The emotional and practical experiences of formula-feeding mothers

Matern Child Nutr. 2017 Oct;13(4):e12392. doi: 10.1111/mcn.12392. Epub 2016 Nov 14.


The majority of infant-feeding research is focused on identifying mother's reasons for the cessation of breastfeeding. The experience of mothers who choose to use formula is largely overlooked in quantitative designs. This study aimed to describe the emotional and practical experiences of mothers who formula feed in any quantity, and examine whether these experiences would vary among different cohorts of formula-feeding mothers according to prenatal feeding intention and postnatal feeding method. A total of 890 mothers of infants up to 26 weeks of age, who were currently formula feeding in any quantity, were recruited through relevant international social media sites via advertisements providing a link to an online survey. Predictors of emotional experiences included guilt, stigma, satisfaction, and defense as a result of their infant feeding choices. Practical predictor variables included support received from health professionals, respect displayed by their everyday environment, and main sources of infant feeding information. Descriptive findings from the overall sample highlighted a worryingly high percentage of mother's experienced negative emotions as a result of their decision to use formula. Multinomial logit models revealed that negative emotions such as guilt, dissatisfaction, and stigma were directly associated with feeding intention and method. The evidence suggests that the current approach to infant-feeding promotion and support may be paradoxically related to significant issues with emotional well-being. These findings support criticisms of how infant-feeding recommendations are framed by health care professionals and policy makers, and highlight a need to address formula feeding in a more balanced, woman-centered manner.

Keywords: feeding experiences; formula feeding; guilt; infant feeding; maternal mental health; stigma.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Health Education
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • World Health Organization
  • Young Adult