Baby formula shortage adds mounting pressure on U.S. mothers to breastfeed — even when they can't

Mothers of bottle-fed babies caught up in the nationwide formula shortage are facing yet another stressful hurdle -- worsening pressure from others who say women should simply breastfeed their children.
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DETROIT (WWJ) - Mothers of bottle-fed babies caught up in the nationwide formula shortage are facing yet another stressful hurdle -- worsening pressure from others who say women should simply breastfeed their children.

Sarah Runer, Chief Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in the emergency department at Troy Beaumont, told WWJ's Dr. Deanna Lites that breastfeeding isn't an option for all mothers, and shaming women at such a sensitive time can be harmful.

"I hate that mental aspect of this," Runer said of strain the formula shortage has caused on mothers. "We always say 'a fed baby is the best baby,' but it's not only terrifying for them to not have it, now we're going back on this guilt of 'maybe I should've breastfed,' and I don't like it."

Medical entities, such as the World Health Organization, recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life, but it doesn't work for everyone.

Runer said there are many reasons why woman cannot breastfeed; health issues, work schedules and life stress can make the process extremely difficult or almost impossible.

Even bigger barriers exist for women working low-paying jobs, where there may not be time allowed to pump, and underserved areas with little support.

"I wish we had a quick and easy fix for this, so that's why I'm just trying to hear to everyone's feelings," Runer said. "But I don't love the pressure this is putting on everyone, I think we put enough on ourselves as is."

Stephanie Raymond spoke to WWJ's Zach Clark about her struggle with formula-feeding her 9-month-old girl, Ruby, during the last couple of months. Raymond has recruited other family members to help keep their eyes open for possibly overlooked cans of formula on store shelves and she combs through Amazon every morning to try and grab a can or two before the warehouse giant runs out of stock.

Breastfeeding, Raymond said, is simply not an option for her and her child, and the constant stress of finding food coupled with the society's pressure to breastfeed has been, "just too much."

"There's a lot of mothers dealing with [this], we can’t feed our babies on our own," Raymond said. "The way that society is, it kind of makes us feel like we’re less of a woman because you can’t [breastfeed] and now you can’t even find the food your baby needs."

Runer agrees with Raymond, adding that mothers have enough to worry about with finding formula and extra energy wrestling with feelings of guilt over bottle-feeding is counterproductive.

"What I tell parents that is we made a decision and with stick with it," Runner said. "You don't look back. Don't feel guilty about what the things you can't control now. You made a decision at that time and that's the decision that worked for you and that's OK."

"We will get through this, thankfully," Runer said.