I just read through this entire thread and have to commend the OP and many other posters for sharing their stories and providing everyone with such fantastic information. I 100% agree with the OP's main point.
My story: my sister had a horrible bfing experience and ended up exclusively pumping for 8+ months -- an insane routine that involved little sleep, tons of bottle/pump parts washing, and lots of effort to get her supply up (it was always on the low side). She got poor advice from lactation consultants in the immediate days following her daughter's birth that she feels set her on this course (long story). So when I got pregnant, bfing was the thing I was most anxious about. I read lots of books and attended a bfing class at the hospital I would be delivering at. I walked away from that class immensely relieved -- the instructor and materials made it sound like bfing works out for everyone and "if you're committed enough" you'll be able to successfully breastfeed. I talked to the instructor afterward about my sister's issues and she assured me that I wouldn't have those problems here because it was a "baby-friendly hospital." Phew! (I thought)
Fast forward a few weeks later when my son was born (thankfully healthy and full term). He struggled with latching and was a sleepy newborn. The nurses and doctors were concerned about his weight loss in the first 48 hours, so we ended up supplementing with formula starting on day 3. I remember being so worried and upset when they recommended supplementing -- afraid it would interfere with bfing (nipple confusion and all that) and that the doctors/nurses were being overly cautious/going for the "easy" out of formula feeding. But my husband and I wanted to follow their recommendations so agreed to do it. I also had serious nipple pain (like, tears at every nursing session) despite correct latching technique (and no thrush or other issue -- despite the conventional wisdom in the bfing community that "if you're in pain you're not doing it right"). We followed a crazy nurse, supplement, pump schedule for our first two days home (days 4-5 of our son's life). My milk didn't fully come in until day 4-5. Our pediatrician let us go off the supplementing/pumping routine when we went in for a checkup on day 5 and our son had started gaining weight back. Huge relief as we were getting no sleep and I had flashbacks of my sister's pumping hell running through my head -- but also was terrified that continued supplementing could possibly doom our ability to have bfing success. After that first week, I continued to have bad nipple pain for a couple more weeks before it subsided around week 4-5. Then it was smooth sailing from there on out -- nursing was comfortable, my supply was ample, and I had a long (by US standards - 6mos) maternity leave so didn't have to worry about going back to work for awhile. I pumped when I went back to work until 1 year (lucky enough to have my own office and a pretty ideal pumping setup at work, but still was ecstatic to stop when the time came), and then continued nursing in the morning and at night until about 19mos (basically because it was easier to keep going -- I could get a little more sleep in the morning while my son nursed, and had the magic bullet for bedtime/fussiness).
Side note: I NEVER thought I would nurse past 6-9 months (ad in my social circles nursing beyond a year is virtually unheard of), but it worked for us -- and part of me felt like those first few weeks were so difficult I wanted to get my full "money's worth" out of the ordeal (if that makes any sense). Point is how we decide to feed our babies is completely our own decision and what we end up doing doesn't always fit with what you thought you'd want to do, or what your friends/families expect.
I think a major problem is the lack of consistent quality among LCs. Based on my and my friends/family members' experiences, it seems that for every great LC, there are about 4-5 bad or misinformed ones. So new moms end up getting conflicting or misguided advice at a time when they're extremely vulnerable -- like, "try a nipple shield!" (even though my understanding is that these are really only good to use in very limited circumstances), or "if you have pain your latch must be wrong," or "try this or that nipple cream/supplement/etc." Then you have some who are vehemently opposed to any formula (one friend's LC literally tells her clients "formula is the devil," I kid you not), and others who pull the formula trigger too quickly and suggest it upon encountering the slightest bfing challenge. I wish there were higher certification standards or some other quality control mechanism in place to weed out the bad ones and up the quality of lactation advice being given, especially in hospitals.
The other really tricky thing here is the fact that for many of us, bfing IS a challenge, and the beginning is the hardest part -- so it's easy to feel like it's too much work/not worth the effort in those critical first few weeks of life. I think this is why the LLL folks and other pro-bfing types go overboard with pushing bfing propaganda and touting the benefits -- because they want moms to realize that there is an incentive to getting through that initial hard period, and don't want them to refuse to even try it at first. Unfortunately the inaccurate/overly optimistic information being disseminated in these bfing courses, like the one I went to, only sets us up for shock when we encounter actual problems postpartum, and doesn't equip us for dealing with those problems. Thankfully I had a great network (sisters, mom, and one really good LC) that helped me get through our latching and pain issues, but a lot of people aren't so lucky.
Finally, even though I chose to bf for quite a long time, I think we cannot overstate how much of a burden exclusive bfing places on the mother, and how it really limits the role that can be played by the partner or father. This alone is a big enough reason to consider formula feeding, IMHO. The MOTHER is the one nursing the baby every few hours in those first weeks; often, by extension, soothing and comforting the baby when fussy (because baby comes to associate mom with comfort from nursing); pumping upon returning to work (3hrs a day at a minimum, even assuming her partner is doing all the pump parts prep/cleaning/etc.); and having her body essentially hijacked for milk production purposes. While there were many times when I loved the fact that our son wanted me to comfort him and felt at home in my arms, there were also many times when I wish I could have handed him to my husband with the same effect. And my husband, btw, is like the world's best super daddy, husband, and co-parent -- he did just about everything physically possible to support me and us (including waking up with the baby in the middle of the night and bringing him to me for nursing - I literally did not get out of bed). But he wasn't lactating so there was only so much he could do on the feeding front.
Long story short, advice for others: get informed, line up a knowledgeable LC if you decide to BF, and then roll with the punches if/when you encounter obstacles along the way. Do what's best for you and your situation and trust your own judgment. And then educate and support your friends when they go through the same process. It can be hard to tread the line between offering support and seeming like you're pushing a pro-bfing agenda, but I always try to ask pregnant friends if they're planning to bf, share my own experience/challenges/tips, and then make clear that I'm there for them regardless of what they decide to do (FF included).
Looking forward to learning more from this thread as I find these issues fascinating (and am taking everything under advisement for a future baby #2). Thanks all!