Fatherly Advice: Stop Feeling Guilty About Formula Feeding

There's a lot of ways you can screw up your kid, but feeding them baby formula isn't really one of them, so stop stressing out.

“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly parenting advice column by the experts at Fatherly. Need hard-won insights and scientific facts to resolve a parenting dilemma or family dispute? Email advice@fatherly.com. Need justifications for parenting decisions you’ve already made? Ask someone else. We’re far too busy for that nonsense.



Before our baby was born, my wife and I had agreed that she would breastfeed, but it was incredibly difficult for her and, after living through a month of awfulness and dropping a lot of cash on lactation consultants, we decided to switch to formula. The problem is that both of us feel really guilty about it, especially when people ask why my wife isn’t breastfeeding. Are we harming our baby by feeding her formula?


Chicago, Illinois


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Parental judgment is rough. And some of the roughest judgment is leveled at those who don’t breastfeed. But let me put your mind at ease: You are not harming your baby by feeding her formula. And you most certainly do not deserve to be judged harshly for doing so. Still, I know all too well that it’s hard to internalize that idea. Why do I know? Because I’ve been there myself.

In a perfect world where every breast pumps like a hydraulic and where mothers have ample paid leave and can whip their nipples out in public without people freaking out, breast would be best. But, as you and I know, we do not live in that world. And, as much as our wives would have loved to lounge blissfully in a sun-dappled meadow wearing a garland of flowers with a suckling child at the breast, it was not meant to be. That sucks, but it’s fine.

Formula is not going to harm your baby. Every formula on the market has to meet a carefully considered nutritional standard for infants that ensures healthy development. The one thing that formula lacks is the immune support that breast milk provides. What that means for you and your partner is that you need to get your flu shots, immunize your kid on schedule, and be more diligent about keeping your house virus-free. This is all very doable.

And there’s a silver lining to going the formula route for, well, you. As a dad, get to be more involved with feeding your kid. It means that you can take an active role in preparing and providing bottles. It means you can spend some quiet time staring into your baby’s eyes while they eat. And you can make this time more like breastfeeding, by stripping your girl down to her diapers and taking off your shirt for some skin to skin.

Take solace and pride in knowing that many breast-only babies don’t get to have their dad’s skin and heartbeat so close so often. And many breastfeeding moms don’t get to the freedom to go where they want, when they want, or get the sleep you are able to provide your wife by taking a night feeding or two.

Nevermind the haters. You and your wife are doing just fine.


Sup’ Fatherly

When me and my dad friends get together, there’s a lot of shit-talking about our wives. It makes me super uncomfortable, but sometimes I feel like if I don’t gripe, my friends will think I’m “whipped.” So, what’s fair game when talking about your marriage to friends?

Miami, Florida


Have you thought of getting new dad friends, Anthony? Yeah, I know it can be tough to find other good dads out there, but these gentlemen do not sound like gentlemen. That said, let’s give you an answer built on the assumption these guys are good at heart.

A distinction should be made between venting and “shit-talking.” When dads are with other dads it’s only natural to talk about moments of frustration in parenthood and marriage. We often find common ground and support through our shared adversity. But when you see a guy out there tearing down his spouse, there’s cause for concern — both for the guy and for his wife. If you find yourself hearing real anger, do your friend or friends a kindness and talk to them about it. You don’t have to scold them at all. By approaching them and asking how they’re feeling, you’ll make them more aware of what they sound like to others — notably you.

As for the sex stuff — and there’s always sex stuff — it’s generally best to not get into it unless your spouse is a very open book on such things. There’s no real benefit to that sort of violation of trust and you’ll feel shitty if you go there. Nobody likes a prude, but pretty much everyone should be able to respect the privacy of marriage. If your friends don’t, again, you might want to get better friends.

The most important thing to remember is that talking about your spouse won’t solve any issues you may have with your spouse. There’s only one way to do that: Talk to your spouse. And this might be a good subject to start with. What does she think?


Hey, Fatherly

My first grader came home the other day and started saying “whatever” and rolling his eyes in this super disrespectful way. He’d never done that with us before. And when we asked him what was up, he explained his friend, Garrett, always did it and he thought it was funny. We’ve met Garrett. We don’t like Garrett. He’s a bad influence. What can we do about it?

Indianapolis, Indiana


That Garrett sounds like a real piece of work. Luckily, he’s just a kid and you are a parent. It’s important to remember that. You hold your fate in your hands and Garrett doesn’t stand a chance.

Why? Are you going to demand your kid not talk to Garrett anymore? Nope. That would backfire. What you’re going to do is undermine Garrett’s authority in your kid’s eyes by making it clear that what he’s doing will not get him what he wants.

The reason these behaviors move from kid to kid is that children are always looking for new ways to achieve their goal of getting what they want — usually attention, negative or otherwise. My guess is that in Garrett’s life, eye rolling and “whatevering” are getting him a huge amount of attention from his parents. Your kid has observed this and decided to try it out on you. Your job is to not feed the behavior.

As calm and collected as you can, let your kid know that’s not how you talk to your family and then ignore him. Do not respond. Do not yell. Do not give in. He is looking for a reaction and you are not going to give one. He’ll figure it out. And, by the way, If Garrett ever comes over for a playdate, give the little rascal the same treatment.

If you want to be pro–level about combating bad influence, you can offer your son a better way to get what he wants. If his “whatever” is meant to show disdain for a decision, suggest that he talks about his frustrated feelings with you instead, in a calm and collected way. You just have to be willing to engage him in the conversation. None of this, “because I said so” stuff. Not only does giving your son a chance to talk about his feelings give him another option besides “whatever,” the resulting conversation will give him the attention he’s seeking.

Garrett ain’t got nothing on you. You’re a parent. You win.

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