A rock and hard place: Why aren’t we demanding better infant formula?

Annie over at PhD in Parenting recently said something that got me thinking. (Not the first time that’s happened. My brain usually hurts after visiting that blog…I have no idea how she manages to be so eloquent about so many things, when half the time I resort to half-assed puns.) Someone responded to her post about the Darcia Narvaez debacle and referred to formula as “junk”; Annie pointed out that this was probably not the best approach, but also wondered why “there is not a greater lobby among formula feeding families to improve the product, improve the ingredients, and get BPA and other toxins out of the containers.”

When I read this a couple of evenings ago, my initial reaction was that I don’t see much need for improvement in the product, considering how it has allowed my children to grow and thrive. But the question lingered, much like the noxious odor of my ex-coworker Frank. (Seriously. I worked with the guy a decade ago and I still have a sharp olfactory memory of his scent. It was RIPE….)

As our own FFF Antigone so wisely pointed out in the same thread, formula may seem “junky” because of the processed ingredients, but in reality “formula MUST be processed in order to be digestible and give the right balance of nutrients to infants. Infants cannot digest solid foods and other animal milks are too high in protein, too low in carbohydrates and fat, and missing essential vitamins.” Smart girl, that Antigone. But I’m not sure this negates what’s at the heart of Annie’s point. There is always room for improvement, and maybe it is high time we started fighting that battle in addition to the fight we rage against the bullying and propaganda of the formula-is-risky campaign.

Or, maybe the battles are one and the same.

When I discuss the issue of breastfeeding pressure with feminists, the one thing I always try and argue is that protecting our right to breastfeed cannot compete with our responsibility to protect a woman’s right to choose how she uses her body, and how she defines what makes her a woman and a mother. These rights are not mutually exclusive. Likewise, I think we need to be careful about separating a political/social need for infant feeding choice, with a consumer need for the best product possible.

I’m willing to bet that the reason most formula feeders haven’t lobbied for better product is because as a group, we are constantly on the defensive; to admit that a product has flaws is to give ample ammunition to those that look down upon our choices. Because of this, formula companies are spending money on marketing (further perpetuating the myth that we all formula feed because some smarter-than-us-silly-mommies advertising exec told us to, subliminally, by putting a blond woman in an ad instead of a brunette) rather than research and development.

Breastfeeding science has focused primarily on proving how much better breastmilk is than formula, without asking the more productive – and interesting – question: WHY. I’m talking about the biological, chemical why, not the moral or fundamental why. (i.e., I’m not interested in platitudes about how the natural will always trump the artificial, because that doesn’t get us anywhere.) What is in breastmilk that makes it superior, and is there a way to reproduce this?

****Before we continue, I want to be clear: I think that purely as a substance, breastmilk is pretty darn awesome. It’s not unicorn blood, but as a food, it kicks ass. Does this mean I think that on a case by case basis, it is going to make that much difference in a child’s life? No. But I also think it’s important to give credit where credit is due. My argument is, and always has been, that every parent needs to do a risk/benefit assessment, weighing the benefits of breastmilk (if this is even an option) against the risks of what it might do to the mother and her family emotionally and physically. And of course, if a baby is intolerant of his mother’s milk, like my son was, or the mother is not making sufficient milk to feed her child, then we also must weigh the negative implications of breastfeeding a child for whom breast is clearly NOT best.****

Imagine what would happen if instead of a study showing a correlation between better cognitive development and breastfeeding, the research focused on what was conferring that benefit. First, they’d have to use two sample groups – one that was exclusively pumping and feeding breastmilk in bottles; the other that was predominately feeding from the breast. Depending on these results, we could infer whether the benefit was coming from the milk or some aspect of the breastfeeding experience. If it was the milk that was increasing IQ, then a separate study could be undertaken to try and decipher which element of breastmilk was doing so. This ingredient could then possibly be created synthetically and added to formula.

Rather than approaching breastmilk as if it were magic, let’s make it subject to the rules of our reality. It is a substance, and substances can be analyzed. By focusing on the cause rather than the effect, we could help babies thrive without essentializing their mothers. We could free women from biological imperatives, and instead give them choices which didn’t make them feel they were putting their own needs before their childrens’. It would level the playing field, so that fathers could be the primary caregiver in every sense of the word, and that adoptive parents wouldn’t feel they had to induce lactation to feed their very wanted babies appropriately.

None of this is to say that I think commercially available formulas are insufficient – because I think they do a great job nourishing our children –  but there is always room for improvement. That’s one advantage of a manufactured product over a biological one; it can be altered to our liking. Let’s look at the DHA/ARA addition to formula in recent years, for example. While this remains controversial, I do believe that this additive is beneficial. One study found that formula with DHA/ARA had a comparably protective effect against autism as breastmilk. Or, take the recent research suggesting that kids raised on partially hydrolzed protein formula gain weight at similar rates to breastfed kids, versus the steeper weight curve shown in kids fed on normal formulas. To my mind, this is evidence that formulas DO differ; that the old adage that “all formulas are the same”, usually spoken in disdainful/dismissive tone by a pediatrician or breastfeeding advocate, is incorrect. It does matter, and I worry that we are being told it doesn’t due to the current breast-or-bust mentality.

Why is Similac spending their money on paying transparent lip service to breastfeeding rather than serving its true customer base – those who have already chosen formula, or had it chosen for them by circumstance? Why is the government taking the easy way out – telling women to bear the burden of responsibility for our nation’s health and intelligence – rather than investing money into research for better formulas that can improve health on their own merit? If what we feed our babies in the first year really has that much of an impact on lifelong health, this should be a priority – because in reality, not all babies are going to be able to be breastfed, as long as we want to live in a world where women have the freedom to decide how to use their bodies; whether to work or stay home; whether to be a primary caregiver or not. In reality, there are going to be children raised by single dads; there are going to be children raised by grandparents; there are going to be children who are adopted by parents who aren’t able to induce lactation, even if they want to. There are going to be children whose mothers don’t produce enough milk, or who are on drugs not compatible with breastfeeding. If the anti-formula camp truly believe formula is so incredibly sub-par, then why the hell aren’t they rioting in the streets demanding better product so that babies will not suffer?

I do not believe formula companies are on our side, nor do I believe they have to be. They are corporations like any other, and I do not in any way think they are on par with Big Tobacco, like some have argued; I resent that they are treated as such under the auspices of WHO Code. On the other hand, if we are demanding that fast food restaurants put calorie counts on their menus, maybe it is appropriate to demand some accountability from formula companies. But I still think the onus of responsibility should fall on the same folks insisting that all women breastfeed. I think they have a responsibility to exhaust all other options, before they demand that of us.

Breastfeeding should be a rewarding, warm, loving experience, and I wish it were promoted as such. It isn’t, though. It is being promoted as medicine. Medicine which requires a physical, emotional effort on the part of mothers who live in a society where motherhood is difficult enough. If we are going to continue down this path, then I think we as formula feeders need to start making demands of our own. Better research. Better evidence. Better options.

And now, I better shut up.

FFF Friday: “I blamed myself and everything else possible…”

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.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

FFF Heather M. sent me this submission back in April. I assume she’s had her second baby by now, and I hope she is having an easier time this go-around. Heather, if you’re out there – please let us know how you and the new babe are doing! We’ve got your back, sister…

Happy Friday,

The FFF

***

I am a 26-year-old mother from Alberta, Canada who also had a bad experience from pressure to breastfeed. It was with my first son, Henry, who is now a year and a half.

When I was pregnant with him I had a close friend at the time who is/was super pro-breastfeeding. I don’t think she meant to pressure me about it. In fact, she even apologized to me once just in case it seemed like she was. But with the constant talk about all the benefits of breastfeeding, and everything I read about it in books (because everything that’s in a book is true, right?) it made me feel like my baby would be running a gauntlet of health risks unless I exclusively breastfed for a minimum of six months. Breastfeeding can help prevent ear infections, asthma, allergies, obesity. . . and so on. Oh my goodness, I don’t want my baby to have those problems! Who would?

Anyway, the birth went well. He was born in October 2009. I had him naturally and without any complications. He was healthy, 7lbs 6ounces. The hospital staff were great, the lactation consultant was great. He latched, he ate and was happy. We were off to a great start. But after a few weeks it started to become clear that I just didn’t have enough milk. He is such a happy kid. If he cried, it was only because he was either hungry or tired. And he started to get hungry all the time. It didn’t matter how much I nursed him.

My friend with all the breastfeeding advice, she told me I had milk and I believed her so strongly that it caused huge fights between me and my husband. I mean huge fights. I love my husband, he’s an amazing man. The thing is, when he knows he’s right he doesn’t back down – ever. He knew I didn’t have enough milk and I thought that I did. I tried all sorts of things, mother’s nursing teas, fenugreek and that prescription you can get from your doctor for making more milk. I made it almost three months nursing, I think. But it wasn’t long until even I realized I just couldn’t keep up with Henry’s appetite. I cried. I felt like a failure. How could things have started off so good and not worked out? I blamed myself and everything else I was told “might” interfere with “successful” breastfeeding. Maybe it was because I didn’t eat the right foods. Maybe it was my husband’s lack of understanding. Maybe it was because we took a trip too soon after Henry’s birth and if I had stayed home it would have been better. Maybe it was stress. Maybe it was this or that. Maybe I should have tried harder.

I remember pumping. I think I pumped for a few more weeks after we switched to the bottle. My husband and our families loved feeding Henry, by the way. Especially my mother-in-law (whom I love dearly). She adores kids and being able to help me feed him was pure joy for her. As it was for my husband too. They were never against breastfeeding, they fed him the milk I was able to pump. I think I got three ounces total per session. It’s hard to remember. All I really remember is being tired all the time, feeling exhausted and wishing I didn’t have to pump.

When Henry was six months old, I took him for his regular check-up. My wonderful doctor noticed my throat looked swollen and he asked me if I’d ever had my thyroid checked. I asked him, “what’s a thyroid?”

So I got the blood tests done and it turns out that sometime after Henry was born my thyroid stopped working properly. Hypothyroidism is the technical name and I think all women who have recently been through childbirth should be tested because apparently that can trigger it. In the simplest terms, if your thyroid doesn’t make enough of the hormone it is supposed to make, your metabolic processes slow down. It makes you tired all the time, you might feel cold, gain weight/have trouble losing weight. The thyroid hormone regulates all of your body’s functions. If it slows down, you slow down. The opposite can also happen, called Hyperthyroidism where it does too much.

All that time I struggled and blamed myself and everything else possible, when in reality my body simply wasn’t functioning properly. My effort, good or bad, was not to blame. Outside factors were not to blame. It finally made sense. I could let go of the regret. I could stop feeling guilty and scared about bottle feeding. My son may get asthma when he’s older but it’s probably not because of formula, it’s probably because his dad has asthma. My mindset has completely changed. I no longer look down on bottle feeding or feel scared of it. My husband and I are expecting our next boy in June 2011 and I know I am going to breastfeed as much as I can, but I have no qualms whatsoever about using formula whenever I feel like it. I don’t care if it’s a matter of me having enough or not. If I feel like letting my husband take a turn or anyone else for that matter, then it’s my decision and no one else is going to make me feel bad about it.

A Canadian magazine, Macleans, had a fantastic article on the subject. It can be found here: http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/01/10/author-joan-b-wolf-in-conversation/.

Thank you Fearless Formula Feeders, for standing up for sanity in an insane world. I am with you.

***

Have a formula-feeding/breastfeeding story you’d like to share? Send it to formulafeeders@gmail.com and I will use it for an upcoming FFF Friday. And I’m happy to link back to blogs, if you have ’em.


Medications and breastmilk – finding the truth behind the propaganda

I’m a little surprised that I haven’t see this story circulating around the blogosphere, but it has remained conspicuously absent from my Twitter feed and blog reader: Californian mother Maggie Jean Wortmon is being charged with second degree murder after her 6-week-old son died, supposedly from ingesting her methamphetamine-laced breastmilk.

Reading the comment threads on articles about this case has been enlightening. ” …If you don’t know that anything you consume while breastfeeding is passed on to your child via breast milk, you are too stupid to have a child. especially as it would be impossible for you to go through the process of childbirth and release from the hospital without being told at least five times that anything you consume is passed on to your child via breast milk,” one person said. “Its common knowledge that while nursing, what goes in, goes out in your milk, and to the baby,” said another.

But is it common knowledge?

According to the popular and respected site BreastfeedingBasics.com:

As a nursing mother, you should be aware that there are three things we know for sure about drugs and breastmilk:

1. Nearly all drugs pass into human milk.

2. Almost all medication appears in very small amounts, usually less than 1% of the maternal dose.

3.Very few drugs are contraindicated for nursing mothers.

    The site does explain that drugs are metabolized in different ways, and that the younger/smaller an infant is, the more he or she might be affected by the drugs. But the message that rings the loudest is this:

    “We…live in a society, which, in general, doesn’t place a high value on breastfeeding… Doctors tend to err on the side of caution and recommend that a mother wean rather that do research and reassure the mother that the medication is safe for her baby (as the majority of drugs are), or explore alternative, safer medications…..Most of the time, their primary source of drug information is the famous PDR…The PDR is not the best source of breastfeeding information, because it is an unfortunate fact that pharmaceutical manufacturers often discourage breastfeeding solely for fear of litigation, rather than for well-founded pharmacologic reasons…In deciding which drug to take, you should always look at the situation from a risk/benefit perspective: The benefits of breastfeeding are well known and undisputed, so doctors should recommend a mother wean only when there is scientific documentation that a drug will be harmful to her infant. In the rare cases where that is proven, a doctor who believes in the value of breastfeeding should take the time to explore alternative therapies, or if nursing must be interrupted, encourage the mother to continue pumping her milk to maintain her supply and return to breastfeeding as soon as possible. If your doctor prescribes a drug which he says in incompatible with breastfeeding, it is reasonable to ask for documentation and/or alternative medications. If your doctor isn’t flexible about this, and doesn’t understand how important continuing to breastfeed is to you, it makes sense to seek another opinion.”

    Now, obviously, BreastfeedingBasics is assuming their target audience is a woman debating whether she should take a prescription muscle relaxant after back surgery, not your run-of-the-mill, 6-week-postpartum meth addict. But there is a pervading belief in the breastfeeding community that the benefits of breastmilk far outweigh the “unproven” negatives of nursing while using medications, tobacco, or alcohol. If I were the meth-mom’s lawyer, I’d look to the breastfeeding literature as my best defense.

    Addicts are not counseled to bottle feed, but to breastfeed, even if their habit is far from kicked. “Breast milk contains small quantities of methadone, but the advantages of breastfeeding outweigh any possible negatives of passing very small amounts of methadone to the baby through breast milk,” states one site directed towards pregnant heroine addicts. An article written by an Australian IBCLC cites evidence of a plethora of substances – alcohol, nicotine, meth, marijuana, and more – coming through breastmilk in significant amounts, but then urges care providers to push breastfeeding at all costs:

    “Babies born to mothers who abuse drugs start life with a handicap. Their compromised intra-uterine life has affected their nutritional status, their growth and in some cases their intellectual ability. After birth they go through withdrawal symptoms that affect their health and adaptation to extra-uterine life…Artificial baby milk provides second grade nutrition, no protection against infections, has the potential to cause chronic disease and further inhibits the intellectual potential of the infant. Breastmilk is medicine for these babies and breastfeeding is about more than merely providing nutrition. Breastfeeding develops a bond between mother and baby, which may empower and motivate positive change on the part of drug-abusing parents, while decreasing the risk of future child maltreatment. This should be considered along with concerns about the likelihood or degree of drug exposure the baby has if breastfed….Giving birth and then breastfeeding can be an empowering and life changing experience for a woman and may be the catalyst that causes her to stop her substance abuse. Before counselling a woman to feed artificial baby milk, consider giving her the opportunity to meet this challenge.”

    Yeah, that worked out real well for Wortmon.

    To be fair, as many of these sites point out, depending on a meth addict to properly mix and serve formula is not the most reassuring state of affairs, either. But if we’re talking about a woman too high to feed her infant responsibly, we should probably be getting Child Protective Services involved. It’s almost an entirely separate discussion than the issue of breastfeeding and medications. Personally, I am more concerned with this potentially harmful meme that it is “common knowledge” that substances pass through breastmilk, with such conflicting messages out there.

    Obviously, if a woman believes that formula is poison, and that it will harm her child, the “possible” risks of drug-infused breastmilk pale in comparison. If care providers are explaining the risk-benefit analysis in this way, who could blame a mom for choosing breastfeeding, even if she is taking a contraindicated substance?

    It’s time we told women the truth. If nicotine passes through breastmilk, we have a right to know. If more than few glasses of wine is going to do more than make a baby a little sleepy, we have a right to know. If we’re addicted to cocaine and someone is telling us to try breastfeeding, because it will help us break the addiction, we have a right to know what might happen if we accidentally “slip up”.

    We have a right to know that formula is not poison, that children will grow well and thrive and be fine no matter if we feed them Enfamil or Similac or Earth’s Best or the Sam’s Club brand. We have a right to know exactly what the studies say about the differences between breastfed kids and formula fed kids, and what the real world meaning of these studies actually is, so that we can make an informed decision on which risks we’re willing to take. (I’d choose the possibility of a few more ear infections a year over potentially overdosing my newborn due to a medication which hasn’t been proven safe, but that’s just me.)

    As for Maggie Jean Wortmon…well, as one astute comment on the ABC version of this story suggested, “Breastfeeding is so pushed on Mothers and if she was off her face, she probably just thought she was doing the right thing.”

    Night weaning for bottle feeders (a wimp-friendly approach)

    Note: File this post under the “do as I say, not as I do” category.

    I have two beautiful, ridiculously bright kids with atrocious eating and sleeping habits. The good traits have nothing to do with me; the bad ones, I take complete credit for. Okay, not complete credit – Fearless Husband is equally to blame.

    See, at my house, we follow a parenting philosophy called “The Path of Least Resistance” (PLR).  It may not be as popular as Attachment Parenting, but I bet more parents follow this philosophy than would admit. We started out our parenting career doing everything “right” and by the book (first the Dr. Sears book, then the Baby Whisperer book, then the Ferber book  and so on and so forth) but eventually, we realized that our kids had us outmatched. They are BRUTAL, my children. Far smarter than us, with a strength of will that is truly unbelievable. Nothing proved this more than our experience night weaning, in both Fearlette and FC’s cases. I won’t go into the sordid details since this is supposed to be a post about successful night weaning, but know this: if I did relay the whole story, it would be a cautionary tale and not a shining example of what I am about to suggest.

    I really dislike reading prescriptive parenting advice, because I believe that every child – and every parent – is an individual, and we need to figure out what works for us. This is one of the more admirable tenants of PLR Parenting (most of this philosophy is built on the less admirable foundation of laziness, exhaustion and beaten-down apathy), and in honor of this, I want to express a profound discomfort with offering instructions of any sort. But I know there is a need for this information, and I hope somebody out there can learn from my mistakes.

    With that caveat out of the way, let’s proceed. There is a lot of information about night-weaning a breastfed baby out there, but what about bottle-fed kiddos? When should you start the night weaning process, and how?

    One problem with bottlefeeding is that as soon as a kid can hold his own bottle, it is really tempting to let him fall asleep with the bottle in his crib. A “Good Parent” would never do that, since it apparently can lead to major tooth decay. (And also wouldn’t grumpily complain about having to worry about tooth decay before her child had teeth, because what kind of good mother questions the AAP?) But if you are a faithful follower of PLR, you may have succumbed to temptation, especially on night 7 of no sleep when you discovered, quite by accident, that if you leave the bottle in the crib, your little one sleeps soundly through the night. All is not lost, and you can still save your kid from a life of orthodonture! (Unless of course your genetics predispose your offspring to buck teeth. Can’t help you there.)

    Even “Good Parent” bottle-feeders can unintentionally fall into the same pattern- when the kids are little, you feed them every time they wake up. At some point, this can become a habit rather than a necessity, at which point you’re pretty much screwed.

    So what to do? First of all, you have to be sure that it’s time to night wean. According to most experts, this typically happens between 4-6 months, and when you know they are getting enough calories during the day. Since 4-6 months is the time parents usually start solids, this probably has something to do with it: kids who are waking up because they are legitimately hungry won’t wake up if their tummies are nice and full. But if your baby is waking up from habit, nothing is going to change, even if they eat a whole steak and potato meal before bedtime.

    The other issue is that if your baby is underweight or has reflux or any digestive disorders, there’s not all that much you can do about night feedings. Talk to your pediatrician, but in these cases the priority is getting the baby fed and keeping her comfortable, at least until the problem is resolved.

    For our purposes, we’re going to assume we’re talking about a healthy, average weight baby. If you’re lucky enough to have one of those, you can try the following PLR-Approved Night Weaning Tips for Bottle Feeders”:

    1. On the first night, see what happens if you just don’t give Junior a bottle the first time he wakes up. You might be surprised. Could be that you’ve been feeding him all this time because that’s what you got used to doing early on, and not because he actually expected/wanted the bottle. If you can soothe him back to sleep, consider it a victory. If he wakes up again, repeat step one; if this fails, move to step two.

    2. If other attempts at soothing don’t work, feed him half of what you’ve been feeding him – so if he’s been downing 5 oz, only offer 2.5 oz. See if this is enough to get him back down. He may fuss a little, but try putting him in the crib and patting him, shushing him, singing Slayer tunes at the top of your lungs… whatever soothing technique floats your boat. If this works, move to step 3; if not, give him the normal amount for the time being, and next time decrease the bottle by a smaller increment (maybe take away an oz a night).

    3. Each night/waking time, decrease the bottle a little more. If this is working, he’s not hungry, he’s just using the bottle (and you) for comfort. Next, you can try the magic solution: WATER. Yep, just give him a bottle of water – or even a bottle that is mostly water and a tiny bit of formula for taste. Not working? Your baby may actually be hungry. Try increasing his food intake during the day (either more solids or formula, depending.) But if it is working, sing Hallelujah and move on to the scary step…Step 4.

    4. Now it’s time to take the bottle away. If your baby is still waking multiple times during the night, you may want to try some method of sleep training in addition to this step, since you’ve proven to yourself that they are not waking for hunger (or they wouldn’t go back down with just water). But if it’s gotten to the point where he is up just once, but expecting his bottle full of water, you’re ready to bring in the big guns.

    This is the step I always get stuck on. As a proponent of PLR Parenting, I have taken the path of least resistance, which also leads to the path of changing the sheets in the middle of the night. This path requires leaving a bottle of water in your baby’s crib, providing he is old enough to find and hold a bottle on his own. (Before the bottle-feeders-don’t-cuddle-their-babies torch wielding mobs descend, I need to point out that I would LOVE to cuddle my babies while they eat. My babies like to hold their own bottles around 6 months. Both of them. Fearlette is so fiercely independent that when I was insisting I hold her while she has her bottle, she stopped eating altogether and was a few ounces away from failure to thrive. As soon as I let the little monster hold her own bottle, she started eating like a champ. This one’s going to be a terror as an adolescent.) . You can counteract the side effects of this option by using overnight diapers (both Pampers and Huggies make a version) or using those extra absorbent pads that you can stick in a normal or cloth diaper. Also invest in the Ultimate Crib Sheet. That thing is genius.

    If you are braver than I, though, you should definitely take the bottle away at this point. You can either do it cold turkey, or try offering a bottle with just a tiny bit of water. You can rest assured that they are not hungry, so you’re not being cruel; of course this is only if you are okay with a little bit of crying. I’m not saying you need to do CIO – you are welcome to stay in the room and soothe your baby all you want – just don’t succumb to the temptation of the almighty nipple. Make your partner help you, if you have one. Take shifts. It will probably take one or two nights of a lot of fussing to break the bottle habit, but if you share the burden, it won’t be as painful.

    To review: the best way to night wean is sloooowwwwly. Make sure your baby doesn’t NEED to eat at night, because if s/he is legitimately hungry, this ain’t gonna work. Of course they might be used to consuming a good deal of their calories at night (ahem, Fearlette) and if this is the case, the hunger is real, but the ultimate goal remains the same: work on getting them to eat more during the day so that  they don’t need to wake up to get adequate nutrition. If you are following PLR, use the water trick and prepare for the inevitable flood of urine with absorbent diapers and a waterproof top-sheet for the crib. Remind yourself of the PLR slogans, “This too shall pass”.

    Do all of that. And if it doesn’t work, don’t blame me. Who told you to take advice from some random chick on the internet, anyway?

    FFF Friday: “We decided to stop and just love our child.”

    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.

    Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

    FFF Karie’s first paragraph made me grin, because we are so darn alike. I never imagined breastfeeding on a balcony because our balcony has a depressing view of our neighbor’s dilapidated garage, but I definitely had fantasies of nursing FC in the gorgeous, plush rocker we’d purchased when I was 6 months pregnant. Ah, ignorance… you are blissful. Luckily, as I’m sure Karie has realized, bottle feeding in an overpriced rocker or pretty balcony can be pretty blissful, too.

    Happy Friday,

    The FFF

    ***

    My daughter was born in May and the plan was to spend many sunny summer days on the balcony off her nursery breastfeeding. Of course I would breastfeed. Why wouldn’t I breastfeed? I wasn’t against formula; the thought of using it simply never crossed my mind. Both my partner and I were breastfed, we’re vegetarians, we use cloth diapers and we make our own yogurt. Breastfeeding just seemed like the natural thing for our family to do. It was going to be lovely and we would end up with a happy, smart and healthy child.



    Fourteen months later my daughter is extremely happy, smart and healthy. She’s very social, she’s not fat and she has never experienced the allergies and ear infections that plagued my partner and I as babies. In fact, she’s been sick only twice and both times it lasted a day. She was also exclusively formula fed from the age of eight weeks.



    I breastfed on the balcony once and it sucked.



    I guess there were lots of issues: low production, a shallow latch, bad advice, raging hormones. We ended up in a horrible cycle. She wasn’t gaining weight, which made me stressed. The stress didn’t help the process or my production and so she continued to not gain weight.



    I took blessed thistle and fenugreek. We hired a lactation consultant, fed our daughter with a tube at my breast, pumped and filled out pages of charts tracking every ounce and output. It took her almost four weeks to get back to her 6 lb 3 oz birth weight. At one point, the LC weighed her after an hour-long nursing session and found she had only taken in 10 ml. I dreaded breastfeeding and all three of us were miserable.



    The LC and my midwife said the next step was for me to go on Domperidone.



    I didn’t.



    At six weeks we decided to stop and just enjoy and love our child. We gave back the rented fancy pump, supplemented with a bottle and decided to just let whatever was going to happen, happen. I still nursed her a couple times a day and pumped when I had the chance, but within two weeks there wasn’t much there and she was soon exclusively on formula.



    Breastfeeding my daughter during those two weeks was nice. I remember feeding her in a nursing room at a shopping mall and when she was done being overcome with this extreme feeling of relaxation and connectedness. The pressure was gone. She was getting enough to eat so it was just about us bonding and getting to know each other – something that had been hard to do. When we did bottle feed her we did it skin-to-skin and made sure it was in a quiet place and that she had our full attention. Dad and I loved it and so did she. I will never forget the first time I gave her a four ounce bottle of formula instead of the usual one ounce supplement. She gulped it all down, sighed, smiled and we both fell asleep together for three hours.



    I think there will always be moments when I feel like I should have tried harder, but I don’t regret giving up on breastfeeding. In fact, I truly credit formula feeding, at least partly, for the great relationship my daughter has with her father. She is pretty much equally comfortable with him as she is with me. Having him able to really take on 50 percent of the parenting duties has been huge in helping him become a confident and capable dad and me a happy and relaxed new mom. It’s so true that happy and healthy parents make for happy and healthy kids.



    People always talk about the health benefits of breast milk, but what about the benefits of having a strong bond with your father and a mom that’s not always about to snap? Is it healthy for a kid to not be getting enough to eat? Is it healthy that the only way to make this natural process work is by medicating myself for several months with a drug that’s not even approved for this particular use?



    I see everyday, what formula has done for our daughter and our family and I know I made the right decision. We spent many sunny summer days sitting on the balcony feeding her a bottle and I wouldn’t trade those moments in for anything.

    ***

    Come on and join the FFF revolution – our strength is in our stories. Send yours to formulafeeders@gmail.com and I will feature it on an upcoming FFF Friday.

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