FFF Friday: Why can’t mothers just support one another?

I wanted to stand up and cheer after reading Lindsay’s FFF Friday submission, but I thought that might scare my fellow Starbucks customers so I kept it all inside. But I think her sentiments are such a great reminder of why this blog has to exist, and why we need to keep rehashing these same issues over and over. Until supporting breastfeeding is not synonymous with vilifying formula (or formula feeders), we have to keep fighting the good fight.

On that note – check back this weekend for a great guest post about this very subject from one of my favorite breastfeeding advocates.


Let me preface this by saying that I am 100% in support of breastfeeding.  I know that it is the best source of nutrition for babies.  As a parenting educator for teen mothers, I educated them about the benefits of breastfeeding.  I encouraged them to try.  I got them help from lactation consultants.  I worked alongside a local group called BEST (Breastfeeding Education and Support for Teenagers).  However, I also taught them how to make safe bottles of formula for their children.  If one of my clients was unable to breastfeed, decided to stop, or decided from the beginning that she wanted to formula feed, I was supportive. 

Personally, I am a breastfeeding failure– two times over.

My son was born 10 hours after being induced for pregnancy-induced hypertension.  After he was born, the nurses immediately took him to the incubator to be cleaned, measured, weighed, etc as I was being stitched up following my episiotomy.  After 30+ minutes, he was handed to me and I attempted to get him to latch on.  No go.  We tried many, many times over the next 4 days (yes, 4 days.  More on that in a minute.)  On the second day, I was in pain and in tears.  I tried nipple shields.  The lactation consultant visited constantly.  I slathered myself with Lansinoh.  But the pain was unbearable.  Then, the bad news– he was jaundiced.  I was told to supplement with formula.  Yes, I know that breastfeeding exclusively helps with jaundice.  I knew that then, I know that now.  But when my child won’t latch on, I’m going to do whatever the hell I need to to get him to eat and poop out that bilirubin.  I fed him a bottle, which he greedily sucked down. 

I continued to try to breastfeed, while also supplementing with formula.  My son was in the hospital for 4 days; I was released on the 3rd day, but allowed to stay in my hospital room with him.  On the 3rd night, he was placed under the lights to help with his jaundice.  We were only allowed to get him out to feed him.
After getting home, we settled into a feeding routine.  I would place him to my breast, using a curved syringe to feed him formula and try to coax him to latch on.  Then my mom, sister or husband would feed him a bottle while I pumped.  This continued for a week.  I produced nothing.  Drops at a time, if that.  My doctor prescribed Reglan to increase my supply.  I saw a lactation consultant who encouraged me to keep up the routine.  After 3 weeks, my husband went back to work.  And I was done.  I could not care for my newborn if I was spending an hour at a time trying to encourage him to eat, then pumping what amounted to 3 drops of milk.  I dreaded every time he was hungry.  But once I made the decision to switch to formula, we were both happier.
But the guilt was eating me alive.
I always knew I would breastfeed.  It was best for the baby, and I wanted my baby to have the best.  I took the class, read the books, talked to my friends who were successful breast feeders.  But no one tells you what can happen when your breasts just don’t work.  While no one personally ever gave me any grief for feeding my child formula, the message in the parenting world was that “breast is best” and formula is akin to child abuse.  That may be stretching it a little, but that’s how I felt it was being presented.  I still feel that it is being presented that way. It took me over a year, with a bout of late post-partum depression thrown in for good measure, for me to feel good about my decision.
I recently gave birth to my daughter.  Everything was quick and easy; she was born 6 hours after I went into labor, and about an hour and a half after arriving at the hospital.  No epidural, no medications.  She was placed on my chest, and I was able to attempt to nurse her within an hour.  She latched on.  I was ecstatic.  She ate every couple of hours throughout the day.  At night, she was eating every hour or so.  I felt some pain, but nothing I thought I couldn’t handle.
A lactation consultant visited me the next day; unfortunately, my daughter was in the nursery getting her hearing test at the time.  I explained my pain to the LC, who said that it could be a sign of a bad latch.  She asked me to call her as soon as my daughter got back, so she could see how she latched on.  But when I asked the nurse to call her, I was informed that the LC was busy with another patient.  I never saw the LC again.
The pain continued and increased.  By the time I was released (a mere 33 hours after giving birth!  Such a relief after spending 4 days there after my son’s birth) my nipples were cracked and bleeding, and were fire-engine red.  Again, I dreaded every time she was hungry.  I was exhausted and in pain.  Because of this, I was having a hard time bonding with her.  I made up my mind that first night at home that I was done.  No pumping, no Reglan.  She was drinking formula.  This time, I feel less guilty.  I have seen how my son benefited, and I know my daughter will do the same.
I still believe that breast milk is best for babies.  But I know that formula can be a good, healthy alternative.
But I am disgusted with the way that formula feeders are villified.  While many argue that the push for “breast is best” is about educating those who may not know the benefits, it is also alienating mothers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed.  On internet forums, mothers who formula feed are blasted for not caring about their children’s well being, for not trying hard enough, for being lazy.  Why can’t mothers just SUPPORT one another?  Why does it have to be about being better than someone else?  I don’t care how you feed your child, so don’t care about how I feed mine.  And I hate that I feel that I have to defend myself for my choices.
Want to help another woman feel less alone? Share your story. Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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10 thoughts on “FFF Friday: Why can’t mothers just support one another?

  1. Sing it, sister.

    Seriously, these questions (“why should anyone else care how I feed my child, as long as I feed my child,” and “why can't women support each other in their different choices, seeing as one woman's choice has no bearing on another's.”) are never really answered. Women who have felt alienated or bullied are generally the ones asking. I would figure that a good percentage if not a majority don't think about these issues at all, and then there's the bullies themselves, who can't support anyone who is doing it wrong.

    Anyway, congrats on the new baby, and for becoming a fearless formula feeder!

  2. I totally agree. We go through so much already, being new moms, why does feeding have to be such an guilt and stress-ridden issue?! Seriously, with my next baby, I'm going to stay off the internet! (except for this blog of course!) Thanks for sharing your story! Enjoy your new little one!

  3. Amen. I often wonder why, for lack of a better word, women are such bitches. 🙂
    Ah internet. If it wasn't for you I wouldn't have bent my problem to my will, but then again if it wasn't for you I wouldn't have to defend myself against judgement from those who have never felt that sense of failure.

  4. I still believe that breast milk is best for babies.  But I know that formula can be a good, healthy alternative. But I am disgusted with the way that formula feeders are vilified.

    Word. Your babies are healthy and happy, and you're still sane at the end of the day — that's hardly a failure. 😀

    My least favorite thing about breastfeeding advocacy is the treatment of formula feeders, as though there's somehow less love going into the choice. It's ridiculous. (Any parenting advocacy, really. When someone has to be the “enemy,” it's really not good advocacy at all.)

  5. Absolutely fantastic post.

    I do find it grimly amusing that these OTT people who try to villify formula feeding Mums are damaging their “cause” far more than they are helping it. Thing is, they're too blind to see that.

  6. Absolutely. We should just support each other in the fact that we *all* have a lot on our plates and that feeding is an individual issue that is different for everyone. Someday! 🙂

  7. Thank y'all so much for your comments about my post! Writing this really helped with the feelings of failure that I felt after not nursing my son. I'm so grateful that this website exists to help mothers who may feel the same way I did!

  8. What a wonderful post – I'm a little late in catching up 🙂
    My son is 5 months old and I *still* feel the pangs of guilt over not being able to breastfeed (and anger over having to stress the ABILITY part of that to some of the uber judgmental b-feeders I know). I've always wondered why women have to tear each other down (it's not just with mothering, but everything!) rather than support one another's choices.
    I'd get random strangers asking me about whether or not I breast fed (another whole post, I know!) but my response was always “he eats well”
    And that's just the point – our children are being fed, something not all mothers throughout the world can say, and that's truly the only thing that should matter!!

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