Breastfeeding is a brilliant invention of evolution, isn't? Mammalian mothers can magically nourish their offspring with food produced by their own bodies, and that food turns out to offer optimal nutrition.
But sometimes it doesn't work. If you have ever had a scornful thought when you saw a woman feeding her baby with a bottle, please read Julie's post, "The breast-laid plan," and the comments thread. When nursing works out, I hear it's a lovely thing. But for the unlucky women for whom it simply doesn't work—for a slew of reasons, including low milk supply, pain, poor suck, medical complications, and prematurity—the societal pressure to breastfeed can exert a huge psychic cost.
If you have never known the tyranny of the breast pump (and not the pumping-at-work set-up—I'm talking about round-the-clock pumping), you are lucky. If your body actually produced enough milk to meet a baby's nutritional demands, you are lucky. If breastfeeding was natural and beautiful, you are lucky.
I was not lucky. I had problems that were addressed by four separate chapters of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and one or two more problems that the book didn't cover. There was no chapter entitled "What To Do When There's a Perfect Storm of Problems and It's Simply Not Working Out"—the message was that quitting is not to be contemplated, even when it's ruining a woman's quality of life.
The pumping/lactation phase of my life lasted only about two or two and a half months eight years ago, but it remains the most traumatic period of my life. I think Ben's early months would have been much less stressful if my doctor had said, "Listen, your body is in no shape to make this work." But that didn't happen, and I put so much pressure on myself. On the bright side, Ben thrived despite our rough start, and he thrived when he got formula instead of milk.
So if you see a woman in public mixing up a bottle of formula for her baby, don't assume that she's selfish or shallow or unaware of breast milk's advantages, or that she takes a cavalier view toward caring for her child. She might've adopted that baby. She may be taking vital medication that's not safe for the baby. She may have tried like hell to breastfeed and failed Dairy Cow 101 anyway. She might've had breast surgery that precludes nursing. Informing her that "breast is best" or that she's robbing her child of 6 IQ points and improved immunity? That's deeply hurtful and certainly poor manners.
If you know a pregnant woman, sure, go ahead and make the case for breastfeeding's advantages. But don't suggest that she'll be failing her child if it doesn't work out. And once the decision has been made—for whatever reason—don't presume to second-guess it. Respect the woman's ability to make the best choice for her and her child.