Dear Boston Mamas: Handling Formula Obsessed Relatives

baby-bottle.jpgNow, the second of two Dear Boston Mamas questions from Susan via e-mail:

Dear Christine, My mother-in-law is obsessed with feeding everyone, and apparently this includes the baby! She keeps pressuring me to use formula even though I keep telling her that I am breastfeeding. She will not relent and got to the point where she actually did bring me formula. It makes me feel incredibly unsupported with breastfeeding and I am going to lose my cool soon. She knows I go back to work soon and now asks every week what kind of formula we plan to use. This is just one item that I really do not want her to provide and she won't lay off. Any advice on how to handle a formula obsessed MIL?

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Dear Susan,

I'm so sorry you are dealing with this. This topic hurts my heart because whether you are breast or bottle feeding from the start, what a new mom needs is support, not opposition and judgment. I don't know the comfort level between you and your MIL so I'm going to throw out a range of suggestions; of course use whatever might help while also preserving the relationship.

Have empathy. I know I'm starting with a challenging suggestion, but at the risk of sounding too much like my former psychologist self, I think a major issue here -- given that you mention that your MIL is obsessed with feeding people -- is that with you breastfeeding, she feels powerless to help. See if you can take a breath and remember that this issue is really about her, not you (though of course it impacts you).

Present her with the facts. The next time your MIL tries to push formula, acknowledge that you appreciate that she is trying to help and make your life easier (this is mostly a diplomatic tactic since she actually is making your life harder) and (not but...psychological thing) that you are very committed to breastfeeding for scientific reasons X, Y, and Z.

Return to sender. If she keeps sending formula, mail it back. Tell her you don't need it and don't want it to go to waste so hopefully she still has the receipt.

Donate the formula to an organization in need. If returning the formula seems too aggressive, you could consider donating it to an organization in need. Just be sure to check the guidelines of baby-oriented charities in your neighborhood because sometimes formula is on the list of items not approved for donation.

Have your husband intervene. Sometimes in-laws push boundaries in odd ways. Have your husband intervene and express how much harder she is making this transition for you.

Redirect her intentions. When your MIL next says she wants to send formula, redirect her intentions. In the vein of her effort being to help feed the baby, say something like, "Thanks, but I don't need formula because I'm committed to breastfeeding (isn't it awesome that breastfeeding is free?). Instead, if you would like to help, we could really use [insert an alternative feeding tool, e.g., a food mill to make baby purees when your baby is ready for solids]."

Tune her out. If none of the above works, simply ignore her advances. One of the best things I ever learned from my therapist is that you cannot change people, you can only modulate your reaction to them. If your MIL refuses to listen to you on this topic despite your best efforts to communicate, I would literally stop answering the phone or even looking at her e-mails (or perhaps have your husband screen for you in case she comes around to see your perspective), because clearly, she is not respecting your choices. I know this is challenging and I hope one of the other communicative methods works better, but maybe it's best to limit your contact with her until it's time to move on to solid foods and she can participate more directly.

I hope these suggestions are helpful Susan. Please let me know if you have questions about any of the tactics. I'm wishing you lots of luck as you return to work!

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Have a question for Christine? Drop her a line! And of course feel free to comment in if you have recommendations beyond those made above.