FFF Friday: “When it comes to feeding your child, why let anyone make you second guess what feels right for you?”

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 feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

I had a weird, somewhat schizophrenic experience this week. A fellow blogger asked me to participate in a Twitter party intended to encourage a certain formula company to remove GMOs from its products. I agreed, not because I have been convinced by the research that there truly is a risk conferred by the use of GMO-derived ingredients in infant formula, but because I understand the concerns of parents about this issue. And I applaud those formula feeding parents who speak up about the quality of the product they are using – we should be doing this, and the formula companies should be listening rather than wasting their time developing new ways to appeal to breastfeeding moms. 

Anyway- the point is, I found myself gritting my teeth as a ton of misinformation was thrown about in various well-meaning tweets, including some about homemade formula as a “healthier” alternative than GMO-ridden formula. The group propagating this alternative accused me of not respecting the choices of mothers because I expressed concern over their promotion of a homemade formula recipe as the “next best thing” to breastmilk. This struck a nerve, because in my mind, FFF stands for two things – 1) a critical look at the evidence and dogma surrounding infant feeding, and 2) a kinder, gentler parenting world where we respect that someone else’s choices have nothing to do with our own, and we should trust that s/he is doing the best thing for her/his family and baby. Sometimes, these two goals clash. 

So, when I read the last paragraph of L.’s story, below, I felt a little guilty. Because on some level, while I wasn’t necessarily “judging” parents who choose homemade formula, I don’t condone it, based on the medical evidence that commercial formula is a safer choice. How is that any different from a breastfeeding advocate saying she can’t condone formula because the research shows risks to formula fed babies? 

The answer? I don’t know. But I *think* it has to do with how we communicate our biases, our opinions, and our experiences. I think it’s okay for someone to say, “based on my reading of the research (giving citations as needed), my understanding is that x is a safer choice. However, I respect every parent’s right to make the best informed decision for his or her family.” It’s okay to ask someone to calmly discuss the evidence if you are truly concerned that they are putting a child at risk. It’s not okay to publicly chastise those who make choices you wouldn’t make for your own family; it’s not okay to make across-the-board character or value judgments on someone, especially someone whose story is unknown to you. 

I’d like to think that if we can make these distinctions, we can, as L. so inspiringly says, “take the lead” in changing the judgmental, closed-minded, polarized nature of the parenting community.  

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

L.’s Story

It wasn’t until a week after my son was born, and it was determined that he wasn’t gaining weight at the rate he should be, that I ever thought the ‘natural ability’ to breastfeed wouldn’t come easily for me. I cried after hearing he was underweight. I had worked so hard, and it wasn’t enough. Little did I know this was just the beginning of my breastfeeding issues.
I was determined to help my son gain some weight before his next appointment. I had numerous mid-wives and a mid-wife/lactation consultant observe his latch, his time feeding, and provide any advice they could. No one saw any issues. When I started getting blocked milk ducts in my left breast I was informed that they would go away in 2-3 days at most. Just keep nursing. A week passed, but the blocked ducts remained.

Not long after, a bump developed on the areola just under my left nipple. The mid-wife/lactation consultant didn’t think much of it. “Not mastitis,” she said. “You would have a fever”. Nursing became very painful for me, and my son appeared as hesitant about latching on as I was about him doing it. Most attempts were physical struggles that involved tears for us both.

Soon the bump would get large enough to be in his way. “Keep nursing through it,” I was told. I tried every position imaginable, even hovering over him upside down on all fours so the bump was not affecting his lower lip. How long did the lactation consultant think I could keep this up? It seemed like a cruel joke.

I went to a doctor (not mine) who felt that the advice I had been given sounded good to her, and provided me with some type of medicine to help. What this was to do for me, or why, my husband and I can’t even remember – we were in such a fog! All I know is that nothing improved.

Still convinced it was not mastitis, the mid-wife/lactation consultant encouraged me to try an ultrasound session to break up the blocked milk ducts. For three days (the famous Dr. Newman website had advised two would do it, but the physiotherapist recommended “just one more session”) I exposed my left breast to an ultrasound wand directly followed by unsuccessful, and painful, nursing sessions. The physiotherapist kept asking if the wand was emitting too much heat. I told her it didn’t feel too hot, I’m sure it’s fine (it wasn’t, but I wouldn’t find that out until a week later). The ultrasound sessions did not unblock the ducts, or get rid of the large bump on my breast. I now refer to the $300 appointment fees as my “insult to injury”. My son and I continued our stressful feeding sessions which were recommended at least every two hours to help with my pain (but what about his?) The milk had a green hue – GREEN! I felt awful, but was told it wouldn’t affect him.  It seemed torturous at the time, but it still wasn’t over.

Needless to say, I had already been losing faith in the lactation consultant/mid-wife care I was receiving, (not all consultant/mid-wife care, just what I had been getting) but she was a professional who knew better than me…right? After a tearful phone call to the mid-wife/lactation consultant telling her that the third ultrasound session hadn’t worked, she gave up on me. She said she didn’t know what else she could do for me, “it isn’t mastitis because you have no fever – I don’t know…just call your doctor.” Every instinct I had told me that this was what I should have done a long time ago, but I had ignored them. Besides, the doctor I saw (again, not mine) had agreed. When I called my doctor’s office the receptionist was ready to tell me there was no chance to see her for weeks, that is, until I told her that I was going to ‘give up’ nursing. I was told to come in right away.

My doctor immediately diagnosed it as mastitis with an abscess on my left breast. She had me on the table ready to drain it right then and there. As she was touching the area around the abscess, I started crying in pain. I suddenly realized why – the ultrasound treatments, with the wand on high heat, had burned a large area around my nipple! The fluid had made the area so numb I didn’t feel it, and the heat certainly didn’t help prevent the abscess from growing! The initial pin prick to relieve the abscess turned out not to be enough, and the doctor froze the area to use a scalpel. I will never forget the sound of my doctor’s voice as she asked my husband to keep bringing her towels. I couldn’t bring myself to look at what she was doing. After the traumatic experience was over, the doctor advised that I still try feeding from the right breast, but to supplement with formula. I also had to clear out any remaining green stuff from the open wound. I couldn’t do it – my wonderful husband sat by my side every few hours for three days tending to this awful task. Upon our return to the doctor’s office later that week, the nurses all knew his name and what he had done for me. They were impressed!

Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for some milk ducts in my right breast to block too. Even with the recommended repeated nursing they did not clear up. My son was switched to formula full time, and thrived immediately. Like other mothers before me, I wondered why I had waited so long – he was finally getting what was ‘best’ for him!

The lactation consultant/mid-wife didn’t contact me again until a week later asking if things were better. I told her what had happened, and her reply was, “But you didn’t have a fever! You didn’t seem very sick! Most people who had it as bad as you don’t even have the strength to get out of bed! We’ll get you back nursing in no time”. I had had ‘minor surgery’ as the doctor put it, and even that didn’t stop the pressure to breastfeed! Needless to say I didn’t ‘get back’ to it. It was more than 8 months before the ducts in my breasts unblocked themselves.

15 months ago, I was attending a mid-wife appointment (a different person this time!), pregnant with my second child. The mid-wife quizzed me on what issues breastfeeding can prevent. I started rhyming off the usual list – obesity, lower IQ, cancer etc., just to get her off my case, but my anger started to rise. Here I was, a formula fed baby myself with none of these issues, with my smart, healthy, formula fed toddler sitting on my lap, listing off all of the things I had ‘subjected’ him to. I told her what had happened to me the first time around, that formula feeding was the right decision for us, and that I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again; in fact, I might just start with formula this time.

My daughter was born this past October, and though I had mixed feelings about it I did try breastfeeding again. Most people who knew my background were surprised I was thinking of it. Even the mid-wife who delivered her understood if I didn’t want to. I felt no pressure this time knowing that formula was an option I was happy to take at any point without feeling guilty. I was successful in providing her with the colostrum, but my body made the decision for me after that. The scar on my left areola proved to be an issue, and I was just not able to produce an ounce over the course of a day. In addition to the physical limitations, I knew I had some emotional ones too. Not only do I still have to hold myself back from taking it personally when someone asks if my crying child is hungry, I think of how long I let my son suffer while I tried to do what was ‘best’.

I’ve learned a lot from my experience, but what I really want to share is this: no one, not even the medical community, has all the answers (even Dr. Newman’s much lauded website!) So, when it comes to feeding your child, why let anyone make you second guess what feels right for you? Being a ‘Fearless Formula Feeder’ has made me a less judgmental person in all aspects of life, but most significantly when it comes to decisions made by other moms. Those who criticize have no idea about the personal challenges my family went through, so why should I assume I know what others have gone through too? Society has placed enough pressure and guilt on mothers for decisions they make; the choice (or the necessity) to formula feed should not be one of them. My wish is for all moms to support each other in making the right choices for their families on this issue, and in others. As formula feeding mothers who can empathize with each other, we should take the lead and only make positive comments instead of questioning or criticizing others. If we can do this, maybe others will follow and give all moms the respect they deserve.

***

Feel like sharing your story? Send it over to formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Carnival of Evidence-Based Parenting: What the science says (and, more importantly, doesn’t say) about breastfeeding issues, bonding, and postpartum adjustment

As I sat down to write a piece for this month’s Carnival of Evidence-Based Parenting on the connection between breastfeeding problems and postpartum depression and adjustment issues, I realized something: everything I wanted to say in the post, I already said in my book. So, the following post is actually an adapted excerpt.

Before we get into it, though, I’d like to add that I think breastfeeding difficulties can also affect women in far less dramatic ways. Nearly every mother I know says that the early postpartum period is all about nursing – learning to latch, worrying about weight gain, and soldiering on through cracked nipples and marathon cluster feeds. And nearly every mother I know also tells me that after 4-6 weeks, it got infinitely better; that she and her baby got the hang of things, and breastfeeding became the wonderful, easy, pleasant experience people promise it will be. I think we need to be honest with women about this adjustment period – 6 weeks can feel like an eternity, and to tell new moms just to “hang in there” isn’t going to cut it. Not all of us have adequate maternity leave, familial support, and the money to pay for private lactation consultants. If we are serious about raising the breastfeeding rates in this country, we need to think more critically about how to help women handle these first 6 weeks, and get them through the “learning curve”. Otherwise, I believe we will be causing two things to happen – more mothers will suffer from stress-induced depression and anxiety, and more women will quit nursing way before they had planned or desired to do so. Neither of these are outcomes are beneficial to anyone. 

 

A few years ago, a study published in the aptly titled journal Medical Hypotheses claimed that the cessation of breastfeeding simulates child loss. According to the authors, from a biological, anthropological perspective, “the decision to bottle feed unwittingly mimics conditions associated with the death of an infant.” And since “child loss is a well documented trigger for depression particularly in mothers,” the findings of the study joined the “growing evidence [that] shows that bottle feeding is a risk factor for postpartum depression.”(1) The ominous takeaway message rang out over the Internet. “Does bottle feeding cause postpartum depression?” asked one natural parenting website’s headline;(2) “Mothers who bottle feed their infants in lieu of breastfeeding put themselves at risk of developing postpartum depression,” warned another site, directed at general consumer healthcare.(3)

Two years later, a different study examining the same issues offered a less evolutionary-based (and less daunting) explanation for why not breastfeeding seems to be linked with postpartum depression. Dr. Alison Stuebe, a respected member of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, found that women who reported trouble breastfeeding in the first weeks after giving birth had a 42 percent higher risk of developing postpartum depression than those who enjoyed nursing their babies. Stuebe told Time that although it was important to advocate for breastfeeding, clinicians should “look not just at baby’s mouth and the boob but to also look at mom’s brain” and urged providers to take a more personal approach to infant feeding recommendations: “If, for this mother, and this baby, extracting milk and delivering it to her infant have overshadowed all other aspects of their relationship, it may be that exclusive breast-feeding is not best for them—in fact, it may not even be good for them.” (4)

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, theories on infant “attachment” and the “maternal/infant bond” posited that there was a “critical period” when babies formed either secure or insecure attachments to a primary caregiver—in most cases, for obvious reasons, the mother. Based on the work of John Bowlby, it was thought that a securely attached infant would use his mother as a sort of “home base”; he could explore the world, depending on his mother for comfort and security when things got too intense. If a kid was insecurely attached, the mom-as-safety-net concept didn’t hold; an insecurely attached baby would actually avoid physical contact with his mom and take longer to recover from periods of distress. (5)

By the 1980s, most experts had officially dismissed this “attachment theory,” especially the idea of a critical period beyond which there is no hope of correcting problems, because the original studies that formed the basis for this theory were flawed. (6) But the ideas behind attachment theory still permeate breastfeeding literature, which is chock-full of references to the “maternal-infant bond” and “attachment.” (Ironically, Bowlby himself believed that attachment was formed through the inter- actions of the primary caregiver and the child, rather than the act of feeding in and of itself, or “individual differences in feeding, such as breast or bottle.”) (7)

Later research into attachment discovered that “sensitively and consistently” responding to our infants’ cues—cues like crying, smiling, and eye contact—creates that coveted secure attachment; being unresponsive, unpredictable, disengaged, or, on the other end of the spectrum, overly intrusive results in insecure attachment (8)… and a hefty bill from the child psychiatrist somewhere down the line.

Interestingly, the behaviors blamed for causing insecure attachment not only are related to postpartum depression but could also be attributed to breastfeeding problems. Extreme nipple pain, clogged ducts, or mastitis can cause feedings to be unbearably painful; insufficient milk can be anxiety-provoking. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that physical pain and anxiety could cause a mom to act “overly intrusive,” “unpredictable,” or “disengaged”? Sociologist and researcher Stephanie Knaak says that despite numerous claims in parenting literature that breastfeeding leads to better bonding, “It’s not going to be the same for all women. For some women, it’s not at all about closeness and bonding, because they don’t actually enjoy breastfeeding. They don’t enjoy the physical aspect of it.” (9)

Many of the moms featured in the FFF Friday posts here on this blog talk about formula allowing them to “finally be a mom”; about how all their energy had gone into breastfeeding, a process that often took so much out of them physically and mentally that they had nothing left to give to their babies. For those of us who have had extreme physical difficulty or emotional discomfort with breastfeeding, formula may allow us to stay calm, connected, and responsive to our children in a way that breastfeeding can’t. Some women have also told me that they believed their breastfeeding struggles made them better mothers, leading them to focus more intensely on meeting their babies’ needs in other ways. Irvin Leon, of the University of Michigan, argues a similar point regarding the benefits of adoptive parenting:

Biological parents may be inclined to believe that their genetic connection with their offspring will inevitably solidify the emotional bond with their young. It may feel a bit less important to parent when one is so assured of being the parent. Adoptive parents, not having that genetic connection, must rely on the actual parent- child bond as the principal determinant of parenthood. Attachment theory . . . make[s] it clear that in the eyes of a child the sense of Mommy and Daddy is based on who takes care of that child, meeting that child’s needs, and knowing that child’s uniqueness and individuality in moment-by-moment daily interactions.(10)

Yet, we are forced to balance our desire to connect and bond with our children in a way that actually works for us with what society – and parenting research- tells us is the “proper” way to bond.  In a review of breastfeeding’s impact on the mother-infant relationship, Norwegian behavioral scientists found that out of forty-one papers discussing breastfeeding and the maternal bond, twenty-two of them made “general statements on the positive effect of breastfeeding on either facet of the mother-infant relationship without a reference to empirical studies supporting this claim.” (11) The study authors then examined the papers which did provide evidence backing these claims, and came to the conclusion that “breastfeeding may promote the maternal bond, but mothers who bond better with their infants may also be more likely to choose to breastfeed over bottle-feeding.”

Think about it—a mother who is already nervous, depressed, or stressed may have a tougher time bonding with a newborn. This mother may ultimately turn to bottle-feeding to control at least one aspect of her new, overwhelming life. Or consider how a baby having trouble feeding may act on a daily basis. A hungry, frustrated baby does not a happy baby make (or a happy mother, for that matter). In both cases, the maternal bond may be affected and bottles may replace breastfeeding. So although it is true that the mothers of these bottle-feeding babies may exhibit less positive, “bonded” behavior toward their children, is it the fault of the bottle? Or was it the situation that led the mom to the bottle that also caused difficulty bonding?

The same question holds for the connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression. Some researchers have found a correlation between lack of breastfeeding and higher incidence of depression; however, the majority of these studies don’t factor in why the mother isn’t breastfeeding in the first place. A 2009 study found that women who exhibited pregnancy-related anxiety or prenatal depressive symptoms were roughly two times more likely than women without these mood disorders to plan to formula feed. (12) “Prenatal mood disorders may affect a woman’s plans to breastfeed and may be early risk factors for failure to breastfeed,” the researchers point out. And even if the intention to breastfeed is there, multiple factors inform infant-feeding choices once a woman leaves the hospital.

Feeling like a failure, dealing with pain, frustration, and exhaustion, and having a baby who screams at the sight of her, could make any mother feel overwhelmed, let alone one who’s already on the brink of actual PPD. Maybe for those of us more prone to anxiety or depression, the stress of breastfeeding struggles is just the camel’s dreaded straw.

(Excerpted from “Of Human Bonding” in Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t. University of California Press, 2012.) 

Want to read more on the topic of new parenthood from people far smarter than I am? Check out this post from Jessica at School of Smock, who is hosting this months’s carnival – she will link you to the contributions from the rest of the Carnival of Evidence-Based Parenting bloggers:

Introduction to this month’s carnival: http://www.schoolofsmock.com/2013/05/13/evidencebasedparenting

The Transition to New Motherhood (Momma, PhD)

Bonding in Early Motherhood:  When Angels Don’t Sing and the Earth Doesn’t Stand Still (Red Wine and Applesauce)

The Connection Between Poor Labour, Analgesia, and PTSD (The Adequate Mother)

For Love or Money:  What Makes Men Ready for New Fatherhood (Matt Shipman)

No, Swaddling  Will Not Kill Your Baby (Melinda Wenner Moyer,  Slate)

Sleep Deprivation:  The Dark Side of Parenting (Science of Mom)

The Parenting Media and You (Momma Data)

Reassessing Happiness Research:  Are New Parents Really That Miserable?(Jessica Smock)

40 Long Days and Nights (Six Forty Nine)

Also, “like” us on Facebook – we’re trying to bring fresh perspective and research-based insight to the parenting blogosphere. Plus we’re all really nice. It’s really a no-brainer.

 

Sources

(1) Gallup, Gordon G., Jr., R. Nathan Pipitone, Kelly J. Carrone, and Kevin L. Leadholm. 2010. Bottle feeding simulates child loss: Postpartum depression and evolutionary medicine. Medical Hypotheses 74 (1): 174–176.

(2) Nelson, Cate. 2009. Does bottle-feeding cause postpartum depression? August17.http://ecochildsplay.com/2009/08/17/does-bottle-feeding- cause-postpartum-depression/

(3) Harutyunyan, Ruzanna. 2009. Bottle-feeding mimics child loss. Emax Health. August 15. www.emaxhealth.com/2/84/32867/bottle- feeding-mimics-child-loss.html

(4)Rochman, Bonnie. 2011. Time Healthland: Is breast always best? Examining the link between breastfeeding and postpartum depression. August 5. http://healthland.time.com/2011/08/05/do-depression-and-difficulty-breast-feeding-go-hand-in-hand/

(5) Sonkin, Daniel. 2005. Attachment theory and psychotherapy. California Therapist 17 (1): 69–77.

(6) (8) (11) Jansen, J., C. D. Weerth, and J. M. Riksen-Walraven. 2008. Breastfeeding and the mother-infant relationship—A review. Developmental Review 28 (4): 503–521.

(7) Britton, Cathryn. 2003. Breastfeeding: A natural phenomenon or a cul- tural construct? In The Social Context of Birth, edited by Catherine Squire, 305–317. Milton Keynes, United Kingdom: Radcliffe Publishing.

(9) Knaak, Stephanie J. Telephone interview – September 10, 2010.

(10) Leon, Irving. 1998. Nature in adoptive parenting. Parenting in America. 1998. http://parenthood.library.wisc.edu/Leon/Leon.html

(12) Fairlie, Tarayn G., Matthew W. Gillman, and Janet Rich-Edwards. 2009. High pregnancy-related anxiety and prenatal depressive symptoms as predictors of intention to breastfeed and breastfeeding initation. Journal of Women’s Health (Larchmont) 18 (7): 945–953.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FFF Friday: “My daily worth was measured in ounces.”

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 feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

Sarah, whose story is below, brings up a really interesting and important point, so often lost in this debate: the inability to/decision not to breastfeed is not specific to modern times. Babies have been fed with breastmilk substitutes for all of history – through wet nurses, animal milks, and ‘paps’. The formula companies capitalized on a need; they did not create it. Even if every formula manufacturer closed up shop tomorrow, there would be mothers who couldn’t or didn’t breastfeed. So rather than fighting this fact of life, perhaps we could entertain the possibility of working together to ensure that whatever substitute parents are using is the best it can be.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Sarah’s Story

My story begins like many of the other mommies on this blog.  I was totally set on breastfeeding exclusively (although willing to pump so that my husband could help out with feedings).  I referred to formula as “crap” and mentally prepared myself for the struggles of breastfeeding.  I had a friend of mine tell me how difficult it was but I thought to myself, “No problem!  It won’t happen to me.  And even if it does, I’ll be stronger than the others and see it through to success!”.  WRONG!

After having high blood pressure and unbelievable fluid retention, the doctor scheduled me to be induced, much to my displeasure.  I just knew that it would end in a c-section.  I was right.  And while my c-section was fantastic (that may sound strange but when they give you that wonderful body numbing spinal tap that makes you feel all warm and pain free and to hear your baby cry within about 20 minutes, it’s just what you need after 7 hours of a completely failed induction), I had no idea how a c-section would play into making breastfeeding success even harder than it already is.  Once they pulled him out, they allowed me to give him a kiss on the cheek and then it was hours until I finally got to hold him.  Nevermind that the best time to get those babies on the boob is immediately after they’re born when their suckling reflex is ready to go.  With a c-section, you don’t get that option.  They whisked me away to a recovery room to monitor me coming off of the spinal tap.  Then I was finally put into a post-partum room.  Right about the time they were on their way to bring me my newborn son (at least two hours after birth), my spinal tap was completely starting to wear off.  I knew that as soon as they gave me medication for the pain, that I would pass out and not be able to hold him.  I tried to hold off as long as I could, but after only having him in my arms for 5 minutes, I absolutely had to have medication.  Anyone who has ever had a c-section or any type of surgery really, knows what that incision pain feels like.  Can’t breathe pain.  Seconds after that demoral went through the IV, I passed my baby to my husband for fear of dropping him from the effects of the drug.

The rest is a blur.  All I clearly remember next is trying to get him to latch without success probably hours later.  But I wasn’t yet discouraged.  I knew that it could take several tries.  And I was assured that the lactation consultant would be there the next day to help me.  Each time we tried with him was unsuccessful.  He just wouldn’t latch.  So each time we tried without success, we gave him a bottle.  The boy had to eat something.

In the meantime, I was pumping in the hospital to get my milk supply started.  The lactation consultant told me I had flat and very large nipples that made it difficult, but not impossible, to nurse.  So again, I was hopeful.  My first night in the hospital after the c-secion, I couldn’t get out of bed.  Not only had I just had surgery that morning, but I still had a catheter in.  I was also given an ambian so that I could get a full nights rest so I could heal that much quicker.  Not to mention my husband and I had already been awake for more than 24 hours at that point.  Needless to say, my baby went to the nursery.  There was no way I would have been able to get to him in the middle of the night nor did I have any desire to try when I had been recently sliced open.

Once at home, I continued to put my baby to the breast before offering him a bottle.  Not only could he just not seem to stay on that nipple, he fought me every time.  He seemed to hate the work that had to be done to breastfeed.  So he would get a bottle and I would manually pump.  About five days after we brought him home, I decided to exclusively pump all of my milk and put it in a bottle.  I bought a double electric breastpump and embarked on what would be some of the most miserable weeks of my exsistence.  Milk supply was never my problem, but overanalyzing every ounce that I pumped in a session, and wondering whether it would be enough was a problem.  My daily worth was measured in ounces.  I wrote everything down: when I last pumped, how many ounces it was, how many ounces he ate, blah, blah, blah.  I became “proud” of my milk stash that I was storing in the refrigerator.  But, both I and my baby were miserable.  Everytime I sat down to pump for one of my five to six thirty minute sessions a day, my baby seemed to need something.  I was so obsessed with giving him “good mommy milk” that I would ignore his cries and say to him “Just give me ten more minutes, I’m almost done!.”  Yeah, right.  Ten minutes to an infant is like a lifetime.  It got to the point where I felt like I was putting the task of pumping over my child’s needs for attention, love, etc..  Not to mention the feeling of being a slave to the pump.  I had to schedule my entire day around it.  If I wanted to take the baby for a walk, I had to schedule it around pumping.  Forget going out of the house.  I barely would have time to make it across town to the store before I needed to head home and immediately strip my top off and attach myself to that machine.  My husband would make mooing sounds at me and refer to me as “Bessie”.  He did it out of love and it did make the situation less dreadful, but it was a testament to how ridiculous the whole situation was.  My child didn’t know what I was trying so hard to do.  He just knew that not only was Mommy miserable and cranky, but that she sometimes ignored him to “just get one more ounce.”

For weeks, I debated if and when I should quit.  I talked to my husband relentlessly about it until he could have screamed.  Everyone around me was so supportive in my decision to possibly quit, except me.  I felt like I was taking away from my son what I had no problem making but that he just had a problem eating.  I also felt like I was putting an incedible burden on my husband, the bread winner, to purchase formula.  But finally, one day, after three months, I’d had enough.  I didn’t go over it in my mind any more.  I cleared my mind of any distracting thought and went through the physical motions of standing up, putting my clothes back on, turning off the pump, and putting it in the closet.  I shut the closet door, backed away slowly, and didn’t second guess myself.  I stored my last batch of milk away and felt absolutely awful.

Six months later, I am soooo over it.  My son is perfectly healthy.  No illnesses, no issues.  I don’t feel guilty about pulling a bottle out in public.  I don’t feel guilty about purchasing formula.  In that six months since quitting the pump, I had to do a lot of reading and thinking to help myself feel better about my decision to formula feed.

I came across so many articles about the history of breastfeeding.  As it turns out, women have had trouble with it since the dawn of time.  There have been 4,000 year old baby bottles discovered among ancient ruins.  The first breast pump was invented in the 1800s just proving that women have always had trouble.  Wet nurses would have been needed not only for the wealthy who chose not to breastfeed their own babies, but for women who couldn’t for whatever reason.  Nature isn’t perfect.  When women have trouble getting pregnant, do these same so-called “breastfeeding police” blame these women for not being able to conceive?  No, they see it as a shame.  Why wouldn’t troubles with breastfeeding be viewed the same way?  And why in the world is breastmilk hailed as this “magical elixir”?  It is not a cure all, prevant all for illnesses or other medical issues.  An entire generation of people (the babyboomers) were raised on a combination of canned evaporated cow’s milk, water, and CORN SYRUP!!!  Yes, the corn syrup that gets such a bad rap as being practically poison in your child’s cereal.  Yet this entire generation isn’t walking around with neverending ear infections, or whatever else people claim that breastfeeding prevents.  Take my siblings and I as an example.  I was breastfed for four months.  My sister not at all, and my brother for 9 exclusive months.  Guess who was the sickest out of the three?  Yup, my brother.  Bronchitis and pnuemonia at 6 months, sick several times a year, and most recently had his tonsils removed for excessive sore throats.  I had terrible ear infections that caused my temperature to spike every time.  My sister, on the other hand, is rarely sick and rarely was as a child.  So my conclusion for my next child:  If he/she doesn’t take it from the tap, then it’s bottle and formula all the way.  And I’ll have a big smile on my face from that first scoop.

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If you’d like to share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday, please email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. It might take me six months to respond, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. I’m just terrible with email. Be warned.

Getting a grip on the Strong Mom Empowerment Pledge Controversy

The latest outrage in the breastfeeding advocacy world doesn’t have to do with dying children in resource poor nations, or bogus “breastfeeding advice” hotlines run with the nefarious goal of undermining a mother’s goals. It’s not even about someone questioning the benefits of breastfeeding, or urging the government to rethink some of its public health messaging.

No, this week’s rage-fest is over a campaign asking women to pledge not to bully one another based on their parenting choices.

Sound silly? Well, according to a handful of well-respected bloggers, it’s about as silly as a car wreck. This is because the campaign is sponsored by Similac, a formula company, which has everything to gain by women feeling “empowered” to use their second-best (or fourth best, if we’re going by the WHO hierarchy) product in a world made less judgmental by a pledge such as this.

On a purely anti-capitalist, anti-marketing level , I understand why some may feel a little queasy about this campaign. I’ve seen some backlash against the Dove Real Beauty ads for the same reason – the message is great, but the fact that it was created by a group of advertising executives rather than a non-profit, purely altruistic group, sullies it. There’s an ad term for what Dove and Similac are doing – the “halo effect” – meaning that when you use the product, you’ll have positive, do-gooder type feelings about it. Coke’s done it, too. (Remember that catchy “I’d like to teach the world to sing” jingle? Halo effect, right there.)

I assume this is what was behind tweets I came across today suggesting that formula companies have no place talking about parenting issues. My counter argument to this is that many of us formula feeders feel abandoned by the parenting gurus (paging Dr. Sears) and in some cases, even our own pediatricians – the message we receive is that if we’re formula feeding, we’re pretty much a lost cause. So while I can’t say I’m thrilled that a formula company stepped up to fill this gap, I think we need to think a little more critically about why the gap was there in the first place.

For the record, with this particular campaign, Similac isn’t giving parenting advice, but rather advocating for an end to mother-to-mother judgment. More of an anti-bullying campaign than anything about parenting issues. Which is probably why they have Michele Borba as one of the spokespeople – she’s a well-known expert on bullying as well as parenting issues, but she barely deals with the infant/toddler set. For that matter, I don’t think babies are mentioned at all in the campaign literature –most of it has to do with embracing your parenting choices and not allowing other people to make you feel less-than.

But I’m not even all that interested in discussing the campaign itself – I’m more concerned with the response to it. Comments I’ve seen; articles I’ve read from some folks I have utmost respect for, but whom I feel really missed the mark on this one. Some of these arguments include: Similac has no right to talk about mommy judgment because formula feeding shouldn’t be a lifestyle choice; the bloggers who came on board to support the campaign are sell-outs or shills for Big Forma; and that the campaign is one big booby trap.

In a thought-provoking and controversial NY Times Motherlode column, KJ Dell’Antonia quotes Kimberly Sears Allers, who maintains that the Strong Moms Empowerment campaign is faulty because formula feeding is a public health issue, not a personal choice:

One centimeter beneath the surface of Similac’s “Strong Moms” Summit and online campaign you will find that framing of infant formula use as a “lifestyle choice” that is not to be judged has been its primary marketing strategy for decades. … And since choices are individual, they have no social consequences; women are therefore relieved of responsibility of considering the broader implications of their decisions. And once I make my choice, no one is to challenge me. We can’t talk about it. And if you do, you are judging me.

Admittedly, I’m taking major poetic license here, but my take-away from Allers’ post was that we can’t not judge other moms for doing something which puts babies at risk. KJ’s own argument is more nuanced and balanced; she suggests that this whole conversation has become too personal, and the “judgment” rhetoric just dilutes the real issues.

I agree with KJ, actually – it’s a point I’ve made myself, in my own somewhat pissy rants about how the only anti-breastfeeding-promotion opinions we hear come in the form of personal stories (which are important in their own right – don’t get me wrong – but hardly a match against scientific studies and “fact”-driven articles). But making things “less personal” doesn’t just mean that every blog post discussing breastfeeding must stop devolving into a who-had-it-harder string of comments. The onus can’t purely be on those whose choices are being questioned to buck up and be “strong”. If we’re going to make it less personal, than breastfeeding advocates cannot be in charge of conducting research on infant feeding. We need to ensure that voices from both sides are heard, so that formula feeding mothers don’t need to sit in awkward, shameful silence while the food that so beautifully nourishes their infants is compared to tobacco, lest they be accused of “taking things so personally”.  And outlets like the New York Times need to post intellectually-driven or research-based pieces from the “other” perspective, rather than just personal stories of breastfeeding failure, so that the conversation isn’t so one-sided.

But I think, in some ways, KJ’s point gets convoluted by Allers’ quote. It can’t not be personal, when a woman’s decision to formula feed is being equated to a public health issue. This is where the misinterpretation of risk within the breastfeeding canon is problematic; it is where people like Joan Wolf are so vitally important. And yet, Joan Wolf can’t participate in the conversation because it has become so personal: her assessment of the literature is brushed off as anti-breastfeeding, lost in the fervor of those who fear that discussing breastmilk as anything less than a miraculous and perfect substance, and breastfeeding as anything less than a moral imperative, will negate their admirable efforts to normalize what should be a human right.

The other common refrain in the past few days is that formula feeding mothers should be offended by this campaign. I’m crying foul. First of all, I take issue with breastfeeding advocates speaking for me – someone who felt completely ousted, chastised, and disenfranchised from their community, and their ideal of good mothering. Just like I will never know the hot rage felt by a nursing mom who is asked to leave a restaurant, someone who has a fundamental belief that breast is best will never know what it feels like to be told that your maternal instinct is faulty, due to susceptibility to marketing, stupidity, selfishness, or some combination of the three.  To hear a company which created a product that nurtured my babies echoing the same sentiments I’ve been preaching for years – that the judgment must stop; that moms need to stop fighting each other and work together for better parenting rights; that women need to stop engaging in sorority-level hazing in order to wear the label of “Good Mommy/Good Radical Feminist/Strong Woman – makes me happy. I don’t feel preyed upon; I am well aware that they are hoping to sell more formula, and you know what? If I had to decide between a brand that is marketing to breastfeeding moms and one that is finally trying to appeal to its actual audience, I’d probably choose the latter.

Someone commented on the NYT article that it would’ve been nice if this campaign came from an individual or group without profit-driven motives. Spoiler alert: that would be me. That would be Bottle Babies. We’re out there, doing this. But most people aren’t aware of us – we each top out at about 3k Facebook followers, opposed to the popular breastfeeding blogger-activists, who are all in the 200k range or higher (some of whom, incidentally, could benefit from a pledge not to bully other moms. Just sayin’.)  We have nothing behind us – no advertising, no sponsors. No money. It’s slow going, trying to make a dent, attempting to create change in a positive and real and measured way. We waste a lot of time defending ourselves against accusations of working for the formula companies; of being anti-breastfeeding; of being uninformed and defensive.  And trying to run our ad-free websites and blogs and attend conference on our own dime and BE HEARD when there are so many more powerful, louder people out there. I realize this sounds like a whiny me-me-me rant, but I’m trying to paint a picture here – because it helps explains why I’m okay with the Similac campaign. Until the indie, unsponsored voices are able to reach the masses, I’m just happy that someone can. I’m happy that women who are feeling judged and guilty and embarrassed about their choices, who are forced to read “Breast is Best” every time they see a formula ad, or open a can of food for their baby, can finally have an opportunity to feel good about the product they are using. That for once, we can feel like part of the sorority – part of the “empowered” group – even if it’s all manufactured and for profit, even if it’s bullshit.  It’s not even about the cheesy “empowerment” pledge – it’s about seeing a formula company treat formula feeding as something matter-a-fact, rather than constantly comparing itself to breastmilk, and in a more subtle and unintentional way, comparing formula feeding mothers to breastfeeding mothers. It’s about being able to feel okay about the way a formula company is operating, rather than cringing at how they are sending free samples to moms intending on breastfeeding (rather than those of us who’ve filled out the damn internet form 300 times and never received a single coupon, but I digress) or marketing some asinine product (like the company in question, with its new “formula for supplementation”. Jesus, Similac. I’m wasting time defending you and then you pull something like this? For real?)

Yes, it’s not perfect. But it’s a start. And if you think it’s sad that we are so desperate for acceptance and celebration that we are willing to get into bed with a formula company that thinks of us like an easy booty call, I’d recommend taking a long, hard look at yourself: at the comments you make; the Facebook posts you share; the policies you write; the initiatives you implement; the articles you publish.

Because yes, it is sad. It is sad that Similac has been able to capitalize on this need. It is sad that there is the need to capitalize on. And it’s sad that those who have created that need are refusing to see how implicit they are in the development of such a sad situation.

It’s just sad.

 

FFF Friday: “Both sides need a support system…”

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 feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about moms who combo feed, or who breastfed one child and formula fed another. I think they are too often left out of the breast/bottle conversation, which tends to operate in black and white, rather than shades of grey. (Am I the only one who thinks it sucks that this expression is now corrupted by pornographic associations? It was such a nice expression. Not that I’m vehemently opposed to pornographic associations, but…) It’s not fair, because they typically have some of the most interesting and thought-provoking points of view; they’ve seen both sides, understand the challenges, the psychology, and the societal pressures. We should be looking to them to lead the charge towards a more nuanced view of infant feeding. 

So, I’m thrilled that Kathryn is sharing her story this week, and I hope that it will inspire others with similar stories to write in and share their thoughts and experiences. This will help prove the point I’m always whining about, like a stubborn toddler (tough morning with Fearlette, can you tell?): this is not about breastfeeding mothers versus formula feeding mothers. It’s about dogmatic, insensitive, extremists versus moms just trying to do the best thing for their families and themselves. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Kathryn’s Story

As a mom who FF my son and is now BF my daughter, I know that both sides need a support system.  It’s (not so) funny that when I was FF my son, I felt completely confident about my decision, but now 2.5 years later, as I’m BF my daughter, I feel guilty that I didn’t try harder, do more, talk to another consultant, etc., so that I could have BF him.  Here’s my story…

Both my kids were born via elective c-section (another controversial topic!).  Before my son was born in 2010, I did what a lot of first time moms do and read a lot of books, articles, and websites about babies.  Of course, I was bombarded with “breast is best.”  So I stocked up on nursing tops and bras, nipple cream, breast pads, and got the most expensive pump on the market.  I knew that it was going to be a little bit of a learning process, but I also read that it was “natural” and that babies will instinctively nurse, if we let them.

When my son was born, he refused to latch.  We would buck at the breast and push and kick me, which of course, although illogical, I took personally as a form of rejection.  Two lactation consultants saw me at the hospital and I distinctly remember the second one saying something along the lines of, “wow, he really doesn’t want to nurse.”  I even drove to the home of a La Leche League Leader 20 minutes away and she wasn’t able to help us.  (I’ve always wondered if I would have tried harder had she not said that to me).

Meanwhile, my son was losing weight like crazy so I started pumping and bottle feeding.  I pumped for four weeks, which meant that every two hours, I pumped for 20 minutes, fed my son what I pumped, and then cleaned my pump.  By the time I was done with that process, I had to do it all over again in an hour.  I was miserable.  (Looking back on it, I’m sad that I spent so much of my maternity leave this way.)  My husband, who has always been extremely supportive of my decisions, suggested that we just switch to formula so that I could get some sanity back.  And it was the best decision I could have made.  I was so much happier and got to enjoy my time with my little baby, rather than dreading the pump.  It turned out that he was tongue-tied and couldn’t latch, something that we didn’t discover until he was two months old.  I felt absolutely no guilt about FF because I knew it was the right decision for our family.

Fast forward two years and I was pregnant with my daughter.  I again said I would try BF.  I wasn’t as anxious this time around and knew that if things didn’t turn out, FF was a completely acceptable option.  But my little girl latched on like a champ and has been great at BF.  But I see all the posts on Babycenter that make the FF Moms feel horrible.  The message is so pervasive that even I have started feeling guilty about what I’m providing my daughter and denied from my son, even though he’s a happy and healthy toddler.  The ironic thing is, I’m back to pumping (at least for part of the day) because I work full-time.  And the days I don’t pump enough for my daughter to eat, I feel guilty about having to supplement with formula.  But why should I feel that way?  I’m doing what’s best for my family and I’m feeding my children!  I’m making the choices that are best for them and best for me and that should be enough.

The message I want to impart is that both methods have their rewards and challenges.  Although I have enjoyed BF my daughter, it started with cracked and bleeding nipples.  Not pretty.  Now we’re supplementing with formula for her day feedings because pumping at work got old, real fast.  It would be nice if us Moms could just support each other, rather than looking our noses down at others because the choices they make are not our own.  Organic or not?  Co-sleeping?  Baby-wearing?  Stay-at-home or working mom?  These are all decisions that we have to make for our individual situations.  I applaud all moms who care for and love their kiddos.  Period.

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Feel like sharing your story? Email me: formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

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