Gay dads share how they feed their babies — and why 'there should be a more inclusive approach' to the breastfeeding vs. formula debate

Justin and Chris Michael of Two Dapper Dads open up about their approach to feeding their kids. (Photo: Courtesy of Two Dapper Dads)
Justin and Chris Michael of Two Dapper Dads open up about their approach to feeding their kids. (Photo: Courtesy of Two Dapper Dads)

Breast, bottle, whatever: How You Feed is a shame-free series on how babies eat.

Parenting involves making countless decisions, one of the earliest being: How will the baby be fed? As the breastfeeding vs. formula debate rages on, gay fathers — for whom the feeding question is especially complex — are often left out of the conversation. Here, couples share how they fed their babies, and why "there should be a more inclusive approach to having these conversations."

Derek and Hector Del Valle of Gainesville, Fla., have used their Papi & Papa platform to chronicle their experience as gay dads to son Oliver Rye, who was delivered via a gestational surrogate last month. The couple have worked out an arrangement with the surrogate to provide breast milk, which they feed Oliver in addition to formula.

Quinn Lemmers/Nathalie Cruz

"She has been providing breast milk weekly," Derek tells Yahoo Life of their surrogate's contributions to their combo feeding strategy. "We also had a friend donate some of her breast milk to help get us through the first month. We had plenty of people telling us to just breastfeed, but the reality is we can’t provide that on demand. As much as we want to just breastfeed, we understand and respect that our surrogate has her own life and can’t just pump her day away.”

Del Valle adds, “Once our son arrived, all that mattered to us was that he was happy and fed."

The duo behind the popular Instagram account Two Dapper Dads, Justin and Chris Michael of St. Louis, Mo., have also practiced combo feeding for their three kids: 2-year-old Elijah and 5-month-old twins Augustus and Malia.

“We worked it out with our surrogate that she would pump and ship us breast milk,” Justin says of feeding the twins, noting that Elijah had a similar set-up. "While we have no issue against formula, we do see the benefits of adding some of the natural ‘stuff.’ Our feeding regimen included 1 to 2oz. of breast milk per bottle and the rest formula.”

But in sharing their family life on social media, the Michaels have encountered judgmental comments about how they feed their kids.

“We are publicly present on social media, so it is not uncommon to hear things like ‘too bad your babies will never know the benefits of breast milk,'" Justin tells Yahoo Life. "There, unfortunately, is a lot of ignorance when it comes to the science behind feeding babies and parenting in general.”

He sees feeding as a personal decision that all parents must make based on their family's unique needs.

“I think people use these judgments to fit an agenda they may have," Justin says. "A lack of breast milk is not a gay/straight thing. The reality is that many biological [mothers] can’t or chose not to breast feed. Like many other factors of parenting, there is no right way. There is no rule book. While science can assist us with making decisions, it is also only a factor in the deciding process. Every parent has the right and duty to make the best decisions for their own family.”

It's a right and duty that became even more difficult in the past few months as the United States faced a formula shortage, forcing many families to change their plans and come up with new ways to keep their babies healthy and fed.

“We ran into quite a bit of difficulty during the formula shortages," Justin shares. "Having twins exacerbated these issues due to the amount needed. In addition, our little ones would not take powdered formula, even after many trials. So, we were left to search for the premixed formula which seemed to be way harder to find. We had one very close call where both of us traveled around town separately for over six hours one day trying to track down formula. Luckily, our local hospital broke into their emergency stockpile which got us through.”

While the Del Valle and Michael families still have young babies at home, other gay dads are beyond the years of bottle feeding. Dustin P. Smith and Burton B. Buffaloe of Raleigh, N.C., have 6-year-old twins who started out on breast milk from their gestational surrogate.

“For the first six months after birth, we involved a gestational surrogate, who graciously provided her breast milk for their twins,” Smith says. “We felt breast milk was the best option since the twins were born prematurely. The breast milk offered beneficial hormones and antibodies tailored to meet the children's nutritional and immunological needs.”

Once their gestational surrogate no longer produced milk, the family switched over to using formula until the twins were eventually weaned off, as more solid foods were introduced.

“We never felt any stigma around how we decided to feed the children,” Buffaloe tells Yahoo Life. “But we do feel that diverse families are indeed left out of feeding conversations, and feel there should be a more inclusive approach to having these conversations.”

Benjamin Ptashinsky-Skinner and his husband, Aaron, sought out advice from their pediatrician to help them make this choice for their daughter, Charlotte, now 5.

"It was his professional opinion that formula-fed babies grew and developed just as well as breast-fed, so we never considered an alternative,” the Orlando, Fl.-based dad shares. "Our child hit all of the milestones on track.”

According to Justin Michael, the "conversation is much deeper than breast milk versus formula."

"Every baby is different — some won’t even take breast milk even if it's available in abundance," he explains. "Parenting is all about adapting to the needs of your children. … Since the beginning of time each parent does what they need to. The best piece of advice we can offer is to surround yourself with supportive, nonjudgemental people. Having a solid support system is the number one thing when raising children."

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