Today, I posted an incredible piece from my friend Amy West on the Facebook page. Amy is a breastfeeding counselor and advocate, but more than that, she is an independent thinker who understands that the way we support breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers (and fathers) might need an overhaul. I don’t doubt that she’ll receive some backlash for her viewpoint, just my friend Jessica over at The Leaky Boob did for daring to “work” with me (someone who, according to some of her recent critics, should be her sworn enemy. I kid you not).
But people like Amy and Jessica are the face of the future – supporters of women and families first, who also advocate for and support breastfeeding moms. I feel confident that they are ushering in a new era of breastfeeding advocacy, and I expect it to do more in a few years than decades of the status quo has accomplished.
In that spirit, I wanted to share Kara’s FFF Friday. It’s a bit different than the usual fare, but I absolutely love it. She describes the flaws in our current rhetoric, which the people perpetuating these flaws don’t want to hear coming from me (because of my admitted bias and position as “formula feeding defender”); I’m hoping that because Kara is a breastfeeding mom, she might carry more weight with these folks. Because as I keep trying to explain – to no avail – my work is not about promoting formula or knocking breastfeeding. It’s about reforming a system that leaves more than half of us struggling with a lack of support and information, and the other half floundering around with something that passes as support, but often looks more like a pass/fail system that relies on fear and comparisons as a motivational tool.
Anyway. Happy Friday, fearless ones,
My breastfeeding story is a success story, because I’ve breast fed my twins for six months now, but I still experienced a lot of pressure, uncertainty and guilt as a result of “lactivism,” so I agreed to share it.
I’ve come to loathe the “breast is best” rhetoric. I went into breast feeding knowing LLL and others were overstating the benefits of breastfeeding and believing that formula is just fine no matter why a family chooses it. But I had some difficulties getting breastfeeding started with my premature twins.* They were in the NICU for over a week. Throughout my pregnancy I assumed breastfeeding would be easy for me. I don’t know why since the process of getting pregnant certainly wasn’t (I started trying after reaching what doctors like to call “advanced maternal age” and ultimately succeeding with IVF), but I had read enough to know to request a breast pump a few hours after the surgery. Things started well – I was producing amazing quantities of colostrum and the nurses started turning away my contributions before my babies came home. But my son was on CPAP and the NICU nurses wouldn’t let me take him out of his plastic box for several days. My daughter wasn’t getting many interventions but only weighed four pounds at birth and although we tried in the NICU, she was too weak to nurse. I gave up trying to nurse them there and focused on pumping. I let the nurses give them pacifiers. I told them to use formula if there ever wasn’t enough colostrum/milk. And I ignored the hospital lactation consultant who told me I needed to pump a minimum of eight times a day to get my supply up in favor of sleeping through the night while I still could. That was all wrong, I guess? But here’s the thing: I hated watching them cry in their incubators with nothing to comfort them. And I wanted my babies to be fed and grow well so they could come home as soon as possible. I could see with each of the six pumping sessions I did manage that my supply was just fine. The LCs gave me a little schedule of target volumes for twin moms pumping in the hospital, and I was ahead of schedule. The hospital LCs never believed me and insisted I had to pump more often. But I hated pumping because not only did it hurt, but the sound of the machine had already turned into a voice saying “NIPPLE, NIPPLE, NIPPLE” mockingly.
My little Twin A and Twin B came home at 5.5 and 4.5 pounds, and both were pumped bottle babies. I still wanted to breastfeed and escape the pump, but couldn’t convince them and decided to give a private LC a try. I got a great one who *didn’t* bully me or pressure me, and with her advice and support, in six or eight weeks (who can remember?) I had them nursing full-time. It was hard work, and painful, but it was my choice to struggle through it because a) I’m a single mom without a ton of money and it was cheaper, and b) I had freaking TWINS and tandem nursing, once I mastered it, was the most efficient way to feed them – both at once, with the least amount of cleaning up to do afterwards. I also got through it because I allowed myself the option of formula if it ever was too much for me. I kept some pre-mixed formula in the apartment even though the advice I got from the pregnancy boards run by self-proclaimed “boob nazis” was not to do that, because I’d be too tempted to use it and quit. I stuck it out…because I had the peace of mind of knowing that formula was right there if there was ever some night when I couldn’t take it anymore.**
I never planned to breast feed past six months, but when we hit that milestone a couple weeks ago I suddenly found myself doubting. Was six months really enough? Was formula in fact an evil poison? Didn’t my premature twins need as much extra advantage as I could give them? How could I be such a bad mom to want to quit now that breastfeeding was finally painless and routine? I found myself desperately looking for support for weaning at six months and finding little. Even the advice I found on how to wean was predicated on the assumptions that my children had never had a bottle in their lives and were ready to transition to a full solid diet, no longer requiring breast milk, but just nursing for comfort. Eventually I found Fearless Formula Feeder, and thank goodness! But what happened to the person who ignored all the lactivist advice in the hospital?
Online breastfeeding support groups happened, is what happened to her. After I stopped working with my awesome LC, I consulted sites like Kellymom for information about minor issues as they arose (the thing about how after six weeks breastfeeding is easy peasy? Not entirely true). And I like to get information from more than one source (what can I say? I’m a researcher at heart) and read a lot of these sites. I found myself questioning my initial position that breastfeeding didn’t provide that many health advantages to babies. I started to wonder “what if they’re right?” I went through a period of deep anxiety when I thought about weaning. The times I had referred to the breast feeding support sites had insidiously planted these doubts even though I had done my research and debunked them before I started reading them. And these sites are the top hits of any online search for breastfeeding information, unfortunately. You have to dig deep to find the opposing views, and until I found them I felt like crap. I didn’t want to be selfish! But I really did want to stop and I kept digging for information until I found what I needed (which was just reaffirmation of what I already knew)
I’m going to be gradually reducing our nursing sessions over the next few weeks, because six months is plenty. Because I’m tired of plugged ducts and the fear of mastitis. Because I’m tired of being bitten by two babies at the same time. Because it will be hard to pump when I go back to work full time. Because I don’t want to pump when I go back to work full time. Because I’d like to go out on a weekend for more than four hours without dragging my pump around and using it in a dirty public restroom to avoid engorgement. Because my twins are doing great and eating solids now. Because breastfeeding was never how I bonded with my babies.*** Because formula is a pretty darn good food. Because I want to, and it’s my choice, and I shouldn’t ever have had to question myself about it.
* And as a whole separate issue, I was pressured by strangers about not letting my doctors ever tell me induction was necessary because it would lead to an unnecessary c-section…but with my blood pressure skyrocketing it was necessary. And you know what? I did get an epidural and I did end up with an emergency section. But I also ended up with two live children and I can sneeze without peeing, so there.
** Eventually I joined some twin parent boards and found them a lot more supportive of both supplementing and exclusive formula feeding.
*** You can’t be fully absorbed gazing into a baby’s eyes for too long when you’ve got to make sure you devote equal attention to the second baby, who also likes to squirm and try to fall off the pillow, and the other has reflux and you have an overactive letdown so you spend a lot of nursing time mopping up,**** and both of them nurse with their eyes shut anyway.
**** As glad as I am to have breastfed for six months, here is the memory of it that will last the longest for me: Tandem nursing and the refluxy baby finishes first. He requires immediate burping, so I carefully lift him up without disrupting the latch of the other…and he promptly vomits down my back. Since still-nursing baby is not gaining as well as the pediatrician likes and I am strapped to a giant double nursing pillow, so I find myself unable to get up, crying as vomit trickles down my back and puddles on my sheets. At 3 AM. This is what breastfeeding is for me.
Share your story, or your thoughts: email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.