FFF Friday: “I didn’t want to fail her anymore.”

The American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG) recently release a new policy statement on infant feeding, with language that subtly implies a woman’s autonomy and ability to make an informed choice must be respected. Good news, right?

Well, I thought so, at least. After all, the policy statement (read it here) was abundantly pro-breastfeeding and pro- Baby-Friendly Initiative; they just threw in a scrap (a desperately needed, much appreciated scrap, don’t get me wrong) for us formula feeders, stating that we have the right to make our own choices. 

But some didn’t think this was good news. The instagram thread of a leading breastfeeding peer supporter (one who truly does support infant feeding choice, and is extremely open-minded and kind, by the way) evolved into a full discussion of why the concept of “choice” was detrimental to women and to breastfeeding efforts; this was not a huge shock, as the “choice is only choice if its informed choice, and informed choice means telling women formula is bad for babies” opinion isn’t a new one. But I was shocked to see a comment from a woman who recently became insta-famous for a media-friendly breastfeeding story. This woman, who is now a popular voice in the breastfeeding community (i.e., people are listening to her), left a comment suggesting that she was incredulous that breastfeeding promotion could cause women pain and shame, ending it with the hashtag #byefelicia.

Bye Felicia? Really?

I hope this woman reads Claire’s story, but I doubt she will. And even if she does, a woman who would so quickly dismiss another woman’s pain is unlikely to be swayed by even an essay as emotional and raw as this one. 

Luckily, most women aren’t like her. Most women are like the members of ACOG, who understand. And women like you, who know that just because you personally haven’t experienced something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. These are the women who will bring us to where we need to be, where stories like Claire’s cease to happen, or at least happen far less frequently. 

Stay the course. And in the meantime, say #byefelicia to ignorance and judgment.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Claire’s Story

I have a 3 and a half year old daughter. She is bright, enthusiastic, funny, kind and get this, she is healthy. She was also formula fed!

Backtrack, I was young pregnant and positive that I would breastfeed, I mean why wouldn’t you? “That’s what they are there for, it’s easy, saves cleaning bottles” and all the other things people tell you. My midwife insisted that I went to my local Breastfeeding workshop. Wow. 20 minutes on why you should breast feed, I think we were all at the breastfeeding workshop because that was what we wanted to do, we didn’t need convincing. I also think that all of the Google searching and pregnancy websites we read adequately informs us pregnant ladies. So in I went all positive, then I was told for the next ten minutes all the benefits my baby would receive through breast milk;

  • It’s natural
  • It builds a strong bond between baby and mother
  • It protects your baby from infections and diseases
  • It will make your baby healthier
  • It will make your baby more intelligent

The list increases. So does the pressure. They gave a statistic about how many of the 30 of us in the room would go on to breastfeed. We looked at each other nervously, which ones of us would fail? A breastfeeding Mum arrived to tell us how easy it is. I wondered why there was so much encouragement, pressure and information being thrown about? If it was that easy and natural why did we all need convincing? Why did we need a class? Nobody talked about what happened if you COULDN’T. Can’t was not an option.

Skip forward, I had given birth to my beautiful baby girl. Due to the pethadine I received in labour she was a little sleepy, so we did not try feeding until later. It is probably important that I tell you a little bit of awkward personal information about myself. I was sexually assaulted, many years prior to this day. Despite this negatively affecting my view on relationships, it more importantly affected my nipples. To put it lightly around 7 years prior to giving birth someone chewed on my nipples until they bled. It hurt. After that no one ever touched them again, and I high spiritedly thought that a baby sucking on them would be fine, ignorance is bliss as they say. My midwives agreed. I was not fine. It hurt. It made me cry. A lot. They kept telling me she had a perfect latch and it shouldn’t hurt. Well it did! Why did no one care about that? All of a sudden your feelings are cast aside. It turned out the hospital I gave birth in had received an award for the highest amount of breastfed babies, and were unforgiving in their approach to breastfeeding. I should point out that all the midwives were wonderful, they were just following their hospital policies. I could see the pain in their eyes while they sat with me, crying in the middle of the night, comforting me on my failure, but unable to tell me that it was ok. Trying pumping with me while I squeezed my eyes shut, clenched my fists and curled my toes, telling me that I was doing my best. They were not allowed to tell me that it was ok if I couldn’t do it. I kept being told that she would be losing weight, which caused more pressure and anxiety. When they weighed her she was surprisingly ok. Eventually my husband went and stocked up on all the necessities for formula feeding. They wouldn’t let me go home until they had seen her drink a bottle, you see after all the failed breast feeding attempts they said she might not know how to drink from a bottle. I sobbed my heart out while she guzzled the entire bottle, obviously hungry.

Do you know whilst on the ward I was next to a breastfeeding Mum who smoked. She told the midwives that she had breastfed her last child up until 18 months and that she smoked outside. NOTHING MORE WAS SAID!! I wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t and they could not say ok, good for you. Is this a joke? Were they actually playing on my fears and emotions to win an AWARD? I was then left thinking my baby would be unhealthy, slow, ill, wouldn’t bond, and be less intelligent because I couldn’t do what was natural. Hello Post Natal Depression! who knew you would stay with me so long that you have become a normal part of my life?

When I was going home, more downtrodden and disheartened than I had ever been, one midwife whispered to me “I bottle fed. It’s not that bad, but I’m not supposed to tell you that” She probably saved my life. Her words were just enough to keep me going.quotescover-JPG-48

I persevered at home, but every time she cried I insisted she wasn’t hungry. I cried while we tried. I was anxious and on edge. I tried pumping, but because I wasn’t relaxed I just wasn’t producing any milk. I even tried sniffing her clothes while I pumped as my midwife suggested, I felt uncomfortable doing that. I was pumping about an oz and adding it to her formula. A lady came with her daughter to buy my car, she was a midwife and saw my struggles. She told me I needed to look after myself in order to look after my baby and I should end the emotional and psychological torture I was putting myself through as it was affecting our bonding and my mental health. She was a stranger but was more caring towards me than those providing my care, she talked sense. Once I decided to bottle feed I bonded with my baby. I wanted to hold her close. Unfortunately the guilt I felt made me overcompensate with the rest of her care, I didn’t want to fail her any more.

3.5 years later I have learnt;

  • Your baby won’t hate you for bottle feeding
  • bottle feeding also builds a strong bond between baby and mother
  • My baby has not suffered any infections or diseases that her breast fed cousin hasn’t also had
  • She is healthy
  • She is intelligent
  • She is happy

I also learnt that a friend who had her baby in a hospital 30 minutes away from mine was asked, after her little boy was born “breast or bottle?” She said “bottle” and get this, they got her one! She too has a happy health baby and nothing bad happened to her baby, or to her feelings or her mental health. I still take antidepressants to this day, I cry when I see breastfeed pictures on Facebook and can’t even think about what I experienced. Thankfully my daughter is too busy holding slugs, wearing dresses, riding her bike and asking me endless questions about what her guinea pig is saying to her, to notice my unnecessary strife. Don’t get me wrong I am a happy parent, I love my daughter and she brings me joy and laughter every single day, but I don’t think I could have another baby again, I couldn’t relieve that experience. (What’s that? single child guilt? NOOOO!)

Moral of the story? Stop pressuring women, you are doing lasting damage emotionally and mentally to women, and this will not assist their ability to raise children. We must look after each other whatever we choose to do, we must care for the children and those raising children, and support each other. We must love ourselves, we must love each other.

Thank you for listening to me.

***

Want to share your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

A public health perspective on formula use & breastfeeding advocacy – Guest Post

I’m incredibly thankful that someone in the field of public health is taking a stand on how we ignore the reality of formula use, and I really hope others will follow. We need decision-makers and influencers – physicians, scientists, public health professionals, nurses, politicians, hospital administrators – to start looking more closely at these issues, and to speak up when they see flaws in the current system. It’s the only way true change can happen.

The FFF

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A public health perspective on formula use and breastfeeding advocacy:

What we don’t say matters

 

by Hillary Kuzdeba, MPH

 

In the United States, the majority of babies will receive formula at some point during their first year. Despite what we may personally believe about the importance of breastfeeding, it is critical that medical and public health professionals keep this fact in mind when we design infant feeding educational initiatives for families. When we fail to discuss formula with families, or worse, when we purposefully withhold information on formula from them, we are doing families and infants a great disservice.

 

Today, most of the breastfeeding advocacy programs implemented in hospitals, birth centers, and OBGYN/midwifery practices utilize a two pronged approach to encourage breastfeeding. The first method, which is the active promotion of breastfeeding, is immediately apparent. Women are empowered to breastfeed through intensive educational materials, classes, consultations, and support groups. The second method is less noticeable, but important nonetheless. Here, strategic obstacles deter women from formula feeding. The obstacles include the reorientation of discussions about formula back towards the “breast is best” message, limiting access to formula during hospitalization, and generally withholding any information on formula lest it “encourage” the family to use it. Used in tandem, both methods create an environment where breastfeeding is presented as the only healthy feeding option. This is why pro-breastfeeding institutions rarely disseminate any information on formula feeding, except to mention that it is suboptimal. In these environments, families will find a myriad of resources on lactation, breastfeeding positions, latching, pumping, and other breastfeeding topics. Meanwhile, practical guides discussing formula selection, appropriate mixing, safe storage, and feeding have been almost completely eliminated.

 

The first method employed by these programs is wonderful. Most of us agree wholeheartedly that women who want to breastfeed should receive extensive support. I did, and I am so thankful for the resources that helped me breastfeed for as long as I did. But it is the second part of the advocacy approach that worries me, both as a public health professional and a mother. The strategy of withholding health information from patients and families, out of a misguided fear that more information might encourage an undesired behavior, has long been debunked by the scientific community as ineffective and potentially harmful. And yet we continue to implement this strategy in regards to formula feeding.

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Some public health researchers, advocates, and other parties may balk at this statement. They may point to evidence suggesting that placing obstacles in the path of a decision can “nudge” individuals towards a different choice. That may be true in specific instances, such as smoking or alcohol use, where the undesired behavior is recreational, unnecessary, addictive, and downright harmful. But infants must eat, formula is a proven healthy option, and breastfeeding can be very challenging for numerous physical, psychological, and social reasons. Most women in the US initiate breastfeeding. So when they do use formula, it is usually a conscious decision for reasons outside of personal preference. Withholding information from these women does not “nudge” them towards breastfeeding. A lack of knowledge about formula does not make extreme nipple pain disappear, or milk flow. It does not change a baby’s mouth structure, or eliminate a working mom’s 12 hour shift. All it does is create the impression that a parent has no option other than breastfeeding.

 

How does this strategy really play out?

 

  • When a parent who is aware of the benefits of breastfeeding still wants to talk formula, twisting the conversation into another discussion of how “breast is best” is not education – it’s intimidation. This behavior alienates and stigmatizes her, while simultaneously undermining her intelligence and personal authority. It is a form of intellectual bullying, and it delays the provision of requested education on formula feeding. When we use this approach, the message we are sending is clear: “You must not be aware that formula is a poor choice. Let me reeducate you because you clearly aren’t getting it. Maybe now you’ll come to the right decision.”

 

  • If a woman is really struggling to breastfeed and we oppose her when she requests formula, we create a power struggle with a vulnerable parent who is just trying to feed her child. This undermines her trust in us and causes anxiety. She may begin to question whether we really care about her and her infant. This can be devastating for our relationship with poor women, minorities, or other groups who already have reason to be suspicious of the medical establishment or government due to past medical and scientific abuses.

 

  • When we send new parents home with absolutely no education on even the basics of formula feeding like appropriate bottle cleaning and safe storage, we are purposefully withholding critical safety information that could potentially result in harm to an infant. Even parents who appear committed to exclusive breastfeeding should still be educated on these subjects given that most will end up using formula at some point. Assuming they won’t need this information is wishful thinking.

 

Worst of all, when we create an environment that strongly implies that we are against formula, we accidentally send the message that breastfeeding should be prioritized above all else, including the health of mother and baby. In this environment, our silence on formula use speaks volumes. It overexaggerates the risks of not breastfeeding to the point where mothers may actually endanger themselves and their babies in a desperate effort to avoid the dreaded F word. No mother should be so hesitant to give her child a bottle that the baby ends up hospitalized for extreme dehydration or malnutrition. No mother should be so afraid of formula that she spirals into depression over her inability to breastfeed. And no mother should be led to believe that formula is so risky that she is willing to turn to unscreened, unregulated human milk from an anonymous stranger on the internet to feed her child. And yet, this is happening every day across the US.

Educating families on safe formula selection, preparation, feeding and storage in no way undermines breastfeeding. If a mother is committed to exclusive breastfeeding, providing her with an extra handout on formula use is not going to change her mind. But including that same information can make a world of difference to a family who finds themselves in need of formula. When we include formula in our discussions, our classes, and our educational materials, we create a safe space that shows parents we are on their side – regardless of how they feed their baby. I think that is a strategy we can all get behind.

Hillary Kuzdeba holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a focus on social behavioral science, health promotion, and women’s health. Over the last few years, she served as the program coordinator for a large nursing research group at a renowned Children’s Hospital. Today, she spends her days at home taking care of her beautiful, formula-fed daughter.

FFF Friday: “I was too crunchy to formula feed.”

This is a pretty diverse community, but there seem to be two common narratives that ring true for most FFFs. Either they always planned to formula feed, or they always planned to breastfeed. Very few hadn’t given their feeding method much thought, prior to giving birth. In the latter storyline, the narrator typically has a healthy amount of Best Laid Plans, and has to redefine her expectations, beliefs, and often her own concept of “good mothering” when those plans fall through. 

I love reading these stories, because to me, they are an allegory about parenting. Things never go as planned, with kids. Or with pregnancies, for that matter. Or hell, with life. Strength, to me, is learning how to bend without breaking. 

Lana’s story is one of these. I don’t know if she’s realized how strong she is, but I hope she has. I hope you all know how strong, smart and capable you truly are. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

Lana’s Story

I’ve spent the better part of my young adult life preparing to be super mom. I was a Nanny to three children, I babysat every age of child and infant I could lay my hands on- doing everything from teaching them to eat, potty training, sleep- you name it- I wanted to do it before I had my own child. I got my degree in early childhood education and immersed myself in child development research. When I got pregnant I enthusiastically signed up for Bradley Method classes- I was going to do this without drugs, without any of the awful stuff I’d read about over the years.  I had firmly identified as “crunchy”- I was cloth diapering, natural birthing, breastfeeding, babywearing- I had this whole “baby” thing nailed.

 

And I did. I gave birth without drugs and totally rocked it. My son latched 2 minutes after birth with a latch my nurse said was “the most perfect first latch I’ve ever seen.” He was perfect. And I was going to do right by him. He was put straight into cloth diapers, and I kept him skin to skin nursing as much as I could. Those first two days were awesome- I had become what I’d spent so much time preparing for.

 

And then we brought him home and it all fell violently apart. His first day home he screamed non-stop, an nursed non-stop. He never seemed satisfied. We ended up in the emergency room 72 hours after birth because I was certain something was horrifically wrong- only to be told my baby was dehydrated. I continued to nurse, refusing to give him formula.

 

A week later he hadn’t gained any weight. I was exhausted- still nursing round the clock. My breasts never got engorged, never felt “full”. My son never seemed to eat to satisfaction. He was constantly hungry. My son’s pediatrician put me on a low dose of Domperidone and told me to come back in two days. We did, and he’d gained 2oz- hooray! But after another weighing 4 days later he was once again stagnating. The health nurse grabbed my baby from me and told me he needed nutrition NOW and force fed my child a bottle in front of me while I sobbed and begged her to give me back my son- which she did- but only once I promised to continue supplementing with formula. I put myself on a rigorous pumping regime and called my pediatrician for a lactation referral- which I got for the next morning. For 24 hours I fed, pumped, and supplemented- and cried. I felt like with every bottle I gave my son I was pumping him full of poison. I was too crunchy to formula feed!

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At my appointment the next morning (for the record we’re now 3 weeks PP), the lactation doctor checked my son for a tongue or lip tie- neither of which he had. She then asked me to take my shirt off and a look of shock crossed her face. She consulted her notes and looked at me and said “You’ve had breast exams before, right?” I confirmed I had- MANY of them, and a breast MRI when I was in my late teens- due to all of my immediate female relatives having had breast cancer. My boobs were being watched extremely closely. She proceeded to ask me if I could ever remember any doctors I’d seen saying the word “hypoplasia” to me before. I confirmed I had never heard that word before in my life. She then left the room, popped her head back in and asked once again for my GP’s name. 10 minutes later she came back and gave me this speech:

 

“I’m so sorry, I don’t know how this was missed, I don’t know why nobody has mentioned this to you before- but it’s painfully obvious. You’re lacking the mammary tissue required to produce a life sustaining quantity of milk. I’m going to requisition your MRI to confirm this- but I’ve seen enough breasts that I can tell just by looking at you. You aren’t producing enough milk to keep him alive- you aren’t producing enough milk to even provide him with a full feeding. You responded to the Dom, which is unusual for hypoplasia- so if you’d like I can quadruple your dose and we can see what that does- but I don’t think you’ll ever produce enough milk to give him a full feeding. I’m sorry.”

 

So I took my baby and I went home and sobbed. I called my Mom, I called my best friend, I called my other best friend- and I sobbed. And my best friend- who’d breast fed 3 children, including one who has Down Syndrome- told me that this wasn’t worth it. This was not worth my sanity, not worth the pain. Breast feeding was great- but having a healthy, happy baby and Mommy was more important. And she went to the store and bought one of each kind of formula and came and sat with me as I tried to give my son a bottle. She told me my son would be fine. She told me how smart he was. How beautiful. How bright.

 

It took me three days to get engorged. Three days. And then I expressed that milk and it was gone. That was the end.

 

We bought a Baby Breeza Formula Pro (we called it the baby Keurig.) My son and I still had an exclusive feeding relationship for the most part. He learned to love his bottle, and I focused on the fact that my mother, my father, and so. many. of the adults I idolized and looked up to were formula fed and were JUST FINE.

 

I got ostracized from my local babywearing group, even after getting trained as a babywearing educator- because I bottle fed my son during a meet. They just moved away from me- like formula feeding was contagious. I finally found my tribe, those who were willing to overlook it, but I always noted the uncomfortable shifting when I pulled a bottle out. I always felt the need to explain- “I tried, I can’t, I have a diagnosis…” And while I like to think I’ve made peace with it, it still pains me. My son is now totally off formula at 13 months- he takes one bottle of cows milk first thing in the morning and otherwise drinks from a sippy cup. And I’m looking forward to smashing my bottles in a symbolic gesture of letting it go (I do plan on having other children- but I’ve hated the bottles I purchased in bulk under duress, I plan on buying new ones for #2.)

 

And he is just fine. He’s smart as a whip. Of all his breast fed peers he is the only one who didn’t have a severe illness in his first year. He uses sign language. He crawls and cruises like a champ. He has a hilarious sense of humour. His first word was “yes!”
Thank you for this website. For sharing the stories. Reading them has brought me further in my healing journey.

***

Feel like sharing your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com to submit an essay for FFF Fridays. 

FFF: Furious Formula Feeders?

“The community of women who choose to formula feed, and the moms who have so many challenges with nursing that they formula feed, tend to feel that the lactation professionals are insensitive, pushy and overstate the amazing-ness of nursing a baby. And they are ANGRY!! Check out the Fearless Formula Feeder page and you will get a massive dose of angry. They seem to take so much personally and cannot seem to see the broader cultural ramifications of the formula companies’ marketing campaigns. They also do not seem to understand that successful nursing is time sensitive. It has to be initiated early after birth or there is really no going back.”

 

After seven years of working in the infant feeding space, I’ve become rather immune to criticism. There are people who will never understand why a site like this is needed; people who think what I do “promotes” formula feeding; people who don’t think there should be any sort of choice in how babies are fed. Recently, my Facebook readers were threatened by someone claiming they would be reporting them to social services for child endangerment, due to their feeding method. It happens. People suck, and all that.

But last night, I saw the above comment on the page of someone who claimed to be all about female empowerment, empowered choice, and sisterhood. This was someone I collaborated with – or, rather, allowed to use my image and words in a way that resulted in no financial compensation, favorable publicity, or support for my own cause (the exact opposite, actually – it was a film which portrayed formula as the devil and romanticized mostly white, upper class, celebrity women and their breastmilk). Someone I welcomed on the FFF page. Someone, I assumed, who respected that our opinions were different, but whose goals were ultimately the same: ensuring that mothers were informed, autonomous, and supported in their choices.

Seeing her comment did, indeed, make me “ANGRY!!”

Then, I started thinking… maybe she’s right. Maybe we really are ANGRY!!. For a moment, I felt self-conscious and defensive, wondering if I should post something sweet and positive to counteract this negative portrayal.

But then I stopped myself, because damn straight, I’m angry.

I’m angry that despite sharing hundreds of stories of what the “breast at all costs’ mentality does to women, the people who are responsible for perpetuating this culture refuse to listen.

I’m angry that these same people spend so much time and energy hating the formula companies, when the formula companies are not the ones mishandling women in the hospital, leaving IGT and other potential breastfeeding complications undiagnosed, ignoring the mental health needs of new parents, or forcing women to go back to work after a few short weeks in order to support their families.

I’m angry that they can’t see the difference between “anti-breastfeeding” and “anti-breastfeeding-extremism’. These are not the same things. quotescover-JPG-32

I’m angry that they continue to gaslight the women who come to me for help, sometimes suicidal, over their perceived “failure” to breastfeed.

I’m angry that they are allowed to be angry at anyone and everyone who doesn’t think the way they do, but insist on absolute complacency and infinite patience from us.

I’m angry that they think we are uninformed about breastfeeding, when the most common reason parents come to my page is that they were blindsided by formula feeding; they had read books and taken classes on breastfeeding, but never even thought of using formula. These women know more breastfeeding than most. They know about jaundice protocols, Thomas Hale, SNS feeding, galactogogues, tongue ties, lip ties, skin-to-skin, the magic hour, the breast crawl, good latches and bad latches, exclusive pumping, power pumping, and more. They know how important it is to breastfeed immediately after birth. There’s a reason nearly every FFF Friday starts with a scene in the delivery room.

I’m angry that some of the “new voices” in this debate are doing more harm than good, making claims that can’t be supported, confusing the issues, and making it harder for the rest of us.

I’m angry that my community members are told that they are victims when they don’t feel like victims. I’m angry that when they do feel victimized, they are dismissed, brushed off as unfortunate casualties in the War Against Big Bad Formula.

I’m angry that the formula companies continue to make stupid marketing moves, adding fuel to a fire that should’ve been extinguished back in the early 1980s.

I’m angry that “celebrating moms” always means “celebrating breastfeeding”. Moms should not be celebrated for feeding their babies. They should be celebrated for doing a job that is often hard and thankless, for bringing home the bacon, frying it up, and cleaning all the dishes afterwards before putting the kids to sleep and working on tomorrow’s quarterly reports. I’m angry that this myopic focus, this fetishizing of what should be a perfectly normal act, marginalizes adoptive parents, primary caregiving fathers, and anyone without working mammary glands.

I’m angry that moms can’t nurse in public without it being a fucking federal case. Literally.

I’m angry that moms don’t get sufficient support in the hospital for breastfeeding – especially if they are young and/or non-white.

I’m angry that parents get no support whatsoever about formula feeding, and that parents in the UK need to preemptively bring their own supplies if they think there’s even a chance they might need or want to supplement. (Has anyone else thought about how this might be more self-sabotaging than having formula available in the hospital? Not that I think either is actually self-sabotaging, but for those constantly making that argument… let’s use basic logic for a minute.)

I’m angry that my use of formula is somehow threatening to your efforts to encourage other women to breastfeed.

 

I’m angry that women insist on battling each other in these snarky ways, like life is just one big junior high school. Grow up. Grow. The. Hell. Up. There are so many problems in the world – you really want to spend time arguing about whether we feed babies breastmilk or a perfectly viable substitute? Is live and let live really that hard a concept? Do you really have nothing better to do than tell random women on the internet how they are Doing It All Wrong? And formula-feeding moms who hang out on breastfeeding sites to cause trouble – I’m talking to you, too. You’re part of the problem. Making shitty comments about breastfeeding moms, who have just as much right to community and support as you do, is hypocritical and mean. Mean girl behavior is not “venting”.

I’m angry that comments like the ones above leave my community no choice but to stay silent. If they respond, and say what they want to say, they sound ANGRY!! If they don’t respond, they are silenced. Neither is an attractive or empowering choice.

I’m angry that I still feel the need to write posts like this, when my kids are in elementary school. I am angry that I care. I am angry because it doesn’t change anything, and I’d probably be a much happier person if I never said the word “lactivism” again.

So yes, I am angry. In fact, I am ANGRY!! And I’m sure much of it is self-imposed, because I could be focusing my own efforts on something more important, like the Syrian refugee crisis, the poverty and inequality in my own city. I could be focusing this energy on my children – sometimes I think that formula feeding made me a better mom, but Fearless Formula Feeder made me a pretty crappy one.

As for the FFF community? Sure, I suppose they are ANGRY!!, too. But no more than they should be. And if they are talking and venting and crying and supporting each other on my page, they are handling that anger appropriately. They have a safe space to work through that anger – but there are many people who want to take that away from them. “Concern Trolls” who repeatedly post inflammatory pieces (and if you’re going to argue that “information” isn’t ever inflammatory, ask yourself: would you post a piece on how easy it was for you to get pregnant on an infertility support page? Or an article about a plane crash on a Fear of Flying support group?), “experts” who try to school them, people who don’t believe they have any right t feel bad because formula feeding is so prevalent. (So is obesity. Doesn’t make the kid who gets relentlessly teased in school for their weight feel any better.)

Most of my readers work through their anger, and move on. Many go on to breastfeed future kids, armed with the knowledge they now have that there’s no such thing as failure. They understand relative risk. They know how to spot problems, and what can and can’t be done about them. They aren’t trapped in the sticky spider web of dogma. They know they have a soft place to land, should things not go as planned.

ANGRY!! isn’t a bad thing. ANGRY!! is what makes us act up, speak out, and create change. ANGRY!! is a healthy, justified emotion when you’ve been shamed, mistreated, embarrassed, ignored, and insulted. ANGRY!! is empowering, as opposed to sad, depressed, lonely, ashamed.

So yes, you’re right. We are ANGRY!! We don’t enjoy it. We don’t want it. We want to move on and be HAPPY!! CONFIDENT!! ACCEPTED!!

Maybe if you could just let us be, you could let us be.

_______

The following are some additional comments sent to me by FFF members, reacting to this piece.

“Well yes I am angry. I am angry for being bullied into breastfeeding even though it was clearly not the right path for me. I’m angry my sons were left to go hungry and get sick because nobody would believe I wasn’t producing breast milk. I’m angry my midwives believed in breastfeeding at all costs. I’m angry there were entries in my post natal notes essentially calling me lazy and not trying hard enough to breastfeed. I’m angry that “normalise breastfeeding” has caused the vilification of formula feeding. I’m angry that I have been made to feel like a second rate mother who is poisoning her children and condemning them to a life time of low intelligence and obesity. That is, of course, if they survive child hood at all. I’m angry that I am supposed to laud and bend over backwards to accommodate breastfeeders but the courtesy is never returned. I’m angry that twaddle like “only 2% of women can’t actually breastfeed” is bandied around and taken as gospel, despite there being no respectable scientific research into such a claim. So yeah, I am angry. But as I usually say, if you kick the dog long and hard enough, sooner or later it will bite back.” – Emma

“What it comes down to is that unless you agree with the lactivist mentality that breastfeeding is a child’s “birthright” and that it’s the “end-all, be-all” of infant nutrition, then you wrong, misguided and angry. In reality, we are standing up for what we believe in just as much as they are standing up for their beliefs. However we believe in a women’s right to choose, to keep her bodily autonomy while still nurturing her children. And above all we lift one another up as mothers. I’m proud to be a part of the latter side.” – Deanna

“Being angry about having your body policed and having your parenting choices judged and shamed is a completely legitimate feeling/thing. Or are we as women only allowed to ever be happy or sad and anger is never ever appropriate?” – Nikki

“I wonder what the end game is if they actively alienate women who chose to, or had to, formula feed. I wonder, do they really care if we breastfeed? If so, do they think this kind of hurtful rhetoric will be a useful tool in convincing women to try breastfeeding again with the next child? Or are they just turning women off to their agenda through causing them pain? I for one have found the most support and kindness in caring for my child in the ff community, so I’d stick with what worked to keep myself and my family healthy and safe. It just seems so disingenuous that they are trying to “help” through hurting people. I don’t think they give a fig in the long run what I or any of you do, or for the health of our children. They just want to stare into their own reflections in solipsistic fantasy.” – Jessie

“I’m not angry that I couldn’t breastfeed. Not anymore, at least. You know what DOES make me angry though? A bunch of sanctimonious women (and men too, I guess) telling me how wrong I am for feeding my children formula. You know what? Formula saved BOTH of my kids’ lives. And it saved my sanity! My kids are happy, healthy, and thriving.” – Tasha

“I’m not angry or disappointed that BFing didn’t work out for us. I really don’t care anymore. Shit happens. I’m angry about the way moms are treated and babies put at risk for something that doesn’t really matter.” – Amy

“It’s funny because I’m not angry at all. Formula helped my son’s life from the beginning and formula helped me through PPD and other issues with my two girls. Not angry, grateful.” – Shannon

” I honestly think we are entitled to stand up for ourselves. All of us have at least one, if not many more, stories of being shamed for feeding our healthy and beautiful babies. The whole reason we’re here is to receive support from each other, that we are amazing mothers and parents, regardless of how we feed. We aren’t here to just bash breastfeeding, we are here for each other when everyone else is bashing us. were an amazing group of women who need support. We may come off as angry, but if these individuals who bash were in our shoes, they would see just how wrong their opinions of us are.” – Alexis

“They don’t even get *why* I’m angry. It’s not about me, I don’t give two shits I’m angry for two reasons. 1-All of the lovely ladies and GOOD MOMS who come here with broken hearts because of how the lactivist community has treated them and 2- Because their judgement doesn’t end with their side eye and snarky comments, they are changing public policy (think BFHI and all the horror stories from WIC offices) and that affects all of us. I don’t care if you sit there and comment about my bottles til the cows come home, but when you’re changing policies based on bad info that’s dangerous.” – Maria

“As someone who had no desire to BF whatsoever I have never gotten used to the opinion that we’re not allowed to decide what we want to do with their bodies and we’re not allowed to get angry when people tell us we’re not allowed to decide– or act as if we are stupid or misled when I KNOW we are some of the most informed women when it comes to this issue.” – Nicole

 

“How can they read the stories of what the mothers and babies went through to establish breastfeeding, and still blame women and claim everyone can Bf!!. DARN RIGHT I am angry!!!!!. I bought the “everyone can breastfeed” BS. None of those brilliant nurses (who were also licenses LCs) managed to help my baby latch. My baby had hypoglycemia, jaundice and lost 10% of her birth weight within two days, under their ‘watchful eye’.” -Bahan

“The justification for why why “should not be angry” is both condescending and misdirecting. Also, I’m pretty sure a lot of us are way more educated on formula and breastfeeding, and have given far more thought about the rhetoric surrounding it and it’s implications than most people.” – Bethanny

“They’re silencing us, undermining our autonomy. ‘They make X choice because they’re angry and stupid so X isn’t valid'” – Stephanie

FFF Friday: “I feel no guilt over my choice.”

It’s a brand new year, and I am feeling uncharacteristically positive. 

Several books have/will be coming out questioning the pressure to breastfeed; the media seems to finally be listening to the voices of women who have suffered postpartum depression or other emotional and physical damage due to insufficient support in their feeding journeys; prominent baby product companies are focusing on inclusivity; overall, there’s the scent of much-needed change in the air.

In this spirit, I’m thrilled to feature Jenny’s story for the first FFF Friday of 2016. She exemplifies what it means to be an FFF – someone who is accepting of both her/himself as well as others, and who understands that what you feed is far less important than how you love. 

Happy Friday – and happy new year, fearless ones,

The FFF

***’

Jenny’s Story

I want to share my story because I feel no guilt over my choice to exclusively feed my son. In fact, my husband and I went into this parenting gig with the attitude that we would breast feed if we liked it and it was easy, or formula feed if it wasn’t.

Our situation was a little less than traditional with my husband planning to be a stay at home dad and me going back to work after about a 2month maternity leave. So even if breast feeding did go well my plan was to switch to formula when I went back to work. I had also made plans for an elective C-Section for a couple of reasons. First I wanted to mitigate the risk of making my slight urinary incontinence even worse. 2nd, I was terrified of child birth and labor pain. I really liked the idea of not using depends after delivery and having a planned pain free birth.

My husband and I were happy with our plan. We showed up at the hospital at the planned time of 7am and had our little buddy Wyatt in our arms by 9:30. The only pain I ever felt was the spinal anesthetic. We tried breast feeding right away and the latch was declared excellent by the nurses. He was also a very enthusiastic feeder. Everyone was wonderful in helping us with everything from swaddling to latching on. Everything seemed to be going really well with nursing at first.

The next day at weigh in time he had last nearly 6% of his body weight. We were surprised because he had been nursing for 30 min at a time every 1 to 2 hours for over 24 hours. Needless to say I was exhausted and a bit worried. The nurses helped latch him on and got us on a set nursing schedule. This was with me not having slept at all the past 24 hours and on pain meds recovering from surgery. I thought, oh yay 24 more hours of no sleep and my poor hungry baby. The next day at weigh in he had dropped 8% of his body weight. At that point my husband and I asked the nurse to bring in some formula. She refused and said that isn’t what he needs right now. Your milk will come in soon and you’ll get to see that happy full baby face very soon. So we braced ourselves for another 24 hours of crying and no sleep. That night he got to the 10% mark and it was finally decided that he needed to supplement. Again the nurses did not want him fed formula so they brought in donor milk, tubes and syringes, and a pump. I spent another 10 hours pumping, feeding with syringes, and trying to get the little guy to latch. I was so exhausted that I fell asleep with him face down on my chest several times.

The next day were discharged with a supplementation plan from a lactation consultant and a set pumping schedule and lots of tubes and syringes so we wouldn’t introduce those evil bottles and destroy any hopes of nursing forever. When we finally got home we threw away the syringes and fixed our little guy a bottle. My husband fed him while I pumped and watched him happily gulp it down. Once home, my milk came in full force. I was pumping like 8oz at a time and feeding him some in his bottle and freezing the rest. We were scared to feed him at the breast because we wanted to make sure he was getting as much as he needed. So I continued pumping and bottle feeding. We kept this up for a couple of weeks and then suddenly he decided he did want to breast feed. It seemed to going well for about 1 week and then he got thrush and wouldn’t latch at all. We started treatment for thrush and went back to pumping and feeding that from a bottle.

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All in all I think I exclusively pumped for a little over 1month before we decided to give it up and go with formula. I wanted to spend more time holding him and less time pumping. He did just as well on his formula as he did with breast milk. He’s 4 months old now and right at 50th percentile for height and the 30th for weight. He’s never gotten sick except for getting thrush from my nipples. He’s happy and healthy and the center of my world and my husbands. Formula feeding has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on his health. He has happy well-adjusted parents and was able to get the nutrition he needed while waiting for my milk to come in.

The only regrets I have around feeding are not bringing formula and bottles to the hospital. My husband could have helped feed and take care of him and I could have gotten precious sleep. Remembering those jarring moments waking up with him on me still make me shudder. Especially after seeing posts on the growing number of neonatal deaths in baby friendly hospitals that are happening as a result of babies and moms falling asleep while attempting to breast feed.

I made a lot of decisions that many would claim are selfish. I planned a short maternity leave, an elective C-Section, and had a large stash of formula at home in case breast feeding didn’t work. I even bought the Costco store brand instead of the name brand stuff. I was not secretive about these decisions and I did have a lot of people try educate me on why I needed to commit to breastfeeding and at least try for a vaginal birth. The thing is, I support all women in wanting to breast feed, formula feed, vaginal birth, C-section, day care, stay at home, etc. All of these are choices that have no impact on how good of a parent you are. They are what they are, personal preferences.

I truly believe that what matters most is doing whatever is easiest and most comfortable for you so that you have the mental and physical capacity to bond and love your baby. Those first few months are so so precious and it breaks my heart to see moms and dads who believe that the methods we use in parenting are more important than their own emotional wellbeing. I want to cry whenever I see or talk to another mom who is suffering postpartum depression because she feels like she isn’t good enough. Remember you are good enough. You love your baby and you provide for your baby. Look into that little smiling face and remember you are that little baby’s whole world. That is all that matters. Your baby will not be any less happy or healthy because of a personal choice you make. Let’s all stop with the judging, share our experiences, and be proud of these little wonders we bring into the world.

***

Want to share your story? Send it to me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. It can take over a year for stories to appear on the blog, so please don’t think I’m ignoring you!

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