‘How’s the sleep?” and “How’s the feeding going?”

In the last four years, I’ve had two children and these are the questions I hear most. The sleep? I’m too tired to go there. But the feeding, that can really divide opinion.

Often, it is presented as breast versus bottle. I’m in support of both camps; it’s the versus I have the problem with.

When I was pregnant, those ante-natal classes sold me the breastfeeding dream – it’s free, it’s convenient, and you can do it anywhere, anytime. And I happily breastfed both my babies until they were nearly one.

The reality though, is it’s not easy for many, myself included. The free option isn’t always the case. There simply isn’t enough breastfeeding support in the maternity hospitals – like many situations in our health service, lactation nurses are short staffed and over-stretched. Because I had issues with low supply, I had to invest in a fairly powerful breast pump and the support of a (private) lactation consultant. All in all, in those tough newborn weeks, we paid over €400 to get breastfeeding on track. But equally, I was very grateful that when I needed to top-up (which I had been advised to do), my baby was just as happy to gulp down a warm bottle of formula as she was snuggled into her mother for a feed.


When I say I breastfed my babies until nearly one, technically I combination fed. From the early days, both our babies had a bottle of formula every night. It allowed me to get some (much needed) sleep while my husband had that bonding time. As the months passed, I slowly weaned, increasing the bottles and decreasing the breastfeeding. By 11 months, they were on one breastfeed a day. As I returned to work, we had our last beautiful feed and closed off that chapter in our story. Every family is different, but this is what worked for us.

However, I still get outraged walking down the baby aisle seeing boxes of formulas with security tags. There is a reason for those tags. Formula is one of the most stolen items in supermarkets. Why? Because many families struggle, especially in light of the rising cost of formula. According to research by the Vincentian MESL Research Centre, run by St Vincent de Paul, the cost of formula has increased by 37% between 2020 and 2023. I’ve seen this myself. Back when my daughter was born we were paying about €14. Last week, I paid €17.49 for a box of Aptamil.

The situation on the other side of the fence is that the production of formula in Ireland is no longer the cash cow it once was. Not only is it impacted by China’s dwindling birth rate, but much of the production is moving there. Nestlé cited both reasons last year when they announced their plans to close their factory in Askeaton. Dairy prices have increased, which has an impact but they haven’t kept pace with actual inflation. It is certainly not dairy farmers that are cashing in when parents are paying those steep prices at the till.

The situation on the other side of the fence is that the production of formula in Ireland is no longer the cash cow it once was

First stage formula

Despite these rising costs, when a parent goes to buy a box of first stage formula, they cannot use supermarket money-off vouchers. And the reason? To promote and improve breastfeeding levels. To put this in context, the only other items not eligible for these vouchers are alcohol, cigarettes and lottery tickets.

The result is some parents are putting their babies onto stage two formula (which can be discounted) earlier. They are watering down bottles, making a seven-ounce bottle with six scoops; and weaning onto solids sooner than recommended, in face of these rising costs.

The government needs to wake up and step up on this matter. Yes, breastfeeding is mother’s milk and comes with a plethora of benefits. But it is not always easy, in fact, for some, it is impossible. Others don’t want to, and that is their right. Instead of penalising these parents, they should be supported. The price of formula needs to be more highly regulated.