Doctors can be fearless, too

When it comes to having emotional responses to posts about formula feeding, I’m pretty stoic. After reading so many heartbreaking stories you start disassociating – you have to, or you’d go crazy with outrage and frustration.

But tonight, I cried as I read this post. Happy tears. Tears of relief. And then, tears of frustration as I read the comment section.

The post in question was entitled “Let’s stop the war between breastfeeding and formula feeding”, and it was on a blog sponsored by MedPageToday. Pediatrician “Yolanda MD” wrote a rational, calm, but still impassioned post about how crazy the pressure to breastfeed has become, explaining that while she believes breastmilk is “incredible stuff” – she nursed her baby exclusively until suffering a supply dip after returning to work – breastfeeding is not always possible:

I still do everything I can to encourage mothers to breastfeed. I want to help them get through the ups and downs. But obstacles do arise. Obstacles abound. Breastfeeding does not come naturally for many, and life can often throw a wrench in the most well-intentioned plans. Severe pain and slow healing. Minimal time with a lactation consultant. Discouragement from family members or even medical providers. Postpartum depression and stress. Insufficient glandular tissue. Illnesses and hospitalizations. Medications. Returning to work. Limited support for pumping at work.

The idea that every woman can nurse is a hurtful myth….

Which is, of course, no shocker to anyone who reads this blog. But then, she says this:

I was fortunate and did not have difficulties with breastfeeding. But that’s all I can call it — fortunate. My ability to nurse my baby did not make me a more successful or more loving mother than someone who decided to use formula…The mark of a mother is not whether she dons a nursing cover. The mark of womanhood is not whether her breasts are able to produce enough milk. Since when did mothers need to prove that they care?

Amen, hallelujah and sing it sister!

Of course, then the comments began. It was exactly what you’d expect ….”Formula is a marginally adequate nutritional supplement for breastfeeding. But formula feeding has significant health risks for babies and mothers. We must remove the barriers and allow all babies and mothers to have a NORMAL, healthy breastfeeding relationship as long as possible for each mother and baby.” said one visitor (also an MD). “I’m sorry but can someone explain to me why mothers who are successful at breastfeeding, despite all of the obstacles in their way…aren’t allowed to be proud of their accomplishments? Please! I salute every mother who meets her personal breastfeeding goals and she should be proud and deserves a pat on the back for doing what is best for her, her baby and society at large,” said another.

These were only the first of many, I’d bet, which will miss Yolanda’s point entirely. Nowhere did she say breastfeeding wasn’t “best”. Nowhere did she say that women should not feel proud of their accomplishments. She only suggested that to make breastfeeding the mark of motherhood was unhelpful and pointless.

Herein lies the reason that we will never, ever get anywhere in this “debate”. There is no room for alternate opinions. There is no room for sensitivity, or moderation, or nuance. If a person merely hints that bullying women into breastfeeding – by making them feel like inferior mothers (women) if they don’t, or by misrepresenting the “risks” of formula so dramatically that they deserve an Oscar – is wrong or misguided, they are immediately dismissed as being Enfamil’s pawn or a women-hating moron. And if that person happens to be a doctor, god help us all.

Do they not see that this is censorship in the most naked sense? What could be so scary about acknowledging that the experience of one woman is not any less valuable than another? Does the stress caused by not breastfeeding compare to the stress of breastfeeding? Was my pain worse than yours? Who the fark cares? It’s pain, and pain sucks.

It is easy to win an argument when you are wearing earmuffs. Taking them off and hearing – really hearing – what the other side has to say takes true courage. Although I don’t know how you could turn a deaf ear to the breastfeed-at-all-costs zeitgeist, I think we should all make a concerted effort to hear, and comprehend, that point of view. Maybe if they see that we are willing to do this, they will take off the noise-canceling Bose earphones and finally have a real conversation. Not that I am holding my breath.

Regardless, go visit Yolanda’s blog and show her some love. She deserves it.

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 “Doctors can be fearless, too

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I generally tend to stay away from “political” stuff on my Facebook, but I shared this article. I had to.

    “Herein lies the reason that we will never, ever get anywhere in this “debate”. There is no room for alternate opinions. There is no room for sensitivity, or moderation, or nuance. If a person merely hints that bullying women into breastfeeding – by making them feel like inferior mothers (women) if they don't, or by misrepresenting the “risks” of formula so dramatically that they deserve an Oscar – is wrong or misguided, they are immediately dismissed as being Enfamil's pawn or a women-hating moron. And if that person happens to be a doctor, god help us all.”

    I completely agree and this is what I've been saying all along. I can't handle it. It NEEDS to stop. Yes, it's fine to be proud of an accomplishment but when that pride becomes bullying and an excuse to demean other women, it's gone too far. I delivered my daughter vaginally and naturally. I am proud of that. Does that give me the right to demean women who take the pain relief, who have epidurals, need c-sections? Does that mean they didn't “try hard enough” to do “what their bodies were designed to do”? HELL NO.

    I'm SICK of the mommy wars. All of them. It needs to end.

  2. I don't know how many breastfeeders fallow your blog, but I do (recently). I think all breastfeeding moms should be allowed to feel proud to meet their breastfeeding goals. And if they fall short of a goal, they should be supported by their loved ones, and built up, not torn down for 'failing.' And I feel all formula feeding moms should be allowed to be proud of meeting their goals. Do I wish that everyone could breastfeed with ease and enjoyment (something I did not have when nursing my oldest for 9 1/2 months), yes, I do. Do I wish that every mother wanted to breastfeed? Yes. But that is unrealistic. As long as your child is healthy, is fed and is loved, there is no reason to tear apart your parenting style. Breastfeeding moms should not harass formula feeding moms and make them feel inferior. Likewise, formula feeding moms should not attack breastfeeding moms. I would love it if all moms could just get along, if all people could just get along, however, I don't think this debate will ever be resolved. Too many hot headed and strong willed women on both sides keeping the fight going.

  3. Ok, so who's cherry-picking now? You say that there is no room for nuance or sensitivity or moderation from moms who breastfeed. However most of the comment you quoted from by the first MD read along the lines of “Formula feeding mothers certainly do love and care for their children.” I feel you are being hypocritical and refusing to accept that breastfeeding moms are just as willing to engage with alternative opinions. You are so certain about what breastfeeders think and how they act that you are refusing to LISTEN to what THEY are really saying – nobody has said mothers should breastfeed at all costs. You are the one missing the point.

    Also, Yolanda DID imply that breastfeeding mothers shouldn't be proud of their achievements with things like “mothers boast about breastfeeding.” Umm… no mother I met has ever “boasted” but yes they have been proud of it.

  4. Love, love, love doctor's post! I want her to be my child's doctor!
    Unfortunately, there are those who will never understand what she is talking about and it sure shows in the comments. Am I wrong to think that many of them are past all hope of ever understanding mothers like us?

  5. I'd like to direct you to the “Sticks and Stones” thread for more information as to why FFF might feel this way. There is a major problem of intolerance among many breastfeeding circles. There is an “us vs. those inferior formula feeding moms” among many parents. There is an anti-formula bias in health care, to the point where even doctors and nurses have become bullies themselves. To pretend otherwise is to ignore the problem. I have run into many breastfeeding moms online and lactation consultants in person who have no room for alternative opinions. That is the norm on the web, where it's even easier for moms who have chosen to breastfeed to get sucked into the extremism. Plenty of them advocate breastfeeding at all costs. Two of the LCs and two peds I saw advocated BFing at all costs. They did not care one whit about my medical history. I was abusing my child for putting her on formula.

    I think you need to actually read the blog to understand that breastfeeding bullying has reached epidemic proportions, and that there are a LOT of people on the BFing side whose minds are yes, completely closed. Sorry that doesn't fit with your world view, but it's the truth.

  6. Wow.
    If you're happy with your choice of FF then good for you. Why not just get on with your life and ignore people you perceive to be bullying you and making you feel guilty? Perhaps your inner insecurity about your choices is skewing your view of others. So what if there's pressure to breast feed? Considering it's the healthiest option for babies it's no surprise!

    If you feel bad because you couldn't breastfeed then that's a shame, but really, don't beat yourself up about it – no-one thinks you are a bad mother, and if they do then who cares what they think. Breastfeeding is very hard and women are often not adequately informed or supported, e.g on how to build supply/ deal with frequent feeding in the early days, so no wonder many of them give up. If you've been there, why not lend your support to other new mums who want to breastfeed so that more of them are successful in future, rather than stoking the fires of bitter resentment?

    You'll no doubt interpret this as smug…but maybe you need to stop assuming that breastfeeding advocacy entails negativity about the choices of other women…you might be pleasantly surprised!

  7. Lolapop: as someone who did constant feedings, read tons , saw LCs , pumped with a brand new top of the line $3000 pump and was an ideal candidate, I was devastated to not be able to help my daughter gain weight with my milk alone. Yet the answer I keep getting to these problems are more support and education (I read Jack Newman, Kellymom etc). Some of just can't exclusively and yet the amount of info for low supply is very minimal. Yes there are some very good lcs and volunteers but again as I said in my previous comment google breastfeeding and excuses and you can find some posts that would be considered very hurtful to a mom struggling and resorting to formula. I was” miss no bottles and no formula samples” until I needed them. I think more recognition that some problems are physiological would be great for starters and not putting a very low percentage towards how many women aren't able to bf.

    I dint think your post is smug

  8. Carla, I'm not even sure where to begin with your comment. I'm not 100% sure that you could truly label my selection of quotes “cherry picking” as much as “highlighting concepts that have been used, ad naseum, to shoot down any argument against formula bashing”. I'd also argue that I did the commenter a favor by leaving out the bulk of her comment which sounded even more disparaging, in my eyes, to formula feeding mothers, rather than what I selected which was more in the vein of antiformula as a product. You are correct that the comment in question started by saying “something along the lines” of “formula feeding mothers certainly love their children” but they manner in which it was said was condescending; it's a hard thing to explain, but this is the nuance I was speaking of. A person who was truly sensitive to ALL mothers and not blinded by breastfeeding militancy wouldn't phrase things like that. They just wouldn't. I know that sounds bizarre and hypersensitive, but it's true.

    Also, I have to tell you, I am getting REALLY sick of people confusing what I say about breastfeeding militants/overzealous BFing advocates with what I say about “breastfeeders”. These are 2 entirely different parties IMO. And I think it is incredibly insulting to the myriad of amazing, sweet, supportive, live and let live breastfeeders in this world to lump them in the same category as the zealots. I have been a breastfeeder. The majority of my friends are breastfeeders. Some of the most loyal FFFs I know are breastfeeders. And as I said in my comment on Yolanda's blog, I consider myself a breastfeeding advocate. Comparing “breastfeeders” to the people I rail against is like lumping formula feeders in with formula company marketing teams. You know?

  9. It's one thing to be proud of breastfeeding, but I think there are women that wear it as a badge of how devoted they are to their children and to breastfeeding itself). There are women who make it out like they're martyrs to demonstrate how hard they worked to make breastfeeding work for them. you know what it's fine to do whatever it takes to make breastfeeding work; just don't put down other people for not following suit.

    Relating to a struggling breastfeeding mother but telling of ones own struggles is fine too, but as long as it's done in a compassionate tone (ie. I had trouble with the latch too, it was difficult, but i worked with a LLL volunteer and she helped me out a lot). However sometimes discussions talk about commitment to your child and imply if you love your child and hope enough you will persevere no matter what and those who don't just didn't try hard enough. 

    I liken being proud of breastfeeding to being proud of many accomplishments… Write it down and feel good about it, but bring it up when appropriate. What Dr. Yolanda discussed was not boasting (boasting being talking about something with *excessive* self-satisfaction). Trust me, google “breastfeeding” and “excuses” and you'll see what I mean. 

    I'll take it one step further it's great to be proud of your breastfeeding relationship but it should never be put in conjunction of putting other women down (ie. I breastfed through thrush, low supply, severe pain, 4 kids running around, but I managed it because of my determination! I
    Won't put up with excuses from other women since I've been through it all!). 

    On top of it all, if I were to have another child I will give breastfeeding another go, but I won't kick myself for supplementing or for switching over completely. I'll do what works. 
    ~ OttawaAlison

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