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,
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.