The Leaky Boob posted a really good piece today, attempting to untangle some of the misunderstandings between well-meaning breastfeeding advocates and presumably defensive formula feeders. I thought the post was great, and I applaud Leaky Boob for trying to diffuse the breast/bottle battle.
In the same spirit, I thought it would be good to provide my own “reverse” translation guide (I hope The Leaky Boob won’t mind me stealing her idea), which can hopefully increase the trans-feeding-method communication even more.
Before I start, I want to say one thing: I think the majority of bad feelings between the two “camps” comes from the confusion between the terms “breastfeeding mom” and “breastfeeding advocate”. Most formula feeding moms who are making the typically defensive comments that Leaky Boob is referring to in her post are doing so in response to breastfeeding advocacy, not in response to posts or comments about breastfeeding. I certainly can’t speak for all formula feeders (and I don’t think breastfeeding moms are one heterogeneous group, either), but most of my readers come to this blog because they are the only people in their respective groups of friends that aren’t breastfeeding, for whatever reason. Meaning, we all have breastfeeding friends, and we support them in their endeavors – as long as they support us back. And even online, if I see a post where someone is just celebrating her accomplishments and says something a bit off-color regarding formula, I’ll ignore it. Usually the writer doesn’t mean anything by it, and why rain on her parade? It can be a hard thing to breastfeed in today’s world, and she has a right to be proud of that. I would be too. I reserve my anger and defensiveness for those who actively strike out at formula feeding parents.
Having said that, trying to clear up a misconception about formula feeding or formula feeders is not necessarily being combative or defensive. Like Leaky Boob so wisely suggested, we’re all wearing rose-colored glasses, but they come in different hues. The filter of our experiences can be so thick that it’s impossible to see another point of view clearly. And in the case of infant feeding, we are all defensive. I don’t think it’s possible not to be.
So without further ado – a few quick entries into the Formula Feeder to Breastfeeder Translation Guide:
What you say: Let’s start with an example Leaky Boob used in her post:
Then there’s the mom celebrating her success in breastfeeding, sharing “So excited we’ve made it to 6 months without even one drop of formula! GO BOOBIE MILK! WOOT!”
What you think we think: “This woman is insulting my choice because she’s proud of breastfeeding exclusively. She’s judging me that I wasn’t able to do it. Screw her!”
What we really think: “It sounds to me like she’s talking about something really challenging, and that she’s a bit scared of formula. I find that troubling, because formula is not the devil. I hope she didn’t kill herself over doing something which should be a pleasant experience.”
Why we don’t say what we think: We’re afraid that by talking about how positive our own experiences with formula were, you’ll think we are somehow downplaying your efforts, or saying that they aren’t worthwhile. We do think they are worthwhile; many of us wish we had been able to do exactly what you are so proud of doing. But on the other hand, we’ve learned – typically the hard way – that formula will allow a baby to thrive, and that a few drops of formula can actually save a dwindling breastfeeding relationship. We worry that you could’ve saved yourself a lot of suffering if you were less hard on yourself.
What you say: “I have the flu, but I know my little one won’t get it – hooray for breastfeeding!”
What you think we think: “You’re judging my choice. Formula fed kids are healthy too. So hate on me, hater!”
What we really think: “That’s awesome! Neither my formerly formula-fed ass nor my child’s got sick, so I’m happy too…hooray for formula!”
Why we don’t say what we think: We get really, really tired of trying to explain the flawed nature of breastfeeding studies, and the concept of confounding factors. We also are well aware that if we comment on our child’s good immune system, IQ, etc, people will start muttering, cough… anecdotal…cough cough… It doesn’t matter how many formula feeding parents brag about their children, we will still be seen as the exception rather than the rule. We’ve learned this because we’ve bragged about them as a defense mechanism in response to the “formula fed kids are sickly and stupid” meme a zillion times. But it sucks when you aren’t allowed to celebrate the amazing healing superpowers of your baby just because he is fed from a can and not a breast. We would love to celebrate with you; both breastmilk and formula have nourished our kids well enough that their immune systems – probably bolstered by good genetics and lifestyle advantages, like not being in daycare or having snotty older toddlers as siblings- have been able to do their jobs. Hooray!
What you say: “Until we stop seeing bottles everywhere, I’ll never be able to breastfeed in public without getting dirty looks.”
What you think we think: “Well, you should be covering up. Why not just pump and use a bottle?”
What we really think: “You should absolutely be able to nurse in public; it’s total bullshit. But I kind of think our society’s obsession with breasts and nudity in general is a bigger axe to grind than my bottle.”
Why we don’t say what we mean: We know, we know. If bottles weren’t prevalent, and breastfeeding were the norm, no one would see breasts as sexual. But in Western society, breasts ARE sexual. In fact, many of us derive sexual pleasure from our breasts. Katherine Dettweyler may blame that on programming, but still. It’s going to take a lot of time and therapy for our culture to collectively stop seeing breasts at least as dual-purpose body parts; being that we live in a puritanical culture, anything remotely having to do with sex is going to be scandalous to some degree. I’m not sure having less bottles around is really going to make things any easier for nursing moms, and what it is doing is furthering the divide between bottle-/combo-feeders and exclusive breastfeeders, rather than allowing us to work together to make the world more women-friendly and baby-friendly.
What you say: “Breast is best/All babies are born to be breastfed/ Breastfeeding is the most important thing a mother can do for her baby/Breast is normal./Formula is the longest lasting uncontrolled experiment in the history of humankind…”
What you think we think: “You’re making me feel bad for my choice! You’re rubbing salt in the wound and scaring me.”
What we really think: “Really? I hadn’t heard.” (Insert sarcasm here.)
Why we don’t say what we think: These sayings are blasted all over Twitter, Facebook, etc., and have been for years. We know you are probably regurgitating them because you want to bolster a new mom’s confidence. We hope that you aren’t posting these just to gloat about your choice, and that they are said without much thought about formula feeding parents; that you expect we will just ignore them, or even better, change our ways for the next baby.
But here’s what we really want to say:
Yes, breast is best, until it’s not.
My baby was not born to be breastfed, as she was intolerant of my milk/had a major tongue tie that couldn’t be resolved/almost starved to death.
Breastfeeding is not the most important thing a mother can do for her baby. The most important thing a mother can do for her baby is be there, be present, and be emotionally healthy – and for me, that meant I had to formula feed.
Breast is normal, in a biological sense, but so is having a child at 15 and having a mother be the caregiver. Breast is normal, but so is being able to conceive on your own. Breast is normal, but being sexually abused was not normal; having a mastectomy at 32 was not normal; having to be on medications which are contraindicated was not normal. Breast was not normal, for me.
Just because formula is the longest lasting uncontrolled experiment in the history of humankind, does not mean that the results of that experiment have been, or will be, negative.
Again, I want to thank Leaky Boob for her article; I thought it was a step in the right direction, and I really hope that my inability to stop being a smartass won’t get in the way of furthering the discourse.
I want to go watch Grey’s Anatomy and forget about the fact that there is arsenic in organic rice syrup, so I’m opening it up to the peanut gallery for discussion. FFFs, care to translate any other common miscommunications? And breastfeeding advocates – what about you? What do you think we are hearing incorrectly?