Dirty Milk

FFF Sarah, who is currently trying to induce lactation for her upcoming adoption, emailed me this afternoon with an interesting question:

So, I’m pumping all of this crap into my body in an attempt to see if I’m able to lactate.

Today, I was telling my husband why I buy x-type of dairy milk (b/c it doesn’t have rBGH)…I read him this tidbit from the dairy’s page:

rBGH is “recombinant bovine growth hormone” and also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). Developed by Monsanto Corporation, rBGH is an artificial hormone that causes cows to artificially increase milk production.

We love our cows and believe that pure, natural milk tastes best and is healthiest for you. Here at Brown’s, our cows are not treated with artificial growth hormones like rBGH.

He said…”um…isn’t that what you’re doing? Taking stuff to artificially increase milk production? How is that good for a kid then?” I said I thought the ingredients were better, but honestly…I don’t know. Is it better? Do we know the danger of Reglan or Domperidone or Fenugreek or Blessed Thistle or any of the other crap we take in order to make milk or more milk for our babies?

Honestly, I had no idea how to answer this; however, I thought it was one of the most interesting questions I’d ever been asked. Even the mere concept of rBGH-free milk is worth talking about, and I can’t believe I’ve never thought about it before. Of course, we’ve discussed the fact that breastmilk can be a veritable smorgasboard of chemicals; in fact, scientists use this particular bodily substance for bio-monitoring (a way of measuring how many toxins are being stored in the human body). Typically, this concern is squashed by folks telling us not to worry, breastmilk is so amazing that it counteracts or cancels out all the bad stuff, or yelling at us not to peek at the man behind the curtain, like the titular dude in Wizard of Oz. (Read this article from Mothering.com to gain a frustrating, bang-your-head-against-the-wall understanding of why some breastfeeding advocates are fighting the trend of using breastmilk in bio-monitoring.)

So, isn’t it kind of funny that everyone is so concerned with the mercury in fish; the hormones in beef and milk… and not the food our own bodies produce?

There is ample proof that what we eat, breathe and absorb goes through our breastmilk. In fact, the NRDC has an entire website dedicated to the chemicals present in breastmilk, and they admit that “infant formula contains far lower quantities of dioxins, PCBs and organochlorine pesticides than breastmilk”. Of course, they go on to assure mothers that “formula has serious drawbacks that tip the scale against it”, and then list all the “risks” we have discussed on this blog, time and time again. The chemical contamination dangers they cite pertaining to formula are “contamination with substances such as broken glass, fragments of metal and salmonella and other bacteria. The fungal toxin aflatoxin has also been detected in some commercial formulas. Although detected levels were very low, this toxin is known to cause cancer and is not present in breast milk. Infant formulas also may contain excessive levels of metals, including aluminum, manganese, cadmium and lead.” However, many of these contaminants are avoidable if we could improve manufacturing processes; the first few listed, when discovered, led to recalls.

The important message here should not be choose formula over breastmilk, or vice versa. It should be, let’s all become more aware of the chemicals our babies are exposed to. Formula is a product; if we want to discuss the chemical contaminants in formula, we can address manufacturing processes, corporate responsibility, quality assurances, ingredient sources, etc. If we want to discuss the chemical contaminants in breastmilk… well, chances are we won’t be discussing that, because its tantamount to yelling fire in a crowded movie theater. Us girls are, like, panicky and hysterical, dontcha know?

Back to the original question which spawned this post, though. It’s one thing to worry about chemicals we have no real control over; quite another to discuss intentionally ingesting something potentially harmful to increase milk supply or induce lactation in the name of Liquid Gold. But could Reglan, Domperidone, Fenugreek, or Blessed Thistle really be harmful? Doctors prescribe them for nursing women all the time, and these folks would never prescribe something that they don’t know 100% for certain won’t harm a baby, right?

(Pause for diabolical laughter…)

Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle are probably the least concerning of these substances, as they are herbal remedies. However, while NIH’s Medline Plus cites “increasing breastmilk quantities” as one of Blessed Thistle’s uses, they also warn, “Don’t take blessed thistle by mouth if you are pregnant. There is some evidence that it might not be safe during pregnancy. It’s also best to avoid blessed thistle if you are breast-feeding. Not enough is known about the safety of this product” and list “irritat(ion of) the stomach and intestines” as a possible side effect. As for Fenugreek, Kellymom warns that while “(m)ost of the time, baby is unaffected by mom’s use of fenugreek (except that more milk is usually available)”, sometimes “baby will smell like maple syrup…some moms have noticed that baby is fussy and/or has green, watery stools when mom is taking fenugreek and the symptoms go away when mom discontinues the fenugreek. Fenugreek can cause GI symptoms in mom (upset stomach, diarrhea), so it’s possible for it to cause GI symptoms in baby too.” A search on WebMD’s database found that “(s)ome reports have linked fenugreek tea to loss of consciousness in children”.

(I feel I should interject here to remind everybody that just like everything else we discuss on here, we should look at these warnings in terms of relative risk. If you read the possible side effects on a bottle of Children’s Advil, it’s a hell of a lot scarier. I’m merely trying to illustrate a point, so bear with me, please, and don’t panic if you’ve been binge-drinking Fenugreek tea.)

Reglan and Domperidone carry more severe warnings. Reglan is one of those drugs that repeatedly come up on litigator’s websites (never a comforting sign), and it has been suggested that it can cause a condition called Tardive Dyskinesia. As one of the litigators explains, “Before Reglan was released, the FDA only approved its use for 12 weeks at a time, which means that women who are breastfeeding are at an even higher risk for developing TD because of the timeframe spent breastfeeding.” (Ironically, I found a really great opinion piece about the relative risks of Reglan on another of these lawyer sites. Go figure.) Perhaps a more real-world concern – and definitely one that worries me a great deal, what with PPD being such a real threat to new moms – Reglan is also linked with depression.

Domperidone, a drug typically used for cancer patients or those with gastrointestinal issues, does seem to be a safer bet, although on a UK site detailing the prescription use of Domperidone, it clearly states that “this medicine passes into breast milk in very small amounts that are not expected to be harmful to a nursing infant. However, the medicine is not recommended for use in women who are breastfeeding unless the potential benefit to the mother outweighs any risks to the nursing infant. Seek medical advice from your doctor.” If that doctor happens to be breastfeeding guru Jack Newman, you’ll be reassured that it is indeed safe (“Worldwide experience with domperidone over at least two decades suggests that long-term side effects also are rare. Some of the mothers in our clinic, breastfeeding adopted babies, have been on the medication for 18 months without any apparent side effects…patients using domperidone for stomach disorders may be on it for many years. I hope you won’t need domperidone for very long, but if it’s necessary and helpful, stay on it,” he breezily suggests, adding links to back him up (nearly all of which are dead links, btw, save for one study which simply proves that Domperidone increases milk supply. Sort of a moot point, don’t you think?)

If a mom needed to take either of these drugs for a medical condition, I would think the benefits absolutely outweigh the risks. Aside from the depression risk, neither seems to be that scary, especially when you consider Reglan was discussed as a potential therapy when my infant daughter was suspected to have delayed gastric emptying (so one would hope it isn’t all that toxic to babies).

But we’re talking about selectively consuming these drugs in order to do something which is often marketed to women as the “natural” choice, the “biological norm”. If a woman wants to breastfeed, I would totally understand her desire to try these drugs, and more power to her. If a woman feels like she has to breastfeed, and has to take these medications in order to fulfill her biological and maternal responsibilities, that’s another story. And regardless, let’s stop the hypocrisy and ignorance so prevalent in the way we view and discuss breastmilk. If it is full of chemicals, the answer is obviously not to discourage breastfeeding, but shouldn’t it also be obvious that we can’t ignore the problem? Likewise, if someone has to take medication in order to breastfeed, we need to support her in her goals in whatever way we can, but we also need to ensure that she has adequate research on her side that proves she is not putting herself or her baby at risk.

Breastmilk, left to its own devices, is one of the most amazing and purest foods in the universe. Unfortunately, we live in a time when pretty much nothing has been left to its own devices. Nobody is saying that breastfeeding isn’t worth it, but in the world we currently inhabit, I don’t think we should view breastmilk as unadulterated, absolute perfection. It can be corrupted, like any biological substance.

So, FFF Sarah’s husband… I’m not sure what the answer to your question is, exactly. But I can tell you that while writing this, this image kept running through my head of one of those “Not treated with rBST!” messages stamped on a nursing bra. Thanks for that, buddy.

FFF Friday: “…If I hadn’t used formula, my baby would’ve died.”

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.




I recently had the honor of meeting the incredible couple who started
Friends of Maddie, an awesome organization that supports the parents of babies in the NICU. This got me thinking about all the amazing preemie moms who have been a part of the FFF community. The author of the following post, “LRN”, is one of these women.

I don’t spend enough time talking about preemie parents, and the intense struggles that they often endure attempting to feed the tiniest, most fragile of babies; I will try to do so in the future, but in the meantime, I hope that LRN’s beautiful FFF Friday piece will reach not only mothers of NICU babies who are dealing with feeding issues, but also those who fail to understand the complexities of this debate.

Happy Friday, fearless ones…

The FFF

***

I stumbled on your blog and thought I could chime in, although my story seems to be pretty far from what I have read on your page….admittedly, I am an American living in a foreign country, but it is one with excellent medical care (in most respects)….

Fast forwarding through a pretty uneventful short pregnancy, I ended up at my doctor one night at about 11pm after having some bleeding (this was my first baby) and back pain. Ultrasound showed baby looked fine, placenta looked fine, baby heartrate fine….perhaps I had just jostled the wrong way and baby jarred my placenta, causing slight bleeding; they hooked me up to a monitor, said they would watch me for an hour just to see, but wrote papers for me to have 2 weeks bedrest off work. About 45 minutes into the hour, my water suddenly just broke, contractions started like a son-of-a-gun, and in less than 2 hours, my baby was born at 24 weeks, 5 days gestation – 1 pound, 10 ounces only! They whisked him away to the NICU and basically left my husband and I just there with a nurse to keep an eye on me. I didn’t even know if he was alive for several hours…..
Later in the day (baby was born about 2:40 am), the doctor finally came to see me (my husband had been to see him and take pictures to bring back) and my husband and give us the details. Insert a ton of depressing medical talk here…..
No one ever mentioned breast feeding or pumping, and I didn’t know to ask (baby came BEFORE scheduled birthing classes….I came from a small family – I never really saw anyone breastfeeding; those who did were very discreet and private about it). I was in the hospital for 3 days; on day 2, I asked one of the nurses – um, what about breastfeeding or pumping? Should I be doing that? And she looked totally shocked – your baby is so small, he can’t breast feed! You want to pump? I said yes, but I don’t know how. So she brought in a laptop computer and played a video on breastfeeding for me. I asked about pumping (I sent a friend to get a pump – hadn’t bought that yet – hadn’t bought ANYTHING yet for the baby) and she said she would get someone to help me. No one helped me.
So, day 3 I tried out my pump – absolutely the weirdest sensation ever! And I got 1 drop, yes, just 1 drop on the end of my nipples, after nearly 20 minutes hooked to the machine. I read and re-read all the instructions, thinking, I must be doing this wrong; according to the machine,, milk should be flowing out, I mean, geez, it has directions how to change to new bottles during the pumping session when you fill the first ones! But no.
So when I got home, I googled to try to find help from La Leche League (found a local chapter in a neighboring country, with a rep willing to work with me via email). Um, no one at the hospital told me I should have been pumping from right after the baby was born (not waiting 3 days), that I should have been pumping every 2-3 hours to get the milk established, that having my baby so early my body may not have been ready for milk and I would have to work insanely hard to get it to realize MILK NEEDED!
But once I knew, I started pumping every 3 hours, round the clock. I had a backpack pump that I took to work (I didn’t use all my maternity leave – I felt fine; I asked to save it for when the baby came home from the hospital – which would be 123 long days later…) with a cooler pack in it. Pump pump pump, all for my little guy….but the most I ever got in one pumping session was probably about 1 ounce per session – both boobs combined. Which at the time, was way more than he was drinking anyway, so I had a freezer drawer full of little milk bags of milk, in about 1 or 2 ounces each. In the mean time, the baby’s dr tells me to get blood tests because the baby’s bones are so brittle – I was very low on Vit D, so my milk was not giving the baby enough calcium, so they added it to his feeds (he was getting other sources of nutrition besides BM because of his medical health needs). Pumping actually wasn’t too bad on me – I never had mastitis, or cracked/bleeding nipples, and it never hurt – so I just figured, keep it up until baby can BF directly, and I will be in the clear!
Fast forward to day 119 – the first time they let me attempt to BF (they were suprised that I wanted to, with such a tiny baby!). They took me and baby into a cubicle with a broken office chair and left us there. I had no idea how to start – the baby weighed 4 pounds and was the smallest baby I had ever held! Still, I fumbled around, jostled baby a bit, and managed to get him to latch and suckle a little – I have no idea if he actually got any milk. After about 5 minutes, he got the hiccups and we couldn’t get the latch back, and he was getting fussy, so I took him back to the NICU for the nurse to get him a bottle. There are no lactation consultants here…we tried every day for a bit until his discharge on day 123, but never really succeeded.
When we got him home, I tried once or twice a day to BF directly and could never manage it – I have no family here and most of my friends were at work most of the time, or had no kids and wouldn’t know what to do to help. So I stayed a slave of the pump, and gave my baby the freshly pumped stuff plus started delving into my freezer stash. For about a month, this actually was working fine….then we took the baby for a checkup and they determined that he wasn’t gaining weight fast enough and had me get human breast milk fortifier (a powder added to my pumped milk) – so that basically made me give up the dream of ever trying to get the baby to BF directly.
Then later, he was classified as failure to thrive and I had to give him a special extra-high calorie formula – he had to have that for all but one of his daily feeds, so he could still get the benefits of a little breast milk. I still gave an occasional attempt at direct feeding, just because I wanted that bonding….but he never took to me (ironically, he would suck on any size or shape of bottle nipple, he wasn’t picky about them, he just didn’t want MY nipple – and I knew nothing about nipple shields or I might have tried that as well, if it was the “plastic-y” feel he liked). So when he was 5 months old (the first 4 being in the NICU), he was on formula mostly, with a dabble of BM.
After 2 more hospitalizations and more emotional trauma than one person should have to bear, I finally weaned off the pump during baby’s 7th month; he had frozen BM to last for 2 more months (at 1 bottle a day, since I never made more than a few ounces a day anyway – oh, and I was taking domperadome, fenugreek, teas, eating more oatmeal than a lumberjack, cool packs, warm packs – everything I could find as a medical, herbal, or old-wives’ tale to increase milk).
I really felt let-down by the medical personnel at the maternity hospital I was in….they just assumed I wouldn’t breastfeed or pump, due to the early birth, and therefore did nothing right away. I don’t know if it would have made a difference – perhaps my body just wasn’t ready, or it was too much stress with baby in the hospital in grave condition for such a long time…I just know this – if I hadn’t used formula, my baby would have died…it is that simple.
I want another baby someday, and I do want to breastfeed, but after all I went through, my baby is now 17 months old and is in the 50% for height and 5 pounds away from being ON the weight chart – I feel I did the best I could, the best anyone could have in my circumstances. (I will add that thankfully, the friends I did have here were all supportive of my attempts at pumping and providing breastmilk, it is just that none of them had the knowledge to help me).
I don’t know if my story is worthy of being on your site, since I wasn’t attacked or badgered by lactation and breast-feeding zealots, but maybe it will help another mother with a NICU baby feel better; I have since discovered that mothers of micropreemies (born less than 27 weeks and less than 1 KG) typically have lots of problems with breastfeeding/pumping (and the babies have problems with the feedings themselves) – if I can help even one reader with a baby in the NICU relax about not being able to breast feed, then I will feel like my trials were not just a test for me.

***

Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday: simply email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Formula advertising isn’t evil; it’s just stupid.

My inner capitalist is about to rear her ugly head, so brace yourselves (and just for the record, so I don’t provoke an Occupy FFF – I am 100% part of the 99%.)

A reader emailed me the other night regarding a shady website sponsored by Abbot (the makers of Similac). Called “Night Nurse Nation“, the site is designed to offer information for night nurses. Now, I’m not sure if they mean the kind of night nurses that people hire to stay in their homes (like my friend Kristine), or the nurses on the night shift in hospital maternity wards. These are two very different professions; one is a private, in-home service provider adept at dealing with newborns and employed in order to let new parents get some much-needed sleep; the other is a hospital employee and medical professional. The distinction is key, because very often, people hire night nurses for the express purpose of having them deal with night feedings (although just as often the night nurse may be a doula or LC who is hired to help with breastfeeding); unless the mom is pumping, her night nurse may very well be using formula. Seems like a plausible excuse for this type of marketing, at least.

On the other hand, if the “night nurses” in question are the hospital employee type, the site takes on a more insidious meaning – because formula companies should not be blatantly marketing their products to nurses dealing with new moms; not so much because this will discourage breastfeeding, but because it may result in them pushing a particular brand of formula. For example, the site has a page about colostrum which doesn’t really explain anything about colostrum, choosing instead to focus on lutein, which is apparently REALLY important and oh yeah, guess what, it’s also in Similac formula.

That’s kind of, well, sketchy. But I’m not sure we should expect anything less from a formula company. I don’t doubt that they have teams of brilliant marketing execs sitting around expensive conference rooms, plotting how to sell more formula. But I also don’t give a crap, and here is why: Formula companies are big corporations. If Big Formula were a Beatles song, it wouldn’t be All You Need is Love, but rather Money. Okay, better analogy – if this industry were an animal, it would be a shark rather than a furry bunny rabbit. We wouldn’t expect a shark to snuggle up to us and wiggle it’s nose for a carrot, right? So why do we expect a company to go against its Darwinian instinct to make money and sell, sell, sell?

Interestingly, when I told Fearless Husband about this post, he shook his head. “I don’t think all they care about is money,” he said. “If all they cared about was money, they’d stop doing R&D.” But as much as I’d like to agree with him, I think that logic is flawed. Better product means better sales, which means – you guessed it – more money.

Let me make one thing clear: I do not in any way believe that these days, formula companies are the reason for sub-par breastfeeding rates (unless you believe their very existence, and hence the availability of formula itself is to blame…if you believe that, then I doubt you care too much about what I have to say anyway). But I do think they are guilty of misguided, and sometimes slimy, behavior in their quest to sell product. And that’s okay. We can’t expect them to behave any differently from other big industries. They should not have to be held to a higher standard simply because the product they hawk is controversial.

Just because I’m a realist about how these companies operate, though, doesn’t mean I don’t wish they would find some less-gross ways to market themselves. We do not adhere to WHO Code in this country; therefore the formula companies should not have to stoop to bottom-feeding lows like running “breastfeeding help lines” (seriously?) or websites directed at care providers working with postpartum moms. I believe they have a right to do these things, but I also think it’s plain dumb that they do. They aren’t fooling anyone by pretending to champion breastfeeding; they are certainly not going to pacify anti-formula lactivists no matter what they do (except for dissolving their consumer product departments and become prescription-only), and as I’ve said before, it alienates their already-formula-feeding customer base.

So how should they market? Well, I’m going to pretend to be an ad exec for a moment (see, I knew my years of being a struggling actress and auditioning for commercials would pay off someday!) and present my concept for a great formula ad campaign:

Open on quick flashes of different women, with words showing up alongside their images: Had a mastectomy….On lifesaving, but contra-indicated medication… Insufficient Glandular Tissue… Sexual Abuse Survivor…. Combo-feeding…Difficult work situation….Child has severe food allergies…

After each woman’s image and corresponding tagline is shown, their “scene” become part of a tapestry, with all of the women visible on-screen. And these words appear, superimposed against the tapestry of women : Loves her baby with all her heart.*

Screen goes black, and we see a picture of a formula can, with the words: When breastfeeding isn’t an option, try Simifamilstart.

*Please note that the campaign I would run, if I ran the world, would use the words “None of your damn business, asshole” rather than “Loves her baby with all her heart”, but I doubt that would make it past the FCC)

Look. There’s no escaping the truth that formula companies have done horrible things in the past, and they will probably do many more shady things in the years to come. But other than the Nestle scandal – which was indescribably evil, no doubt – I’m not convinced that what formula companies are doing is any worse than other forms of corporate marketing used by other industries. (While we’re talking about this, I think it’s far more questionable to allow prescription drugs to be advertised every which way, as if they were consumer products, than it is to allow formula to be advertised freely. Is there a WHO Code for pharmaceuticals?) But I think if we could start approaching formula companies with more realism and less hysteria, and in turn, they could stop being so obtuse about making lame attempts at sly marketing (I mean seriously, Abbot… what’s with that Night Nurse Nation site? It’s beyond stupid) then maybe we’d get somewhere.

Here’s an even better idea: maybe the formula companies could just run innocuous ads on tv and stop spending money on “creative” marketing experts who get them into these ridiculous debacles, and instead start investing that cash into research and development? Come on, now. Don’t make a liar out of Fearless Husband.

FFF Friday: “Hating on formula makes new moms’ lives miserable.”

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.


You might have read FFF Krista’s fantastic and funny post on her own blog about formula feeding, and now shares her personal story of how she became a fearless formula feeder.

I’ll be back this weekend with a post about why formula companies are indeed evil, and why we shouldn’t give a crap that they are. Fun weekend reading. ;)

Happy Friday, fearless ones….
***

I knew before I ever got pregnant that I would breastfeed. I wanted to for the bonding, the supposed weight loss benefits, and because it was cheaper than formula. And because there was so much literature out about how you have to breastfeed because it’s the best for your baby. And the literature that said everyone can breastfeed, even people who don’t think they can, they just have to “try harder” by pumping and stimulating and taking supplements like fenugreek. A lot of women leak while pregnant; I never did.

Towards the end of my pregnancy, I should have bought a pump and some nursing bras and tanks. But I was gun shy, that’s a lot of money. What if it didn’t work? Then I’d be stuck with a 300 dollar pump and a ton of nursing stuff I’d never need. I figured I’d buy it when I needed it.


Fast forward to after my daughter was born. I had no milk. Not even colostrum. So I had to start supplementing with formula. And she started refusing the breast, getting milk out of a bottle was so much easier, so I started pumping my empty boobs. The lactation consultants were very helpful, and helped me however they could. But it just wasn’t happening.

Still nothing after 3 days, when we finally got to bring her home. We were sent home with some formula, and went out to get more, even though we were hoping my boobs would get the memo that they needed to make some milk. We also rented a pump from the hospital.

I was a slave to my pump, and getting barely anything after my milk came in 6 days after having her. She was only getting about 1 bottle of breast milk a day at 2 and a half weeks. And I started slacking on pumping, because it made me depressed. Because I felt like I was always pumping.

I already had a nasty case of the baby blues, and not being able to provide nutrition for my baby was only exacerbating the problem. Because everything I had read up until that point implied that moms who formula fed were lazy and quitters. And my 90% formula fed baby did not have a lazy quitter mother.

Until one day when my daughter was 3 weeks old, I had enough of the pump and my daughter refusing to breastfeed and doing fine and growing great on formula. I was like “eff this pump wasting my time.” And put it away. I’m pretty sure my husband was secretly glad because seeing his wife crying with her boobs out and pumping probably wasn’t the best thing for him to come home to.

I’ve had some regrets since and thought about relactating in the early days. Mostly because of guilt, and all the pro-breastfeeding propaganda. I knew I was doing the best thing for my baby, you know feeding her enough food, but the guilt was still there.

Luckily everyone who mattered (like my doctor, and my daughter’s pediatrician) were fine with me stopping and didn’t try to guilt me into continuing making myself miserable. My doctor told me that even a little bit has a huge benefit, and the pediatrician told us to call her if we had any questions about switching formula.
My child is perfectly healthy and gorgeous. And she would have been healthy and gorgeous if I had been successful at breastfeeding as well.

Since having her and getting over the guilt I’ve come to realize that whether or not my child was breastfed isn’t going to be a topic of concern later in life. I can’t imagine being at the park in 5 years and have some one ask me if I breastfed or not. Because in the grand scheme of life, it doesn’t really matter how they were fed as infants.

Formula saves lives. Hating on formula makes new moms’ lives miserable.
***
Are you fearless? Trying to be? Why not write a post about it? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Why you should take experts with a grain of salt (and a FFF team project!)

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I recently switched from freelancing to a more steady form of employment. I’m lucky enough to have found a job which allows me access to some of the foremost experts in the parenting world, as well as an incredible roster of parents with unique situations and viewpoints.

These past few weeks, I’ve been a fly on the wall as these folks have been interviewed about their areas of expertise and experience. It’s been truly enlightening, both as a parent and someone who finds it fascinating to pick apart the human psyche. Some key observations:

1. Just because someone is a “world-renowned expert” does not necessarily mean they understand the real-world implications of what they are advocating.

For obvious reasons, my favorite example of this is the Male Breastfeeding Expert. There’s nothing like having someone with testicles school you on why it isn’t that big a deal to breastfeeding exclusively for six months. Or the 75-year-old parenting expert who tries to compare the way the world was at the time she was raising her sons to how it is now. Oh- and the expert who was born and raised in wealth and privilege, scoffing at the idea that poor, urban parents can’t find ways to feed their children healthier meals and get them 2 hours of exercise.

Look. These days, it doesn’t take much to be proclaimed an “expert”. You write a few books, get a few prominent clients, get yourself on the Today Show, and viola! World-renowned expert. Degrees help, but even these can be misleading – a PhD in philosophy can call herself a doctor and become an expert on child health with nary a pre-med course under her Prada belt. (Think of Dr. Linda Folden-Palmer, the woman who claims that formula feeding has killed more American babies than anything else in the world. She wears that “Dr.” title like a badge, neglecting to mention she’s a Doctor of Chiropractic.)

Even for those select few who really do have the research, education, and experience behind them to qualify as experts, it doesn’t necessarily follow that these folks have a clue what life is like outside their ivory towers. Theory and practice are two different animals, altogether. This doesn’t mean they don’t know what they are talking about – to the contrary, they can probably speak eloquently and informatively on their given subject. But academia tends to be insular; psychologists aren’t necessarily talking with anthropologists; biologists aren’t always having brainstorming sessions with sociologists. It’s a shame, really, because when it comes to parenting “science”, we need interdepartmental cooperation. As someone who has read research from a variety of fields on infant feeding, I can attest that hardly anyone is listening to anyone outside of his or her field. Even within the medical field, there’s stuff happening in gastrointestinal journals that is barely referenced (or likely noticed) by those who read Pediatrics. It’s a real shame.

2. Personal bias is universally prevalent

No matter how open-minded you may be, it’s very, very difficult to stop your own experience from coloring your opinions. This happens on a subconscious level, so while you might make a concerted effort not to do so, you’ll have visceral reactions to certain ideas which will in turn inform your point of view. For example, last week, we interviewed a well-respected expert on fatherhood. He was a great guy with an impressive resume and plenty of relevant life-experience to boot – the ideal parenting expert, if you will. At one point, we asked him a question about what to do if your partner isn’t taking care of herself during pregnancy. I took this question to mean, “What should I do if my partner isn’t eating enough, taking care of her health, stress level; working too hard; not following doctor’s orders in regards to pregnancy complications, etc.” The expert proceeded to give a speech about making sure your wife doesn’t “let herself go” during pregnancy – i.e., what men can do to ensure that their wives/girlfriends aren’t packing on too many pregnancy pounds or forgoing the gym. Obviously, what “taking care of herself” meant to him was something quite different than it meant to me. It’s all about perspective.

As for the parents we’ve interviewed, they have all been lovely people, but they’ve also shown me how our own hangups, successes, and failures end up informing our parenting philosophies. A woman who had a successful first pregnancy in her mid-40s spoke freely about how if other women just did more yoga and ate better, they’d be able to conceive as late as they wanted to, and that there’d be no need for extra precautions or the label of “high-risk”. I bet she would have been singing a different tune had she spent seven years in fertility treatments, or actually had a high-risk pregnancy. (As I’ve had. Twice. And I did plenty of yoga.) She also had an a-hole doctor, and a wonderful midwifery experience, which made her an advocate for home-birth and low medical intervention. The things that went right gave her strong opinions, as did the things that went wrong. It’s human nature.

3. To change minds, accentuate the positive

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned from my job thus far, though, is that no matter what your experience is, you need to own it.

The company I work for is committed to showing all sides of the story when it comes to parenting issues; this has exposed me to people on every end of the spectrum. The ones who are passionately positive are the most effective speakers. I personally had no interest in cloth diapering, but after I saw our cloth diapering expert interviewed, I ran home and tried to convince Fearless Husband it would still be worth doing for our one-year-old (I abandoned the idea as soon as I saw how expensive the cute accoutrements were – that was really what attracted me to the prospect. Those diaper covers are freaking adorable). She was non-judgmental, sweet, warm, and so excited about how she covered her baby’s ass that it was infectious.

The ones who live in a space of negativity come across as overbearing and unlikeable. They may convince someone to change out of fear or insecurity, but I believe that in most cases, they end up simply preaching to the choir. The people who are not already following their philosophy feel judged and condemned; that’s not a healthy space in which to make changes.

Once I realized this, I began worrying. As bottle feeders, we spend so much time defending ourselves; fighting against untrue stereotypes; struggling with guilt and fear and grief over not being able to breastfeed, or not being able to conform to what society has decided is Good Parenting.

Defending. Fighting. Struggling.

Not very positive words.

Which brings me to the end of this post, in which I will implore you to start using some positive words in regards to bottle feeding. Doing so is not anti-breastfeeding; it’s pro-doing- what’s- best-for-your-baby-and-you (not a catchy slogan, but I’ll work on it). I’m working with the brilliant team over at Bottle Babies to create a video using our beautiful combo-fed, exclusively pumped-fed, tube-fed, and of course formula-fed kids to show the world that bottle feeding can be a beautiful, strong, healthy choice. It’s time to give ourselves permission to feel proud of our method of feeding, whatever that method happens to be.

We’re trying to keep the details a bit under wraps for now, so if you are interested in participating (it would require taking a specific type of photo of your kiddo or kiddos) just email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com and I will send you the details.

I hope some of you will be willing to take a stand, because what could be more fearless than telling the world that you don’t have to feel guilty or incomplete – ah crap. Scratch that – what I meant to say is, what could be more fearless than telling the world that you feel proud and complete as a bottle-feeding mother? (This turning negativity to positivity is harder than it looks, people.)

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