FFF Friday: “What is wrong with women making choices that enhance their happiness?”

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 also are 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.

In light of recent current events, this FFF Friday post from Ellie reaffirms a few key facts:
 
1. Women who choose not to breastfeed for non-medical reasons are not necessarily naive or ill-informed, and have often made carefully-weighed decisions based on extensive soul-searching and research
 
2. The guilt and pressure related to breastfeeding is not simply a side-effect of the ongoing mommy wars, but is also coming from the intense focus on breastfeeding that has permeated the medical community.
 
3. We must be careful not to over-simplify the relationship between sexuality and breasts, nor should we forget that pragmatism has a place in motherhood. 
 
Oh, and one more thing the following post illustrates: the FFF community is made up of some of the most honest, intelligent, and insightful people I’ve ever encountered, both online and in real life. You all make me feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to “know” you.
 
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
 
The FFF

Ellie’s Story

In my uber-crunchy city, meeting a highly educated, liberal, mid-thirties mother who doesn’t even try to breastfeed is probably as rare as a unicorn-sighting. Call me a unicorn then, because I planned to formula feed from the start. Part of it was logistical: I have an at-will contract job with no guarantee of not being fired for taking leave, so I only felt comfortable taking 6 weeks (unpaid) leave. My office doesn’t have a pump room and again, no job protection or employee rights for me, so I’d need to formula feed from 6 weeks on. It seemed silly to start for only 6 weeks, then deal with up to 2 weeks of milk coming in for so little actual breast feeding.

Plus, my husband and I were committed to being equal parents. While that’s possible with breastfeeding,  there’s so much momentum created in the beginning of a child’s life. We didn’t want to establish a pattern in which only I can address our kid’s needs.

My other reason was much more personal: after two miscarriages, I’d been pregnant/maybe preggo for a year and a half. I was tired: of not getting a drink with friends, of caffeine deprivation, of curtailing my food choices, of exhaustion, pain, and carrying around extra weight. I wanted my body back. With a high risk pregnancy with some hints of IUGR and other problems,  I also felt, in some fundamental way, that my body just wasn’t up to the task of providing for this baby. I was incredibly relieved that he made it out safely and formula would take away the anxiety that my body was a risky, insufficient source for  my child.

My breasts are also pretty integral to my own sexuality. The cognitive dissonance of “breasts=food! No, wait: breasts=sexy-time!” plus potential pain, lack of libido and persistent numbness after breastfeeding scared me. It angered me when breastfeeding advocates insulted women scared of ruining their breasts or sex lives as dupes who see breasts as solely for men. My feelings were about my own relationship with sexuality, and has little to do with my partner’s.

My choice was cemented after hearing so many other women’s experiences. Despite the propaganda that almost all women can breastfeed successfully, in my survey of six recentish moms, two couldn’t breastfeed for physical reasons, one hated it, and one had such substantial difficulties with it that her first months were a living hell. The two people who really enjoyed it were stay-at-home mothers or quit their jobs soon after giving birth. Once I gave birth, the stories just kept pouring in from women who had soldiered through it but hated it or had to cut out most foods from their diet to deal with an allergy, or had to tape tubes to their breasts to convince their kid to latch. I wanted to sidestep those potential problems.

Finally, part of my job is to analyze scientific research with a skeptical eye, so I’d scanned through the reams of poorly constructed studies and found the benefits of breastfeeding to be pretty modest and hazy.  Did it seem like, on average, breastfeeding was better than not? Probably, all else being equal. But was it the kind of decision I would ever be able to pin a specific problem in my kid to? No. I don’t decide to drink alcohol or exercise or avoid cheese or live in a certain area based on flimsy epidemiological data, so why would I make a decision that would end my career for a good long while based on that data?

When all the establishment is giving you the hard sell on something, and yet less than half of women, despite all this cultural pressure, continue after giving it a fair shot, my spider sense tingled and I was skeptical of its claim that breast is universally best.

Plus I learned something very poignantly after two miscarriages: you can second-guess the potential causes all day long, but in the end, it is out of your hands and the science is so fuzzy that you will never know if exercising or drinking that sangria before you got the positive test played a role. Similarly, you will never know whether you kid has asthma or is less smart or has stomach problems because of formula feeding. You just have to live your life as best you can without basing every decision on fear of the worst-case scenario.

So anyways, I decided not to breastfeed. Friends who’d been there were supportive and recognized the difficulties, but the medical establishment laid on the guilt.  My OB tried to pressure me by claiming that I’d get my figure back sooner, that it was cheaper, I’d reduce my risk of breast cancer, and that it was better for baby. At the hospital, I made it clear that I wasn’t breastfeeding. I had an emergency C-section and our baby wound up briefly in the NICU. A lactation consultant came to the room while I still had the shakes to ask about pumping colostrum. When I declined, she looked at me like I was planning to spoon feed my child crack. Every doctor and nurse asked about it, and then gave an “educational” shpiel, as if the only reasons a woman wouldn’t choose to breastfeed were ignorance, a double mastectomy, or being the Wicked Witch of the West. The onslaught finally got to me and I gave breastfeeding a lackluster shot when my milk came in, but he cried and I cried from the pain and it didn’t seem like he got much milk, so I didn’t bother again. My nipples were scabbed and numb for a few weeks after that one experience.

My little one is still pretty young, just six weeks old, but so far he is doing well. Despite that, the breastfeeding guilt machine has  wormed its way into my brain.   Hubby’s family called me a brainwashed American career woman and harlot for not breastfeeding. Baby has acid reflux and gas which might not be as bad if he were breastfed.  When he didn’t smile at 4 weeks, I worried I had made him “stupid” by formula feeding him. And it’s possible the oxytocin released by breast feeding would have alleviated my PPD. The guilt has only made my inadequacy and depression stronger. Plus, it’s hard to join new parent groups when wary of outing myself as a bottle feeder, despite knowing that could help with the PPD. The guilt is really terrible because a) that ship sailed when my milk dried up, so what’s the point of laying it on so thick?, and b) it just makes all the other struggles of new parenthood that much more isolating.

Yet despite that, my husband has been able to do half the feedings and child care, and when he goes on paternity leave, he can feed the munchkin without some sort of crazy juggling routine. The little one has formed a strong bond with his dad already, we’ve both been able to get about 6 to 7 hours of sleep from the get-go, and our sex life is not decimated. It’s also been really amazing to watch my mom and dad be able to feed him. Hopefully as our baby gets older and is fine, my guilt will subside.

In some ways my story may reaffirm the “lazy, careerist, selfish formula feeder” stereotype, but that just highlights the incredibly problematic mentality that surrounds breastfeeding and motherhood in general. What, exactly, is wrong with women making choices that enhance their happiness? What, exactly, is wrong with making choices that make your life a little easier as long as they don’t do real harm to your children?  Our society fetishizes sacrifice for its own sake, and ignores the reality that all parenting decisions are trade-offs between the ideal and reality, between cost and benefit–especially when women bear the brunt of those trade-offs. Studies show that bilingual kids have many cognitive advantages, but we don’t all move to Switzerland!

Breastfeeding is awesome and way easier than formula for many. We should absolutely remove structural barriers to breastfeeding (more workplace protections, support for public breastfeeding, maybe baby friendly workplaces ). But lots of people have reasons for not doing so, and that choice should be considered just as valid as other parenting decisions.

If I had another kid, I would probably give breastfeeding a shot, assuming my job situation was better. There definitely are some conveniences, such as not having to bring or wash a bottle or get formula feeding stains out of clothes. It would be awesome to just roll over at night, pull up my shirt, and feed in my sleep. But even if I did breastfeed, I wouldn’t see it as somehow “doing better” the next time, and if it wasn’t working out, I’d have zero qualms about formula feeding. It would be a personal decision that was best for our family at that time.

 

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Share and share alike! Send me your story – formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Dear Mayor Bloomberg: Please stop the smoke and mirrors

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

I’m sure you’re sick to death of hearing about the Latch On NYC initiative. There’s been so many blog posts, opinion pieces, counter-opinion pieces, etc., inspired by the announcement of this policy… I felt it was redundant to add more fuel to the fire, after I said my piece the week the policy was made public. I was hoping to avoid making this personal, as we’re both from the same town (in fact, my mom and you were neighbors growing up) and I always had a soft spot in my heart for the local boy made good.

But unfortunately, your camp has made that an impossibility. Not necessarily because of the policy itself (although I do have many problems with it), but because they have pulled the most transparent, juvenile stunt that essentially begs for caustic commentary.

Back to the policy for a minute: I’m sure you’re aware that it has changed dramatically. So much so that everything I talked about in my prior post now sounds like the rantings of a paranoid moron, with a fondness for extrapolation. And it’s not just me – smart, rational women like Katherine Stone are enduring an onslaught of patronizing op/eds which reduce their concerns over personal autonomy and women’s rights to a “misunderstanding” of the policy.

I have serious concerns about the capabilities of our country’s journalists for not pointing out the giant, defecating elephant in the room: the reason there is a disconnect between what those of us who have raged against the policy wrote, and what is now being written by people sounding far more rational and balanced, is that the literature that was initially published online by your Dept of Health has been erased from existence. In its stead lies a “Myths and Facts” document, a step-by-step dismantling of the concerns brought forth by the initiative’s critics.

The outlining of the plan which made me so hysterical? They literally made it disappear. As in, whoosh, the hat became a rabbit. No public announcement admitting that your administration had overstepped or misjudged; not even an acknowledgment that the policy had been altered or revised. Just one day there, next day not.

Let’s walk through the new “Myths and Facts” document which took the place of the old “FAQ”. Unfortunately, I did not take screen shots of the original – I wish to god I did, but I naively never thought your office would condone such a blatantly disrespectful, Orwellian action. Luckily, a fantastic blogger at a site called Breastfeeding Without BS copied the sections I found most troubling verbatim on her post about the initiative, so we still have access to the text as it originally appeared.

What the new document says:

Myth: The city is requiring hospitals to put formula under lock and key.

Fact: Hospitals are not being required to keep formula under lock and key under the City’s voluntary initiative. Formula will be fully available to any mother who chooses to feed her baby with formula. What the program does is encourage hospitals to end what had long been common practice: putting promotional formula in a mother’s room, or in a baby’s bassinet or in a go-bag – even for breastfeeding mothers who had not requested it.

What the old document said:

What does it mean to restrict access to formula?

Restricting access to formula means storing formula away from where it is easily visible and accessible to staff and mothers. Access to formula is restricted by both:

…Storing formula in a locked location, such as a storage room, cabinet or an automated medication system or, storing formula in a location outside, but reasonably near, the maternity unit……Limiting the number of hospital staff with access to formula by implementing a system to identify which hospital member accessed the formula supply; some examples are a log book, a code or a key system. 

 

Mayor, I’m confused. How is keeping formula in a “locked location”, available to only a “limited number of hospital staff” who should use a “log book, code or a key system”, making formula “fully available to any mother who chooses to feed her baby with formula”? I don’t recall if the original document explicitly stated that hospitals must keep formula locked up or if it was merely suggested, but in either case, I don’t think it’s a stretch to see why this particular “myth” seemed like a scary truth to many of us.

 

What the new document says:

Myth: Mothers who want formula will have to convince a nurse to sign it out by giving a medical reason.

Fact: Mothers can and always will be able to simply ask for formula and receive it free of charge in the hospital – no medical necessity required, no written consent required.

Myth: Mothers requesting formula will be subject to a lecture from the nurse.

Fact: The City’s new initiative does not set a requirement that mothers asking for formula receive a lecture or mandated talk. For the last three years, New York State Law under the Breastfeeding Bill of Rights, has required that mothers simply be provided accurate information on the benefits of breastfeeding. This requirement has not changed under the City’s new initiative.

What the original document said:

What do we tell our staff to do when mothers (families) request infant formula? 

While breastfeeding is healthier for both mothers and babies, staff must respect a mother’s infant feeding choice. Educating mothers and families about breastfeeding and providing encouragement and support, both prenatally and after birth, is the best way to ensure breastfeeding success in your hospital.

While in the hospital your staff can:
Assess if breastfeeding is going well and encourage the mother to keep trying.
Provide education and support to mothers who are experiencing difficulties.
If the mother still insists on receiving formula, document it in the chart along with the  reason and distribute only the amount of formula needed for the feeding.
Train staff in breastfeeding support (CLC, IBCLC) who can be available to assist new mothers at all times regardless of day, night or weekends.

 

Notice the difference in language and tone here. “Mothers can and always will be able to simply ask for formula…no medical reason or written consent needed….” versus ‘Assess if breastfeeding is going well and encourage the mother to keep trying…if the mother still insists on receiving formula, document it in the chart along with the reason and distribute only the amount of formula needed for the feeding.” We’re talking semantics here, but policy is all about semantics – and the “myth” sounds an awful lot like what was written in their initial, official FAQ literature. Obviously it does not state simplistically that moms will have to “convince a nurse” that there is a medical reason, or be “subject to a lecture”, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to imagine that this will be what ends up happening when the policy enlists health care providers to “encourage” a mom who has already made a decision – for whatever personal reason – that she wants to supplement; I don’t think it’s overreacting to take umbrage at the terminology “if the mother still insists” or the fact that nurses are told to only give the amount of formula needed for that feeding. As BF without BS so eloquently put it:

But what does “Assess if breastfeeding is going well and encourage the mother to keep trying” actually mean in practice? If the mother says clearly “I don’t want to do this any more,” is the nurse required to keep urging her to continue? Where do you draw the line between support and nagging? The initiative gives us no clear answers. Certainly, the use of the word “insist” here is deeply problematic. My understanding is that a person only “insists” on doing something when they continue to state their need after having experienced a considerable amount of pressure to do the opposite.

 

What the new document says:

Myth: Latch on NYC is taking away and/or jeopardizing a woman’s right to choose how to feed her baby.

Fact: The initiative is designed to support mothers who decide to breastfeed. For those women, the program asks hospital staff to respect the mother’s wishes and refrain from supplementing her baby with formula (unless it becomes medically necessary or the mother changes her mind). It does not restrict the mother’s nursing options in any way – nor does it restrict access to formula for those who want it.

Myth: Formula will be forbidden in some fashion.

Fact: If a mother decides she wants to use formula (or a combination of formula and breastmilk), she will be supported in her decision and her baby will be given formula during the hospital stay. If a breastfeeding mother changes her mind or requests formula at any time, her baby will be given formula.

 

In the original document, considering there is no further instruction given on subsequent requests, I think it was fair fair to assume – or at least to fear – that a lecture and limited formula will be the protocol for each and every feeding. It would have been easy enough for the authors of this document to add “Once it has been established that the mother has made an informed decision to formula feed, she should be given formula without further questioning, upon request” or even better, “a supply of ready-to-feed, pre-sterilized bottles and nipples should be left in her room for feedings.” As a formula feeding mother, that is what  ”not restrict(ing) the mother’s nursing options in any way “ and not “restrict(ing) access to formula for those who want it” means.

 

What the new document says:

Myth: Positive benefits from breastfeeding are being overblown or aren’t true.

Fact: There is overwhelming evidence, supported by national and international health organizations, showing that breastfeeding produces better health outcomes for babies and mothers than formula. For mothers, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Babies that are breastfed have a lower risk of ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, as well as childhood asthma, than babies who are formula fed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics just published new guidance to pediatricians in February 2012, reaffirming the evidence that the health benefits of breastfeeding over formula are clear: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full.pdf+html

What the “Initiative Description” (which is still available – for now – here) says:

Formula feeding markedly increases serious health risks for infants, including:

o 257% excess risk of hospitalization for lower respiratory infection

o 178% excess risk of diarrhea and vomiting o 100% excess risk of acute ear infections

o 67% excess risk of asthma for infants with a family history of asthma (35% for infants with no family history of asthma)

 

Again, the language here is markedly different. The spin doctors who have performed surgery on this document are skilled; I’ll give them that. I don’t think most of us would argue that there have been “better health outcomes” reported for breastfed babies; it’s the inflated representation of the statistics that we found misleading – a “100% excess risk of acute ear infections” sounds like formula fed babies have a 100% greater chance of getting ear infections to the untrained ear, and most of the NY public probably doesn’t have an advanced understanding of statistics.  But that’s almost irrelevant. The more important point here is that neither of these passages addresses the concerns that scholars like Joan Wolf have brought up, or the writers who have used her work to illustrate their essays: concerns like the confusion of correlation and causation, and the inherent flaws in breastfeeding studies, which make these statistics (even in their non-puffed-up form) questionable. Where’s the acknowledgment that even the literature used to support these claims has a clear warning that these very issues need to be addressed?

As I stated in my original post on Latch On NYC, I think it is a positive thing to support breastfeeding by not shoving formula in a mother’s face at the first sign of breastfeeding challenges. I think it’s wonderful to offer more lactation support, and to encourage rooming in, and not insist on formula supplementation unless it is medically indicated.  But this is not  all that Latch On NYC, as initially put forth to the public, is doing. Notice that there has not been the sort of outrage we’ve seen regarding this initiative towards any other Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative in the country. This outrage has come from breastfeeding moms and formula feeding moms alike. It has come from Democrats and Republicans and Independents. It has come from people who don’t even have children, nor plan to. There was a reason for this outrage, and I think it is unspeakably rotten for the mayor’s office to perform this rather amateur feat of smoke and mirrors to make it look like the vast majority that disapprove of this act are either anti-breastfeeding or ignorant.

Mayor Bloomberg, I hope that the scarier aspects of this initiative have been erased along with the document that outlined them. I’d much rather have the expectant mother of NYC be spared from injustices than be “right” about what I feared regarding this policy. But I would implore you to come clean about how this all went down; to allow this initiative to start out on the right foot. It will not help raise breastfeeding rates to have women going into    NYC labor and delivery suites with their cockles up, ready for battle. There are elements of this plan which should be rightly celebrated, and you have essentially rendered that impossible by allowing for such dirty warfare. Those of us who raged against the original plan are not a bunch of uneducated militants who work for the formula companies. We are mothers, daughters, and concerned sisters, some of whom have experienced the sting of breastfeeding “failure” on a personal level, and others who have studied this discourse and its historical relevance at length, and simply feel that there are better ways to support breastfeeding than to frame formula as the enemy. I beg you to sit down with some of us and listen to what we have to say, and at the very least, make the original FAQ PDF reappear. It won’t require magic, just the small bit of courage it takes to admit you were wrong and promise to try better next time. We are all trying to win the same war (better support for new moms, and healthier babies for NYC and the country at large), so let’s not get ourselves caught up in friendly fire…okay?

Best,

Suzanne Barston, FearlessFormulaFeeder.com

 

FFF Friday: “Why being bad at breastfeeding made me better at nursing”

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 also are 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 hope that if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, your outlook on health-related studies – heck, all studies – has dramatically changed. As Andrea points out so beautifully below, once you start looking at statistics as people, it’s impossible to see these things in black and white. Instead of being bitter about her experience, Andrea celebrates the gift of gaining such a mature and sensitive perspective. I wish she didn’t have to go through all that she did to get there, but I have to admit I’m thrilled that she will now be out in the world, fighting the good fight. The public health field could use more women like Andrea, don’t you think?

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Andrea’s Story:
Why Being Bad at Breastfeeding Made Me Better at Nursing

I would like to share a little bit about my breastfeeding experience, coming from a public health nurse who spends all day surrounded by problems like obesity, smoking, etc. Breastfeeding promotion isn’t directly my job but it is closely tied with my focus area. Here is my story of how breastfeeding gave me a better perspective on life and my job.

Let me begin by telling you all how incredibly perfect I am, or I thought I was. I don’t smoke, am at a healthy weight, walk 3 miles a day, wear my seat belt, have great cholesterol levels, and practice safe sex. Health was not only my game but my livelihood. I was a Purveyor of Public Health Pompousness, a Sultan of Smug. When I was pregnant I had dutifully made all my prenatal appointments and had memorized scores of rules and guidelines on how to raise a healthy child.

Did I plan on breastfeeding my child exclusively for the first 6 months and then until he was at least a year just like a good Public Health Princess should? Duh! Of course I would! And I’d do it smiling and smugly, probably judging others all the while.

Fast forward to 4 days after delivery, we had just been direct admitted to the hospital on a Sunday after his doctor got the lab report showing that after a night of breastfeeding every 7-40 minutes, my tiny son’s bilirubin had actually increased to what was now a dangerous level. It turns out what everyone had told me was “cluster feeding” was more like “starvation”. The nurse now weighed my son, had me breastfeed him, and then while she was out of the room I weighed him again. “Nurse?” I called out into the hallway. “Your scale is messed up, it says he only got 4 cc’s of breastmilk”. Unfortunately, the scale was fine. I was not.

I then learned that to keep him from having kernicterus and deposits on his brain he would have to get formula. I ran into a brick wall. Unfortunately, the wall produced more breast milk than I did. I went to the bathroom and cried. I didn’t want my perfect son to be tainted with what people who have never been in my situation call “artificial formula”. Not only would I be letting myself down, but also the World Health Organization! What if those guys found out? My perfect public health report card would be marred with an F for Formula or in my mind, Failure.

I fed him the formula, and he did what I had never seen him do–look content. And sleep. I was so mad that he was so much happier from a substance that didn’t come from me, but I was so happy to see him finally calm down after never having slept for much longer than an hour in the four days since he was born. After that I continued to nurse, feed formula, and pump in various combinations despite the fact that his diet was now at least 90% formula. The baby developed colic and seemed to never sleep. Postpartum depression reared its ugly head, which was unfortunately, surprisingly, and acutely exacerbated by pumping. After a few more sore, emotionally and physically drained weeks, I quit altogether. I had planned on breastfeeding for a year and barely made it a month. I would have never dreamed I’d be so terrible at something I thought was so important.

I returned to my job at a public health agency, acutely aware that I was in the percentage that we were trying to “fix” and having to explain to almost every person there that no, I wasn’t breastfeeding and no, I didn’t need a key to the mother’s room. It just hadn’t worked out for us. Though my co-workers were friendly and supportive, I still had an overwhelming sense of being judged. Maybe not by them so much as the set of superhero-themed posters I’d walk past every day at work like the one of a caped woman’s chest proclaiming “Breastfeeding-the True Superpower” that happened to hang 15 feet from my desk. Or maybe it was the news headlines in my inbox of the latest and greatest breastfeeding-related statistic, or even the can of baby formula that read like a warning label “Breastmilk is best for your baby…Andrea”. (I still don’t understand why formula makers make you feel bad about buying formula). Maybe I was hallucinating a little bit, but I felt as if everywhere I’d go I would be barraged by these well-meaning but personally hurtful messages. Even though I’d done the best I could, I still felt like a failure.

The reason I am bringing up the subject of judgement, whether real or purely imaginary, is because I had only recently discovered that I was not perfect and wasn’t taking the news well at all. I would rather not sit on the “wrong” side of a public health statistic. I felt like these women (some real, some imagined) who produce buckets of breastmilk and could bask in the glory of the AAP guidelines, those who have so much were judging those of us who had so little. The nerve! They have never walked in my shoes, so of course they shun formula. It’s easy to balk at formula when you’ve never needed it for your newborn’s survival! Then I looked in a mirror. Uh oh.

As a nurse I make more money than the average person in my city. I have never been in a situation that could even come close to real poverty. And yet I have, knowingly or unknowingly, judged the poor. Yet how could I, who have so much, judge others, who have so little? And without even knowing what it’s like to have so little, ever!

I get angry when I read about breastfeeding statistics. It doesn’t take into account everything that me and my baby went through (like how he got his tongue clipped because it was supposed to help, or how I had to go through horrible pain to produce what scant supply I could, or how formula was actually medically necessary), it reduces us into categories and not real human beings with real needs. Again, I looked in the mirror. What about obese people when they step on the scale? Do they want to be dehumanized into a number of pounds or defined by a body mass index? What do they feel when they are constantly hit with messages about how they are too fat and the obesity epidemic is destroying our country?

What about people who smoke? Is this what they feel like, that their statistic or label of “smoker” doesn’t tell the whole story of how hard they’ve tried to quit? Just guessing here, but they probably want to be seen for their successes and not reduced to the Fs on their public health report cards. And who am I to preach about how people need to lose weight when I’ve never had to lose a significant amount of weight in my life? Who am I to tell people not to smoke when I’ve never had to quit smoking or battle addiction of any kind? Or talk about safe sex when I’ve never been unable to afford birth control or ever had a partner unwilling to use protection? I have no idea the struggles people go through with their weight or eating habits or smoking, or what I would do if I only had $20 and I had to use it for food and make it last a week. I would probably eat a lot of bad food, and it is now abundantly clear that I am probably the world’s worst nurse.

My church said that every time you are sad, your heart gets bigger (it also said not to judge others lest you be judged yourself but I thought they were talking to other people and not me). I know that from personal experience to be true. Breastfeeding troubles made me incredibly sad, but that mental anguish morphed into self awareness, humility, empathy, and love. I am now much more sympathetic to other people that public health tries to fix, and to other mothers that may feel marginalized like I did, for whatever reason. Because I’ve had the gift of feeling looked down upon, I don’t want to contribute to any other person on the planet feeling like that, ever. I say gift because without feeling judgement and failure, I fear I would have gone through life as an overprivileged, under-aware snob–not the best qualities for a nurse or a mom or any other human being.

I look at statistics differently now. I try not to say or write anything at work without imagining a human face behind it. I try incredibly hard not to judge others for their decisions or for their life situations that might have not been a result of their decision making at all, and I try to politely point that out to co-workers who are under the same perfection delusion that I was once in. I wholeheartedly promote having support for mothers that want to breastfeed because it is hard, while viewing formula as a fine choice (if even a choice at all). I try, with varying degrees of success, to not judge the judgers because I’ve been a judger, too. A bad one. And in my spare time I stare googly-eyed at the beautiful child I’m lucky enough to have.

Having all that hard-won knowledge and pedestal-off-knocking has made me much more effective at my job as an imperfect public health nurse, an OK mother, an occassional blog commenter, and a most-of-the-time decent human being. Sure I still have a little pain that things turned out the way they did, but it’s that pain that taught me how to be human.

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Share your story with the FFF community: E-mail me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

The Startling FFF Disclosure Post

I was recently alerted that there’s a Facebook page whose status updates and threads mostly focus on finding new ways to insult me. Insults about my intelligence, my motivation, my writing (that one hurts the most, to be honest). And of course, it is chock full of the requisite accusations that I am being paid by the formula industry to write this blog.

My reaction to this isn’t outrage or horror, but rather a half-hearted meh. I’m used to this crap by now. Between my writing and acting careers, I’ve dealt with my fair share of ego-blows, and my skin is appropriately thick. I know what I write about isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. (And some people really don’t like tea.) Also, I’ve realized I’d better get used to it, because with my book coming out in a few months, I’ll likely be attracting more vitriol and suspicion than ever.

Then today it hit me… I’ll likely be attracting more vitriol and suspicion than ever. Holy hell. I’m going to get sick of defending myself pretty quickly.

So in honor of the vitriol and suspicion I expect to be arriving at my door in lieu of royalty checks (because let’s be real, books make no money these days, especially for first time writers authoring academic tomes about infant feeding), here is my “Startling Disclosure Post To Save Those Who Think I’m a Shill for “Big Forma” From Endless Hours of (Mostly) Fruitless Investigation“.

***

Well, hello there, vitriolic and suspicious individual! I assume you’ve come here because you are trying to unearth some dirt about me. As a researcher myself, I know how time consuming this can be. And since, if you’re trying to expose me, my very existence has likely caused you hours of consternation already, I figured I’d do you a solid and save you the work.

A dark (chocolate) past

From an early age, the FFF really liked TV. Even the commercials. And there was one, with a supremely catchy jingle, which she used to go around humming:

N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestle’s makes the very best…chooooclate.

In her defense, she had no idea that Nestle had done despicable things in the third world. Ever since finding this out, she has done intense approach-avoidance therapy to get the ditty out of her head. She’s even resorted to listening to Carly Rae Jepson *to overwrite the catchiness of the dreaded company’s jingle. Hey, I’ve just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s the truth, so lay off me, maybe?

Still, there is no denying that she has eaten her fair share of Crunch Bars. I’m sure she’d plead that this does not mean she is in any way condoning Nestle’s actions in regards to formula marketing, but that it just means she is addicted to sugar. Liar, liar, pants on fire.

*warning – if you click on this link and hear this song, you may never get it out of your head. I mean never. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

An Insidious “Reality” Check

Back in 2008, when FFF was still pursuing her acting career, she applied – on a lark – for a reality show about expectant parents. She somehow convinced her husband to go along with it (although it was probably the lure of a year’s worth of free diapers rather than her powers of persuasion that pushed him over the edge) and the two ended up being featured for the remaining six months of their pregnancy on a web series for Pampers.com. The original series was 100% breastfeeding friendly – so much so that they casually glossed over how she was feeding her baby in the wrap-up episode, rather than using the footage from the planned breastfeeding episode (because that footage was so horrifying and depressing that if they had used it, it would have been perceived as far more anti-breastfeeding than it would be to avoid the subject of infant feeding altogether).

About a year later- right around the time FFF was pitching her book to publishers – she was contacted by the producers and asked if she and her family would be willing to be part of a follow-up series on parenting young kids, also for Pampers. The family agreed, signed contracts, and began filming.

That series ended up being hosted not only on the Pampers site as originally planned, but also the website of baby food company Beech Nut, and… wait for it… Similac. A formula company.

::waiting for the audible gasps::

Yes, it’s true. One might say that the FFF indirectly received money from Similac for being part of a documentary series about parenting. Granted, the money she received was actually from the independent, completely non-formula-industry-connected LA production company who created the series, who later sold the rights to Similac. Granted, the series followed three families, two of whom were parenting toddlers well past the traditional breastfeeding/formula days, and one with a newborn who was exclusively breastfed. And granted, the FFF had no control over what happened to the series once she was signed on to it, which is evidenced by the fact that while she was writing this post, and went to find the links for the videos, she discovered that certain organizations have been using the videos to support a particular political cause which she absolutely does not agree with, and the thought of this really makes her want to scream oh holy hell why did I sell my soul for a couple of free diapers… But these things shouldn’t matter. What matters is that we now have proof – the FFF was partially funded by a formula company!!

(Don’t believe her when she gives the lame excuse that the formula company didn’t even know she wrote about formula feeding at the time, no one ever interviewed her prior to filming about her experiences with breastfeeding, and that the series had fudge-all to do with her platform as the FFF, but rather the fact that the first Pampers series did really well, probably because no one knew about her controversial alter-ego. Or that the main reason that she had used a nom de plume for her blog in the first place was because she’d been worried it might reflect poorly on Pampers if anyone found out that their poster child for motherhood was a formula feeding blogger.)

You can see the series on YouTube still (I’m a bit surprised that none of you have brought this up yet, as it’s pretty easy to find, and certainly no secret.) Take a look, and prepare to be shocked at the overwhelming evidence that FFF is in fact a pawn of the formula industry, not a person with feelings and friends and flab and opinions which were formed through countless hours of research and introspection.

The original – A Parent is Born

The second season –  Welcome to Parenthood

Further Evidence That FFF, AKA Suzanne Barston, is Evil Incarnate

Now that the jig is up, and we know that FFF is really Suzanne Barston, a Nestle-jingle-singing member of the infant formula cabal, let’s dig a little deeper into her sordid personal life:

  • Once (maybe three times) her daughter ate dog food because Suzanne wasn’t paying attention. 

  • Her husband is a photographer, and one of his biggest clients is a lingerie company. In other words, he is contributing to the sexualization of breasts. Thankfully, the breasts in question are mostly silicone. So he’s mostly contributing to the sexualization of silicone.

  • She doesn’t always recycle.

  • She bribes her kids with gummy worms.

  • She really likes the band Phish, which we all know means that she is a dirty hippie and most likely a drug addict. 

  • She watches The Bachelor. And not in an ironic sort of way.

  • She used to be an actress. Not only is she not an academic or physician, she spent the majority of her adult years essentially playing make believe for a living. She’s probably a really good liar, which is why she’s been able to convince so many women that formula feeding isn’t something to feel guilty about. (Let’s ignore the fact that she must not have been a very good actress, considering she now runs a money pit of a blog and eeks out a living writing articles about gout rather than starring in The Office.) 

  • She went on a few dates in high school with the guy who wrote Go The F**k to Sleep. This makes sense, because morally questionable people who hate babies are attracted to each other!

  • For the majority of her first pregnancy, she was seriously concerned that she could never love a baby as much as she loved her dog. 

  • She went to Northwestern University, which is known to have ties to the formula industry. (Okay, I totally made that one up, but who knows. They might.)
  • She’s a snarky smartass who is totally belittling the fact that anyone who has the nerve to have an alternative opinion on the subject of formula feeding is assumed to be benefiting from it financially. She might even have the nerve to argue that there are plenty of people making money off breastfeeding moms, from pumps to breastfeeding fashions to breastmilk screening kits to lactation services, and that it would be really nice if all breastfeeding-related bloggers would take a pledge to cease all advertising of these products and services immediately so that their blogs will not be affected by sponsor bias.  She’d probably think it was funny to sarcastically accuse people like Jack Newman of being in the pockets of the nursing bra industry, because what other financial incentive could he have to write books about breastfeeding? Seriously, that FFF is an idiot, because anyone who writes with zealous intolerance about parenting is doing it for purely altruistic and noble reasons, while people who advocate for acceptance and support of all parenting and feeding methods are delusional jerks. Or paid by the formula companies. One or the other.

Hopefully, that should give you enough fuel for your anti-FFF fire. If not, feel free to make some stuff up. Just make it really juicy, okay? The Bachelor is on hiatus and I am seriously in need of some good made-up drama.

FFF Friday: “It takes more than breastmilk to make a good mother…”

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 also are 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 Sarah, whose story is below, makes a really interesting observation about how perfectionism and the concept of “failure” play into our breastfeeding experiences. I know we’ve talked this issue to death, but I think it’s worth continuing the conversation. For many of us who come to motherhood later in life, the loss of control over our lives can be intensely disconcerting. Control is so intimately tied to a myriad of mental health issues – eating disorders, OCD, depression – and parenting, in general, requires a certain degree of surrender, emotionally. So when your physical self decides to punk out, it can rock an already unsteady boat. As Sarah discovered, sometimes you need to adjust your plans to keep that boat from capsizing.

And as always, let me reiterate: I realize that (an embarrassingly small amount of) research suggests that only 2-5% of women are physically incapable of providing sufficient milk for their babies. 2-5% still means a significant amount of women. These voices are not some snidely stated statistic. Sarah is one of these voices. Listen up.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF
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Sarah’s Story

My struggle with breastfeeding (and subsequent formula feeding) is different from the ones I’ve read here on FFF, and yet it’s exactly the same. Like many others, I planned on breastfeeding my child. I took the breastfeeding class offered by my hospital, I read the books written by LLL and the AAP, I lurked on the breastfeeding forums so that I would know what kinds of struggles I might face and how to overcome them. I knew it would be hard, I was up to the challenge and I felt fully prepared for anything that would come my way.
Fully prepared, except for what DID happen. We had no latch problems, no nipple pain – breastfeeding was a wonderful experience and I loved every second of it. For 3 1/2 weeks, I thought everything was going great. I thought the reason we were camped out on the couch all day long was due to the cluster feedings I’d read so much about – it didn’t occur to me that he was always nursing because I wasn’t making enough and he was hungry. I was a new mom, so I didn’t know what to expect my breasts to feel like; in retrospect, I never felt engorged, they never felt firm, they never leaked – those were big clues that my milk wasn’t in and I wasn’t producing properly. But after an amazingly easy pregnancy and L&D (seriously – 6 hours of labor, no drugs, 3 pushes, and my 9lb 4oz son came out with no tearing and without breaking a sweat) I figured my luck was just continuing. How great was it that I didn’t have to deal with leaking and engorgement? Yay for me! Finally at 3 1/2 weeks old, I used my bathroom scale to weigh him, and found out he was actually losing weight – cue the mommy guilt and crying.
Right away we went to the LCs. We did a weigh-feed-weigh, and found he was only getting about half an ounce total from both sides. They said he was a lazy/sleepy eater, and told me to start a routine of nurse-supplement-pump. They told me if I couldn’t pump enough for the next feeding to supplement with formula. They even gave me an RTF bottle right then to top him off! All of the LCs I saw at my hospital (we went back several times) were absolute saints, and so different from the ones many of you have dealt with. They were so supportive and knowledgeable, but not pushy or anti-formula. I love them. However, no amount of pumping, fenugreek, blessed thistle, oatmeal, etc could get my meager supply up enough to support my son. I think the main issue all along was not that he was a lazy/sleepy eater, but that my milk just didn’t come in and that I don’t have a milk ejection reflex at all – it would take 40 minutes of double pumping (with very aggressive massage/compression) to get an ounce of milk. Total. I don’t blame him for giving up and sleeping! I was producing about half of what my very hungry son needed – the day he eat 37 ounces, I felt so defeated. As many of you here on FFF know, the process of nurse-supplement-pump takes an incredible amount of time, so I decided to just pump and bottlefeed until my supply was up enough to EBF.
After 2 solid weeks of taking herbs and pumping 13 times a day (yes, THIRTEEN), 40 minutes at a time, my supply was up by 3 ounces a day. Not much to write home about, not even enough for a whole bottle. Bonus, it had destroyed my nipples. They hurt SO BAD, all the time, since they weren’t really getting a break between pumpings. I was also getting frequent clogged ducts and clogged nipple pores. The pain was excruciating – worse than labor pains, in my opinion. Of course, my clogged ducts eventually developed into mastitis. You can guess what happened to my supply. A hospital-grade pump was no better at removing milk, nor at increasing my supply. Finally, my mom (who breastfed me and each of my siblings until she had to go back to work) asked me, “How long are you going to keep doing this to yourself?” That made me step back and realize the insanity of what I was doing – the constant pumping, the pain of the clogged ducts and destroyed nipples, not to mention the fact that my son basically just sat in his swing all day long while I pumped.
After a few more days of “I will succeed at breastfeeding!” stubbornness, I finally admitted to myself that I was never going to make enough milk for him, and it was better for my son to have a sane, engaged mother than a few ounces of breastmilk a day – no matter how magical the lactivists made it out to be. My supply was so low that I just quit cold turkey – I had only one day of discomfort and was totally dried up in 48 hours. I never leaked a single drop.
Even though my son is doing great on formula (he was a completely different baby once he started getting enough food), I mourned the loss of our breastfeeding experience. It had been so wonderful, and it was hard to let that go. I had never failed at anything before in my life, and it was hard to accept that this was beyond my control. No amount of education, LC support, or willpower could change the fact that I just didn’t make milk. I had no idea that that was a possibility and I never saw it coming. I am hoping and praying that I don’t have an underlying problem like IGT and that I will be able to breastfeed my next child. Even if I am unable, I know I am no less of a mother because of this. It takes more than sperm to make a good father, and more than breastmilk to make a good mother.
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Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday. E-mail me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.
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