The history of infant feeding is fascinating to me, mostly because it’s such a prime example of human innovation. In today’s Western society, we tend to romanticize the days of yore, favoring ancient practices in the approach to nutrition, medicine, and especially birth and parenting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, if this is what you prefer – but I think the downside is that we start resenting modern conveniences and progress. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a total Luddite about many things (I will never trade in my dogeared, musty-smelling paperbacks for a Kindle; I think Facebook is the downfall of humanity) but I also freaking love my DVR, read Popular Science and geek out, and think medical advancements are the coolest thing since sliced bread. I love that we can cure diseases, prevent others, and take away the pain from childbirth for those who desire this.
So I really, really love Emily’s story, because it speaks to all of this, and then some. Because nature isn’t always right. Humans aren’t always right. In fact, both of them are wrong a lot of the time. But when they can work in tandem and correct each other’s mistakes, that’s a beautiful thing.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
My husband is a biologist, and he’s interested in evolutionary biology. Through him, I’ve also developed an interest in this, though I’m not at all a science person so my understanding is limited.
When I learned about insufficient glandular tissue (and that I had IGT), I didn’t understand. If our bodies were made for breastfeeding (as nurses, lactation consultants, et al. kept telling me), how is it that IGT is a thing? Why it is that the gene for IGT didn’t die out when our bodies didn’t do what they were meant to do and we couldn’t feed our babies?
I thought about this as I was pregnant with my second child. With my first, we had tried breastfeeding. He had a great latch and a strong suck for all the good it did him. I just couldn’t produce enough milk. I hadn’t even heard of IGT back then. Neither had the myriad nurses, lactation consultants, doctors, or La Leche League leaders, presumably. Or if they did, they never told me about it. LLL leaders were happy with telling me that I wasn’t dedicated to breastfeeding and that I was wrong when I said he wasn’t producing dirty diapers. I just couldn’t tell they were wet, she said, because I used disposable diapers rather than cloth. (To be fair, some of the LLL leaders were much nicer and encouraging.) Lactation consultants must have seen me as a cash cow and tried to sell me products and services that weren’t even calculated to help my supply issue. I’ve come to think of them as predatory.
And so, thinking that breast is best, my routine with my first was breastfeed, give breast milk that I had pumped earlier, supplement with formula, and pump while he sleeps. When that was all done, he was up again. I think a lot of readers are familiar with this pattern. I was even on some medication from my midwife to try to increase my supply, but all it did was make me sleepy. Eventually, I stopped. I realized that an awake mommy who could play with her baby was more important than breast milk.
During my second pregnancy, I learned about IGT, in particular that I might have IGT. Instead of feeling relieved or justified (so that’s why I couldn’t breastfeed!), I felt lied to and betrayed. Of all the people I spoke to when my first baby was born, all the medical professionals and self-professed breastfeeding experts who tried to make me feel bad, give me medication, or sell me useless and expensive equipment, why did no one tell me about this? They all said that our bodies were meant to do this, that we have been doing this for thousands of years. They never said that maybe my body wasn’t meant to do this. And if, as they said, this is what mommies are designed to do and I can’t do it, are they implying that I shouldn’t be a mommy?
Survival of the fittest doesn’t mean survival of the physically strongest. It means the one who is most able to adapt to her surroundings will pass on her genes. People say that women have been breastfeeding for thousands of years, but they neglect to mention that we have also been using wet nurses, animal milk, and baby bottles for that long. The gene for IGT didn’t die out because humans are creative, intelligent, and caring enough to feed their babies when their bodies don’t work the way other people think they should.
Never do I feel more human than I do when I give my baby formula. Bottle feeding my babies reminds me of humans’ problem solving ability that allowed us to evolve into who we are today, and probably did more for the species than mammary glands ever did. And we’re all part of this intelligent species, whether we bottle or breastfeed.
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