What inspired Tennessee mom of two, Mallory Whitmore, to create now influential Instagram account that hopes to de-stigmatize formula and help formula feeding parents with the information that she felt was lacking online.
by Mallory Whitmore, Mom of two and creator of @TheFormulaMom
It happened without me realizing it at first— friends of friends would text me (bashfully admitting they got my number from someone) and they asked if I could help them figure out the challenges they were facing while formula feeding.
The narrative contained in these whispered texts was always the same: “Everyone I know breastfeeds and I didn’t know who else to ask,” and “I was just so ashamed I didn’t want anyone to know I was formula feeding,” and “I never planned to use formula and it’s all so overwhelming.”
And as a formula feeding mom myself (and an outspoken one at that!), I would help them troubleshoot, direct them to resources, and convince them that they weren’t less of a mother because of how their baby was fed.
I didn’t set out to be the go-to resource formula-related questions! But over time it became clear that I was the group’s dedicated and knowledgeable “formula mom,” a title I would go on to claim for myself.
But first, a look at how I got here.
My Feeding Journey
I felt ambivalent about breastfeeding when I was expecting. I never had a strong conviction about it, and I didn’t have any elaborate dreams about the “special bond” it was supposed to help me form. I figured I’d try it because that’s what I believed “good moms” did. I figured it would be fine enough. I figured if it didn’t work out that was okay too.
You see, I was a preemie, an identical twin, and just over 4lbs at birth. I’m now an adult with a master’s degree, excellent health, and a beautiful family. Formula helped me get from my small start to my present, and I could never buy into the idea I would be somehow “better” if I had been breastfed. I couldn’t imagine that for myself, and I couldn’t imagine it for my kids.
And that thinking was a gift because it quickly became apparent that breastfeeding would not be “fine enough” with my first. I had a complicated pregnancy, a planned early c-section, a preterm baby and a set of breasts that didn’t get the memo to start working. I watched for days as nothing come out in the pump, my baby dropped weight, and she screamed at my breast while I cried from pain and frustration.
My baby lost 12% body weight in 3 days and I believed that perhaps I’d ruined my life with this screeching little being that I was already failing only 72 hours in. My PPD came on quickly and yet I just kept pumping, feeling like my measure of worth was contained in those drops that were never abundant enough.
After 3 weeks and various tv-show-style interventions (from my sister, my husband, our pediatrician, and my PCP), I started weaning. By 5 weeks old our daughter was exclusively formula fed.
And for months I felt HORRIBLE about it. Embarrassed, ashamed, filled with judgment from society and from myself. And that’s even with my own background and previous acknowledgment that formula feeding would be fine! The message from society, in the media I consumed, and the people I looked up to, was such a resounding thumbs down that I spent 10 months in therapy working out my feelings about our feeding journey.
The biggest takeaway from all that time sorting through my traumatic postpartum period? That I wanted to take my experience and make something good come from it to help others. I just didn’t know what that was yet!
Doing Things Differently
I vowed if we had another baby (which was a big IF for a very long time) that I wasn’t putting myself through all of that again. We were formula feeding from the start. My husband and I were trading off shifts at night. I was getting a babysitter one morning a week. I was going back to work when I wanted to (which, frankly, was earlier than many people would choose). And most importantly– I wasn’t going to feel bad about it.
In my effort to make this postpartum experience different in every possible way from my last, I started researching. I’m sure it began as a fool-hardy effort to grasp at control in the midst of my fear, but it helped nonetheless.
I started learning about what the FDA requires in infant formula, what’s really in breastmilk that can’t be replicated, and why the European Commission does things differently with their formulas.
I learned about lactose and beta-casein protein, about the immature infant digestive system and the gut microbiome. I learned that formula ISN’T one-size-fits-all, and that a parent could make an informed decision when selecting a formula—not just based on what will suit their baby but also based on what’s personally important to them.
And I realized that the narrative around formula feeding felt so clunky and fear-driven, when under that rhetoric is this life-saving work of innovation and science and care.
I learned that the narrative HAD to change, because what I was learning was so eye opening and I knew it would be for others as well.
Deciding to formula feed from the start with baby #2 felt life or death to me. It felt like the difference between a chance at a joy-filled newborn season and the certainty of postpartum depression swallowing me up whole. It felt like the obvious answer to how I could love myself and my baby well… and if I could feel like formula feeding would be the loving choice for my baby, I knew others could too.
Becoming The Formula Mom
I took my knowledge and perhaps more importantly, my passion, and I started sharing—first with my friends, then as a contributing writer for sites like Scary Mommy and The Mighty, and then as a content strategist for a formula company. I learned so much working in the industry and it allowed me to see first-hand that parents desperately needed more support as they made their feeding choices.
I took some time off and completed a certification course to become an Infant Feeding Technician; someone whose job it is to manage both formula safety and parent education, typically in a clinical setting. I choose instead to hit the ground running with Instagram and TikTok as my platform to spread the message that formula is a safe, functional, and healthy option for feeding an infant.
Gosh, did that message resonate!
It turns out I wasn’t the only one looking for high-quality information about how to choose a formula or wanting encouragement that their baby would be great no matter how it was fed. There are tens of thousands of parents, more than 30,000 on my platforms alone, that simply needed someone to tell them that their choice is a good one.
Why Formula Support Matters
There’s a disconnect between the messaging parents receive about how they “should” feed their baby and the reality of how parents end up feeding their baby (the CDC reports that by 6 months, more than 75% of infants have received formula). Until that statistic changes, how we support parents needs to change!
We need formula education and support because it’s a valid choice parents make.
We need formula education and support because breastfeeding is not always possible.
We need formula education and support because our society tells families to breastfeed and then provides so little structural and logistical support for them to do so.
We need formula education and support because not all parents have breasts.
We need formula education and support because mothers’ mental health matters.
We need formula education and support because formula feeding can be just as complicated as breastfeeding.
We need formula education and support because for many women, formula feeding is the answer to maintaining a professional life at work and an equitable partnership at home.
We need formula education and support because I get hundreds of messages a day thanking me for providing something that these parents couldn’t find elsewhere, and because I can’t carry this banner alone.
Parents deserve to be empowered, not fear-mongered and shamed. We can promote breastfeeding and its many benefits without resorting to lazy arguments like “formula is poison” and “formula feeding is selfish”—statements that truly hurt families and, as the data shows, do not stop people from formula feeding. We need to take the burden from parents to make breastfeeding work in a culture that values breastfeeding with its words but not with its policies. And until then, we need to provide space for parents to learn about formula, to celebrate the thriving that formula can provide, and to stop the shame around a choice that is both incredibly common and yet commonly hidden.
That’s why The Formula Mom exists.