FFF Friday: A Breastfeeding/Formula Feeding Story, Part Two

Last week, Erin explained how she fed her son formula from the start, in a manner which could definitely be described as fearless. I happen to be friends with Erin in real life, and she is one of the most inspiring, positive, and yes – fearless -  people I’ve ever encountered. I think that comes through in the second part of her story. And as I said on Facebook when I published part one last week, if Erin’s words can’t end the breast vs bottle battle once and for all, I don’t know what will. Enjoy….
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When people think of breastfeeding, the image that comes to mind is of a mother feeding her child while rocking in a glider, the sun streaming in the window and a toddler quietly reading a book at her feet.  That couldn’t be further from my reality.  My reality involves a spit up and crumb covered couch, Sprout on the TV and me yelling at my toddler to please for the love of God and in the name of all things holy stop trying to ride the dog like he’s a pony.  But for the past 4 months I have (much to my own surprise) been breastfeeding my son. 
I’ve had an idyllic breastfeeding experience.  I’ve never had a supply issue that couldn’t be corrected by drinking some more water.  My son’s latch is great; I’ve never had a sore, cracked or bloody nipple.  I have my husband’s full support, free and continuous access to lactation consultants and a child wellness clinic that will provide breastfeeding support and weight checks.  My son rarely if ever takes a bottle of pumped milk and those sample cans of formula sit unopened in my pantry.  If the lactivists of the world had a breast feeder of the month award, I’d be in the running.
Except for that whole formula feeder skeleton in my closet.
Because as open and frank as I am about breast feeding my second, I am equally open and frank about my decision to formula feed my first son.  And it was a decision – I never even tried to put my nipple in his mouth.  I was one of those soul-less, heart-less, unloving mothers who didn’t care enough about her child to give him the very best.  Instead he drank smelly, nasty poison…err, formula.  Thank goodness I came to my senses, turned my back on formula and made the right decision for my second son. Or at least that’s what some people would say. 
Do I think I made the right decision for my second son?  Yes.  I believe that just as strongly as I still believe that I made the right decision for my first son when I gave him formula from the very start.  Different circumstances, different children, and different decisions that were equally right for me, my child and our family.  I have no regrets about formula feeding my first son and would do it again without a second thought. 
I am telling you all of this for two reasons.  First, because I want the readers of this blog to know that the decisions you made with your first child don’t mean you have to make the same decisions for any future children.  Each child is an individual, circumstances change and we each bring our past experiences to the table to influence our decision making process.  One successful breastfeeding experience doesn’t mean it will continue to be successful in the future just as a failed experience doesn’t mean that you are destined to fail if you decide to try again. 
Second, because I hope that somewhere out there, lactivists are reading this blog and I hope they pay attention to what I am about to say – what you say and do to a new mom matters.  There is a difference between encouraging someone and tearing them down.  And that difference could determine success or failure in their first and future breastfeeding attempts.  So many times I hear formula feeders talk about their experiences with a lactation consultant, nurse or fellow mom where they were pushed so hard to breastfeed, told that they just weren’t trying hard enough and that they failed their child by switching to formula and as they tell their stories I’m reminded of victims of emotional abuse.  Those words and actions hurt, they leave scars and those scars leave so many people afraid to try breastfeeding again.
As I sit back and reflect on what made me a successful breast feeder this time, I can honestly say that formula has greatly contributed to my success.  I didn’t go into this experience with the baggage of being a “failure” and I knew that I had a backup if I had an issue with my supply, or was in pain, or just needed a break.  I think in their efforts to support breast feeding many people have chosen to make formula the enemy rather than finding ways to use it as a resource to help foster a positive breast feeding experience for new moms. 
At the end of the day, we need to step back and decide what we really are fighting for in this breast vs. bottle battle.  I hope that it’s not as simple and selfish as trying to prove who is right and who is wrong.  I hope that we are all motivated by the desire to support new Moms and to give our children the best possible start in this world.  We need to stop looking at the other side as the enemy and realize that we are all allies and that only way we can be successful is by working together.  And that is what is best for our children.

FFF Friday: A Breastfeeding/Formula Feeding Story, Part One

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

This week’s FFF Friday is the first installment of a 2-parter. Erin started out as an exclusive formula feeder with her first son, but ended up exclusively breastfeeding her second. Which not only means that she could conduct her own personal sibling study (the gold standard in infant feeding research), but for our purposes, she is uniquely poised to give us a POV we don’t usually hear.


I have the pleasure of knowing Erin in real life, and she is all sorts of awesome-sauce, which I think comes through in her writing. I love how fearlessly she approaches both modes of feeding – just goes to show the importance of assessing each individual situation, and not relying on blanket concepts of how you are “supposed” to nourish your child.

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Erin’s Story: Part One – Formula Feeding
I don’t think there is a single decision that you make as a parent that you don’t feel guilty about at one point or another. And obviously if you are reading this, you’ve probably been put in the position of feeling guilty and trying to defend your decision to formula feed your child. Perhaps you were one of the women whose milk never came in, or whose child had an allergy. More than likely you’ve uttered the phrase, “I tried to breast feed but…”
Women who try to breast feed and fail have battle stories to share; stories that break your heart when they talk about their heart break and feelings of failure when they have to turn to formula. They are told that it’s ok because every little bit counts and that they showed what a wonderful and loving mother they are for making a valiant effort. Everyone shares their recipes for lactation cookies, where to buy fenugreek and domperidone and strategies for power pumping.
I was always on the outside of these conversations, but could stop them in their tracks. Inevitably, no matter how hard I tried to blend into the background someone would ask me about my breast feeding experience. And then I’d reply with something like this, “Oh. Well, you see, I never breast fed. “ this was usually followed by some blank stares and an uncomfortable silence.
You read that correctly. It’s not a typo. I never tried to breast feed my son. In fact, I knew before I even went to the hospital to give birth that I was not going to breast feed. I choose to formula feed. In a breast is best world, there is little room for women who formula feed. Still though, its ok if you tried and it didn’t work. What’s not ok is not even to try – that’s usually when you see the comments about women being “selfish” and “not fit to be a mother.”
In fact, there are probably a lot of things about me that make me an unfit mother. But in the moment I was making the decision about how to best feed my child my parenting abilities while a concern, were just one of many things on my mind. I found out I was pregnant in March of 2008. My husband was scheduled to leave to begin training for a deployment to Iraq in May of 2008. He was living in New Jersey finishing his degree. I was living and working in Northern Virginia. We were thrilled and terrified at the same time about the new life growing inside of me.
Going into this whole pregnancy thing, I knew there were certain things that I did and didn’t want to do. Of course that whole image was based on having my husband at my side to support me and with a year long separation in front of me, all that was going up in smoke, I tried to convince myself that I could do it all but in the midst of that I knew in the back of my mind that doing it all was probably going to look something a little bit more like survival mode than my ideal.
I still wanted to breast feed. I wanted to believe that I could make it work. But being a single working mom (who was the one carrying benefits for our family) with a job that was less than breast feeding friendly in nature (lots of travel, lots of teleconferences, mostly with older men who couldn’t believe that I continued to work after I got married never mind while pregnant and after having the baby) was overwhelming. I decided that I would do if for at least 6 weeks and then re-evaluate. I reached out to others, hoping that they would give me the encouragement and support that I needed. Instead I got a lot of if you love your child you’ll find a way to make it work, 6 weeks wouldn’t be enough time to get breast feeding established and was told that I needed to examine my priorities. Hard to imagine anything more uplifting than that, right?
So I turned to my dear friend Google, looking for uplifting tales of single working mothers who travel 
for weeks on end and still find a way to make breastfeeding work for their families. Sure, there are a few of them out there but they weren’t traveling as often and for as long as I was going to be. Considering I often can’t find the time to eat during an 18 hour day running a technical conference, I had no idea how I was going to find time to pump, package, freeze, store and then ship my breast milk. I was stressed, overwhelmed, and already dreading the thought of breast feeding my unborn child but felt like I’d be denying my son if I didn’t at least try to breast feed.
My Mom and my sister both formula fed their children and while the supported my desire to breast feed they also told me that it was ok to formula feed. Unfortunately they were the only ones and the rest of the world (ok, just the mommy blogs and chat rooms I frequented) touted the benefits of breast feeding. Everything came to a head one night as I was cooking with my brother. I unloaded all my worries and fears and frustrations on my poor unsuspecting brother (because what guy doesn’t want to have a lengthy discussion with his younger sister about her boobs) and he imparted the only piece of parenting advice he has ever shared with me.
He started talking about the recipe he was working on and how when he cooks he prefers to use eggs from a specific local organic farm but that sometimes he just can’t get those eggs – delivery problems, the chickens don’t lay eggs, whatever. In those circumstances he can’t just close the restaurant or refuse to make specific dishes that use eggs, he has to use other eggs. Eggs that are just as good in a lot of ways and most importantly, still do the job that needs to be done in the recipe. And while the yolks may not be as yellow or the eggs as fresh in general, the end result is still just as good.
It was as if the clouds parted and the sun came streaming down on me. I had the realization that parenting is a lot like cooking. There are many ingredients that go into making a meal, just like there are many decisions that we make as parents. And even if you can’t necessarily get the one ingredient you think you need to make a meal work, you can find a substitute that will make something just as delicious. I finally realized that using formula is only one part of what I do as a mother, and not something that will define me or my relationship with my son.
So weeks before I delivered, I decided to formula feed. When I checked into the hospital I told the nurses that I was going to formula feed so there was no need for a Lactation Consultant to stop by. My son never once was put to my breast while I was in the hospital and two days after he was born I threw my free diaper bag from Similac over one arm and carried his infant carrier with the other as we stepped out into the world together.
It’s been a little over two years now since I became a formula feeding mom. In that time, my husband has been gone more than he’s been around so my son and I have learned how to get through things together. He’s smart, funny and most importantly healthy. I like to think that’s because of the way he’s been raised and not because of how I chose to feed him for the first year of his life.

FFF Friday: “In the end, it’s not about what I want.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap. 

Only a few weeks until my deadline, FFF’s, and then I will be back to posting regularly. If I survive, that is; if Fearless Husband doesn’t find me crushed to death under a mountain of breastfeeding books, anthropological texts, and medical journals. What a way to go.


Anyway, forgetting that melodramatic and morbid image for a moment, let’s focus on today’s FFF Friday. This story comes to you  courtesy of Amanda, who talks about the psychological aspects of attempting to breastfeed a preemie. 

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My water broke at 23 weeks with my daughter.  Born at 1.2 pounds, she was fed 0.5 mL of breastmilk every 6 hours for about the first month.  I pumped.  Every three hours.  For six months.  I lugged that breast pump of a contraption around everywhere.  I carried ice packs to keep milk cold, I carried wipes to keep the pump clean, I carried spare parts, extra bottles and labels to document everything.  My car window was shattered one night during a Girls Night Out so that someone could steal the bag I used to carry the pump.  I was most angry that they stole my breastmilk.  That represented hours of pumping!  Forget the window, bring me back my breastmilk, jerks! 

We tried “non nutritive suck” exercises while she was on devices to assist her breathing, we did paci dips to help her to get used to the idea of sucking and eating.  For the first 5.5 months of her life, she was exclusively tube fed. 

A month and a half after her due date, she was moved to a less invasive breathing device.  This meant she was finally able to take a bottle by mouth.  She was 165 days old.  She went for a swallow study, to evaluate her ability to eat and we were devastated.  I was devastated.  She aspirated.  A lot.  I watched as breastmilk filled her lungs instead of her tummy. 

At this point, the nurses in the NICU were all asking why in the world I was still pumping.  “You’ve done way more than can be expected” they would say.  “Just stop pumping.  Formula is not going to hurt her.”

I really, desperately wanted to be able to breastfeed.  Even now, I have to hold back the tears when I think about it.  It wasn’t about breastfeeding, it was about doing something normal with this baby who I barely knew.  I knew it was one thing, the ONE thing I could do for her.  The weeks of not being able to hold her, the hours of watching monitors, the moments when we thought we would lose her; those were all out of my control.  But breastfeeding, this I could do for her.  This I could control.  This could be our one normal experience.  But the swallow study confirmed our fears.  Charlotte could never breastfeed.  Anything she got by mouth would have to be thickened to prevent aspiration.

Knowing my goal to keep pumping until the swallow study, one of the physical therapists from the NICU pulled me aside and said, “Charlotte doesn’t know normal.  Formula will be her normal.  You know what’s not normal?  A mom who can’t hold her baby because she’s pumping for 4 hours a day.  A mom who can’t interact with her toddler because she’s pumping.  A mom who’s so stressed about her next pumping session that she’s checked out on life.  That’s not normal.  You can give her normal.”

And so I do.  Everyday.  I give my child her normal.  I give my child formula. 

Because, in the end, it’s not about what I want.  It’s not about nutrition or calories or anything else.  It’s about her.  When I pumped, it was all about me.  When I was going to pump, when I took milk into the NICU, when I was full of milk.  I’m so grateful for those nurses and therapists for helping me to see that it’s about Charlotte. 

I give my child formula so that it can be all about her. 

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Considering FFF Friday is practically the only thing keeping this blog going while I scramble to finish this damn book, I’d be really grateful for more submissions. Send ‘em my way! formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “Breastfeeding was ruining my sex life.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap. 

There’s an interesting article on Babble.com today, one that makes the following FFF Friday submission all the more interesting. It seems like this is a dirty little secret of the breast vs bottle phenomenon….no one is really talking about how breastfeeding relates to sex, unless its about how the sexualization of breasts makes nursing in public problematic. And trust me, I would be the last person to deny that the aforementioned problem is serious – I can’t tell you how pissed off I get when I hear anyone saying that breastfeeding is “creepy” or that women should be made to cover up. But I think it’s equally important to acknowledge that sexuality is a very personal, very individual, and very important thing. If breastfeeding affects a woman’s sexuality, then I think we need to address this. It’s considered a medical problem if a guy can’t get it up; why is it okay for a woman to accept a diminishing sexual life as a “temporary” problem?
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Like many women, when I was pregnant with my first child, I never thought much about bottle feeding beyond what kind was the best for my husband to feed expressed milk with while I was at my very part-time job.
Everything went fine after delivery.  The breastfeeding friendly hospital took my baby to the nursery at night when I was so exhausted I could barely sit up, and they brought him to me a couple hours later when he needed to eat.  The lactation consultants were wonderful and supportive.  I had the pump, the bras, the Boppy pillow, and plenty of support; especially from my mother, who was the only mom on the maternity floor back in 1978 to ask for her baby (me) to be brought to her in the middle of the night to be fed.
There were, of course, a few bumps in the road, but eventually my supply was established and my baby nursed well.  Six weeks later, I went back to my OB for my postpartum check, got the okay to resume sex, and when I went home and told my husband, he practically did the dance of joy.  As soon as the baby was fed and asleep, we went for it….and it was horribly painful.
I figured maybe my stitches weren’t 100% healed.  It had only been 6 weeks.  It would get better.
And then it didn’t.
We tried different positions.  We tried various brands of lubricant.  We tried massage, hot baths, you name it.  The problem wasn’t that I wasn’t receptive, or that my libido was low, the problem was that the actual act of sex was painful.
We had sex less and less.  My husband couldn’t stand my gritted teeth, couldn’t stand it how I told him to hurry up and get it over with, he couldn’t stand that he was causing me pain.  And yes, there are other things to do, but it’s just not the same.
When the baby was 6 months old, I went to the doctor for my annual well  woman exam and pap smear.  When she did the exam, I flinched and when she inserted the speculum I gasped out loud.  “I see you’re a little tender,” she said.  No kidding.
I left the office with a prescription for an estrogen cream.  Perhaps, she had explained, getting more hormone into those tissues would decrease or eliminate the pain.  I went home ecstatic, but the happiness was short lived, because the cream didn’t work.
Three months later, my period returned and the pain magically went away.  Unfortunately, my milk supply went with it.  In combination with my severe supply drop, it turned out my baby had a milk protein allergy, stopped gaining weight and fell off the growth chart.  I stuck it out for awhile, pumping and taking fenugreek, but finally decided I’d had enough.  I nursed him for the last time, then switched to soy formula.  He gained a pound in a week.  My estrogen levels went back where they belonged and my husband and I were able to have a normal sex life again.
Two years later, I had another baby and pretty much the same thing happened.  This time, I didn’t even bother with the estrogen cream and we muddled along as a couple that rarely has sex until my period returned, this time at 7 months.  As before, my surging estrogen levels decimated my milk supply, but I didn’t put nearly as much effort into pumping and trying to squeeze out the last bit of milk.  To be honest, after two babies in three years and breastfeeding both, I was ready to have my body back.  Two babies in three years can be rough on a relationship too, especially when the parents can’t have sex.  I was ready to resume normal relations with my husband.  So we switched to formula and didn’t look back.
In the end, I stuck it out with breastfeeding because I felt like it was a temporary state of affairs.  I never intended to nurse much past a year to start with, and I wanted to decrease my breast cancer risks.   And since my body was capable of producing milk, I felt sort of obligated to continue to breastfeed since it was free.  Formula is terribly expensive.  But I can’t deny that it make my relationship with my husband much less than it could have been.  We’re great now.  But that hurt look in his eyes when he suggested sex and I involuntarily grimaced is hard to forget.  I can absolutely see how not being able to have sex could push a less strong couple apart, and I can absolutely see how another woman wouldn’t want to put up with painful sex for as long as I did.  At the end of the day, which is more important, breastfeeding or a mother and father with a healthy relationship?
My husband and I are in a good place right now.  The kids are older now, the big one is starting kindergarten in a couple of months, and they depend on us so much less.  We have more time as a couple.  And we’re stopping at two kids, partly for financial and space reasons, but also because I don’t want to nurse another baby.  Perhaps it sounds selfish to say that, but it’s the truth.  Breastfeeding gave my babies a great start, but neither one suffered from a few months of formula either, and breastfeeding could have had the power to drive a wedge into my marriage.

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Join the party – share your thoughts on your breastfeeding or formula feeding experience for FFF Friday. Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Christopher Martyn, I love you

Dear Christopher,

Can a person fall in love over the Internet? I’m sure the owners of Match.com think so, but I’m talking about another kind of love… a love that dares not speak its name. Yes, I’m talking about the love between an associate editor of a medical journal and a blogger who is guilty of the same thing he is so eloquently criticizing. But oh, Chris… I can’t help it. You are just pure awesome.

My love affair with Chris actually began as a love affair with his place of employment, the British Medical Journal (BMJ), when that publication printed the analysis article I talked about in my “British People Are Cool” post. You know, the one that said breastmilk alone may not be sufficient for a child over the age of 6 months? And dared to question the almighty WHO?

But then, I read the responses to the article that BMJ printed, and felt betrayed. It almost seemed like my new love was regretting publishing the article, as if the bravery they’d displayed by printing such heresy was just an embarrassing mistake, something they needed to cover up with a slew of outraged letters-to-the-editor. (I’ve since come to realize that these were just “rapid responses”, basically the equivalent of leaving a comment on a blog post, so the editors have little control over what is said. At the time though, I thought these were more like “letters to the editor” in standard form, and was disheartened.)

And then… hark! Here comes Christopher Martyn, with an editorial to end all editorials, completely renewing my faith in the medical research profession.

I’ve printed a few selections from his editorial below. I would print the whole thing, but it’s one of those you-gotta-pay-to-read-it things (like the majority of what appears in reputable medical journals today, unfortunately) so I think legally I’m not allowed to. I think this little snippet will suffice, though, in demonstrating why I am kvelling the way that I am…

Mary Fewtrell and her colleagues probably thought that they had been careful in the way that they phrased their analysis article published in the BMJ a fortnight ago (BMJ 2011;342:c5955). They had…asked whether it might be better to abandon the current recommendation to breast feed exclusively for six months in favour of introducing solids earlier.. In the hope of forestalling any misunderstanding they had put in a sentence saying that the evidence for breast feeding itself was extensive and that it wasn’t their intention to question it.
…But that didn’t prevent the inhabitants of planet Blog seizing the wrong end of the stick and then complaining that their hands were dirty. Breastfeeding websites vary from the twee (boobiemunchkins.blogspot.com) to the overexplicit (theleakyboob.com). Many are vehicles for groups of people with a fundamentalist conviction about the virtue of breast feeding, and these worked up a sense of outrage over the study. Lactivist.net called on its readers to email the editor of the BMJ demanding another press release. A blog called Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths worried that “fragile nursing relationships have been undermined by these reports”. The Analytical Armadillo guessed that “many people with a young infant coming up to solids age will now be absolutely bewildered about when they should be thinking about solids!” It also quoted the author of a book, Baby-Led Weaning, whose view was that “this is pure speculation and scare-mongering”…
It almost seemed that some of the people contributing to these websites were looking for a fight. Gurgle.com posted a calm and balanced piece, explaining the BMJ article well, only to receive complaints that it had been  irresponsible…
…The websites and blogs that I’ve been writing about may do all sorts of good things to support women and encourage breast feeding, but there’s no getting away from the fact that they don’t contribute much to scientific debate on infant nutrition. Reading them felt like being caught up in a demonstration march. It’s not that the protesters are bad or wicked or unable to discuss other points of view, but if you’re among them there’s just no way of going in the opposite direction.

Swoon.

I vote we all start an email campaign of our own, letting BMJ and Christopher know that not all “mommy blogs” are angrily stabbing his voodoo doll with safety pins; to thank him and BMJ for finally exposing the craziness for what it is. You can reach him at cmartyn@bmj.com.

And if, when I start this campaign with my own email, I use the subject line SWAK…Shh. Don’t tell Fearless Husband.

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