, but we have examples of humanity all around us.

I almost didn't create this post this week.

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I've written article after article about gun violence. I've engaged in every debate under the sun. I've joined advocacy groups, written to lawmakers, donated to organizations trying to stop the carnage, and here we are again. Round and round we go.

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