FFF Friday: “‘Any weight gain is good’ (is) another dangerous myth”

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.


The last FFF Friday of 2011 comes from Ella Blood, who is a frequent and valued contributor here at FFF and also on Bottle Babies. Her story highlights the point that not only is breast not best for every mother, the saying is also incorrect for some babies. As she says in her story, what happened to her daughter is a unique case – but all babies are unique in some way, and what makes us good parents is our willingness to be flexible and adjust to our children’s individual needs.

Happy Friday (and happy New Year), fearless ones,

The FFF

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I was determined to breastfeed my daughter. From day one, she wouldn’t latch on; after 5 days in hospital we tried nipple shields, and she actually started to drink properly. We were told off by everyone, though, because nipple shields are almost as evil as formula, apparently. And then over the weeks we noticed that my daughter was putting on very little weight. But hey, any weight gain is good, right?

The nurses/ health visitors wouldn’t say the word ” formula” …The advice was “there’s something wrong with your breastfeeding, get rid of those nipple shields, spend days in bed with her, wake her up every three hours no matter what, force-feed her, top her up with expressed milk!” I was told to “concentrate solely on breastfeeding and not go out” ( a depressing prospect, but extreme lactivists will no doubt brand me selfish for admitting to feeling like this).

And here is what, to this day, still makes me furious, because it’s still happening: breastfeeding advocates, everywhere you look, tell you that WEIGHT DOESN’T MATTER, that any weight gain is good, that come on, you don’t want your baby to be obese anyway, and the charts are based on formula fed babies anyway so they don’t count, etc, etc…
A nursery nurse LIED THROUGH HER TEETH, telling me ” Okay, she’s dropping a few centiles but it’s already looking up so keep persevering”…that was at a time when my daughter had gained 2 oz ( 60 grams) in ten days.
That’s what really gets me, the whole ” Breastfeeding is so great that if your baby doesn’t put on weight it doesn’t matter, don’t bother with the scales” Seriously, that advice is EVERYWHERE, and the people who share it are not always fanatic breastfeeding advocates; they are decent, clever people who genuinely believe that myth. At the age of eight weeks, I found out that my daughter had a hole in the heart which would require open heart surgery. Turns out she was using up all the calories from breastmilk to breathe, therefore not putting on weight. Turns out waking her up every three hours was making her more tired and forcing her to deal with extra fluids she couldn’t handle. Turns out she wouldn’t latch on – hence nipple shields- because breastfeeding was just too bloody hard for her.
What she needed was high-calorie, prescription formula. Breast milk alone just wasn’t enough. I expressed up to six times a day and added formula powder for a few weeks, but that was really hard and punishing- and I didn’t get to spend any quality time with my daughter, which is important to all mums anyway, but even more so for me since I had found out, the hard way, just how precious she was.

So, I quickly moved on to the high calorie formula, which really helped with her weight gain. At the age of ten months she had her open heart surgery: A success, thank goodness. The surgeon did warn us that although it was a pretty straightforward procedure, there was a 2% chance of our daughter not making it. ( Interesting figure, considering that apparently “only” 2% of mothers can’t physically breastfeed. One chance out of 50. That number was never negligible to me or my husband…)

Needless to say, I’m very angry, and so was my doctor when she found out how rubbish the medical staff had been. One health visitor, just one, who was so pro-breastfeeding that she had exclusively pumped for her son, dared suggest formula- and that was after I asked about it. She actually hinted that she was glad I was mentioning it because she was, basically, as a professional, not supposed to! That goes to show that you can be very pro-breastfeeding and still realize that in some cases, formula is indeed a very good alternative. ( Other myth: all health visitors are rubbish and don’t know what they’re talking about…well, that one was very good )
Anyway, I appreciate that my daughter’s case is not typical and that some babies will put on little weight over a couple of weeks and actually be OK. But we have to stop saying that weight gain is meaningless.

When my daughter was “failing to thrive”, I was thinking it was because I couldn’t feed her properly. It was down to me. It’s meant to be natural, it’s meant to be that way, like that stupid ad suggests “all babies are meant to be breastfed”… There is a lot of controversy surrounding formula advertising; it’s been suggested that educated, mature women will fall for the whole formula con, and believe that formula is just as good, if not better than breastmilk.

Well, this educated mother here listened too hard to the breastfeeding propaganda and myths.

***

Start off the new year on the right foot: send your story to formulafeeders@gmail.com. It’s cathartic, I swear!

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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8 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “‘Any weight gain is good’ (is) another dangerous myth”

  1. Thank you for sharing you story. I'm so very glad everything turned out ok.
    My neice was born 14 weeks premature & was never able to nurse. My SIL pumped for 8 months, then started running out & it was just getting too hard. So no not all babies are meant to breastfeed.

    I very much agree with your point that formula advertising is apparently so very bad & it is a “booby” trap, but what about the breastfeeding advertising & promotion? People are pushing so hard to raise breast feeding rates & promote Breast is Best, they are forgetting about what might be very wrong with Breast.

    It all comes down to feeding your baby and giving them the best you can.

  2. Thanks for sharing this story. This business of pushing breastfeeding At All Costs really worries me, especially when a child's health is at stake and it's clear that breastfeeding is just not working for them.

  3. Oh bless her – I hope she's doing well now.

    The government restrictions on health professionals discussing all methods of infant feeding is so frustrating. Everyone with a brain is chomping at the bit, wanting to tell you that the reality of formula is that it's a great option for *everyone*, especially when there is an issue that makes breastfeeding difficult. I've been really lucky here in Wiltshire – the first home-visiting midwife said “pop and get some formula” when my son wasn't feeding, and the doctor who snipped his tongue tie (she had breast fed both of her children) said how angry the aggressive pro-breastfeeding stance made her, and she even suggested that breast milk is irrelevant after the first week or so.

    I have heard from some that you can actually be subject to disciplinary proceedings if you suggest formula. Thank God for those who ignore that.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Ella. I'm so glad that your daughter is ok now, but how infuriating that it took so long for the problem to be detected!

    I'm also in the UK, and the single-minded “Breast is the only way!” line which *some* healthcare providers take is unhelpful beyond belief.

  5. Your story sounds like mine! As a new mom this was the first lesson I had in trusting my instinct. I kept asking the lactation consultants about my latch because I just felt he wasn't getting enough. They insisted I was paranoid and even had my husband believing it was all in my head. Finally, one consultant gave me a nipple shield, even though she made me feel like I wasn't as good for using one. after my own roller coaster of an experience I realized, I should always question people who don't have accredited medical degrees the same way I question the medical establishment. Good for you Mama!

  6. Your last line is especially poignant, given the recent discussion in another post about the Target nurse-in. The idea that “traps” are only the purview of breastfeeding mothers would be ludicrous if it weren't so dangerous, as your story highlights.

  7. I am so glad that your daughter is ok. My son has a severe heart defect and we had to do the whole fortifying pumped breast milk thing too. Luckily now that his oxygenation had improved dramatically he had not had any weight gain issues.

  8. Oh my goodness! I'm practically shouting here. This is so true! Proper weight gain is dismissed as unimportant by so many. Obviously, your daughter's case is more seriously than mine but my little girl has been failure to thrive practically her whole life. At 12 months, she weighed 15lbs 7oz. I wish I'd combo fed her from the beginning. Hindsight is 20/20 I guess.

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