FFF Friday: “Formula nourished my baby when my breasts could not.”

Women sometimes tell me they want to write something for FFF Friday, but feel bad doing so because they are still breastfeeding in some capacity, like Ashley is. I completely understand why they would think that; after all, the site is called Fearless Formula Feeder, not Fearless Combo Feeder or Fearless Breastfeeder Who Had to Supplement for the First Few Weeks. But anyone who has had to use formula is an FFF, in my book. We’ve gotten to the point where any supplementation – hell, any bottle use – is considered sub-optimal by certain folks, and moms are paying the price.

While on a research level I appreciate Ashley’s mention of body image issues, on a personal level it makes my heart hurt. Because she’s so unfortunately spot-on – breastfeeding “success” is yet another way that women’s bodies are monitored, assessed, and judged. If your body doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, or you opt not to conform to specific parameters of what society decides “good bodies (women) do”, you’re going to be punished. 

But we’re changing that – one fearless feeder at a time. And just in case it isn’t clear, the formula is only one part of it. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Ashley’s Story

I was seventeen and standing on the band practice field when I yelled at my band director, “You have no idea what you’re doing!” And, “Oh yeah, no one likes you, either!” That was just the beginning of the breastfeeding/formula saga and debacle.

By the time my senior year of high school rolled around, I knew something was terribly wrong with my body and period. It was sporadic to say the least—coming and going whenever it felt inclined, leaving me with lots of surprises. The headaches, lack of a period, and blurry vision I experienced I believed to be induced by stress, depression, eating disordered behaviors, and whatever angsty hormones were flowing through my veins at the time. I eventually ended up seeing an OBGYN who did lots of blood work and an ultrasound on my uterus and ovaries. Through the series of tests, it was discovered that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (think bubble wrapped ovaries, just clearly not as fun) and a suspected pituitary tumor. Talk about a double whammy of a diagnosis and a basic guarantee that I would be stuck with a malfunctioning body for all of time. I headed to the endocrinologist who confirmed that “Yes, something is wrong. You need an MRI and we need to get it done as soon as we can.” A pituitary tumor was found which explained my blurred vision, headaches, fatigue, and most likely a good deal of my depression and horrible body image.

Enter me, once again, screaming on the band field, all due to a pituitary shrinking, dopamine inhibiting medication, better known as Dostinex. The medication caused some pretty intense mood swings, hence the yelling. I mean, I had never raised my voice at anyone in my entire life and there I was screaming at this poor woman who probably disliked us just as much as we disliked her. Someone please go give that woman a cocktail and cookies on my behalf. Anyways, I digress. The Dostinex worked (yay!), but I was still left with PCOS and the promise that the pituitary tumor would come back eventually. I felt great for the remainder of my senior year and then I entered college where things went well for quite some time, until my sophomore year. Blame it on the alcohol abuse or yo-yo dieting (though, through an academic research project and proposal that I completed at my university, I did find a correlation between hormone disorders and both eating disorders AND alcohol/drug abuse), I felt terrible again. I mean, who wouldn’t? It turned out that my tumor was back based on preliminary blood work, and I decided I wasn’t going to do anything about it. So, however silly that decision was, I left it to get worse until I graduated from college.

I got married the day after graduation. We discussed having children, but didn’t give ourselves a firm timeline. Without getting too deep into detail, we were only able to conceive once I haphazardly took birth control that I suddenly stopped because I didn’t like the way it made me feel. It was supposed to regulate my cycle. Oops!

Enter our little bundle of joy. I found out that I was pregnant on a frigid December morning and had him on a steaming hot Mississippi afternoon nine months (and two weeks!) later. I did everything I could to be the perfect pregnant mother. I took my prenatal vitamins, ate healthier, cut out caffeine (for the majority of my pregnancy anyways…), read up on attachment parenting, invested in baby carriers, and most important of all, decided to breastfeed. I was all set! So, when my nearly perfect pregnancy went two weeks late and I had to be induced, I tried not to sweat it. After all, I still had the Ergo and my boobs! Don’t forget the co sleeper! We were going to rock this parenting thing.

Though I had anticipated a natural birth, once I was induced, I only lasted a few hours until I was begging for the epidural. I had a fairly short labor, but had a few scares with Job (the baby) showing signs of distress from the intensity of the contractions. Luckily I didn’t have to have a c-section, something that I was deathly afraid of recovering from. Once he was born and his lungs were cleared of meconium, he was laid on me to breastfeed. The nurse, who I found out wasn’t a lactation consultant after asking, sloppily threw his cute little face onto my breast, and it immediately hurt. Badly. But, I didn’t say anything because I figured the new sensation was something I needed to get used to, and the cuteness of his face was just too distracting. Ha! I felt pretty good about the nursing that was accomplished before he was swept away for a four hour – YES, four hour!) transition in the nursery. I got settled into the room and we nursed without much pain or confusion on and off throughout the night. The next day, however, things got frustrating for the both of us. He wasn’t staying awake at all and I could barely get him interested in my breasts which made me start to panic. That night is when we all (including my poor husband) just mentally and emotionally fell apart. I had never felt such excruciating pain in my life as I did when he was latching on to nurse. All of the nurses seemed baffled because his latch “looked perfect” and I “just needed to keep taking him off and putting him back on.” After hours of doing that, I started to realize that maybe we weren’t so prepared for breastfeeding after all.

The next day we were sent home and reassured by the lactation consultants that establishing a breastfeeding relationship just takes time and that pain is normal in the beginning. Everything I had read correlated with what they were saying, so I didn’t question it and prepared myself for the few days (ha) that it would take getting used to the pain. Things did not get better and the day before his check up I had been up for 23 hours straight. I couldn’t fathom how this beautiful baby that stayed attached to my breast an hour and a half at a time, was still hungry and inconsolable. Weren’t babies supposed to eat, sleep, and wet/dirty diapers? He did none of those things! I should add that when we called the nursery, they told us to not be too concerned about his lack of diapers and that some babies just took a while to get started. What did I sign us up for?

We went to his check up the next day (he was five days old at this point) and realized that he had lost an entire pound. That was definitely more than what is usual for a baby to lose. The lactation consultant tried expressing breast milk from my breasts and looked concerned. Nothing was coming out. She told me to nurse Job so that she could inspect his latch. She again said that his latch was great but that he obviously wasn’t getting anything out, which explained his major weight loss, lack of

diapers (thanks, nursery) and inconsolable crying spells. I asked her to inspect his tongue and lip frenula, and she said his tongue was tight, but that it shouldn’t be the cause of any issues. She asked how I felt about formula and on the inside I was horrified, but I let out “That’s fine!” through my sobs. I have never seen a baby guzzle down a bottle so quickly before. It took him about a minute flat to drink an ounce. He quickly went to sleep after she burped him and I was mesmerized by this beautiful, sleeping, peaceful child placed in my arms. We left with a plan to do a weight check in two days. Our hope was that he would gain weight after supplementing him with formula, me pumping and nursing until my milk came in.

I felt an enormous sense of relief, but left extremely concerned that we would remain dependent on formula. If there was one thing that La Leche taught me, it was that you do not want to supplement with formula. The next day (day 6) my milk finally decided to make an appearance. I pumped an entire drop in fifteen minutes! When we went checkup we discovered that he had gained 14 ounces! That is a LOT of weight to gain for a little baby in just a short two days. I was thrilled. “He must have gained so much because my milk is fully in and he is getting formula. Let’s wean off formula!” We decided to wean off of formula and two weeks later, at his pediatric appointment, we discovered that he had lost weight again after weaning from formula. I immediately sat down and cried while Matthew (my husband) tried to reassure me, while also expressing his concern for Job’s weight and well-being. The pediatrician came up with another plan for supplementation, but it wasn’t nearly as “invasive” as our last plan, the one that actually made him gain weight. Eventually we discovered that my milk was still in a pitiful state because the two ounces a day that we were supposed to be feeding him was turning into two ounces per feeding.

The story should fade out peacefully at that point, but somehow, it continues. Through my obsessive research online and a post made out of desperation to a tongue and lip tie support group at 4:30 one morning, I discovered that Job did indeed have a lip and tongue tie. When I looked at the symptoms (painful latch, poor milk transfer, weight loss, reflux, gas, sleeplessness, no dirty diapers) I cried tears of joy. We had a solution! We just had to get his ties revised and we would then enjoy the breastfeeding relationship that I always read about and was witnessing secondhand through friends who had also had babies that same month. I scheduled an appointment for two days later and didn’t look back. The doctor did a fabulous job and completely revised the ties, but my low supply persisted. She suggested that we bring him to the chiropractor because that often helps babies with ties to nurse better. We went twice and I definitely witnessed an improvement in his attitude and ability to turn his neck, but alas, no more milk.

I decided I would go to a lactation consultant one last time. I had already used up all of my visits at my other lactation consultant and she basically told me that there was nothing else she could for me and that I should be at peace with the fact that combo feeding would just be our new normal. The new lactation consultant took a strong interest in my case and said that she had no doubt that my PCOS and tumor were at the root of my low supply. I think that all along I just wanted someone to validate my feelings by telling me what the other lactation consultant never really would. “You have multiple issues, but there is one last thing we can try. Have you heard of domperidone?” Had I heard of it? Of course! But I had no idea that people actually got prescriptions for it. It sounded like something out of a Harry Potter movie or a land of unicorns. Something so magical that it would cause you to lactate? I wanted it. And I got it. Nine pills a day later, I am happy to say that this depressing saga has somewhat of a happy ending for all of you who have stuck it out this long. I am now breastfeeding my baby and supplement half of what we were at. I neither feel very much a part of the breastfeeding or formula feeding community, but like many other mothers who discovered that for whatever reasons, breastfeeding was just not possible for them, I identify more with formula feeders. Why? Because formula nourished my baby when my breasts could not. Formula, it turns out, was not the enemy in this story.

Throughout all of this I felt completely worthless. The only reason I mention my feelings of self-worth throughout high school and college because since meeting my husband, breastfeeding was the first time I had felt hopeless in a very long time. When I looked in the mirror, I felt like I was again, judging my perfectly acceptable and even small 120body. Only this time I was judging my breasts nstead of obsessing over calories, I obsessed over ounces of milk. Through the fenugreek, oatmeal, lactation cookies, gallons of water, Gatorade, and special teas, I barely enjoyed the first four weeks of my child’s life because I was so overly concerned and hyper sensitive about what people would think if they found out what I was “doing” to my child by feeding him formula. I used to be vegan, for goodness sake! I had people tell me that I just needed to try “this” or “that” and that low supply really didn’t exist unless somehow I wasn’t nursing enough and didn’t I know that “breast was best?” I barely slept and sobbed throughout many of the days while my husband was away at work. My poor baby was wet more with my tears than he ever was with breast milk, but that’s okay. It’s all ok now. And you’re okay, too. Don’t let anyone guilt you into thinking that you’re “doing” anything to your baby except for loving them the way I know that each of you do.

FFF Friday: “It’s okay to stop. You are a good mom.”

I took FC to the park this morning. While he ran off to collect sticks with a few of his friends, I chatted with another mom, who’d just had her second child 8 weeks ago. 

I certainly didn’t bring up feeding (I never do). But it came up anyway (as it always does). She mentioned that breastfeeding had been a bit challenging, and I listened for awhile before casually mentioning that this was “sort of what I do.” That opened the floodgates, and she began telling me a story which would make a perfect contribution to FFF Fridays. 

After we talked about it for awhile, she said that it was really nice to hear that what she was doing was okay (supplementing) and that she was right to prioritize her mental health. Apparently, the nurses and lactation support staff she’d encountered thus far had made her feel the opposite. “Even when I tell other moms, they just tell me to ‘keep going’,” she said with a sigh. She knew they meant well, but at the moment, that wasn’t the type of support she needed. 

It was only a brief encounter, but it was the perfect end to #ISYWeek, for me. It felt really good to know that I truly supported another mom today – a stranger – in a way that made a difference. It wasn’t a big deal, and it certainly wasn’t newsworthy. It’s not even something worth blogging about, really. But that, I think, is what we’re lacking right now – these face-to-face, tiny moments of true support, of building each other up and making sure each of us is being heard, is being seen. True, individual, basic support, free of parenting politics, free of drama. That’s what Kim and I wanted to achieve with #ISupportYou. And today, I felt like I did achieve that, if only for 5 minutes, if only with one person.

I chose Elizabeth’s FFF Friday story to close out I Support You Week, because even in her attempt to exorcise her own feeding demons, she’s thinking about other moms. She’s thinking about the women who may need what she needed. That means so much, especially in the bottle feeding community, because we haven’t really had a community – but I’d like to think that’s finally changing. I am so grateful that Elizabeth got the support she needed, and even more grateful to her for paying it forward. I hope we can all do the same, so that our voices are heard by those desperate to hear them. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Elizabeth’s Story

When I was pregnant with my first son, and people asked me if I planned on breastfeeding (which, in hind sight, was such a personal and nosy question, but I got asked it a lot!), I genuinely answered “I’m going to try, and if it works it works, and if it doesn’t that’s okay.” My dad is an obstetrician, and I had heard him caution several times that he felt that expectant moms who set too stringent of plans for themselves were more likely to fall prey to post-partum depression and anxiety when things didn’t go according to plan — such as having the birth proceed in a particular fashion, or being absolute about breastfeeding (as an aside, he was not at all saying that these were the only reasons that a new mom might suffer from post-partum depression, just that he saw an increased incidence when rigid expectations were set, and then reality fell short of meeting these expectations).  So I really believed that I would give breastfeeding a shot, and if it worked, great! And if it didn’t, we would use formula, which would also be great!

For the first several weeks, breastfeeding went well.  Sure, there were some early hiccups with figuring out the latch and a little discomfort.  And, I never was very comfortable with feeding my baby in public (a self-imposed self-consciousness).  But my baby was thriving, and that’s all that mattered.

After about a month, though, I noticed that in the evenings my baby was wanting to nurse constantly. I understood this to be normal cluster feeding.  Except that my baby was getting angry, and I realized that he just wasn’t getting as much milk as he wanted or needed.  I spoke to a lactation consultant, who told me that my supply would catch up in a few days.  Except that it didn’t — the evenings just got worse.  I continued to speak to lactation consultants, and constantly ended the conversations feeling like I was doing something wrong — if nursing wasn’t working, then it was clearly due to some error or omission on my part, because nursing was “natural” and it’s “not that common for a mom to not produce enough milk.” There were a number of things going on that, in hindsight, probably affected my supply — I got a horrible cold around this time, my husband was recuperating from knee surgery and wasn’t mobile which added to an already busy, stressful, and sleepless time, and my gallbladder started to act up — so I was in a fair amount of pain (and ultimately had to have surgery myself).

Despite the chastising from the lactation consultants that I should just try harder (not the exact words, but that’s how it sounded to me), we decided that my husband would feed our son a bottle of formula at bedtime while I pumped.  We were all happy with the situation — my son had a full belly and stopped fussing as much, and my husband really came to enjoy the bonding time he had with our son every night.  And while I didn’t love pumping, I was happy that my son seemed to be happier.

Then I went back to work. My plan was that I would breastfeed first thing in the morning, pump at work, breastfeed when we first got home in the evening, and my husband would give my son a bottle before bed (while I pumped again).  My son, however, had other plans — once he started having bottles all day while I was at work, he had absolutely no interest in nursing.  So rather quickly, he became exclusively bottle fed.  I figured I would still pump, and supplement with formula when needed.  Great plan, right?

Except that it wasn’t.  My body did not respond well to pumping at all, and my supply immediately started to dwindle.  I started talking to lactation consultants again and researching online how to increase my supply.  Despite my early “laid back” approach to breastfeeding that I would try, but not stress about it, I became obsessed with my supply.  I ate the oatmeal, I took the fenugreek, I drank the herbal tea, I had a Guinness at night…I tried everything.  All the while, I was pumping more and more every day, and producing less and less.  I was getting jealous of my husband’s bedtime routine with my son, because I felt like I was just chained to the pump while he got to spend quality time with our baby.  My work began to suffer because of all the time I was devoting to pumping during the workday (I will note, my job never hassled me about the time I spent pumping, but I knew it was affecting my ability to be efficient and meet deadlines). On the weekends, time with family and friends was interrupted by my fixation on scheduling pumping breaks. My life revolved around the pump — and constant thoughts that I clearly just wasn’t trying hard enough.

I blame my obsession largely to the messages I was receiving while trying to increase my supply.  A lactation consultant told me that I should consider pumping as a gift to my child and should keep trying; a message board commenter noted that my resentment of pumping was “selfish” because it was what was best for my son.  Websites devoted to breastfeeding made it seem like formula was poison, and that if I was a good mom, I would figure out how to continue to provide breastmilk.  Even the back of the formula canister stated that breastmilk was best. Everywhere I turned, I was made to feel like I was failing my son, and failing as a woman and a mom — after all, wasn’t producing milk perfectly natural? And so my obsession continued. I think this had nothing to do with what I personally thought about formula, and more about societal pressure to breastfeed.

By the time my son was nearly five months old, I was pumping for at least three hours a day, and sometimes not even producing enough for one bottle — TOTAL.  Around this time, I had the opportunity to take my baby with me for a long weekend to visit my brother and sister-in-law.  I had unloaded everything from the car but my pump (I really resented that thing, so I don’t think that was accidental!).  It was nearing time to pump, and as I got ready to return to the car to get the pump, I shared my frustrating experience with my lovely sister-in-law, who also happens to be a pediatrician. I hadn’t said anything to her before, because I just assumed she would tell me “breast is best” and tell me to keep trying. But instead, she looked me in the eyes and said very simply “It’s okay to stop. You are a good mom.” And I just started to cry – I so badly needed someone to give me permission to stop pumping (and obsessing), and to tell me that I wasn’t a failure.  I never got the pump out of the car that weekend, and it was so liberating and freeing to actually spend quality time with my son, and to feed him his bottles (instead of handing him off to someone so I could pump), and to just be.

I just welcomed a second son to the world about four months ago, and I was very nervous about how I would feel about feeding him this time.  I decided to give breastfeeding a shot again, but am trying to be very aware of not letting myself cycle down into obsession and depression if it doesn’t work out.  So far, it’s been just fine.  I am back at work, but my son still choses to nurse when I’m around (in fact, he has the opposite problem of his older brother — he refuses a bottle if he senses that I am in a ten mile radius of him!). Pumping is going okay, but I also supplement some with formula.  When I pump, and feel those anxious feelings return if I don’t have a great session, I gently remind myself that it’s okay. And I have promised myself that if I am not producing a good amount of milk through pumping, I am going to stop – I will not make myself jump through all those hurdles like I did before, because it negatively impacts my sanity, and in turn, negatively impacts my relationship with my children.  The best thing I did for my relationship with my first son was to turn exclusively to formula, and I will not hesitate to do it again with my second. 

This is long, but it is cathartic to write it all out (I have tears running down my face as I type).  I’ve carried around the guilt and anxiety of my experience with breast feeding my first son for too long. Even as a currently-breastfeeding mom, I still bristle when I read or hear “breast is best.”  Because while breast is best for some moms, it’s not best for others, and feeling shame, anxiety, and frustration over how to feed a baby is not stress that a new mom needs.  What I also hope is that if anyone reading this is a new mom, and my story resonates sounds at all familiar, you will listen when I tell you that it’s okay to stop.  It’s okay to switch to formula.  As silly as it sounds now, I needed someone to give me permission.  My angel of a sister-in-law did that for me, and it was such needed relief.  She freed me from a vicious emotional downward spiral that impacted just not me, but also my son and my husband.   And so, if you need that permission like I did, please let me give it to you:

It’s okay to stop. You are a good mom.

***

Want to share your story or thoughts? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com and join the FFF Friday community. 

#ISY Week Guest Post: A nurse’s perspective on infant nutrition and self-advocacy

The following guest post was written by Maria Elena Piña-Fonti, President of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses—NY Chapter, in honor of #ISupportYou Week. I was thrilled she wanted to contribute something, as nurses play an integral part in ensuring that new parents and their infants get the healthiest start possible, while respecting the need for autonomy and an individual approach to care. I hope more health care providers will join Maria in celebrating ISY Week, by helping new parents understand their rights, offering education in a culturally sensitive manner, and showing the world the true meaning of “informed choice”. 

Infant Nutrition and Self-Advocacy

by Maria Elena Piña-Fonti, MA, RN

As a nurse, I come in contact with parents from all walks of life.  First-time parents, experienced parents, confident parents, and sometime confused parents.  What I tell parents—both the mothers and the fathers—is that it is important to have as much information as possible about all types of infant nutrition in order to make an educated, confident decision about what is best for your family.

Exclusive breastfeeding, formula feeding, and combination feeding are all safe ways to feed an infant.  Parents are given a lot of information, advice, and opinions, on caring for their children—especially when it comes to infant nutrition.  But how mothers and fathers feed their baby is a personal decision, one that can be influenced by many factors such as medical issues and returning to work.

As parents, once you make an informed decision about how to nourish your baby, you—and your choices—should be respected and supported.

You are your own—and your baby’s—best advocates to ensure that you have access to all the information and support you need to be successful parents and to raise healthy and happy children.  You should feel comfortable with your choices and confident and empowered that you know best what is right for your own family.

The following are some helpful tips to help advocate for you and your baby:

1.  Speak up. You and your healthcare providers are a team working together for the health and well-being of your baby. You should always feel like a valued and respected member of this team. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your choices and preferences.

 2.  Be open and honest. Share with your healthcare provider any concerns regarding health conditions or employment that may impact breastfeeding, formula feeding, or a combination of the two. They can only help you if they know the complete picture.

3.  Make your needs and wishes known and respected by your network, family, and friends.  Once you’ve made up your mind, make it clear that you have considered all of the information and are comfortable with your decision.  Ask for their support of your decision.

4.  It’s okay to change your mind.  If your feeding plan is not going as you wished, it’s alright to change your plan. Don’t be upset.  You have not failed. Remember the importance of closeness and touch to a baby.

5.  Get answers and information.  Your healthcare provider should fully support you and can refer you to resources you may need in making the best decisions for you, your baby, and your family.

Nobody knows the needs of you, your baby, or your family better than you do!

What parents need most is support, not shame or judgment.  #ISupportYou parents who breastfeed, #ISupportYou parents who formula feed, #ISupportYou parents who combination feed. No matter how you feed your babies, #ISupportYou.

Maria Elena Piña-Fonti is President of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses—NY Chapter, an association dedicated to community advocacy and well being, which believes parental engagement, education, and choice is essential to parental empowerment.

FFF Friday: “My breastfeeding challenges have made me more compassionate.”

It’s Halloween, and I am in a major candy coma.

But I still wanted to take a minute and post Colleen’s excellent FFF Friday submission, because it raises such an important point – one that I’ll be keeping in mind when I speak at MommyCon tomorrow for the #ISupportYou movement. Colleen shares how her mind expanded after facing her own challenges with breastfeeding, and how this experience altered her world view. Policy becomes less black and white when you’re living and breathing it, you know? And this is why listening is so essential. If we were all open to hearing other people’s experiences and feelings, empathy would come far more effortlessly. It’s difficult to really understand something unless you’ve been there. But if we can take the time to think more deeply about all the what-if, if-thens, etc, maybe women will stop feeling so bereft and start feeling empowered. Or maybe it’s just the candy talking.

Happy Friday (and Happy Halloween), fearless ones,

The FFF

Colleen’s Story

I was a huge fan of breastfeeding before I actually breastfed a baby.

After all, breast is best, right?

At the time, I worked for an international humanitarian organization that supported many breastfeeding promotion programs in the developing world. The programs were truly laudable, but I had never even considered that there might be an alternative point of view – that, even in the developing world there might be situations where a mother might not be able to or want to breastfeed, and that in those situations helping her baby get a supply of safe formula might be the truly humanitarian thing to do. Now, I look back on myself refusing to accept donated formula during disaster situations (the organization’s well-intentioned policy) and wonder if this was really the best way to go.

I am also ashamed to admit that when a friend quit breastfeeding after a few months I secretly judged her, convinced that she hadn’t tried hard enough, and that she probably was ill-informed; someone who had quit because she just didn’t know about the benefits of breastfeeding for at least a year.

Then I actually breastfed two babies and had to change my tune. Unlike many mothers who struggle with breastfeeding, I didn’t struggle due to lack milk – but rather due to too much. I spent many weeks with engorged breasts, painful cases of mastitis and plugged ducts, searing nerve pain, sore nipples and other problems. I experienced both the “joy” of pumping at work and the “joy” that comes with being the parent responsible for nearly all the night feedings (after all, even if your husband is willing to help, you might as well be the one to get up night after night if you wake up anyway due to painful engorgement and leaky boobs). Were there some benefits to breastfeeding? Of course. I did like knowing that my children were receiving the health benefits that come with nursing. However, after reading the medical literature, I have come to believe that the benefits, although certainly there, are not nearly what the popular literature has made them out to be. I mean, is it not true that my husband, and millions of other Americans born in the sixties, never drank a drop of breast milk and turned out just fine? (The hairstyles they had in the eighties notwithstanding).

So, when my second child was seven months old I decided I had had enough. It was time to thumb my nose at the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, Dr. Sears, and all the other authorities who recommend breastfeeding for at least a year, and become a real live, honest-to-God “fearless formula feeder.” Well, maybe a “fearful formula feeder” – most of my peers breastfeed for at least a year, and often when I mix a bottle in a public setting I fear judgment. Of course, this is probably because my previously-thriving son has now become an obese, asthmatic infant with chronic ear infections. (Just kidding). Actually, my son is doing great and I feel physically and mentally much better. I feel strongly that quitting breastfeeding was the right decision for me – I am now a happier mother – and that it was therefore the right decision for my family.

My breastfeeding challenges have definitely made me more compassionate – if I ever go back to working in the international aid arena I will have a more nuanced view of what is “best” for babies, and I will never, ever judge a woman for her infant feeding decisions again.

I am so grateful to the FFF community for offering infant feeding support to all parents. Of course a breastfeeding mother should be supported, allowed to breastfeed anywhere she needs to in public, and given space and time to pump at work. By the same token, a mother who can’t or doesn’t want to breastfeed should also be supported and not made to feel like a terrible parent. Finally, we should acknowledge the fact that breastfeeding isn’t an either/or proposition –many, many parents “combo-feed,” breastfeeding sometimes and using formula sometimes.

It’s time for the health care, baby care, online parenting communities and various “mommy bloggers” to stop haranguing women for their infant feeding choices. What is right for one family might not be what’s right for another. Being a parent is hard enough, and we all deserve all the support we can get.

***

Share your story: Email it to formulafeeders@gmail.com.

You don’t need to know why I don’t breastfeed, because it shouldn’t matter.

This past week, Emily Wax-Thibodeux’s excellent essay, “Why I don’t breastfeed, if you must know”, went viral. As it should have. It’s a cutting, heartfelt expose of just how ridiculous the pressure to breastfeed has become, made all the more powerful by the author’s recounting of her double mastectomy.

Unfortunately, even breast cancer didn’t stop the haters from hating.

“95% of the time people don’t breastfeed for reasons other than terminal illness. This is a red herring argument. She shouldn’t feel bad for having a legitimate reason for not breastfeeding and if she does then its really a personal problem,” said one comment on a Today.com thread.

“We all understand should and can are different. A mother who cannot breast feed is different than a mother who can but chooses not to…Breast milk is better for an infant than formula, I don’t think there is a doctor, nurse or midwife who would say that formula is better…Shame people would criticize this mother who CANNOT breastfeed like it was her choice,” wrote another (who happened to be male).

And then there was the woman who insisted that “(t)here is absolutely zero systematic or general judgment against infant formula or bottle feeding. It is the absolute expected norm by the majority of adults and parents in our culture. No one cares if you feed your baby infant formula or use a bottle…Most children start on the breast. Most children are weaned. Most children are given formula and fed with bottles. There is no public backlash against infant formula or bottle feeding. But here’s an article that pretends “infant formula shaming” is some actual thing. No. It isn’t. Not in the real world of critical thought and evidence. The data doesn’t support this notion at all.”

In the FFF community, there was tremendous support for Wax-Gibodeux’s piece, but an underlying concern about the title – because why must we know why she isn’t breastfeeding? Is shaming more acceptable for some mothers than others? What is the litmus test that rewards us with a breastfeeding “pass”? If a double mastectomy doesn’t quite cut it, I don’t know what will.

So maybe we should stop giving reasons altogether.

For those who fear formula as a product, no reason in the world is sufficient for a baby to be given anything other human milk. It doesn’t matter if the baby has to be wet nursed by someone with an unknown medical history – that is still better than formula.

For those who like to shame mothers – because that’s what it really is about, enjoying the act of shaming, of making yourself feel superior, or feel better about your choices by questioning those of others – no reason in the world will make a mother above reproach. She could always have done more – after all, breastfeeding is 90% determination and only 10% milk production, as a recent meme proudly stated. Best case scenario, she might get pity – but pity carries its own heavy scent, similar to the sour stench of shame.

Giving a reason for why you didn’t breastfeed is pointless.

That doesn’t mean telling your story isn’t important, because our narratives matter; they help those floundering in their own messy journeys make sense of what’s happening and find community with those who’ve been there. But there’s a difference between telling your story and owning it, and telling it to defend yourself. One gives you power, the other takes it away. 

We are at a turning point, I hope. Jessica Martin-Weber of The Leaky Boob has taken a stand against romanticizing the reality of breastfeeding, and is helping those in the breastfeeding community feel comfortable with bottle (and formula) use. When one of the leading voices in breastfeeding advocacy speaks out against a culture of fear and rigidity, that means something. Wax-Thibodeux’s piece has brought many powerful voices out of the woodwork, allowing women who’ve swallowed their shame to regurgitate it, and make the uninitiated understand just how sour it tastes.

Now is the time to draw a line in the sand. This conversation has moved beyond breastfeeding and formula feeding and whether one party is more marginalized than the other, or how superior one product is nutritionally to the other. We’ve been there, done that, and nothing has really changed. We’re all still hurting. We’re all still feeling unsupported, unseen, and resentful, like a 3-year-old with a colicky new sibling. Now, we need to stand up, collectively, and say it doesn’t matter why I am feeding the way I am. It is not up to anyone else to deem my reason appropriate or “understandable”. I’m going to stand up for anyone who has felt shamed about how she’s feeding, instead of just people who’ve had identical experiences to me, or those who I feel tried hard enough. 

A breastfeeding advocate shouldn’t be afraid to admit she questions aspects of the WHO Code. A breast cancer survivor shouldn’t have to have awkward conversations about why she’s bottle feeding. A woman who chooses not to breastfeed for her own personal reasons should not have to lay those reasons out in front of a jury of her peers.

This Tower of (breastfeeding) Babble has reached a fever pitch. It’s time for it to come down. Pick up your axe and start chopping. And next time someone asks, simply tell them, “You don’t need to know why I don’t breastfeed. Because it shouldn’t matter.”

 

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