Some comments on comments

Anyone who regularly reads this blog might know that I post every comment I receive (actually, that’s a lie – I ignored one once, simply because it was just a link to some website, which I considered spamming). I realize that sometimes these comments can hurt feelings, on both sides. Clearly, I want this blog to be a place of support; of warmth and humor; a virtual respite for formula feeders who are bombarded with guilt or fear on other parenting sites…

Some might be surprised to know that I also don’t like when the arguments from “my side” get nasty (not that I think anyone on this blog has done so, but I know that things can get heated, and I’m certainly partial to one side of this debate so maybe other people are seeing something I’m not). I admit that I react emotionally when someone gets particularly sanctimonious or unfair, but overall, I try and respond rationally. I welcome comments from people of opposing viewpoints, and I don’t want to discourage people from coming here to voice their opinions, even if I don’t agree with them.

I recently searched “formula feeding” on Twitter and found that someone calling herself The Lactivista “tortures herself” by reading this blog and is composing an “epic response” in her head. I can’t wait, Lactivista. Honestly. I hope that you will share your thoughts. I am sorry that this blog “tortures” you; that is not its intent. Unfortunately, when you’re discussing formula feeding support these days, that requires some backlash against the anti-formula feeding sentiments that we find online and in our society. To be clear, I understand that in many areas of the world, especially in the United States, formula feeding is “the norm”; however, the people who come here seeking support are NOT living in those areas, otherwise they wouldn’t need support in the first place.

It’s like this: let’s say you are from Italy, studying abroad at a college in Boston (I choose Boston because it’s my hometown, and, well, if you’re gonna choose a location for a college-related analogy, it should be Boston). You start seeking out other native Italians, because sometimes it’s nice to speak in your native tongue. If you lived in Italy, you wouldn’t have to think about it; people would think you were nuts if you posted a Craigslist ad reaching out to other native Italian speakers. But in Boston, maybe you feel a bit lonely, and want to relax around someone who understands where you are from. This doesn’t mean you don’t like and respect the Americans around you; you wouldn’t be studying abroad if you were ethnocentric. It’s just nice to let your guard down once in awhile.

Sticking with this (admittedly lame) analogy, what if you were meeting with your Italian club, and an American crashed the get together and started spewing off anti-Italian sentiments. You’d be pissed, wouldn’t you? It might even color your opinion of Americans, at least in some small, subconscious way. You’d still love your roommate and the friends you’d made here in the States, but maybe you’d start feeling a little defensive about your heritage. You’d hate that you felt that way, because you came to this country loving all things American, and it sucks that an experience like this makes you feel guarded.

Considering that many of us started out pro-breastfeeding, we come to this debate knowing what the other side thinks about formula feeding, even those who have the best of intentions. I recently came across a report from an August 2009 Good Morning America (“Breastfeeding vs Bottle Feeding Debate Gets Ugly“) that talks about the inner beliefs of formula feeders and breastfeeders:

“Among breast-feeding mothers, 75 percent support formula feeding, but that seems to be their surface reaction only..The survey also showed that 66 percent of the breast-feeders felt sorry for formula-fed babies, and 33 percent said they thought their bottle-feeding counterparts are ‘selfish and lazy.’

Nearly all of the formula-feeding mothers, 92 percent, support breast-feeding.”

I think this is why the comments from the formula feeding side can get a little snarky. We support breastfeeding. Most of us wanted to breastfeed in the first place. And when it comes down to it, we don’t care how you feed your baby, as long as you give us the same respect.

But I digress. I allow all the comments, good and bad, because of something GMA highlighted in its report – I want to get past that “surface reaction” they mentioned. Let’s just lay our cards on the table. I believe that’s the only way we can start the necessary work of TRUE infant feeding freedom; TRUE breastfeeding advocacy, which to me, means protecting our choices as women, all our choices, whether it be to breastfeed, formula feed, or some combination of both.

So keep ’em coming, guys. Let’s get this debate on track. It doesn’t need to be ugly, but if some people want to get their anger out (on either side), I’d rather they do it on here than in a manner which could hurt some new mom, just trying to make her way through the minefield that is new parenthood.

A love letter to my breastfeeding friends

Dear Fellow Mommy Friends,

I’m so glad I’ve met such amazing women in my first year as a mother. But considering nearly all of you are breastfeeding mommas, and I normally blog about formula feeding, I figured it was about time to give credit where credit is due.

In the beginning, it was rough… you would all hang out at Breastfeeding Support Group, grabbing coffee afterwards, forging bonds over latching issues. The only person I could bond with was the supermarket check-out lady who rang up my $30 can of formula (“Dang, that’s expensive…they don’t make a generic for that?” she’d ask nearly every time, as I’d shake my head morosely.)

Later, we’d all meet at the park. Our newborns would wail; you’d pull out your boobs, I’d pull out my bottle. I’d feel ashamed, wondering if you were judging me for not trying hard enough. And sometimes I suspected you thought I’d be uncomfortable with you nursing, which just made the situation more awkward. This couldn’t have been further from the truth, by the way. I thought it was amazing, what you were doing. My own nursing experience was so god-awful, that it was reassuring – heck, life-affirming – to see your little ones getting good, natural nourishment from your bodies.

But luckily, we worked through any insecurities we felt. Some of you stopped using the nursing covers; others still preferred to remain draped in public. Either way was cool with me. I admired those of you with the cajones to feed your child as nature intended, despite the conspicuous stares from some immature guys (like my husband, who just can’t stop seeing breasts as sexual objects… I apologize for him. His idol is Larry David; what can you do?). I also related to those of you with your designer Hooter-Hiders; I probably would have been using one too, if I had still been nursing. I’m shy like that. On my end, I stopped feeling like a bad mom every time I pulled out my container of powdered food; I welcomed the chance to educate anyone who questioned my choice. None of you ever did. Because you rock. Whatever opinions of my feeding choices you had, you kept them to yourself, and I love you for it.

One of you couldn’t understand why I wasn’t planning on nursing my second child, should I ever have one. “Why wouldn’t you at least try?” you asked me, on more than one occasion. But you weren’t being judgmental. You were genuinely curious. Once I explained my reasons to you, you accepted it, and moved on. I think you wanted reassurance that I wasn’t belittling your hard work; I hope I imparted the message that I think nursing is great, just not for my family. I hope that you know I envy the success you have had in breastfeeding, that I think it is a wonderful gift you’ve given your son.

Another one of you is a shining example of what breastfeeding advocacy can and should be. You persevered through numerous nursing challenges, because breastfeeding meant something to you. You are a true earth mother, and I’ve never seen anything more natural looking than you feeding your child. It’s amazing. In those moments, you look like a modern-day Joan of Arc, strong and ready to take on the status quo; just as your son benefits from your milk, you seem to get something out of him as well – a quiet strength; a sense of wholeness. Magical. Even more magical? How you managed to nurse your 25 pound toddler in your Ergo carrier on our hike the other day. Wow. That was impressive.

And then there are those of you who’ve been brave enough to admit to me that nursing hasn’t been all that wonderful. I appreciate your honesty; it helped me understand the breastfeeding issue on a larger level, made me question why we feel “forced” into doing this. I also respect that you stuck with it, and celebrated with you when it got easier.

As our kiddos approach the one year mark, I see many of you starting the weaning process, and I want to congratulate you on a job well done. You have nourished your children, and they are thriving. And you’ve never made me feel inferior for using a different system of nourishment, which has allowed my child to thrive as well. I think we are proof that both formula feeders and breastfeeders can raise healthy, happy children, and come from happy, healthy, non-judgmental moms.

So, thanks, guys. I raise my sippy cup to you. Wanna know what’s in it?  It’s the milk of human kindness. Doesn’t matter if its from the breast or the formula can. You all have it in spades, and I love you for it.

– The Fearless Formula Feeder

Formula Fed America

Fearless Formula Feeders, strap on your armor. We have a new battle coming.

There’s a documentary hitting the blogosphere called “Formula Fed America”. From the look of the trailer, it’s nothing new- just the same old characters (i.e., Jack Newman…god, how much is this guy raking in on our boobs?) and a few holier-than-thou sounding moms who cite the fact that nursing can stop a temper tantrum as a benefit, and blame the obesity epidemic on formula. Really just the same stuff we’ve been hearing for years. But people are Tweeting about it like it’s the second coming, and I’m sure it will get press as being innovative or what have you.

Just thought I’d warn you.

What do formula, IVF, pregnancy after 30, and working moms have in common?

Some critics of this blog have taken issue with the fact that I “promote” formula feeding as a legitimate choice. It’s alright to support those who tried to breastfeed and failed for some medical reason, they say. But no mother should knowingly put her child at risk by opting for the bottle. 

I realize that most of the FFFs who are frequent readers of this blog fall into the first category. I do, myself. However, a friend of mine – one of the strongest, most amazing women I know – made a conscious choice to formula feed from day one because her husband was deployed at the time and she realized it would be a better decision for her family. Another friend (also a beautiful person and superb mother) just had her second baby, and was torn about whether or not she should try and nurse – her first daughter had a host of issues that made breastfeeding impossible, and caused a lot of stress and concern, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to risk that again; on the other hand, she couldn’t help but feel guilty about those feelings. (For the record, she breastfed for about 24 hours just for the heck of it, then switched to formula, and reports that she feels relaxed, happy and not a bit guilty.)

These women don’t deserve to be chastised any more than the woman whose baby had a severe milk protein allergy, in my opinion. As parents, we make all kinds of choices that require cost-benefit analyses, and I honestly believe that breastfeeding is just another one of these choices. There are some very real, very wonderful health benefits to breastfeeding that formula can’t match – I don’t dispute that. But I also do not think that any of the “risks” one might take by formula feeding are severe enough to justify driving yourself crazy. If you live in a place where clean water is plentiful, and can afford formula; if you commit to cuddling your baby while bottle feeding (and let’s be honest, any parent who find snuggling a newborn a chore will probably not bond that well with their kid regardless if there is a plastic or actual nipple in said baby’s mouth); if you make other healthy choices to counteract the slight increase of potential stomach upset and ear infections (like not allowing your baby to drink lying down, as liquid can pool in the ears, or making sure you find the right formula for your particular child, as certain blends are easier to digest than others); if you encourage healthy eating habits as they grow up to keep childhood obesity at bay (this is assuming you believe that formula fed kids are more prone to obesity, which I personally think is a b.s. finding completely muddled by confounding factors)… you get my point. Any slight statistical advantage can be counteracted.
I have hesitated to bring something up for awhile now, because the LAST thing I want to do is cause anybody undue worry or insult. But I do think it’s important to consider the following: 
There are other choices women make that put their children at equivalent “risk”, which most people are too P.C. to bring up. 
And for the record – I think that all of the following statistics are just as irrelevant and disputable as the breastfeeding ones – my point is simply that the stats are out there, and could just as easily be used to take away other choices from women. Which is why I intend to support formula feeding as a choice, irrelevant of the reasons behind that choice. My hope is that the ridiculousness of the following statements will bring some perspective to why I feel as I do.

Other Parenting Choices That Incur Risk to Children

1. Waiting too long to have kids 

  • From March of Dimes: Women ages 40 and older are more likely than women in their 20s and 30s to deliver prematurely,  are about 2 or 3 times more likely to have a stillborn baby, and have a significantly higher risk of chromosonal problems like Down Syndrome
  •  The risk of seven of the 10 most common childhood cancers increases slightly, about seven to 10 percent, with every five-year increase in maternal age, according to a study from the University of Minnesota.
  •  Women who put off having children until after the age of 30 are twice as likely to develop hereditary breast cancer, experts have warned. (I found this particularly interesting, considering breastfeeding also lowers the same type of breast cancer risk. So basically, you get the same protective effects by having kids a bit earlier as you do from breastfeeding. There’s a choice for you.)

2. Undergoing IVF

A 2003 article on MSNBC discussed a myriad of studies about babies born through Assisted Reproductive Technologies, showing that they were:

  • “more than twice as likely as infants in the general population to be born underweight (6.5 percent vs. 2.5 percent), putting them at risk for breathing difficulties and other potentially deadly health problems at birth as well as developmental difficulties down the line.”
  • “more than twice as likely as naturally conceived infants to have major birth defects (9 percent vs. 4.2 percent), including problems with the heart and urinary or genital tracts.”
  • privy to a  “five- to seven-fold increased risk of a rare form of eye cancer known as retinoblastoma.”

 Another article in The Guardian warned that kids born through IVF and other fertility treatments:

  • Were four times more likely to have autism than those born to fertile parents.
  • Had a higher risk of more minor problems – the incidence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) rose by 40%, and other medical conditions affecting hearing and sight nearly doubled.

Side note: the MSNBC article went on to explain that “Common sense would say that a lot of people have been through this and most of their children are doing well…It’s really a question of subtlety and small differences.”

I wonder what would happen if a doctor said the same about the breastfeeding studies?

3. Working

  • A British study found that children of working moms are at greater risk of becoming obese than offspring of those who stay home.
  •  Another British study claims that children of working mothers are “more likely to do worse at school, become unemployed and to suffer mental stress than youngsters whose mothers stay at home to bring them up…According to the study, the impact of having a full-time working mother on a child’s education is similar to growing up in a single-parent family..They also reject the idea that a child is helped if the father stays at home, showing that his absence has little effect on the child’s educational success.”

Imagine the uproar that would happen if these studies were used to guilt women into not working, or sacrificing other goals to have kids earlier, or not having kids at all. I’d be on the front lines of those protests. I bet a lot of other lactivists (many of whom are self-proclaimed feminists as well) would be too.

This is why I think it’s important for someone to be offering a bit of devil’s advocation regarding the breastfeeding hype. Even if you believe each and every study that says that formula feeding causes obesity, cancer, autism, etc… equivalent risks have been shown in other studies examining other choices we make as parents. We’re all doing our best, and who am I to judge another woman’s “best”?

So, yeah: I support every woman who chooses to formula feed. It’s just food. It’s good food. It may not be organic, pure, human milk. But it’s a good enough substitute that will nourish our kids well, and we are lucky to live in an age when this is an option. We are living in an age when a woman whose husband is at war can choose to feed her baby in a way that reduces a little of her (understandable) stress. When a second-time mom can look back on a bad nursing experience and decide to proactively protect her new baby (and herself) from that hell. When there is a wonderful thing called the Internet, where these women can find support for these loving, wise choices.

 I hope that answers the question. But I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that it doesn’t. 🙂

Joan Wolf and the myths of breastfeeding

Oh. My. God.

Why haven’t I ever seen this article before??

I actually just contacted Joan Wolf, who told me her book will be out next fall and will, I hope, really shake up the proverbial bottle.

But seriously guys: print this piece and post it on your fridge for those dark days. I am so excited I could burst. 🙂

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