FFF Friday: “We received very little support during our hell…”

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 ate so much Tofurkey this week that I’m in a psychosomatic triptophan coma. Thus, I don’t have the brain power to write much of a intro to Z’s post. The one thing I do want to point out about this post (aside from it being fantastic overall) is what the author says about loving the concept of formula more than the reality. I bet a lot of parents feel this way, and I definitely could relate to this sentiment when feeding Fearlette. We had trouble finding the right formula for her; it took months of trial and error, and a hefty dose of frustration. But with FC, I’d say the opposite was true – I hated the idea of formula and had a difficult time admitting what a godsend it was for my son, and for me.

I think we have a hard time separating the substance from the idea when it comes to infant feeding, in general. We are breastfeeders or bottle feeders rather than parents feeding our babies specific types of food. We criticize the act of formula feeding with no thought of the substance of formula itself, and its potential to nourish a child. We talk of breastfeeding as a political act, a personal triumph, and a statement on our parenting prowess, and talk of breastmilk as a substance that, separate from the person who produced it, is more medicine than liquidated maternal love. It gets rather confusing for those of us who write about such things, let me tell you.

Anyway- hope you enjoy Z’s unique and brutally honest account, below. (And if you like what you read, be sure to visit Z’s blog.)

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Z’s Story

Exclusive breastfeeding was never an option for me. I’m transgender, and I don’t care to get into what that means here. The part relevant to this story is that it meant I needed chest surgery. I could never have survived a pregnancy without that surgery, and I doubt I would have been able to handle breastfeeding, either. The reason behind my surgery isn’t super relevant, there are so many reasons that people can need to have surgery before they have children, I’m mostly sharing it because not enough people are aware transgender people even can want to have babies or consider breastfeeding. And also because, well, mentioning it is the only way to really explain how I could have this experience despite not being a woman.

That surgery guaranteed that there was no chance I could produce a full supply, or much of any supply for that matter. Given the size of my assets, I had to get a bilateral mastectomy instead of the less invasive keyhole procedure that kept the nipples relatively in-tact and attached, allowing some breastfeeding success. Although I do want to mention that, despite my nipples being surgically removed and grafted back on, through the miracle of re-canalization I was actually able to produce a small amount of milk. Just a few drops two or three times a day- that I expressed into bottles because, hey, if my body’s going to go to all of that trouble, someone’s getting the benefit. I gave up doing this around 6 months. Occasionally I check and they’re still producing a drop or two at a time. I’m still not sure how to feel about that- on the one hand, it’s amazing that they can produce anything, on the other hand it’s a little disappointing just how little they’ve managed. I try not to think about what this might have meant for my pre-surgery supply.

Okay, so, I could not produce a full supply. But, surely, I wouldn’t have to resort to formula. In fact, a lot of people pushed us to use pasteurized breast milk- at $4/ounce. Right now my baby’s taking over 40 oz a day, that’s over $1000 a week. I don’t know where these people think I could get the money! I actually did look into milk sharing. We found a donor that we trusted, and used the supply that she gave us for the first month or so- but I just cannot feel comfortable with finding donor after donor, even though I occasionally look at HM4HB’s offers in the area and hover my mouse over the “message” button. It feels like too much of a gamble. One of the people I spoke to who did this did it during a time that there was a salmonella outbreak in formula- so formula wasn’t exactly safer in that case.

I also can’t really say that breastfeeding is a miracle cure. I was breastfed for 3 years. I have depression and anxiety, fibromyalgia, arthritis, stomach problems, and have since I was a child. My immune system is crap. My partner was also exclusively breastfed for at least 6 months and struggles with obesity, severe allergies, chronic ear infections throughout childhood, and a few other problems that breastfeeding is supposed to prevent. So, between us, we’ve checked off pretty much every problem that formula feeding is supposed to cause- and from breast milk. The “Breast is Best” proponents would argue that we would have been so much worse off with formula. I would argue that statistics aren’t guarantees, and there is far more that effects a person than just breast milk or formula.

Now, I have to be honest. I love the idea of formula in theory. The reality in the US is something I actually hate.  If we could afford it, we’d be importing. It took us 4 months to find the right formula (months I spent praying we wouldn’t need some of the prohibitively expensive ones, as our pediatrician said outright that babies never have problems with formula so we’d never be able to get it prescribed). We tried the soy, the sensitive, the ones with probiotics, nothing worked. We dealt with projectile vomiting, awful gas, a baby screaming through being burped, constipation so bad that watching my baby push reminded me of my own labor, diarrhea that meant a baby who screamed bloody murder immediately after filling a diaper multiple times an hour and diaper rash. I nearly had a complete breakdown because we couldn’t find anything right. It’s really hard to love formula after that. I don’t hate the concept of formula feeding. I hate how awful the reality was. And after ridiculous amounts of research into the ingredients and such in formula, I hate what formula companies in this country get away with putting in our baby bottles.

I finally figured out the right formula for what my baby needs, though, and 2 months later it’s a lot easier to be calm about the whole thing.

Despite how awful formula was on digestion, and the number of hours each day our baby spent crying, formula still wasn’t the end of the world. Although I was terrified the crying would cause stunted development- how can a baby learn and grow while screaming all day?- our baby hit all milestones roughly on time if not early. This kid has always grown like a weed- and I don’t mean getting fat, because the height-weight ratio is quite healthy. This baby went from the 10th percentiles at birth to the 75th. Both of us adults have gotten illnesses that knock us on our butts for over a week, even getting to the point that we needed antibiotics, meanwhile our baby always gets over the same illness in a matter of days with little difficulty. Apparently our anti-bodies are unnecessary. During the wonderful, but too brief, times between crying and sleeping we’ve always had a curious, social, smart baby that’s a joy to be around and who clearly loves us. Even on the best formula we’ve been able to find, our baby’s colicky- as were some of my exclusively breastfed cousins- so crying jags are still something we deal with. They aren’t nearly as severe, though.

We received very little support during our hell. My dad had no experience with exclusively formula feeding. My in-laws are in the UK. My mother and have a very strained relationship, again despite the wonderful 3 years of bonding that breastfeeding guarantees. Despite knowing about my situation and how breastfeeding was unlikely,  none of my health providers told me about how to formula and bottle feed- and also didn’t give me the support I needed to use an at-chest supplementer successfully. They were so attached to their dogma of Breast is Best, Everyone Can Successfully Breastfeed to acknowledge the reality of my situation and give me the information that was actually relevant, and also couldn’t be bothered to give me the support I needed to have a successful breastfeeding relationship. I actually got a lot of pre-natal support about the idea of using an at-chest supplementer, midwives and nurses and even a lactation consultant gushing about how every drop of milk I could give was a gift and that there are so many non-nutritive benefits of breastfeeding. Then the baby came, I wasn’t given the chance to breastfeed after birth by those midwives who’d claimed to be supportive and the same supportive lactation consultant who’d given us the supplementer told us to give up without even showing us how to use the damn thing. I was devastated. if these people had just said “It’s great that you want to try, but I’m afraid I have no experience with this and can’t help you”, I’d at least be realistic about what to expect. Being promised all of that support only to have it ripped out from under me at my most vulnerable? It was cruel.

Bottle and formula have both had a steep and unforgiving learning curve for us. No one told us about nipple flow (we had our baby on a medium flow for the first month- leading to projectile vomiting after every feeding). No one told us about anti-colic bottles (which completely stopped the need for burping, a process that had meant a minimum of ten minutes of screaming after each feeding). No one told us about allergies, sensitivities, intolerances or how to recognize them or what to do about them. Online information about problems like constipation were peppered with snide “Oh, that’s normal for formula fed babies- if you just breastfed it wouldn’t be a problem…”. I already mentioned how useless our pediatrician was.

In the middle of the worst experience of my life, when the only food I could feed my child was causing horrible problems, the only thing anyone could tell me was “Well, if you breastfed like a good parent, this wouldn’t be a problem”.  I now know that isn’t even true, after meeting people who had the exact same problems while breastfeeding.

I would like to say that I started on formula and never looked back- but I can’t. I started on the wrong formula with no guidance on how to find the right one, and spent 4 months feeling like I was poisoning my child, floundering and making matters worse, because no one could bother supporting a lowly formula feeder. Being transgender didn’t even come into it, a lot of the healthcare providers didn’t know and still weren’t any help. It’s hard to shake the feeling that these people think that if you can’t give your baby The Almighty Breast, you don’t even deserve to have a child, as if breastfeeding is the Be All End All of parenting.

***

Ready to share your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

FFF Friday: “My real argument is my son’s life.”

 

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. 

Before you read Reese’s story, I want you to do me a favor: look at your children. Reflect on their beauty, their quirks, their uniqueness. They are people – not petri dishes. They have worth beyond their statistical probabilities, beyond what your choices for them represent politically. And realize that you are not a petri dish, either. All the studies in the world can’t tell us the first thing about your story, your worth, or what is in your heart.

Now read the story below, and welcome the chills you’ll get at the end (and they will come, I promise). 

Happy Friday, fearless ones…

The FFF

***

Reese’s Story

I might be the ultimate target for mommy judgment.  I divorced, got pregnant, and remarried at the age of 37.  I was induced at 37 weeks, then went straight to a C-section when the baby’s heart rate and my blood pressure plummeted.  Now my one-year-old son wears disposable diapers and rides in a stroller and sleeps in a crib.  He eats store-bought baby food and drinks formula.  We feed him when he wakes at night, though his pediatrician and half the internet says we should have sleep-trained him by now.

Before your fingers start itching to type, before you act on that “oh no, what if SHE DOESN’T KNOW?” feeling, before you decide it’s your responsibility to educate me, let me tell you the worst part.

I exposed my baby to prescription medication in utero. And if I’m astonishingly lucky enough to have another child, I’ll do it again.

But anonymously on the internet is the only way I will ever discuss this, outside my immediate family.  Only my doctors know.

The other day my husband was talking with a pregnant mom who wanted an all-natural pregnancy, but her headache got so bad she took a Tylenol.  She felt horribly guilty.  My husband wanted to say, “you’re totally fine.  No, trust me, you’re FINE.”  But then he would have to explain what he meant.  So instead, I’ll take this space here to explain.  Maybe some other mom who is feeling horrible will get some comfort from my story.

My son is almost one year old.  He’s achieving milestones, getting into everything, and showing signs of being an opinionated, fiendishly clever little guy.  Strangers comment on his huge eyes, always watching and absorbing everything.  He plays peekaboo and climbs on the furniture and yells “di di di di!” chasing the dog.  He “plays” piano and sings along, he giggles at jokes, he loves strawberries, and he’s obsessed with opening and closing doors.  While he’s on the small side (25th percentile), I can’t really call that a problem because I never broke the 5th percentile when I was growing up.  He’s doing a pretty darn good job of growing, given his mom’s genes.

Unfortunately my genes also gave me an unrelenting chronic disorder, one that I’ve had my entire adult life.  I always assumed I’d never be able to have kids.  I’ve earned a Ph.D, taught at a university, managed employees and programmed computers and raised funds and conducted research, all while taking the heavy-duty medication that keeps me alive and functional.  But I never thought having a baby would be among my accomplishments.

Then I met a wonderful high-risk OB, probably the best doctor I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot).  She said my hormone levels didn’t look good, that I’d likely have trouble conceiving.  But then she said “actually, we can work with your medication. We would start tapering in the second trimester, and get you down to as low a dose as you can handle.  If the baby is born with signs of drug dependence, the neonatal team knows exactly what to do, and we’ll get you both through it.”

My boyfriend and I knew we didn’t have much time.  Armed with confidence from the amazing OB, we got engaged and skipped birth control.  I got pregnant on the first try.

During pregnancy, I was able to taper down to just over half my normal medication dose.  It darn near killed me, but I did it.  Then I had to deliver three weeks early because my baby was measuring small, which might have been drug-related and might have just been his genes – we’ll probably never know.  After my son was born I had to adjust back up to my normal level, so breastfeeding was not an option.  I never even considered it.

My son had one sign of neonatal abstinence syndrome: he had a little diarrhea the first few days, but he was breathing and eating well, never developed other symptoms, and never had to go to the NICU for extra treatment.  This is the last thing you might expect to hear from a woman with a C-section scar, but his birth went as well as we could have dared to hope for.

His pediatrician says there are no controlled studies on exposure to this particular medication.  The anecdotal literature suggests a slightly higher risk of dyslexia and learning disability.  If our son turns out to have a learning disability, we’ll handle that as it comes, like any parents would.  I’ve seen students with learning disabilities graduate from college, maybe even some whose mothers had risk factors before they were born.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m right there with the lactivists in condemning corporations marketing formula over breastfeeding, especially in developing countries where water quality is iffy.  Especially when they could have spent those millions of marketing dollars on donations that actually feed starving people.  At the same time, I will always be thankful that formula is readily available.  If formula were outlawed or locked away by a well-intentioned but inflexible “breast is best” initiative, I would never have attempted pregnancy in the first place.  My son – with his curls and big saucer eyes, his sneaky attempts to escape through the doggie door, his personality quirks, his squeaks of excitement when he learns he can pull himself up on the furniture – would never have existed.

We humans need rules to make sense of the world.  We want to nail down moral absolutes – breast is always best, prenatal drug exposure is always unforgivable.

But when I read that first comment on Suzanne Barston’s contact page, when I read “If a mom isn’t willing to do the best possible thing for her baby, then why even have a baby”… I realized, I can’t combat that kind of ignorance with a post on the internet.  This post isn’t even my real argument.

My real argument is my son’s life, as he grows up and makes his way in the world, and maybe even makes the world a better place because he was in it.

***

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

 

FFF Friday: “From formula to breast and back again…”

I’ve been floating in and out of a rather potent rage-fest this past week. Between the bizarre conflation of breastfeeding advocacy and disaster relief in the Philippines, bribing women to breastfeed, and the announcement of yet another documentary that talks about breastfeeding while completely ignoring the elephant in the room…. my head is swimming. Which is why I love Bria’s story, below – it cuts through the bullshit. It speaks to the gray area, the reality of breastfeeding in our Western culture, with all the ambivalence, mixed emotions, and varied experiences this act can entail. Her story illustrates in a starkly beautiful way why this discourse is not ever simple. It requires deep thought, reflection, and acceptance that breastfeeding is not just a public health issue, and not just an emotional issue. Those that are unable to see nuance and separate fact from hyperbole have no place in the discussion… and yet, it seems, these are the only voices that “matter”. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones (and let’s hope next week is better),

The FFF

***

Bria’s Story: From Formula to Breast and Back Again

I have been thinking of how to write this story for months.  I have gone back and forth trying to fit it into a linear box, but it is not linear, there is no clear beginning or end.  It is multilayered and multifaceted, much like parenting.

There was the labor: 36 hours before she made her sweet arrival into this world followed by no sleep for mama in our nic-u-only-nursery, mother-unfriendly hospital.

There were the articles I researched and read after our breastfeeding/lactivist class that convinced me that the science pales relative to the claims.

There was my own history, breastfed till I was two.

There was my desire to breastfeed and my desire to not breastfeed.

There was the satisfaction I got from preparing her one bottle of formula before bed and adding her vitamin D drops.

There was her 13% weight loss in the first week of her life.

There was the pediatrician, the most clear and non-hyperbolic voice in all of the swirling noise: baby needs calories – mom needs rest -offer breast every three hours _not more often _ supplement 2 oz formula in between.

There was the less-crazy lactation consultant.

There was the more-crazy lactation consultant.

There was more crazy lactation consultant asking what I had done to stimulate my milk production so quickly.  “I bought the Fenugreek and I am drinking THE tea.” I said,  “And I am only offering the baby my breast every three hours and supplementing in between.”

There was her frown and dismissive response: “Oh, well it must be the Fenugreek that caused your milk to come in.  We don’t recommend rest as a way to stimulate milk production.”

There was my inability to tell her: I-never-took-the-Fenugreek. 

There was the feeling of rejection that came in the early weeks when baby would scream in the afternoon every time I would offer her my breast.

There was the calm at night when I would offer her my breast and she would eat happily and go back to sleep.

There was the pump.

There was exclusive nursing for our month in Europe, no time to make bottles.

There was my satisfaction with being able to “do it”.

There was the simplicity of the food: always with you, always ready.

There was the feeling of wanting to take the baby off my breast as soon as possible every time she ate.  To have it be done.

There was the guilt I felt when I was sure I had ended the feeding earlier than the baby was ready because I couldn’t stand it one more second.

There was the sticker shock at the grocery store after she was weaned.

There was the amazement with my breasts, that they could produce this food on such a tight schedule, the filling, the tingling, the stickiness, the let down.

There was the decision at six months to wean the baby, though we had established a solid breastfeeding relationship.

There were my mixed feelings about weaning.

There were the wonderful Swedes who despite high breastfeeding rates, few of them nurse much past 6 months.

There was my desire to stand with women who choose formula and parents who must use formula. I chose to read the studies.  I chose not to feel guilt, because there was nothing to feel guilty about, other than how my predominantly white, educated, privileged cohort managed to co-opt the discourse on infant feeding by exploiting studies from impoverished 3rd world infrastructures, glossing over real conditions of poverty (such as lack of clean water and unreliable access to refrigeration and healthcare) and repackaged these studies as showing both alarming health risks associated with formula feeding, and a “norm” of lengthy breastfeeding, as though we are all one big happy world of mothers and babies, all living in together in the same cultural traditions and socioeconomic conditions.

Lastly there was this; breastfeeding and formula feeding were expensive in different ways.   Lucky me that I had the money for formula and the time to breastfeed.  Babies cost no matter how you feed them and of course the smiles, laughter and snuggles we get in return is the true purchase.

 ***

Have a story you’d like to share? Email me – formulafeeders@gmail.com

Disaster in the Philippines: Why overzealous breastfeeding promotion has no place in relief plans

Dear FFF,

We are based in Manila which, thankfully, was spared from the brunt of typhoon Haiyan. As you may be aware, our fellow Filipinos from the other islands of Leyte and Palawan suffered from this catastrophe. Aid has been slow in coming, and the situation is now miserable and desperate. Donations from all over the world are coming in, but the logistics of getting them to the people who need them are difficult because many of the islands are isolated and cannot be easily reached. Many have not eaten since Saturday. They also do not have clean drinking water and are living in the streets amidst rubble and dead bodies.

Which brings me to my question/issue – What is the best way to feed a baby in a crisis situation like this?

 Our Department of Health has BANNED donations of formula milk – powdered or pre-mix – because of the perils of formula and because it undermines breastfeeding.  According to the Department of Health, the best solution is to breastfeed, or if the mother is no longer breastfeeding, to give support towards re-lactation. If these are not feasible, then the next alternative is wet nursing. I do understand that this is the exact reason why formula has been deemed “dangerous – because preparation of formula in unsafe, unclean conditions (including using unclean water and bottles) can lead to diarrhea and infant mortality.  However, I also believe that the options given by the Department of Health practically require a mother to choose between death of a child by starvation and death by diarrhea.  They say re-lactation as if it was like turning on a switch. Most women who have weaned young babies likely had problems lactating in the first place. How likely is it that she would be able to re-lactate in the midst of the stress, chaos, and misery of a calamity? The Department of Health says that the solution is to provide breastfeeding support, counselling, and breastfeeding-friendly setups where breastfeeding can be encouraged.  In a situation where the most basic of necessities such as water, shelter, and medical care have not even reached the victims, it does not appear that anyone is currently equipped to provide these conditions that would foster breastfeeding in a crisis situation. Wet-nursing or donated milk is the next alternative presented. On wet-nursing, I do wonder if that is really a safe option, since it is possible to also contract disease from tainted breast milk. Again, in a calamity situation, who has the time and resources to check for infectious diseases when looking for a wet nurse?  On donated milk, I concede that this is probably the most viable option, but given the sheer number of people affected, I do not think that it is a sustainable source of nutrition for all the babies affected (given that several hundred thousand homes were affected). Babies need constant nutrition, and while donated milk may augment at the start, is it really sustainable to provide for the nutritional needs of all the victims in the coming days before they are moved to a safe and clean environment? 

And so, I think, banning pre-mix formula donations is a case of letting the principle of promoting breastfeeding defeat the principle of saving as many lives as possible.  Even the American Academy of Pediatrics concedes that pre-mixed formula is the last alternative when the other options are not feasible.  Our government, however, has taken the firm stance against formula and will refuse donations of pre-mixed formula.  Incidentally, pre-mixed is not readily available in the Philippines, but I’m sure it can be procured from other countries or even by local formula manufacturers if only it were allowed.

– S. T.

 

After receiving this email, I logged on to my computer to find several sources reiterating what the author had said. According to Gulf News,

Government and private hospitals in Manila called on nursing mothers nationwide to donate milk for babies in typhoon devastated central Philippines… Explaining the aim of the campaign, (Dr. Jessica Anne Dumalag of Manila’s Philippine General Hospital’s Human Milk Bank) said, “Milk from lactating mothers is preferred over formula milk, which is basically processed cow’s milk.”

The department of health which has been promoting breast feeding has a policy to prohibit the donation of formula milk for babies in temporary shelters, during a calamity….“Children are more exposed to allergy when they consume formula milk. We are also not sure if the water used to prepare formula milk is clean (that is why it is not recommended),” said Dumalag….Government and private hospitals including private organisations were organised to accept donations of human milk. Milk donations will be pasteurised, frozen, and kept in insulated containers before they are sent to evacuation centres in central Philippines, Dumalag said.

 

Concerns over water and sterile preparation of bottle feeds during disaster situations are valid and necessary. Several years ago, we had a lengthy debate here on FFF about this very topic; I’m well aware that if relactation or wet nursing is a possibility, it is without a doubt the safest option in natural disaster settings. Bacteria-filled water, poor sanitation, and lack of resources make formula feeding a deadly proposition; when formula feeding is seen to be “encouraged” in an at-risk population, lactation may be interrupted which can have long-term consequences (i.e., the family would then need formula on an ongoing basis, which could prove difficult if money or resources were an issue). I’m not disputing this, nor am I ignoring the fact that formula marketing in the Philippines is a hot button issue at the moment, and that breastfeeding promotion is in overdrive for reasons that I can’t fully comprehend, as a privileged Western woman.

But that’s not what this is about.

A policy that forbids powdered formula donations and encourages breastmilk donations is simply replacing one easily contaminated substance with another. Donated breastmilk – and this includes breastmilk procured by breastfeeding-related Facebook pages, speaking of privileged Western women – requires careful packaging, transport and refrigeration, not to mention screening for HIV and hepatitis B (the Philippines still has a low rate of HIV infection, but it’s rapidly increasing – TIME reports that every 3 hours a new case is now being diagnosed). There are still the same risks involved with sterilizing bottles, regardless of what’s filling them; nowhere in these news reports are people discussing the importance of cup feeding, for example – something that can significantly cut the chance of bacterial contamination.

There is, however, a substance that can be easily transported without refrigeration; that has a relatively stable and long shelf life; and which can be fed to babies in a perfectly sterile manner, at least in the short-term. That substance is ready-to-feed, pre-mixed formula, served in “nursette” bottles with pre-sterilized nipples (like these).

Granted, the cost of these supplies is rather high. But while I haven’t done the math, I’d venture to guess that the cost of procuring and safely distributing donor breastmilk would be just as prohibitive. And if people are ready and willing to donate RTF and pre-sterilized nipples, what would be the harm in allowing them to do so?

The answer is none. There would be no harm, except, perhaps, to the “cause” of breastfeeding promotion. That cause may be noble and important, but right now, it’s irrelevant. To put breastfeeding promotion ahead of feeding infants safely and in a timely manner is petty, short-sighted, and cruel. Think about it: would we discourage donations of processed, high-fat canned foods to disaster victims because of concerns over obesity, GMOs, or the environment? Or would we ensure that their immediate needs were met, and worry about preaching better health habits after the roads had been rebuilt and displaced families were settled into safe, warm homes?

The fact that Dr. Dumalog, quoted above, uses “allergies to formula” as a reason for forbidding RTF formula donations speaks to the irrationality of this policy. If a child is allergic to formula, there is also a chance s/he will react to something in a stranger’s milk. A breastfed baby may indeed react poorly to formula at first, but this is a case where the mom should receive plenty of assistance and encouragement to continue breastfeeding – not told to feed her baby via bottle with donated milk. With breastfeeding rates in the Philippines being what they are, it stands to reason that most of the babies without lactating mothers present are already formula fed – therefore they will probably do just fine with donated formula, even if it’s not the same brand. We’re talking about a little gas here, not a full-scale anaphylactic reaction.

Gulf News reports that “groups that promote breast-feeding in six hospitals and in several private clinics are part of the campaign.” A disaster situation is no place for “promotion” of anything but disaster relief. And the scariest thing about this is that the Filipino government isn’t alone in letting a hatred of formula get in the way of ration. The American Academy of Pediatrics also advocates for “screened human donor milk” before RTF (although they do, at least, acknowledge that this is an option). I have yet to see one study or agenda-free policy paper that actually looks at the viability of using donor milk as opposed to RTF formula with pre-sterilized nipples during disasters. If there is a logical reason behind these recommendations, I’d love to see it. All I can find are convoluted references to “breastfeeding being interrupted” (not an issue if we’re talking about babies who are already formula fed) and concerns about sterility and availability (absolutely valid, but just as valid in regards to donated milk, if not more so).

Governments must stop putting ideology above practicality. We are in desperate need of a neutral, informed, and rational voice to come up with better policies for infant feeding – policies that do not throw the cart before the horse, and end up running over its citizens in the process.

FFF Friday: “I wept tears of regret and guilt for not being able to give my son ‘the best’ “

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. 

 

This week brought news of more inaccurate, scare-mongering infant feeding information coming from the governmental level. It also brought a few choice Facebook comments from people who didn’t quite understand the purpose of FFF – one of whom asked the quintessential question, “Why can’t you just own up that you made the choice to feed the baby how you wanted and not blame it on a sign or nurses trying to help and give you facts?”

Well, sure. We could just “own up” to our own choices, and not give a damn that so many women are hurting, struggling, and hating themselves due to a campaign which has irresponsibly ignored the lived realities of many mothers; a campaign which prides itself on making women hold themselves up to certain standards, with no regard for what upholding those standards might do to their sense of self worth or to their quality of life. We could “not blame it on a sign or nurses trying to help (us) and give (us) facts”, but that would require us to be of sound mind and body, so that we are capable of resisting a specific, insidious type of coercion. And very few women are of sound mind and body immediately after giving birth, especially when that birth is traumatic or, due to current ideals about birth “experiences”, already feeling vulnerable and less-than because they ended up with interventions that were not in their birth plan. 

I’m sick to death of the hypocrisy. Why is it “kosher” in today’s pseudo-feminist parenting blogosphere to rail against the medical system for disrespecting our birth choices or our later parenting choices, but when the issue is formula feeding, we ignore the patriarchal, paternalistic tone of public health messaging? I don’t doubt that the pressure to breastfeed has a negative effect on women’s mental health, and yet the only time breastfeeding is mentioned in discussions of perinatal depression is as a protective factor. How can we ignore the stories of women like Jessica – women who are fighting so hard to breastfeed, not because they want to, but because they feel they have to? 

Things are getting worse, not better. This is not an issue of formula vs breast. This is an issue of maternal mental health, of women’s rights, and personal, physical autonomy. And that is why I, for one, can’t let it go – even though I am well past the formula feeding years. I don’t want to read more stories like Jessica’s, but they fill up my inbox every day, each one infuriatingly similar. These women matter. They matter at least as much as a few extra (hypothetical) IQ points, at least as much as one or two (hypothetical) ear infections. Because their pain is not hypothetical; it is real, and it is raw, and it matters

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

Jessica’s Story

My breastfeeding vs. formula story goes back to even before I was pregnant with my first son.  My older sister had just given birth to her second beautiful daughter and I remember hearing her say in passing that she never enjoyed breastfeeding but that it was so important she would stick it out for the minimum 6months that the doctors recommended for her.  Her second daughter happened to have colic and acid reflux to boot, so the happy bonding breastfeeding experience was a far cry from her actual mind-numbing child crying filled days.  However, she did stick it out and breastfed for 6 months.  I remember thinking, “How on earth could you not absolutely love breastfeeding?  It’s the most natural way to feed your baby and it is really only the best option to feed your child.”

I come from a long line of breastfeeding gurus.  My sister breastfed.  My mother breastfed all four of us.  Her mother breastfed.  I’m sure that her mother’s mother breastfed, going back generations.  So, of course, when I was pregnant with my first son.  There was no other option.  I would be the best, most loving, breastfeeding mother on the planet.  I would love it!  And, not only would I love it.  I would breastfeed until well past the first year of age.  That was my blissfully, ignorant, and unrealistic goal for myself.  So, when my son was born, set on my chest, and latched like he had been feeding his entire existence, I thought we were golden.  Then he slept for 6 hours.  I had nurses in my room every two hours trying to wake him up to get him to feed.  Undress him to the diaper, latch, asleep.  Get yourself and him completely naked, latch asleep.  Cold water on the back and feet, latch, asleep.  When he did finally decide to wake up to eat (on his own mind-you) he had so much trouble getting latched and staying latched that it took me nearly an hour, and four hands just to feed him.

“Don’t worry,” I told myself.  I had gone to breastfeeding classes and they had said it could take up to 6 weeks for a newborn to get the hang of breastfeeding.

Week one: Trouble staying latched long enough to eat, and then when he is latched he falls asleep almost instantly so I’m constantly waking him up to feed him for the next hour.  However, thankfully, no severe nipple pain yet.  My mother would stand next to the bed and help me latch him for a half an hour and then would help me keep him awake.

Week 2-6:  Tears of exhaustion and frustration as I try to get him to latch for 30 minutes before success and then he would eat!!

Week 6-12: Breastfeeding bliss.

Week 12-16: Knife stabbing, nipple ripping pain, that no doctor or lactation consultant could figure out.

There is a level of humiliation when you are having trouble breastfeeding, and you have to strip down to the torso and show the entire free-living world how you breastfeed your child.  I caledl my local le leche league, who proceeded to tell me that it was probably a yeast infection and told me to go get some of this purple crap, that only stained my boobs and my child’s face and mouth dark purple, so to add insult to injury, I now had explain why my son’s mouth was purple, and it still didn’t work.

At the lactation consultant’s office, stripped down to the torso, with a pillow to help prop my son closer to my breast.

“Your latch looks beautiful.”

“Are you sure?”  As my toes are cringed inside my shoes and I am biting my cheek to avoid screaming in that tiny enclosed space.

“Yes, it’s perfect.  You aren’t running a fever, and there are no lumps in your breasts, so you don’t have an infection.  Maybe, call your doctor and have him check for a yeast infection.”

Again, with the yeast infection theory…..

Doctor’s office.  Now I have to explain to him why my nipples are purple and my son’s face is the same shade.  No yeast infection.  “Try this pain medication, maybe it will take the edge off enough for you to continue to breastfeed.”

Prescription and hopes, completely dashed against the rocks into tiny fragments.  The pain is only getting worse and no one can tell me why.  I am starting to dread those feedings, melting down in tears whenever my wee son would give any indication he was hungry.  Back to the doctor.  Once again, stripped down to have everyone inspect my latching.

“He’s latching perfectly.”

Ugh!!

“It is probably a neuropathy.”

What?!  “You can get neuropathy in your nipples?”

“You can get neuropathy anywhere there are nerves in your body.”

“So what do I do about this?”

“Well, I can give you a prescription for the neuropathy, but would require you to ween.  Or, you could just ween him and that will probably clear up the neuropathy on it’s own.”

So my only options were to ween.  I was completely heartbroken, but with my husband’s logic and my doctors recommendation, I weened my son at 4 months old, long before the “well past one year” that I had hoped and dreamed of.

I went out and bought the formula, gave him his first bottle, and cried the entire time I fed him.  I was the worst mother ever, for not just sticking through the pain and feeding him what was surely best for him.  I cried for that entire week I weened him to the bottle.  I wept tears of regret and guilt for not being able to give my son “the best”.

Then, a month later, after my son had started to gain weight back and I realized that he was growing and happy and healthy, that formula was the best option for us.  I was not in pain, dreading each feeding, and he was growing and the most bonded baby boy ever.  I hadn’t lost anything, but gained my sanity, my body, my mind, and my boy back before I started down a very hard and destructive road.  But I never, fully got over the little mommy guilt that says, “You didn’t try hard enough.”

Fast forward 2 years, my second son is born.  I am determined to breastfeed him for the entire year, but knowing my past experience, this may be an upward battle.  I was told from the beginning that he was tongue-tied, but no one ever said anything about this being a death sentence for breastfeeding if it was not taken care of.  My doctor recommended that we don’t do anything for it, he will probably grow out of it.  Exact same breastfeeding issues only this time, the excruciating pain came the first week home.  Crying tears of failure, my husband loving says that we can ween him just like we weened my first born.  No, I’m determined.  I start looking up information about tongue-tie and discovered that it is difficult for a baby to latch properly to breastfeed effectively, causing him frustration and the mother pain.  Wait a second, this was the same pain that I experienced with my first born and no one had said he was tongue-tied. (Come to find out, he is, just farther back where no one can see it).

I call my doctor.  We are taking care of this tongue-tie.  I am not failing this time.  Tongue-tie snipped, and my son was nursing beautifully, but now he’s nursing every hour on the hour for 45 minutes at a time.  Seriously?!  Now no pain, but extreme, “sleep for 3 hours after breastfeeding” exhaustion, that cannot be allowed with an active 2 year old boy.  This time, there is slow seeping depression.  I can feel it creeping in.  I am dreading feedings again, only for different reasons this time.  My body, and my time are completely demanded of me, with the added bonus of acid reflux and gas making my boy fussy and unable to sleep except when attached to my chest in an upright position, and spit-up that could make the little girl in “The Exorcist” jealous.  I recognize this place.  I was here exactly 2 years ago, buying formula because enough was enough.  Feeling the same guilt I felt then, trying to suppress the knowledge that I know where this ends.  It ends with formula, and I am somewhat relieved.

***

Let your voice be heard – email me your story at formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

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