The Similac Formula Recall is Not a Punchline

A few months ago when Children’s Tylenol, Motrin and Claritin were recalled, I ended up tossing almost everything in my medicine cabinet. It pissed me off to throw money away like that, but what bothered me more was knowing that I’d just finished up an entire bottle of Motrin and an entire bottle of Zyrtec that had been part of the recall. What had I given my allergy-ridden little dude who was just getting over a virus with a high fever?

What the hell had I given my child?

You might wonder why a four-year-old needs to take Zyrtec every day, or why we used Motrin instead of something homeopathic. Or you might nod knowing you’ve had to do the exact same thing.  Everything is ripe for controversy when it comes to parenting.

But chances are, you wouldn’t joke about the recall, right? You wouldn’t joke about it because children across the nation were exposed to unknown quality issues in common medications. You wouldn’t joke about it because that would be shitty.

So what I’m wondering today, as the Similac recalls echo across Twitter and Facebook and the news and the radio, is why people think this is an appropriate time to snicker about how breastmilk doesn’t get recalled.

I’m all for promoting the benefits of breastfeeding. My boys never had formula. I breastfed them both and worked my ass off to do so. I pumped in closets, I pumped in my car, I suffered from clogged ducts and sleepless nights.  I don’t think breastfeeding is easy, particularly in the beginning, and that’s why I feel passionate about giving mothers every resource they need to make an informed decision and make it work for them if that’s what they choose.

We know. Breastmilk doesn’t get recalled. But if you’re like me, you might end up on a supremely annoying elimination diet for four months because your breastmilk gives your child a severe allergic rash. Or you might be like my good friend who had to stay off dairy for the entire duration of breastfeeding her daughter.  It just isn’t that simple.

Even though I know that “breast is best,” I sometimes cringe when I hear that because I know how much that seemingly-harmless and obvious phrase might hurt someone. I know that tensions run high as soon as breastfeeding is mentioned.

(And yet, somehow, Katy Perry can spew whipped cream from her breasts while miming invisible double-fisted blowjobs on television and we shrug because she’s perky and edgy and goddamn, that song is catchy.)


We know, scientifically, that breastmilk is the best food for babies. That’s just the way it goes, biologically. We also know that formula works when it has to. Just like Motrin works when your child is spiking a 103.5 degree fever. Just like Zyrtec works when your child can’t breathe through his nose every morning because he’s allergic to the shade trees in his back yard.

Life happens. Formula happens. You know who formula happens to, in particular? Women who can’t breastfeed. Fathers caring for babies on their own. Adoptive parents caring for babies.

You know what those parents don’t want to read? Shitty, spiteful comments about how “well if you were breastfeeding, you wouldn’t have to worry about feeding your kid beetle parts.”

I don’t think this is the time or place to discuss the benefits of breastfeeding.  (I believe that breastfeeding activism should be gentle and compassionate.) I don’t agree with using this issue as a “see, I told you so!” Smug comments and jokes are rude and absolutely disrespectful to the people who are scrambling to find out if they purchased the tainted Similac and if they’ve already fed a bunch of it to their child. These parents are worried and frustrated.

Should anyone feel superior because they weren’t faced with that worry?

Quality control is and will continue to be an issue that affects all of us. It affects us whether we’re parents or not. It’s Similac now, but tomorrow it might be tomatoes again, or spinach that makes your intestines explode, or who knows what.

A bunch of baby formula had bug parts in it.

And I don’t think that’s funny.


  1. THANK YOU!!!!!!! I just found out about the recall today from my mother (and not twitter, I can’t believe it!) and my almost one year old has been strictly on Similac formula since I gave up pumping (supply was LOW) at four months old. I’ve had only one good breastfeeder out of three kids and I consider myself somewhat experienced in the whole “feeding babies” genre. BUT. If this had happened when I was a new mother, to my first baby who WOULD NOT FOR THE LIFE OF ME LATCH!!!, then I would probably be a whimpering puddle of goo on the floor right now.

    The fact is, the way we feed our babies is an extremely sensitive issue these days and I’m just SO tired of this line in the sand with formula feeders on one side (btw, my middle child nursed exclusively for 15 months) and breast feeders on the other. So, tell me, where should I stand? In the middle? Yep, because I’ve done both because my children had to live and short of cutting my boob open and getting the milk to spill into their mouths, 2 of my babies just wouldn’t.

    We need to get over ourselves already. And now, I’m off to the store to get some Enfamil… (and I’m not saying that to be sarcastic or snarky, just telling the truth…)

  2. I do not think they are snickering. Just stating the obvious. And frankly, those of us who breastfeed always seem to be on the defensive defending our choice to do so or defending the duration. Being called awful words, such as breastfeeding nazis. Would the word nazi with all its terrible history be placed on any other “group?” I have breastfed all 4 of my children and have counseled nursing moms for almost 15 years now. I support the moms in wha ever their decision may be when it comes to breastfeeding.

    The fact is that until something like this happens, as terrible as it is, people really do not understand how dangerous formula can be due to poor quality coming from the manufacturer—there have been earlier recalls–more serious, where the formula either had not enough or too much of a certain nutrient. This can have very serious consequences on the health of the baby–to include brain damage. I have also been around moms who did not take the mixing instructions serious enough–again, not mixing the formula and water in the correct amounts can be dangerous to the baby.

    Formula does have its place. Certainly, without it, some babies who because of a metabolic disorder cannot have breastmilk, would die; and, yes, some moms physically or emotionally cannot breastfeed, again, formula is necessary.

    I think this recall should be a wake up to not only seriously considering the true repercussions of not breastfeeding, but to have better regulation of the formula companies.

    • Actually people were making jokes. I’m not sure how much more explicit I can be about this. Like, actual jokes containing “LOL” and “haha” and you know, jokes.

      I don’t like being on the defensive about breastfeeding either. Or anything, for that matter.

      Frankly, I don’t like the attitude that a woman doesn’t deserve to choose to use formula for WHATEVER REASON. Even if it’s, “meh, I don’t feel like breastfeeding.” She should have the right to use a product to feed her baby that isn’t tainted and we should all support quality control in every avenue directed at our children.

      I believe in following WHO ordinances when it comes to MARKETING formula but I think it’s absolutely obnoxious to say that a woman doesn’t deserve that choice.

      I breastfed. Extended, in public, etc. I believe in it. I’ve had to be defensive. I’ve had to fight for those who were being messed with. And for those reasons I think we should all just chill the eff out and stop being judgemental. Is it that hard to understand that? I mean, seriously.


      2. I’m actually a big ol’ breastfeeder myself and I’m kind of flabbergasted that people missed that point.
      3. Breastfeeding education and support NEEDS TO BE BETTER and I believe it can only get better with compassion and love.

      • I did not see anything like that—I do believe you though. Again, I agree that formula should be safe and changes need to be made in the safety of the manufacturing. As far as choice, yes, all women should have that choice–but I admit that I do have an issue with the choice that puts the baby at greater risk–which is what formula feeding does. I will not go into the list as I am sure you are well versed in it. This said, I will not judge or make rude comments, such as I hear all the time against breastfeeding. I also believe that the medical community needs to do a better job in educating parents on breastmilk versus formula, so that the parents can make an informed decision.

        • A HUGE part of it comes down to the medical community needing to support moms from the VERY start. Moms can really only support each other so much when it comes to medical info. New moms in the hospital who WANT to BF or are CONSIDERING BFing need all the help they can get in those early, rocky times when it isn’t actually all that easy to breastfeed.

  3. My baby is 12 weeks old and I am only producing an ounce or less at a time. I give my baby all the bm I can. I have tried EVERYTHING out there to increase my milk supply – fenugreek, Reglan, using an SNS, pumping pumping pumping – and still I have to use formula. We have NO milkbanks where I live (even if i could afford it). I had to take back our similac today and feel so discouraged. Thank you for this post. I am STILL trying to bf, but some moms just can’t and truly have no other options. Thanks for not judging those who TRY to do the best for their children that they are able …

    • Big hugs and good luck, lex. You are doing the best you can; that is all any of us can do.

    • Your situation sounds very much like mine was (my son is now 9). After 1/2 days spent for several weeks at our local BF Clinic, and doing all the things you’ve mentioned. Finally when my son was 6 weeks the very kind lactation consultant told me that my job as a parent was to make sure my child was properly nourished and if that meant supplementing with formula than so be it, because in spite of everything I was doing he just wasn’t gaining weight like he should have been. I cried my eyes out and really felt like I had somehow failed but the truth is when I look around my son’s classroom I don’t see anything that tells me which kid was breast fed and which had formula. What I do see is a bunch of thriving, normal, mischievous kids, mine included. I also have a 6 yr old and 4 yr old all healthy too. Just do what you can and don’t be so hard on yourself – hugs

  4. TheNextMartha says:

    I agree with what you have written. I have a nephew that was adopted. Obviously breastfeeding was not going to be an option and you know what? I’m glad they were able to feed him.

  5. It’s a shame this entire recall had to happen and it doesn’t help the situation to be snarky to the parents that have been effected. I do think people should own their choices and accept the fact that, though this is not fair, in light of all the recent recalls (eggs, tylenol, beef, peanut butter) it really can happen to anything, including formula.

    Just like formula feeding moms probably don’t really care or support the fact I had a tongue-tied baby, bloody nipples, and a horrible time nursing for the first eight weeks, I don’t really see how breast feeding moms are being insensitive when they state the obvious – breast milk isn’t subject to quality control so it is never recalled – it may indeed carry toxins that pass over to baby, but they don’t have to answer to the FDA, only to themselves.

    Great post, I enjoy reading how other parents feel on hot topics.

    • I don’t think stating the obvious or being proud of breastfeeding was insensitive. Making fun of the situation in a snarky way, which happened in a majorly widespread way, is insensitive.

      I mean, I hate having to spell out this distinction but “I’m glad I was breastfeeding and didn’t have to worry about that,” is not the same as “No bugs in MY boobs, LOL!!” or “Formula isn’t safe, see?? Haha.” Maybe I’m splitting hairs here? I have no idea.

      • That’s not splitting hairs, not at all. I even saw someone say “As if you should be feeding your child Soylent Green anyway!”

  6. Oh, how I loathe this kind of thing… I was both breast and formula with both, and I feel fine about that. I’m glad there weren’t any beetles in the stuff I bought, but for goodness sake, just feed your baby. In the way that works best for you. That is all. Any kind of nastiness around that from either camp can suck it.

  7. I LOVE the way you addressed this issue. You stated facts, your opinion, and never once sounded superior or self-righteous concerning the decisions you’ve made.. You, my dear, have class up the yin-yang.

  8. I am 51 years old and have raised two daughters and am helping raise two grandsons. I’m kind of surprised that you guys have the time for these kinds of arguments. You haven’t even begun to deal with all of the decisions you’ll have to make or the problems you’ll have to solve as your kids grow up. Geeze, just do what you do and get on with it.

    • Let me ask you this:

      Are you suggesting that the mothers involved in this discussion are wasting their time simply because they have children? And should then be spending all of their time raising their kids and not having meaningful discussions and yes, arguments, about how to treat other human beings, the decisions they make as parents, and the accountability of major corporations?

      Regardless of what stage of motherhood any of us are in, if any, I believe we should all think as individuals and as women. Whether that means arguing sometimes or hunkering down and thinking only about our kids. I think the most hateful thing anyone can to do a mother is suggest that she focus solely on her role as a parent and not on her life as a woman.

      I’m glad people are talking and even fighting here.

      And I can’t help but notice that despite your years of wisdom and all that you have on your plate that you’ve also taken the time to read and comment.

  9. I’ve read almost all of the comments, and while mostly annoyed, I’ve decided to table my intended commentary – that being a facetious comment about how formula is verboten, but Happy Meals should be just fine for (totally made up statistic) 90% of households. I’m left with this: Breast is not ALWAYS best. Period.

    These irrational arguments that spur out of die-hard, insulting lactivists’ (which I know are not the majority, and I’m all for boobs, myself. Been there, done that, for a year.) need to convince the world of both the horror of ‘fake breast milk’ and their disenchantment with big corporations (speak on, sisters), has been catalysed by the Internet. It’s creating hatred, division, blindness to our COMMON goal: for our children to be healthy.

    Yes, as mothers, we should censor the subtext of our celebratory comments, and we definitely shouldn’t look down upon others who don’t do as we do, or poke fingers, or heaven forbid, insinuate that they’re basically asking for their child to get sick.

    So, the facts. People choose formula for a wealth of reasons, convenience and lack of education being two of them. But people who choose formula are not truly totally deserved of scorn – they’re still parenting and feeding their children. More so, tossing out ‘breast is best’, regardless of how insulting it may be, is also not true.

    Breast is not best for HIV positive mothers, whose children have tested negative. Or those with TB. Or mothers suffering from extreme PPD, who find the pressure of nursing to exacerbate there condition. It’s not for mothers on medication that could filter through their milk – like cancer patients, those on one of the large majority of available psychotropics that are considered unsafe for BFing, regular painkillers like morphine. Breast is not best, if the mom is an alcoholic or drug addict. Basically, breast is not best for children who would be harmed, via their ingestion of milk, or whose mothers would be harmed psychologically by providing it.

    Nothing is cut and dried, dudes.

    • I would venture to say that breastmilk is still best for ALL of these babies you mentioned…if you could get it from a safe source, like a breastmilk bank. If only that could be more affordable and convenient.

      • I understand where you’re coming from, and I see that you’re very pro-bank and donated milk – I donated a small amount of milk, myself, 130 oz – but not everyone is comfortable with the donation of their baby drinking another mother’s milk (sure, it’s fine for cows, goats, etc.) – and so, even in more available and affordable, you can’t count on the fact that it would be widely adopted, especially over the clinical-nature and ease of formula. I have no argument with donation, but like I said, black and white isn’t true for everyone.

  10. Goonsquadsarah says:

    I so strongly agree. I bet the adoptive parents who were never given the opportunity to breastfeed don’t think it is so funny either.

    Thank you.

  11. What about encouraging more breastmilk banking and working on making that a cheaper and more realistic option? Then those who can’t breastfeed could still have the option of providing their baby with breastmilk.

  12. It’s possible that after years of sacrifice to breastfeed our children, we are just relieved that we don’t have to deal with *this* particular issue. It’s possible that we don’t care how you feed your baby, and we assume that you don’t care how we feed ours. It’s possible that we’re just happy that we don’t have to deal with this particular annoyance. It’s very, very possible that we don’t care if you (or others) think we’re snarky or not.

    • Clearly.

      And clearly you missed the obvious distinction between expressing relief and mocking formula feeding moms.

      • Your tone is hostile and assumes that my relief is some sort of dig. I went through one hell after another to keep my babies on the breast and it nearly killed me. I will not apologize for my relief, no matter who thinks I’m mocking whom.

        • I don’t know how to make it ANY clearer that the comments I wrote this post about were JOKES.

          I’m sorry you read this and felt, for some reason, that it applied in any way at all to your personal situation or anything you’ve said to anyone anywhere. That’s simply not the case and I’m pretty sure no one is asking you to apologize for anyone.

  13. babsstahnke says:

    Thank you for your post. Well thought out. I also read most of the comments. I think all of our WIC staff should read it. Sometimes compassion is forgotten but this is the time for it. It’s a tough time in GA with all the troubles with some lots of formula. Mom’s are scared and confused. We are using as much gentle compassion as we can. We may want our mom’s to breastfeed; however, for the mom’s who are coming in or calling us; they need reassurance and support. Most do not have the option anymore to BreastFeed. They either chose to Formula Feed or were forced to Formula Feed months ago. When they made the decision they made it in good faith that the formula they were feeding was “safe and adequate”. Now they are probably feel some guilt but mostly fear for their baby.

    We need infant formula. We need safe infant formula to continue. In general Abbott Labs has tried to do a good job with their formulas. All it takes is one employee to not follow procedures and the contaminants are there. Abbott Labs (when they were Ross) was one of the first companies to develop alot of the Metabolic Formulary for infants with diseases that could kill them if they had more than the exact right amount of Breastmilk; if the baby could have it at all. Many babies lives were saved and continue to be saved by the work that Ross Labs did. We need the formula companies and their employees to function at the highest level every day for the safety and continued adequate growth of babies for whatever reason they are formula fed. We must also do the work of improving BreastFeeding Support and Services in this country.

    I am glad that read all the comments and this blog; I think it will help to remind me of compassion as I work with WIC moms in GA.

  14. Jennifer Cooney says:

    THANK YOU! All 3 of my kids were preemies and could not breastfeed. I managed to pump for a month and a half for my twins, for a whopping 2 oz a session, before my milk dried up. Then we had to switch to formula. Just because it is easy for someone else, doesn’t mean it is easy for everyone. I to think “breast is best” but breast isn’t always an option.

  15. I am guilty of being a militant boob-only, epidural-hating, no-circ, no-vax, etc. etc. mamma. Until I became a doula to lovingly spread the way – the RIGHT way, MY way – and discovered what an ass I was.

    I long for the day when we stop vilifying each other for our personal choices.

  16. I am so late with this but JESUS, I love you. xo

  17. As a mom who can’t breastfeed due to medications I have to take, I thank you!

  18. My eldest is my biological child, breastfed to 21 months (when he got giggly trying to latch on :>) ). My daughter spent her first 9 months in an orphanage in China, and was fed formula that fell under recall during the melamine scandal. The problem had been ongoing for a couple of years before the recall and she fell in the window. So. Does that make me a bad parent? Where do I fall on the scale of judging?

    It seems better to allow all parents some grace, and assume that their boob/formula/organic choices are what works best for their family. Save the parenting criticism for cases requiring Child Protective Services, and then do it for the child’s sake not your own edification.

  19. Excellent, excellent post. I found you through Loralee’s link.

    I had a couple thoughts, which may be seen by few, but, what the heck.

    My first thought is – breast milk is recalled all the time. Go on an antidepressant? Your breast milk is recalled. Go on a narcotic? Your breast milk is recalled. Go on cardiac medication? Seizure prevention medication? Steroids for allergies? Your breast milk is recalled. Your breast milk is unsafe.

    And the scary part – what if medications at the moment we think are fine to take while nursing years from now we realize were not. But you didn’t get the recall notice in time. It seems that many women posting here who did not breastfeed did it for just that reason – their breast milk was recalled.

    And my second thought is just one of confusion: I do not get being “proud” for breastfeeding. Or being “proud” for all the hard work it took to breastfeed. I breasted for the first nine months of my son’s life, including pumping in the craziest places you’ve ever heard from while I worked, and it never occurred to me to be *proud.* Huh? Should I be proud for putting him in a carseat? Or proud for making sure he was fed? Or proud for not spanking him when he had tantrums? I’ll buy “happy.” Or maybe “relieved.” You can be happy that you were privileged enough to breastfeed for as long as you could/was appropriate, but proud doesn’t register. You do what you believe is best for your child because you signed up for that when you chose to be a parent. But the word proud suggests you patting yourself on the back for doing what you volunteered to do. If you had the opportunity and means to breastfeed, you do. If it’s a struggle to keep it going or manage it logistically, I hear ya’ sister. I went through that too. Lots of things are hard – disciplining is hard, dealing with childhood illnesses. But…we do, cause it’s necessary. So the word “proud” truly confuses me.

    And no one mentioned that fact that the highest incidence of bottle feeding in the US occurs in families who live in poverty. Why? Because mothers are working, often horrible, multiple jobs. And someone made a punchline out of their circumstances. Talk about kicking people when they’re down.

    PS – Judgy McRantypants totally cracked me up.

  20. Amen.

    I breastfed, but OMG it’s not easy and if I wasn’t a SAHM (without a whole lot else to do) I might not have stuck with it.

    My mom didn’t breastfeed me and I’m a healthy, well-adjusted adult. We bottle babies turn out JUST FINE.

    Most parents just do the best they can. Who are we to judge????

  21. What an awesome post!!! I would have stood on my head to be able to breast feed – it wasn’t meant to be! Luckily I have 3 healthy kids. Thanks again – great post!


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