FFF Friday: “No one is going to completely understand how difficult it is for you, except you.”

In the early days of Fearless Child’s life, I used to feel caught between a rock and a hard place. Or, more accurately, between a pump and a crying baby; between feeding my child, and caring for him. To keep up with his needs, I had to pump around the clock. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that my husband went back to work a week after FC was born, and we had no local family, no help. So, when I was pumping, I couldn’t hold him. I couldn’t rock him, or walk with him in the sling, or do any of the things that would soothe him when he was inconsolable. I couldn’t even feed him, because I was too busy milking myself for his next meal.

The irony wasn’t lost on me, but I continued, because…. well, we all know why. Because we’re told that providing breastmilk is the most important job a mother has. Not loving your baby, or responding sensitively to his particular needs, but simply providing milk for him. And while there’s no doubt that giving him the “ideal food” is important, when every parenting decision is an exercise in risk/benefit assessment, it’s easy to see why some of us – like Whitney, who has written this week’s FFF Friday – decide the bad is outweighing the good.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

Whitney’s Story

When I was pregnant, I knew I was going to be breastfeeding my child. “Breast is best” is the slogan that a pregnant woman, and the public in general, sees everywhere. There are commercials, billboards, and internet ads dictating that breast feeding is the best choice for a growing baby. I thought that too. I knew there was no way my baby was going to touch formula. To me, formula was poison. It was what people who did not care fed their children, and I looked down on any woman who fed their child formula instead of breastmilk. It is so easy, natural, and FREE I thought. Then, I had my baby.

My daughter is perfect in every way. She was born 6 lbs and 19 inches with the tiniest mouth I had ever seen. When she opened her mouth to cry I noticed the thick attached upper frenulum, but did not think anything of it. She started breastfeeding well in the hospital, so well, in fact, that the pediatrician asked if I had other children. I felt awesome. I was rocking this breastfeeding thing. Then, we came home. Little one stopped eating. Completely. We came home at 11 am and she still refused to latch on until the following day when my mom ran out and bought me some nipple covers. She was able to latch a little better, but only for about 5-8 minutes, and then she was done. Then we would spend the next hour with her crying and me crying and frustrated trying to get enough milk in my daughter. We would take an hour break, and then we would start again. I went to a lactation consultant and she said that it possibly could be due to the frenulum attachment. I asked the pediatrician about cutting it, but she wanted to wait and see if it detaches on its own. Eight weeks this went by, and I was exhausted. I was angry at my baby. Why couldn’t she do this? Why did this have to be such a struggle. I envied the mothers posting happy breastfeeding pictures online, while I lived on the couch, an hour of feeding, an hour break. Every day. Something had to change, but I didn’t want to.

I started to exclusively pump and bottlefeed. I had bought widenecked bottles for Avie before she was born since they were supposed to be easier for breastfeeding infants. Of course, she could not use them at all, and I had to go out and buy standard sizes. At this time, I was also worried about having enough milk once she started daycare (more on that later). I started pumping and  freezing, and gave her formula occasionally. This was such a hard decision, but I wanted her to get some sort of breastmilk as long as possible, and I did not make enough to feed her and store extra. I had no clue about what formulas to try, or even how to prepare it, but through reading blogs and trial and error we learned. I felt like a failure. I had a friend, who does not have kids, tell me, “oh my sister had a hard time too, she had to use covers, her nipples were bleeding and cracked too, ect ect,” and she gave me “the look.” We all know what the look is.  The automatic judgement look of  ”I cannot believe that women is feeding formula to her baby! She is so lazy, and her baby is going to suffer for it.” My friend had no idea what my struggle was and how it affected me and my child.  I could care less about how breastfeeding was painful, but I did care that my baby wasn’t eating. No one is going to completely understand how difficult it is for you, except you.  What we should have, though, is empathy. From that point on, I internalized my feeding struggle. I was embarassed and did not want anyone to know my child had formula. However, things were better for my baby and me.quotescover-JPG-62

Once I started work, things changed. I have a job in which I work out of the car. I am a home health pediatric therapist and spend 30 to 45 minutes at a patients home, and then I drive 30 minutes to the next patient. It takes me an hour and a half in the morning from the time I leave my home, take my daughter to daycare, and then arrive at my first patients house. Then, I have 5-7 patients a day, driving over 100 miles, with my furthest patient being 50 minutes from my house in no traffic. Needless to say, it was hard trying to find time to pump. Usually it would be 5 hours between my morning pump and my next available time to pump. I pumped in the car on a daily basis. I even pumped while driving. I don’t recommend. I would massage myself if I could not pump, until I felt the let down. I took Fenugreek capsules, up to 10-12 of them a day. I did everything I could to keep milk production up.  Since my job does not involve being in an office, my company does not have to go along with the guideline of Obamacare stating that a breastfeeding  mom should be provided with a room with a sink and adequate time to pump. In fact, my company did not care when I told them I needed time to pump in the car. Instead, they told me I needed more numbers, and said I needed to start seeing two patients that were an hour away from the patient that was right before them.  I broke down and told them no. The alternative was for me to drive around with the just out of college male office recruiter. Yes, because I was really going to be able to pump that way. I felt like all they cared about was making money off me while sending me driving around unsafely trying to pump every free chance I had. I wonder how a company specializing in pediatrics can treat their breastfeeding mothers this way, but I have digressed. Needless to say, my milk production declined, and my stress about it rose.

When Avie was 6 months old, I had to undergo a minor surgery to inject cortisone and hyaluronic acid into my hip. I have avascular necrosis which is too far along for surgery, so this is my only option until I get a hip replacement. At 27 years old, I want to wait as long as possible. I did not realize that cortisone could decrease milk production. After the injection, I got 2 ounces out the rest of the day. I spent the next 3 days (it was a long weekend), pumping for 30 minutes every hour and a half except 6 hours at night until I brought my production up to 12 ounces a day. I was even more stressed about pumping as often as possible to maintain this production. A month later, I had a cortisone injection in my knee for the same complication as my hip. I had to go through the whole pumping for 30 minutes every hour and a half for three days situation again. I wish I was exaggerating. But, I am not. This time my production went up to 6 ounces a day. You may wonder why I would have gone through with another injection after the results of the first one. Well, I had hip surgery 4 years ago that never fully resolved. I always had some degree of pain. In the 9 months  prior to my injection, I was unable to walk without severe pain. I was unable to go up stairs or even the slightest incline. I could not take a single running step on my left leg, could not hop, and could not bear weight on just that leg. I walked via a step to pattern. This is not an option for a pediatric physical therapist, and I could not tolerate it any longer. Now my pain has decreased immensely and I am so grateful for my doctor.  I feel like I am trying to justify my decision to put my health needs over my babies breastmilk needs for all those women out there who refuse to acknowledge that formula may be a better option for certain women. I, nor any other woman, should have to feel this way, but so many of us do.

During this time, I started losing weight. I gained 24 lbs when I was pregnant. I went from 106 to 130. When my daughter was at 5-6 months I went down to pre pregnancy weight. Then, two months later I had lost 13 more pounds. I weighed 92.8 pounds. I had not changed my eating habits, albeit they were not the greatest. Since I don’t get a lunch break and I was pumping during free time, my lunch consisted of snacks in the car. The stress of trying to pump as much as I could, yet only getting .5 to 1 ounce every 30 minutes I pumped was taking its tole.  There is another slogan. “Every ounce counts”. When it takes you 30 minutes to make that ounce, 30 minutes that you could spend time with your child, or get work done, or just relax, I promise you, that ounce does not count. I had to do something. So, when my daughter was 9 months old, I had to quit.

Quitting pumping was one of the hardest decisions I have made. My mother, a pediatrician, was pressuring me to continue pumping even though I made so little. I felt like a failure when I stopped and I felt ashamed. I still am a bit ashamed, but I should not be. I live in a predominately white, middle to upper class, bubble of a city. A majority of the moms around me stay at home. I can feel the judging when I take out a water bottle and formula mix versus a boob when I am at a restaurant. I can see the judging on the face of others when they ask if my daughter is breastfeeding.  Apparently, that is a common topic among mothers. I know there will be plenty of people out there who probably think I did not try hard enough or think they would have kept going no matter what in my situation. If I did not go through this, I would probably be that arrogant too. Here I go again, trying to justify my decision for a group of women who no matter what the circumstance, believe that formula should never be given. (Yes, I read too many blogs where these women come out of the woodwork). They have no idea how hard I tried to give my daughter milk; how much my health and relationship with my child was sacrificed. But you know what? In the long run breastmilk vs formula does not matter. No one is going to care that my daughter received formula when she is entering kindergarten ( and if they do care, they have issues of their own). My daughter is happy. She is healthy. I am happy; the happiest I  have been since my daughter’s birth. In the month since I stopped, I have gained two pounds and I get to actually spend time loving on my child when I get home from work instead of fret while pumping.

I wish judgement of moms by other moms and women would come to an end. Wouldn’t that be a sight to see. All moms supporting each other instead of trying to prove they are better than each other.  If you choose to breastfeed: Great. If you choose to use formula from day one: Great. If you choose to breastfeed and it does not work and you try formula: Wonderful. You have chosen what is best for your family, and no one should make you feel less because of it.  I am sick of the breastfeeding campaign throwing stats down our throat, and people interpreting it to be if a child is not breastfed he or she will be dumb and sickly.  That is just not true.  I do not want anyone to have to go through the struggle and the feelings of inadequacy that I went through.  My child is being fed, I love her, and she loves me.  She is a happy, healthy 10 month old, and an incredible miracle. That, above all else, is what is most important.

***

Feel like sharing your story? Email me: formulafeeders@gmail.com

Mothering Through the Darkness

Throughout the publication process for Bottled Up, there was a lot that ended up on the cutting room floor (um, like my entire first draft). I’m incredibly grateful to my editor, Naomi Schneider, who turned what was basically a disgustingly navel-gazing account of my own breastfeeding struggle into a serious, research-heavy social commentary. But one thing I do regret is that much of my struggle with postpartum depression was removed from the final manuscript, because as years go by, I become more and more passionate about the intersection of breastfeeding and postpartum mood disorders. I think it’s easy to dismiss anecdotal evidence of women claiming that breastfeeding provoked or exacerbated their PPD or PPA, until you’re faced with the bloody, exposed guts of what this actually looks like. The more we speak out about our experiences, the more people will (hopefully) listen and consider what the pressure to breastfeed is doing to the collective mental health of mothers. MOTHERINGTHRUDARK-1

That’s a big part of why I’m bouncing up and down with excitement today, as the announcement for the next HerStories Project anthology goes public. Coming from SheWrites Press in the fall of this year, Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience features a diverse group of incredible writers (including #ISupportYou co-founder Kim Simon and a forward by Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress) coming together to battle the stigma and silence associated with postpartum depression. I’m honored to be one of those writers, and my essay – “The Breast of Me” – details how intricately entwined my breastfeeding experience was with my postpartum depression.

As I said on the Contributor Page for the book,

“As soon as I delivered my first child, I felt a cloud pass through me, over me, erasing all happiness and hope. I remember them handing him to me, and thinking, ‘please take him somewhere safe.’ In the weeks that followed, I failed to breastfeed in every which way, and hearing him scream at the sight of me, at my incompetence, my inability to nourish him, reaffirmed what I already thought: I wasn’t fit to be a mother. This piece is about my first important lesson of motherhood: that in some circumstances, what society says is the right way to mother can sometimes be the absolute wrong way…

What I wish people understood about postpartum mental health struggles is that there is no blanket way to understand them or approach them. Sometimes it is hormonal, sometimes it is situational, sometimes it’s a combination of both. And for this reason, it is vitally important that we approach women as individuals. What will help one won’t help another. We need to do a better job of listening, and realizing the impact our media (and more importantly, social media) messaging has on vulnerable moms…

…The most important aspect of my recovery was giving up breastfeeding. It still took medication to truly resolve my depression, but I wouldn’t have been able to heal if I had kept on nursing. I needed the bodily autonomy, the lack of physical pain and dependence… I needed to be important to my son for my brain, and not my body. It may not make sense to most people, but that was what I knew I needed, and it was so hard to have nobody listen or respect that.”

 

I also want to share that HerStories Project is asking other mothers to step up and join the conversation, through a blog post link-up and social media blitz. My hope is that the FFF community – who include some of the most insightful, honest writers I know, if your FFF Friday essays are any indication – will answer this call and speak your truth. For more info, visit HerStoriesProject.com.

And no matter what, keep talking. Keep sharing. Because there’s always another mother out there, stumbling around in her own darkness, needing to know she’s not the only one to falter; needing other survivors to light her path.

 

 

FFF Friday: “It’s a distant memory…and that’s how it should be.”

I love the sense of perspective in Bethany’s story (below). She is totally and completely spot-on – no matter how traumatic your feeding experience may be, time will pass. New memories will form, new challenges will arise, and this small time – these few weeks, these months, this year – won’t be measured in ounces.You won’t remember how much milk you made, or what you managed to feed her, but rather the fact that her eyelashes brush her cheeks; that his eyes light up when you walk in the room; that she “dances” every time Shake it Off comes on the radio. 

Until then, keep reading. You’re not alone.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Bethany’s Story

Tonight my husband and I enjoyed an impromptu date at the local pub which at 5:45 was completely overrun by babies and kiddos.  A 7 week old newborn at the next table enchanted our 10 month old daughter.  As she babbled and nibbled on a zucchini spear my husband told me that recently he had a “flashback” to the time when we fed our daughter using tiny tubes, syringes and newborn formula.  “Doesn’t it seem surreal now?” he asked.  “Yes! “ I replied.  “And, um, kind of ridiculous, right?”.

 

I came home and read this weeks “Fearless Formula Feeder” which closely mirrored my own experience.  Except for the fact that the author was writing as she was letting her milk dry up, which meant it was not ridiculous but powerful and raw and heart-wrenching.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I recalled the first few months of my daughter’s life as I struggled with meeting her most basic need.

 

I am not going to attempt to quantify my experience, like how few ounces she took when she breastfed (remember that strange experience of weighing her before and after a feed?) or how many weeks (months?) I struggled with the concept of direct breastfeeding before I gave up and turned to exclusive pumping.  I can’t remember the quantities and quite frankly I am glad that those meaningless numbers are lost in the memories of snuggling a sweet newborn baby.  Because even as I struggled and tried (and cried, there were lots of tears) it didn’t completely take me over.  It could have.  There were days when it almost did.  But what saved me, truly saved me, from becoming lost in the abyss of despair and failure, was the Fearless Formula Feeder website and forums.  I discovered it early on and was reassured by the stories of women like me.  This was somewhat normal.  I was not alone.quotescover-JPG-45

 

In addition to online support I feel truly blessed to have escaped the judgment that I know others have felt or experienced while struggling with breastfeeding.  All the judgment I felt came from within and from the books and classes I subjected myself to before I knew a damn thing about breastfeeding.  I was lucky to have an amazing husband who did everything, absolutely everything, to support me and to feed our daughter and to tell me that whatever I wanted to do was ok with him.  I had friends (and strangers) “come out” to me and talk about their struggles with supply and other breastfeeding difficulties.  I found lactation consultants (from my healthcare provider to a very expensive by-the-hour consultant to the incredible FREE clinic at our local lactation consultant college) who did not make me feel like I was doing anything wrong, helped me to understand the perfect storm of low supply, high palette  and weak suck that destroyed my hopes of breastfeeding and told me unequivocally that I was doing everything I possibly could to feed my daughter and that it did not matter how she got her nutrition as long as it came with my love.  I was so vulnerable in those days, the idea that someone could have put the blame on me or convinced me that lying in bed all day breastfeeding every hour was the solution to my problems makes my skin crawl.  It could very well have been what would have put me over the edge and I am so grateful it didn’t happen to me and so angry for the women it does happen to.  Yes I ended a sentence with a preposition, just deal with it.

 

I started off my pregnancy thinking that I would have a completely natural childbirth and solely breastfeed.  I live in Portland Oregon, for petesake, what else was I going to do?  It turned out the baby was breech and after 3 weeks of trying to turn her (including an external version, spare yourself please!) she was born by c-section.  That was the first brick to crumble in the tower I had built to “natural mothering”.  The days in the hospital when it became obvious that her significant weight loss was going to require supplementation was salt in my wounds.  I am so happy to say though with the gift of elapsed time that looking back on those times, I have a pricking of tears but mostly a feeling of bemusement.  “Who was that crazed person buying drugs from the South Pacific online to increase breast milk supply?” I wonder.  The memories of my sweet girl happily draining her bottle as I nuzzled the top of her head in awe and wonder prevail.  And my hope is for anyone reading this who is still in the throes of guilt, fear, sadness and self-doubt will realize: this too shall pass.  And faster than you ever think it will, and the memories that will remain will be the ones you want to keep.

 

I actually did end up pumping for six months.  It became a triumph of sorts to document how much milk I produced for my girl.  The over-the-internets drugs increased my supply.  I always had to supplement with formula but it was a point of pride that the majority of her bottle feedings were composed of breastmilk.  I attended moms groups in Portland and sweated a little every time I broke out the bottle but never had the misfortune to be overtly judged.  I have never been much of an optimist but I was able to see the positives of bottle feeding vs. breast feeding: I felt like I had a lot more freedom to get out and about in those initial months as I could leave my baby with my husband, or even just break out a bottle in an environment where I probably would have had some struggles with breastfeeding.  My parents were able to step in and help out and give us a date night very early (and a real vacation in month 8!).  The best outcome of all is the intense bond between my husband and my daughter, and my trust in him as a parent.  Only going off my own experience of speaking to other friends who exclusively breastfed, it seems to me that his ability to step in right from the very beginning and feed and soothe her was a bonus for her and for me (and maybe for him? I hope so!).  Also, this mama started getting some good night’s sleep right away when he would take over for a night and I think that helped keep me sane.

 

I set the goal of pumping to six months when she was around three months.  In some ways it got easier (I had the system DOWN) and in some ways it became harder as she was more mobile and didn’t want to wait around for me to finish pumping to play.  Also I felt tethered to the house having to be there to pump every 3 hours (which is ridiculous by the way).  I stretched my pumping gaps further and further and kept track of my supply and found that I could get away with 5-6 hours without affecting my supply (something no lactation consultant will tell you).  I got up every night in the middle of the night (that is when the most milk comes, it is true!) to pump and let’s just say I got in my guilty pleasure tv shows during that time period!  We had a family vacation planned in her seventh month so I started weaning with the intent of NOT TAKING A FREAKING PUMP TO MONTANA!!  Weaning was actually the most emotionally difficult period for me after those initial months of trying to breastfeed.  I had mood swings, thought I might finally be getting PPD and worst of all – morning sickness!  I took 3 pregnancy tests before I accepted it was the hormonal changes caused by decreasing my pumping.

 

When I finally finished pumping (and I don’t even remember my last pump which I think is as it should be) I tossed my grungy pumping bra in the trash, said “hallelujah” and started buying formula in bulk and couponing.  Now I look back on the days of tragedy over my boobs and I am incredulous.  I do miss filling out my bras though, I remember the day I was in the shower and suddenly realized “oh, shit, I’m an A cup again”.  I don’t mean to be flippant.  Struggling with breastfeeding, when you are in it, is horrendous.  It’s incredibly hard and makes you feel like a failure as a mother.  I remember sitting in my rocking chair and bawling.  But today, chasing a 10 month old around and feeding her avocado and sweet potato and hoping she’ll sleep through the night – it is a distant memory.  And that is how it should be.

 

FFF Friday: “The goal I’m working on”

There’s so much talk of “goals” in the breastfeeding world. Reaching this goal, not giving up on that goal. So when I received Elise’s submission, I thought it was really interesting that her “goal” was to formula feed. It’s like the reverse of so many FFF stories: she can breastfeed, but she can’t seem to make formula feeding work. It would be funny, if I wasn’t so frustrated on her behalf. Because she’s right: why should she feel guilty? Why isn’t “I hate breastfeeding” reason enough to switch? 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Elise’s Story

“The Goal I’m Working Towards”

I hate breastfeeding.

I can do it; I am one of those “lucky” women whose milk flows like honey. I’m on my third baby and struggling with the desire to formula feed.

With baby #1, my birth went terribly awry. I saw midwives my entire pregnancy and was supposed to have a water birth at a free standing birth center. Instead my son went post term and was delivered via c-section after a failed 30 hour induction. I never saw my midwives after they dumped me because I became high risk (baby being 2 weeks late). My cervix failed me but my breasts did not. I couldn’t give birth but I could breastfeed! Cracked and bleeding nipples did not stop me. I got my nipple shield training wheels and within a month my firstborn was EBF. This went on F.O.R.E.V.E.R. After his weight went to the 65th percentile from his consistent 90-95th percentile between his 12 and 15 month well-baby appointments, his pediatrician asked me how much milk he was drinking. “Eight to nine times a day,” I replied. He looked at me sternly and said, “He should be getting milk no more than THREE times a day.” “Do I have to keep nursing?” I asked, with a note of desperation in my voice. “No!” he exclaimed, and I happily went home and weaned, thrilled to be getting my body and breasts back. Within a month I lost 10 pounds.

Three years later, baby #2 arrived via planned c-section (I had to keep defending why I wouldn’t try for a VBAC). It was even easier to nurse the second baby. No nipple shield and only minor cracked and bleeding nipples that quickly healed. When she was eight weeks old, I noticed a bug bite on my right breast. Fast forward a week and this “spider bite” was almost the size of an egg and causing a tremendous amount of pain – so much pain that I drove myself to urgent care at 2am where the throbbing lump on my breast was lanced and stuffed with gauze. I was given orders to return 24 hours later to have it reexamined. By the time I arrived the second night (having already started antibiotics), red streaks formed across my breast. I had MRSA and started IV antibiotics immediately. I had to keep returning to urgent care at 2am to receive IV antibiotics for the next several nights and go on ten day course of antibiotics so strong I had to stop nursing. Suddenly the milky breasts that had been my salvation with my first born were now threatening to kill me. Post-partum anxiety set in and I lost my best friend because of my diagnosis (she was paranoid she or someone in her family would contract MRSA).

So for two weeks I pumped and dumped and succumbed to formula feeding my baby girl. By the end of my nursing “vacation,” I realized we were on a schedule and I was sleeping better (even with all that anxiety!). But once the course of antibiotics was over, I started nursing again and was back to exclusively breastfeeding within a few weeks. I couldn’t let my breasts fail me when my cervix was still broken and I wasn’t going to let that damn flesh eating staph infection stop me. I weaned her “early” at 10 months because I wanted my body back and was starting to feel the drag of always having a small human attached to me. Within a month of stopping, I shed those last 10 pounds.

Five years later and now I’m on baby #3. My breasts have swollen to a 36J/K cup from their pre-pregnancy 34H, and pregnancy 36I, the largest they’ve ever been. In the hospital I confidently supplemented with formula and had no problem politely telling the lactation consultant to shove it after she raised her eyebrows at the pre-mixed formula in my room. I told her I exclusively breastfed my older two children but that my nipples/breasts/self need the break only a bottle or two of formula can give in those early days but that I would get around to EBF within a month. Since I’ve given birth, I’ve pumped at least once a day and have publicly stated “I’m not going to feel guilty for feeding my baby” when given questioning looks for why I’m ordering my husband to go make a bottle of formula. quotescover-JPG-96

Except… I feel guilty as hell.

My baby boy is now a month old, five weeks tomorrow. I’ve had the EASIEST time breastfeeding this lil’ guy. I’ve had no cracked nipples, no blood, no sores, no plugged ducts, no supply issue, no MRSA. I can pump over 3 ounces in less than 10 minutes. He’s gotten at least a bottle a day; sometimes breast milk, sometimes formula. Mostly though, he’s been latched to me.

And. I. Do. Not. Like. It.

I shudder and grimace when he latches on; it’s not the pain. There is no pain. I dislike the feeling of the suckling, of the letdown. I absolutely cannot stand it when my nipples become pacifiers. When he nurses, I want him OFF my body. I can’t stand that while my belly has shrunk, my breasts have not and I have to buy plus sized shirts to get them over my gigantic breasts.

I’m a stay at home mother. I have the “time.” My older two are in school five days a week. I’m white, college educated, and live in the Bay Area, home of all things natural and attachment parenting. I’m SUPPOSED to breastfeed.

And I don’t want to.

Here is my list of reasons why formula feeding is awesome:

1) Your boobs can go back to being sex objects. Yup. Having to smack away hub’s hands every time they come near you gets annoying hella fast.

2) You know how much baby is eating!

3) Even for the uninhibited, it’s nice not having to whip out your tits several times a day.

4) No more Heave Wheeze Heave Wheeze Heave Wheeze sound of the pump.

5) No more pump parts to clean!

6) Daddy gets to share in feeding.

7) Mommy’s nipples can go back to normal. Er, “normal.”

8) You will feed on some kind of schedule.

9) For me, I will lose 10 lbs in one month (unlike every other woman whose weight just “melts” off while breastfeeding, I hang onto at least 10 lbs until I’m done nursing)

10) You can wear a REAL bra – not some shitty, ill-supporting bra with clasps.

11) wearing a bra to bed sucks

12) Wearing disposable nursing pads 24/7 gets old fast. Because I’m a squirter, I wear then however long I nurse.

In the most perverse way, I wish I had issues breastfeeding so I GET to formula feed, so I have an  ”excuse” not to breastfeed.

But really, why do I need an excuse? Why must I tell people why I prefer bottle feeding? Why do people care how MY baby is being fed? He’s well fed, isn’t he? He’s healthy, is he not? His pediatrician used the exact words, “Super Duper” to describe my thriving son. If my son is super duper and *I* am okay giving my baby formula, then why can’t I let go of this gnawing guilt and just feed my baby that way *I* want to?

I’m phasing out the breastfeeding as of yesterday. It’s not that I can’t, it’s that I don’t WANT to breastfeed. It’s not a bonding experience for me, it’s something I dread. Currently I’m pumping several times a day because I’m scared of mastitis but I know that will fade in time. This baby WILL be formula fed. It’s the goal I’m working towards.

***

Feel like sharing your story for an upcoming FFF Friday? Email me (the FFF, aka Suzanne) at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

 

Breastfeeding, IQ & Success: A few thoughts on the newest study to cause unnecessary worry for parents

“The longer babies breastfeed, the more they achieve in life,” proclaimed an article in The Guardian this morning. And around the world, millions of parents felt their stomachs lurch. Not because of what the study this article referenced actually said, but because they know, from experience, what this study means.

It means that we will continue to be beat over the head with “breast is best” proclamations that have fudge-all to do with our individual realities.

It means that we have to avoid social media for the next few days, unless we want to silently endure smug status updates, or be labeled “defensive formula feeders” if we dare offer an alternative point of view.

It means that those of us who are newly minted moms and dads, still anxiously watching our babies’ chests rise and fall and worrying about the color of their feces and every ounce they gain, will wonder if they should have tried harder/could have done something differently/might have chosen another path.

It means we will witness another media cycle where reporters regurgitate the same mommy-war bullshit, throwing in condescending caveats about how it’s “still a mother’s choice” whether or not she nurses her child.48fc15010a26b03f8586826f99699143

It means that society is still, as always, missing the damn point.

As for the study itself…. what it means is a lot less obvious. Here is the summary:

Methods

A prospective, population-based birth cohort study of neonates was launched in 1982 in Pelotas, Brazil. Information about breastfeeding was recorded in early childhood. At 30 years of age, we studied the IQ (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, 3rd version), educational attainment, and income of the participants. For the analyses, we used multiple linear regression with adjustment for ten confounding variables and the G-formula.

Findings

From June 4, 2012, to Feb 28, 2013, of the 5914 neonates enrolled, information about IQ and breastfeeding duration was available for 3493 participants. In the crude and adjusted analyses, the durations of total breastfeeding and predominant breastfeeding (breastfeeding as the main form of nutrition with some other foods) were positively associated with IQ, educational attainment, and income. We identified dose-response associations with breastfeeding duration for IQ and educational attainment. In the confounder-adjusted analysis, participants who were breastfed for 12 months or more had higher IQ scores (difference of 3·76 points, 95% CI 2·20–5·33), more years of education (0·91 years, 0·42–1·40), and higher monthly incomes (341·0 Brazilian reals, 93·8–588·3) than did those who were breastfed for less than 1 month. The results of our mediation analysis suggested that IQ was responsible for 72% of the effect on income.

Interpretation

Breastfeeding is associated with improved performance in intelligence tests 30 years later, and might have an important effect in real life, by increasing educational attainment and income in adulthood.

 

In laymen’s terms, these researchers interviewed a large group (3493) of 30-year-olds who were part of a larger study which began in 1983, when these folks were born. They chose these subjects based on the fact that they had a significant amount of data on their infant feeding patterns and follow-up data, and because they agreed to be interviewed for the project. They gave them IQ tests, and found that those who had been at least “primarily” breastfed for 12 months scored about 3 points higher, on average. (This doesn’t mean that every single formula-fed subject scored lower, or that every single breastfed subject scored higher – we are talking about aggregates here, not individuals.) The breastfed subjects also tended to have a little under a year more schooling and make a bit more money per year.

The researchers (and the media) claim that this is the first study to so clearly show a causal (and dose-related) relationship between nursing and intelligence/success in later life.

The critics claim that because they did not control for maternal (or paternal, for that matter) intelligence, the results are not so convincing. I agree that parental IQ is far more important than most of what they did control for, but they did at least control for a fair number of confounding factors, like socio-economic status, parental education level, income, birth weight, and so forth. They also had the advantage of using a cohort for which breastfeeding wasn’t associated with class; in other words, people across all socioeconomic groups breastfed and didn’t breastfeed, ruling out the concern that some of these positive effects would merely be associative (rich people breastfeed, rich people have better opportunities/resources, etc.).

There could very well be a correlation between those in this study who were breastfed and better outcomes in terms of IQ and success. I do have some questions, though:

1. What were the formulas like in Brazil, circa 1982?

I couldn’t find anything regarding the types of foods used as breastmilk substitutes in Brazil in 1980-1983. At best, they were the same or similar to American brands, which were somewhat different than how they are now. Not vastly so, but enough that it could potentially make a difference. (Then again, most of us were raised on these formulas and don’t seem too damaged because of it, so…. make of it what you will.) The study did not specify what these babies were eating in place of the breastmilk: properly prepared, commercial infant formula? Homemade formulas? Animal milk? This does matter. We need this info before we can begin to make assumptions about the risks of formula, because for all we know we may not even be talking about formula.

2. What, exactly, were the politics of breastfeeding in Brazil, circa 1982?

The authors talk about breastfeeding not being associated with SES in this cohort, but what did cause women to choose formula over breastfeeding, and vice versa?

According to a 2013 paper in Revista de Saude Publica, “Campaigns promoting breastfeeding began in Brazil in 1981 with the National BF Promotion Program. The 1980s was marked by significant advances in legal protection for BF, with the approval of the Brazilian Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes and the inclusion of the right to 120 days maternity leave in the Constitution.” I also found references to a Brazilian television campaign which promoted breastfeeding, initiated in the early 1980s which featured spots aimed at various demographics, using language, images and celebrities that would appeal to these specific groups. This implies that the author’s assertion that their study was able to negate possible confounding factors might be overstating it a bit. Socioeconomic status is not the only thing that could give a child a slight bump in advantages associated with success later in life. If there were fundamental differences in the mothers who chose to breastfeed back in 1983 Brazil, those differences would matter for the purposes of this study.

3. Why is a 3-point bump in IQ and a slightly higher income so important for public health, anyway?

The authors state that these findings are important on a public health and economic level. But let’s get Orwellian here, for just a second: if everyone is breastfeeding, then everyone is getting the 3-IQ point and 1-more-school-year advantage. Everyone is making more money per year.  The playing field is even. I nearly failed Econ, so correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t you need “have-nots” to have “have’s”? If the whole country is smarter, then I guess you’d have an economic advantage… but the breastfeeding research world is quite international in scope. After all, our recommendations come from the World Health Organization, not the Every-Country-For-Herself Organization. If we all are smarter from breastfeeding, that’s great – but it’s not much of an economic argument, is it?

Obviously, I am being entirely facetious with the a paragraph. I am far from convinced that breastfeeding makes you smarter or more successful. But I want to point out how convoluted these arguments in favor of breastfeeding truly are. How offensive they are. The implication is that our life’s worth is measured in IQ and financial reward. How about a study showing how traits like patience, kindness, acceptance, creativity, ingenuity are tied to infant feeding?

This study was funded by public health agencies, so these questions are important. When we confuse public health messaging with messaging about IQ and “success” (a quite narrow definition of it, incidentally), we are heading down a very slippery slope.

4. Why aren’t we asking why and how, instead of droning on about the same old tired shit?

If – and this is a strong if – the author’s hypothesis that the fatty acids in breastmilk may be the cause of this bump in IQ (which they imply is what provoked the longer time in school and the greater income – again, sort of a sloppy connection, considering there’s many people with incredible IQs and low levels of education and career success), then why is the take-away “see, everyone should breastfeed!” and not “how can we improve breastmilk substitutes so that all babies get this advantage?”

The study itself is only noteworthy because it followed a lot of people over a lot of years. But remember: associative data is always associative data. Sure, larger groups make for more dramatic assumptions, but at its core, this is just like any other infant feeding study: it shows that there is a slight advantage for people who were breastfed. It doesn’t show how, it doesn’t show why, and it doesn’t tell us squat about anything on the individual level. It does not in any way prove that tour brilliant formula-fed child would have been 3 points more brilliant if you’d managed to breastfeed her. And even if it did prove without a doubt that breastfeeding added 3 points to every single baby’s IQ, it would not tell us how many IQ points a baby might lose if she was starving for the first 6 months of her life, or if her mother was crying and absent all the time, hooked up to a pump, instead of interacting with her. Or if the breastmilk she was getting was laced with any number of substances. Or if her mom didn’t eat enough kale. Or too much kale. Or if her mom ate dairy and she had an undiagnosed MSPI. Or if her dad was an asshole. Or if she was abused and dropped out of school and did drugs that dulled her senses, rendering her unable to even take the bloody IQ test.

My point is, no matter what this study tells us (and it doesn’t tell us anything we hadn’t already heard), the more important thing is what it doesn’t tell us. Life is about so much more than what you eat in the first few months of your life. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter – otherwise I wouldn’t be so crazy about making sure research is done to improve formulas and make sure they are as safe and healthy as possible – but provided your child us getting adequate nutrition, there are just so many other things that can help them along or trip them up.

And don’t hate me for saying this, but you are only one of them. Sure, you’re who they are going to be talking about on the therapists’s couch in 30 year’s time, but they aren’t going to be mad at you for not breastfeeding. They are going to be mad that you missed their school play, that you embarrassed them in front of the cool kids in the parking lot of the mall, that you didn’t support their life’s dream to be a potter specializing in tiny, thimble-sized pots.

So do yourself a favor: throw out the newspaper screaming about breastfed babies “growing up to smarter, richer adults”, turn off the Today Show with its smug newscasters, and talk to your child. Because that’s they want. Not your breastmilk. Not 3 IQ points. They want you, and all your imperfections, and all your concerns for their welfare and your anxieties and your dorkiness and your dysfunction. They just want you.

Until they turn 13. But that’s another story.

 


 

 

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...