FFF Friday: “Feeling upset over not breastfeeding turned out to be a huge waste of time.”

I was showed FC my piece in the Mothering Through the Darkness anthology , and he very wisely pointed out that I have mentioned him (by name) quite a bit in my published work… but Fearlette? Not so much. “She’s gonna be upset, Mom,” he said. “You better write a book about her.”

This got me thinking. I should write something for Fearlette. Not to share with the world, necessarily, but to share with her, when she gets older. How amazing would it be to have letters or essays from your parents about you as a small child; about them as young parents? 

That’s why I love Lisa Young’s beautiful letter, which she has so graciously offered to share as this week’s FFF Friday. I hope it inspires some of you to write letters to your own children. They probably won’t ask or care about how they were fed as infants, until they have children of their own – but that might be the perfect time to show them these letters, so that they won’t feel lost with all the muddled, weighty decisions new parents must go through. That’s nice to imagine, isn’t it?

 Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

 

Letter to D

By Lisa Young

To my darling D, an explanation of how I fed you as a baby…….

I write this in case you one day want an explanation of your feeding regime as an infant. I also write it for myself and any other women present and future for whom early feeding hasn’t gone smoothly for. Given I doubt you will give a toss how you were fed when old enough to understand, I feel the purpose of this is far more about the latter two things! But anyway….

Before you came along I couldn’t wait to have you with us and was so excited to meet you. I was however petrified of the idea of childbirth. Therefore all my energy went into trying to keep myself relaxed and calm so I could bring you into the world safely. Breastfeeding, so I thought would be a breeze in comparison, it was birth that I needed to focus on. I did no research about how to breastfeed or what could go wrong. I went along to a couple of classes which highlighted how easy it would be where there was no mention of any issues that could occur, or more importantly what could be done about them. I thought it would just happen and gave it no further thought.

Bringing you into the world could not have been more straight forward, after all my worry, you came so easily, on time and without any problems or delays. I was elated, relieved and more than anything, so happy to have you with us safely. I was relaxed on the presumption I would be able to breastfeed you soon, only this changed a little when the midwife spotted you were tongue tied and said it may impair your ability to feed. This stuck in the back of my mind but I proceeded to enjoy our first hours of skin to skin and presumed it would work itself out.

When it came to our first feed it went seemingly well, you latched on and managed to take some milk, I thought we had it sorted. Sadly that was one of the few successful latches we could form and things took a bit of a turn for the worse. Your tongue inhibited you and my breasts got more and more bruised from incorrect latching because I didn’t really know what I was doing or how to feed a baby with a tongue tie. The number of staff who could latch you to me decreased as you became more hungry and frustrated, and aside from a very inundated and infrequently available breastfeeding consultant I didn’t know who else could make this happen for us.

Late in the evening of your first night, you had got hungrier and the breastfeeding consultant was long gone for the day. You cried and I sobbed – I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t latch you to me but I had also been told in one of my classes that formula was indigestible. I didn’t want to cause you indigestion but I couldn’t bare to hear you cry. A staff member who had tried to help us looked quite relieved when in desperation I said I would try formula.

You drank it with such relief and she turned to me softly and told me I was sensible and doing the right thing for you. It helped to hear this but the guilt I felt blocked my ability to believe her fully.

The days that followed saw me express milk relentlessly and use top ups of formula. Many staff were very supportive of this regime, one or two however, less so. It pains me to write out all the negative things we were told about formula but there were a number of them and each time I fed it to you, I cringed and felt like a bad mother. Your tongue was soon snipped but by this point you were so used to bottle feeding that asking you to change was too much. Once again the hospital staff member who performed your snip could not latch you to me. Along with slagging off formula, she gave us advice on how to breastfeed, which on reflection was so unhelpful. We left the hospital stuck and alone. Despite your procedure, I was no closer to breastfeeding you and despite her kindness and efforts, not even our local breastfeeding counselor’s guidance seemed to help us form a latch.quotescover-JPG-10

I finally found a nipple shield and thought we’d hit the jackpot. The first day I exclusively fed you with it I felt on cloud nine and got to feel I was making a good choice for you. I continued to feed you exclusively by breast but my feelings of excitement were short lived, as within days the agony the nipple shield caused became unbearable and even more distressing was your dissatisfaction with feeding this way. Your frequent  distress unless on my breast implied you weren’t getting enough milk and were feeling continually hungry.  I winced in pain each time I fed you and was soon forced to stop when I came down with mastitis and was bed bound. It took all the energy I had to keep expressing milk, the rest of the time, I just slept.

When I recovered I just couldn’t face going back to using the nipple shield that had caused us both so much difficulty, so I expressed around the clock and continued to try latching you. Never did we get there with that elusive latch and the expressing got more and more of a chore. I wanted to do it for you because I didn’t want to give up on my supply and my vision of eventually breastfeeding you, I also wanted you to have breast milk after being told it was better for you. The only thing is, every time I expressed milk it took me away from you; from cuddling you, enjoying you and just watching what a miracle you are. The resentment and tiredness from doing it only increased and when your daddy went back to work, it was clear I wasn’t going to have enough time to continue. My body and heart together decided it was time to let go and put the pump away. My supply decreased and eventually dried and the pump went back in its box.

For a while I mourned the breastfeeding I never got to do but at the same time I got a whole new lease of life. This was the beginning point of a new relationship for us, I hung out with you, watched you, hugged you even more and didn’t need to be anywhere other than right there with you, enjoying you. I really started to delight in this pressure free mummy hood! I think you enjoyed it too, you just seemed to get happier and happier over the weeks and months that followed.

As I’ve recovered from the anxiety and exhaustion I felt in your earlier months, I don’t regret stopping my attempts to give you breast milk, if anything perhaps I should have done it a little sooner. The reason I put all that pressure on myself was because I had listened so hard to the breast is best agenda. For a while I felt failure like I had not felt in years. But with time it became clear that the use of formula to feed you was perfect, because you were and are perfect. Perfectly gaining weight, perfectly developing, perfectly happy, a perfect, content baby. Whereas there are said to be natural benefits to breast milk (for example anti bodies) that formula may not be able to replicate, I now feel assured it is a great alternative choice. It has been very nourishing for you and you’ve demonstrated that it certainly is digestible! I also know too many intelligent, healthy adults who were bottle fed and who prove there isn’t a drastic difference between boob and bottle. I know you are going to be fine!.. More than fine.

What I do regret is being so heavily influenced by the negativity about formula and the hype around breastfeeding. By believing such, I let our feeding regime define my perceived ability as a mother. I have since been learning a very valuable lesson from this; that a mother’s instinct and happiness are far more powerful that the loud voices, opinions and agendas of others. It pays not to be so easily influenced and to listen to ourselves as much as or even more so than others. The day I listened to myself instead of all the hype was the day I put myself back in the driving seat of motherhood and I have been continually gaining confidence since. Feeling upset over not breast feeding you turned out to be a huge waste of valuable time which we will never get back and for this reason I hope that feeding agendas change in support of encouraging the best feeding method for each individual mother – whatever it is. Instead of all the comparisons between breast milk and formula we should just celebrate that we have different ways to feed our babies and the resources to make a choice that is best for our family.

My network of local mummy friends have been amazingly supportive and non judgemental of my feeding journey and I am so grateful to them. I am also so thankful to your daddy and our family who have stuck by all my choices without question. Most of all though, I am so thankful to you, my darling little bundle of joy who loves me, smiles at me and hugs me every day, completely unconditionally and regardless of how I feed you. Every time I watch you explore your world, enjoy your food, learn to crawl and engage so lovingly and positively with everyone around you, it is a reminder that you are not negatively affected by how you were fed and are the most content, happy little boy. If we are ever lucky enough to give you a brother or sister your amazing development and total contentment are plentiful reassurance that they too will be fine – however they are fed.

 

Love you forever………

Mummy xxxx

***

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

The Least Interesting, Least Controversial Post You’ll Read About That NYT Article

In the 1993 film Groundhog’s Day, a reporter (Bill Murray) gets stuck in an endless time-warping loop, which forces him to repeat the same day over and over again. He’s aware of the constant rewinding, but no one else seems to be; everyone around him repeats the same lines and actions every day, with no knowledge that they did the very same thing the day before.

I’m starting to feel a bit like Bill Murray.

Every year or so, someone (typically a journalist or academic) writes an article for a major news outlet about the breast/bottle issue, and the universe explodes into a toxic cloud of overwrought responses and painfully long comment sections. I’m not casting stones from my glassy little house; I’ve contributed to these explosions many times by posting the catalyst articles on Facebook and Twitter, written my own overwrought responses, and added my unnecessary two cents to comment threads.

But that’s what you do, when you’re caught in a Groundhog’s Day situation. You go through the motions, say what people expect you to say. You play your part.

Here’s what my personal Groundhog’s Day looks like:

An article comes out with a controversial, negative title about breastfeeding, containing one or more of the following points:

 

-Breastfeeding studies are flawed and therefore can’t be trusted.

-The studies proving that breastfeeding isn’t the cat’s meow are somehow exempt from the same criticism, and can be trusted implicitly

-Everyone trying to help women breastfeed is a bully

-The person writing breastfed, but thinks formula feeding is a perfectly viable option and resents the pressure she couldn’t resist; or, she formula fed, and this is a sad, penitent story about her breastfeeding failure and how hard she tried.

Next,  a response piece comes out, making one (or more) of the following arguments:

 

-The author of the original piece isn’t an MD or IBCLC, but rather a political or social scientist, so she’s got no business having an opinion on medical issues. (Let’s ignore that some of the most prominent voices in breastfeeding literature are anthropologists.)

-People who speak out against the pressure to breastfeed are anti-breastfeeding, hate breastfeeding mothers, and must be bitter/anti-feminist/in the pocket of Big Formula/uneducated/uninformed.

-There is no such thing as the Mommy Wars, and moms don’t really feel guilty about not breastfeeding, because our 6-month exclusive breastfeeding rates show that they are in the majority, so why would they ever feel bad?

-Because breastfeeding mothers also have problems, that negates the problems of non-breastfeeding parents.

-All of the research cited in the article means nothing, because (add circular argument here about how the AAP and WHO support breastfeeding, based on the same studies that are being questioned).

 

-Anyone who cares about women and babies should boycott said article and the godforsaken newspaper/website that published it.

 

Then, a follow up to the follow up will be written, reiterating the points of the first article, and we all act as if any part of this tone-deaf conversation is news. And so on, and so forth, until we find ourselves back at the beginning, ready to start the cycle over.

If this were a movie, I’d make a dramatic, heart-stirring speech, grab a stick, and draw a literal and proverbial line in the sand. On one side, I’d invite the the rational, kind people – regardless of their opinions on breastfeeding, or how they fed their own kids. As long as they respected other people’s points of view, and were willing to listen and have a real conversation, they would be welcome.

On the other side, we’d leave the zealots and judgmental jerks. Then something magical would happen, maybe involving a fairy godmother who’d been disguised as a gruff barkeep for the whole movie, watching and waiting for the protagonist to figure out the Big Lesson. Sparks would fly, and those of us on the “nice” side would miraculously wake up 24 hours later and go on with our lives, while the others would be stuck in that same day, having the same tired arguments. (Don’t feel bad for them. They’re happier that way.)

Groundhog-Day-quotes-6

But there isn’t a fairy godmother, or even a barkeep, so I’m stuck reciting my lines. I’m not going to be poetic about it, because I’ve written the same article like 7000 times already and I would only plagiarize myself (is that possible?), so I’m just going to list some bullet points, in no particular order, which detail my response to the all the articles and responses and responses to responses, in no particular order:

– Breastfeeding moms struggle. They deserve help, and resources, and the right to feed their babies anywhere and in any way they see fit.

– Formula feeding parents struggle. They deserve help, and resources, and the right to feed their babies in whatever way they see fit.

– Infant feeding studies are inherently flawed. All of them. The ones that say what you want them to say, and the ones that say what you don’t. The best we have are sibling studies, of which there are approximately three. Those three do show very negligible benefits of breastfeeding. However, just because research can’t prove that breastfeeding guarantees a healthier, smarter child, does not mean it’s not worth supporting. It is still the biological norm, and there are many reasons it is worthwhile and wonderful that have nothing to do with science. (Incidentally, I find it ironic that SCIENCE is what we use to promote breastmilk, while at the same time being seriously pissed off at SCIENCE for making a damn good substitute for it. Those science-y bastards!)

– We do NOT have solid evidence that breastfeeding is the panacea (at least in western society) that organizations like WHO and UNICEF make it out to be. But remember that WHO and UNICEF are worldwide organizations, and in many parts of the world, not breastfeeding really can be a death sentence. So that might cause a bit of understandable zealotry on the subject.

– It is unfortunate that the only people speaking up about these issues are political scientists and bloggers (one exception: Dr. Amy Tuteur, who has a book coming out very soon which tackles this topic). Consider, though, that it’s basically career suicide for anyone in the medical profession to speak out against breastfeeding pressure.  Until we can have more balanced discussions that don’t result in knee-jerk responses and accusations, I don’t see many practicing MDs volunteering to lead the charge. (There’s a really long discussion on this form of innate censorship in my book, not that anyone has read the damn thing. Because, you know, it’s Groundhog’s Day, and it doesn’t exist in this alternate reality. Or any reality, really, looking at my book sales. Sigh.)

– Infant feeding politics are greatly affected by region, race, class, and social group. What happens to one patient in one hospital doesn’t have much bearing on another patient in another hospital, even one down the street, let alone in a different part of the country. Some people live in breastfeeding-friendly communities where they really are the only person reaching for a bottle. The fact that their statewide statistics show that 50% of the people in their state are also reaching for bottles means nothing, unless those 50% hang out in their neighborhood, with their social circle.

– What happens in Baby Friendly Hospitals is not uniform. What Baby Friendly says in its literature can easily get lost in translation. Many, many parents report feeling bullied and pressured, and left without any resources or support once they chose to formula feed. Telling them that this isn’t happening just because it isn’t happening at the hospital YOU work at, is gaslighting, pure and simple.

– Likewise, just because you were treated like a criminal for asking to supplement, doesn’t mean someone else is lying when they say their child was given formula without reason or consent. Some hospitals are very breastfeeding unfriendly.

– Speaking of which, the whole reason for the huge push with breastfeeding is that for a long time, formula was the norm, and breastfeeding was discouraged. That said…I actually think a case could be made that the truly anti-breastfeeding period was about 2 decades, or about 25 years (50s-mid 70’s). Formula feeding became the norm in the 50’s, and that’s when pediatricians started telling women it was “better” to use commercial formula than their own milk. The pendulum swung the other direction in the mid-70’s (post Nestle disaster) and breastfeeding has been the “right” choice ever since. As it is currently 2015, and the pendulum has been way over on the breastfeeding side from around the early 90s, that means we’ve been pro-breast longer than we were anti-breast. This might be the reason for all the recent backlash – it’s time for another pendulum swing, this time (hopefully) towards the middle.

– Instead of questioning the quality of the breastfeeding research, why aren’t we questioning why we’re still doing meaningless observational studies which do nothing but frame infant feeding (and therefore, necessarily, women’s bodies) as the only element in childhood health and development? Instead, we could be using the money, time and energy finding better alternatives for those who can’t make breastfeeding work, or finding ways to support breastfeeding without harming the psyches of new mothers or marginalizing new dads or adoptive parents. Even studies which look at the chemical composition of breastmilk would be helpful and interesting. But we know that observational studies on the long-term effects of breastfeeding are bullshit, so why do we keep doing them? Seems like an exercise in frustration, to me.

– Breastfeeding supporters (IBCLCs. CLCs, nurses) are not the enemy. I think there are fundamental flaws in the training programs and governing boards that oversee these credentials, things that make it difficult for care providers to do their jobs with empathy and sensitivity. For example, the way IBCLCs are restricted by their code of conduct makes it hard to truly support formula feeding parents, in my opinion. But for those who want to breastfeed, these professionals are a GODSEND. And many do stray from the party line and help parents feed their babies, however that may happen, end of story. Stereotyping is stereotyping, no matter which way you cut it.

– The previous point does not negate the fact that many women have been mistreated and hurt in the name of breastfeeding. The individuals and organizations that perpetuate this behavior must be held accountable, just as much as the formula companies need to be held accountable for their marketing tactics, past and present.

– Speaking of marketing, formula companies have done some god-awful things. But we must be careful not to confuse their modern, generic capitalist behavior with the sins of the past. Sending a formula sample (which can be donated to a food bank or burned at the stake, you choose) is not quite the same thing as sending fake nurses into a resource-poor nation and creating conditions that killed hundred of babies.

– The experiences of formula feeding parents are just as real, valid, and important as the experiences of breastfeeding mothers, and vice versa.

– Listen to those experiences: breastfeeding mothers talk about shame around feeding in public, attitudes towards extended breastfeeding, and a lack of practical support at the hospital. Formula feeding parents talk about shame around the entire first year of feeding, being made to feel like they are harming their children, being chastised by care providers, and having a lack of practical support at the hospital. There are problems and gaps and room for improvement on both sides. It’s not a pissing contest.

– When a new voice arises on the infant feeding debate scene, don’t immediately dismiss it. Maybe there’s a reason for all these articles – maybe there are some real issues going on here, and if we solved them, the articles would stop.

 

I could say more, but I’m boring myself. I hope you’re bored, too; bored of the constant back and forth, bored of defending yourself and your point of view; bored of fighting. It won’t change until the people in real positions of power – physicians, members of the AAP and WHO and numerous other medical organizations, government officials, parenting “experts” – decide to take a long, hard look at what this “debate” is doing to parents and babies, and realize that if the end goal is a happier, healthier generation, they are failing miserably.

All we can do in the meantime is take care of ourselves and those around us; to tell our stories and talk to those who are willing to listen, and explain why breastfeeding is not, and never will be, the same sort of public health issue as obesity or smoking. Some will put their hands over their ears and refuse to listen, but that’s okay. Keep talking. Force it to be a dialog instead of a lecture. Read the articles you agree with, and the ones you don’t agree with. Find people who support you, and pay it forward by supporting others.

And one day, if we’re lucky, we will all wake up in our beds and find that it’s February 3rd.

 

 

 

 

FFF Friday: “The point is, I didn’t fail.”

We’ve been discussing hospital breastfeeding initiatives over on the Facebook page this week, and the consensus seems to be that the policies aren’t the problem, but rather the implementation of the policies. As you’ll see in Liz’s story, women are often treated as something sub-human after they give birth; a vessel and a food source, and nothing more. Our needs are completely dismissed, and our bodies are manhandled. 

There is a way to protect and promote breastfeeding, and also protect mothers and promote respect. It really isn’t that hard, which almost makes it worse. Because if we cared even a little about the well-being of mothers, these stories wouldn’t have to happen.

Anyway – Liz’s story is smart and funny, and it washed the bad taste of the week out of my mouth. I hope it does for you as well. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Liz’s Story

Last winter, unable to hold in our secret any longer, I got on my computer and excitedly announced to my 600-something Facebook friends that my partner, Cody, and I were expecting a baby that summer. My heart felt full as congratulatory messages began pouring in. I don’t think I had the post up for an hour when a message from an acquaintance of mine, someone I knew professionally but hardly on a personal level, arrived in my inbox. The message was about the length of a short novel and in it the sender explained she wanted to come visit me and take me to lunch (she lives nearly three hours away) to talk about mommy stuff and, specifically, how I planned to feed my baby.

“Obviously breastfeeding is the best option!” she wrote.

I was confused. I went onto her page and saw she had taken a job as the head of a local breastfeeding task force. I responded that I would be happy to meet her and that I planned on breastfeeding (why not, right?) She sent me back another lengthy message in which she droned on about the evil formula companies, “baby-friendly” hospitals and breastfeeding acceptance in the workplace. All I could think about at that point in my pregnancy was how to make it through each day without vomiting at my desk. Why was this woman jumping down my throat about how I planned to feed my baby? (Thankfully, she never followed through on the lunch offer.)

I live in a secluded mountain town out west that’s as crunchy granola as it gets. Several months later, when I was just a couple weeks away from my due date, my friend and I were having a conversation over text talking about how stressful our professional lives had become. “We deserve a drink. I’ll take you for one in three years, when you stop breastfeeding,” he said. Three years?

I planned on breastfeeding (though not for that long.) Of course I planned on breastfeeding! Why on earth wouldn’t I?

Fast forward to early August of this year, I’m lying in my hospital bed and my daughter, not even 24 hours old, is exploding into fits of the most shrill, agonizing screams I’ve ever heard. It’s 1 a.m., my partner and I have slept maybe four hours during the past three days, and the nurse is pulling at and stretching out my nipple, struggling to get our little Estrella (AKA Essie) to latch on to me. It hurts like hell, but what’s even more painful is hearing that teeny baby suffer the way I knew she was. I could hear the frustration in her voice, as she tried time and again to suck nutrients out of me to feed her famished little body, but to no avail.

Exhausted, and wanting nothing more than to give my baby what she so desperately wanted – nourishment – I suggest the nurse feed her an ounce of formula. “That’s your decision. But babies need that colostrum. It’s packed with nutrients. I’m a huge proponent of breastfeeding, especially this early.”

She spoke in a judgmental, almost mean tone. The next day, a different nurse came in and read my chart. “It says here you plan to breast AND bottle feed? That can’t be right. You don’t plan to bottle feed, do you?”

I did. I knew I wasn’t above giving the baby a formula bottle to give dad a turn at feeding and mom a break.

“Um. Only as a last resort!” Liar.

And a pacifier? Forget it. The hospital had just received its “baby friendly” designation, meaning new policies were in place to encourage breastfeeding, and binkies apparently “go against breastfeeding.” Since when? I was breastfed and, according to my mother, sucking on a binkie from day one.

That afternoon the doctor came in and said the baby had lost almost 10 percent of her weight. She couldn’t afford to lose any more, so they planned to give her some formula to keep her weight up. But that didn’t mean mom was getting off easy. They were going to put the formula in a syringe, put a nipple shield on me and push the formula out through the syringe and into the nipple shield so the baby could suck it out that way. It was a three person job, and apparently the whole operation was meant to keep baby looking to the breast for nourishment. quotescover-JPG-39

As my Cody, the lactation consultant and a nurse surrounded me, I looked at this complicated business and began to weep. What was wrong with me? I was incapable of providing my baby with nourishment and she had suffered and was rapidly shedding ounces because I was inadequate. I took no comfort in the nurses reassuring me that most moms experience breastfeeding roadblocks at first. I was hormonal, and the nurses, who I figured would be sensitive to that, had breastfeeding tunnel vision. I felt like they saw me as little more than a baby-feeding machine, and continued to abuse my nipples, yanking at them, hooking them up to a machine and adorning them with shields to filter formula through them with little to no concern about what I had to say about it.

My milk came in after a few days, and while I had sort of figured out the mechanics of breastfeeding, no matter how many times I had Essie latch, and re-latch, and re-latch, it still hurt like HELL. It was, hands down, worse than labor pains. The lactation consultant examined Essie’s latch at the pediatrician’s office a few days after I left the hospital and said it was perfect. In the same breath she told me that “pain is not a normal part of breastfeeding.” Tell that to my bloody nipples and so-called “perfect” latch.

After a few weeks, breastfeeding still hurt as much as the day I started. I began associating my baby’s face with torture and would sit there weeping as she fed off of me. People kept telling me I would get used to it but it just wasn’t happening for me, and I decided I’d had enough. I started pumping and supplementing with formula. Pumping took two-three hours a day, and since Cody was at work all day, it meant scrambling to put all the parts together and plug in the pump the second the baby went down for a nap.

At the grocery store I ran into one of the nurses who helped in my delivery. The first words she said to me were “Are you still breastfeeding?” Evidently the breastfeeding warriors are never off the clock, and this one has no sense of what’s appropriate.

After six weeks of being a slave to the pump, my milk supply dropped from an already pathetic 10-12 ounces a day to a measly 1-2 ounces a day. I spent about a week working to get the supply back up, but my efforts were futile. Screw it, I thought. Breastfeeding was over for me.

For a while I avoided taking Essie anywhere for fear that she would become hungry and I’d have to whip out a bottle and admit to the world that I failed at breastfeeding. I’d heard stories of holier-than-thou mothers approaching strangers bottle feeding their babies and demanding to know why they weren’t breastfeeding. I wouldn’t be able to deal with something like that, at least not without ending up on the evening news.

But the point is I didn’t fail. I did what was best for me, my daughter and our situation and don’t regret a thing. At this point, I proudly bottle feed my baby in public and if anyone feels the need to say something (which has yet to happen) it says everything about them and nothing about me.

I do wish someone had told me before I gave birth how hard breastfeeding can be. I was so unprepared to deal with any difficulties that when they came up I immediately assumed there was something wrong with me. And the pushy, judgmental nurses? I had no clue about them either, and was in no way prepared to stick up for myself the way I should have.

Labor and delivery nurses: it’s time to rethink your approach to breastfeeding. I’m not sure who’s training you all to act like assholes, but stop. It’s counterproductive.

If we ever go for baby No. 2, I’ll try again and do my best to work through whatever breastfeeding challenges that pop up along the way. And maybe the second time around I’ll have better luck. Maybe I won’t. It has nothing to do with my abilities as a mother either way.

And if the baby needs to take formula, I’ll insist he feeds from a bottle. What, no binkies? That’s ok, I brought my own. And hands off my nipples.

***

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

 

News Bites: Lack of support for breastfeeding moms; Organic formula hyperbole

My blood pressure is rising, and I’m mid-tirade directed at my poor, innocent husband when it hits me: It must be time for a good, old fashioned, FFF news roundup.

Those of you who’ve been with me for awhile probably remember that I used to do these frequently, especially when something in the news cycle gives me a bout of psychologically-induced hives. So it may come as no surprise that I felt the urge this morning, when not one, but two frustrating pieces popped up in my news feed.

First up, we have coverage of a new study in the aptly titled “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report”, claiming that women are still not getting sufficient support in American hospitals for breastfeeding.

According to NPR:

Most hospitals around the country aren’t doing a good job of helping new moms who want to breast-feed, researchers report Tuesday..Several common practices at the institutions may actually prevent moms from sticking with breast-feeding for six months — the duration thought to be most healthful for babies.

 

Epidemiologists at the CDC surveyed more than 80 percent of the birthing centers across the country about the support they give new moms trying to breast-feed. About half of those surveyed said they implement five of the 10 practices recommended by the World Health Organization. By comparison, only a third of hospitals were hitting that mark in 2007.

Looking at the study itself, the news is far from dire. In fact, according to the CDC report of the evidence, “nationally, hospitals implementing more than half of the Ten Steps increased from 28.7% in 2007 to 53.9% in 2013.” That’s a pretty significant jump, but the media decided to go with the story that “hospitals aren’t doing enough to support women in meeting breastfeeding goals.”

This is me, reading these articles. Not really. But it SO could have been.

This is me, reading these articles. Not really. But it SO could have been.

But what is the real story, here, and how come no one is talking about it? What this study tells us is whether hospitals are following what they are ‘supposed’ to do to help improve breastfeeding rates. These are things like providing mandatory breastfeeding classes, holding breastfeeding support groups (or referring out to La Leche League, etc.), making sure no pacifiers are given to neonates, and outlawing the use of “unnecessary” formula supplementation – something which the NPR piece gives ample air time:

And, too often, that’s not happening. For example, about 75 percent of hospitals still give healthy babies some formula in the first days of life, even when moms say they want to breast-feed.

 

“Even a little bit of formula may undermine a strong start to breastfeeding,” Frieden says.

Again, let’s go back to the actual study. All it tells us is that “less progress occurred in limiting non–breast milk feeding of breastfed infants (20.6% to 26.4%)”. “Breastfed infants” means infants who start out breastfeeding, presumably. But many, many parents end up supplementing by choice or by necessity – and the study does not differentiate between these situations and the type of scenario the media is imagining, where innocent breastfed babies are stolen from their parents in the night and force-fed Enfamil.

This study is not news. This study is not, in fact, telling us anything about whether women are getting “support”, at all. It is telling us whether the number of hospitals following government guidelines for raising breastfeeding rates is going up (it is). It does not correlate that number with any increase in actual breastfeeding rates. It does not survey women and ask if they felt supported in achieving their breastfeeding goals. And it certainly does not factor in the needs or experiences of women who do not want to breastfeed, or physically can’t.

But it’s not the study I’m worried about – it’s the media’s insistence on sticking to one stale, tunnel-visioned narrative, insisting that what women need is support, but defining “support” as more control over their decisions and bodies; deciding that “supporting breastfeeding” means what one group decided it means, rather than listening to women, and asking them what would really help them achieve their goals. We end up exactly in the same place we were before: with hospitals implementing pro-breastfeeding policies and then wondering why their patients and nurses are making them so difficult to carry out. (Maybe because they aren’t the right policies, or they aren’t being implemented in the right way.)

Moving on… to a piece that could have been a nice little gift to formula consumers, something that actually made a case for better transparency in the formula industry, in the popular New York Times “Motherlode” column. If you’re not familiar with Motherlode, it usually features well-written personal essays on parenting, with the occasional news, book review, or opinion piece. Today’s column, “What Does ‘Organic’ Mean For Baby Formula”, was none of these, but rather a bizarre bit of “investigative reporting” that would have fit better over on Food Babe’s blog. The author of the piece writes:

…I began to question what, exactly, were the unexpected and confusing things I was reading on the ingredients lists.

The biggest surprise was that in many of the formulas, the main ingredient was not milk, but highly processed, refined sweeteners (often listed as organic glucose syrup solids). I generally avoid feeding refined sweeteners — even organic ones — to my children. I was even more taken aback to see how many also included ingredients one wouldn’t typically expect to find in organic food — like synthetic preservatives.

I won’t bore you with all the specifics of why formulas contain sweeteners, synthetic preservatives, and “confusing” ingredients, except to say this: companies have done their R&D to make the healthiest product possible for the lowest possible price. There may indeed be less processed or more premium ingredients available, but we don’t have any research proving that more expensive or organic formulas are any better for a child’s health, so there doesn’t seem to be justification for using materials that would raise the cost. (Note: If you do want more info on formula ingredients, visit Dr. Chad Hayes’ fantastic website).

Now, to be fair, I understand the author’s confusion; if you’re used to buying high-end organic food, the back of a formula can – organic or not – is going to be super intimidating. But it’s important to remember that the definition of organic food is simply about the sources of the ingredients:

“What is organic food? Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.  Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.  Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.”

-Consumer Brochure, USDA National Organic Program, http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/Consumers/brochure.html

To clarify, in organic foods, the ingredients used can’t be derived from sources using GMO, pesticides, antibiotics, and so forth. It doesn’t mean that the food is healthy or whole. You could make an organic version of a Twinkie, but it would still be a Twinkie.

Now, in the case of formula, we are talking about something healthy – but also highly processed. This is chemical food, and it should be chemical food. It is a substitute for human milk; hence, the only way it can come close to human milk is by being recreated in a lab. Every mammal creates milk specific to its species; having the primary ingredient of human infant formula be cow’s milk has to do with cow’s milk being cheap and readily available, and easy enough to alter to be suitable for human consumption; it’s not because cow’s milk is particularly good for humans, whether it comes from the udders of grass-fed cows or not. 

I honestly do not want to criticize the author of the NYT piece. She sounds like a very well-intentioned mother. But I do think that an article which seems on the surface to be investigative journalism instead of an opinion piece, could be misleading to other well-intentioned parents, who will now feel that they have to pay exorbitant amounts of money to feed their children “healthy” formula: 

On a friend’s advice, I began to research two formulas made in the European Union, HiPP and Holle. It seemed pretty clear: these formulas came closer to what I would expect in organic baby food. No refined, high-concentrated sweeteners. No synthetic DHA or ARA. No synthetic preservatives. HiPP says it analyzes all its agricultural projects for traces of over 1,000 different substances. The main ingredient in Holle’s formula is milk that comes from pasture-fed cows raised on biodynamic farms.

 

Holle and HiPP are great products. And the author’s assertion at the end of her article, that parents need better options, is spot-on. I want there to be more communication between formula manufactures and parents, so that we all understand why certain ingredients are in our babies’ food. I want there to be ample options for kids with all sorts of food sensitivities; formulas for vegans; formula for parents who care about grass-fed cows. Because that’s the beauty of using a manufactured product – it can be altered. It can evolve.

What I don’t want is fear-mongering or confusion running around, when parents are already stressed and scared about formula use. I want parents to know that while DHA/ARA is indeed hexane-extracted, that does NOT mean that any hexane remains in the DHA/ARA. I want them to know that the reason many companies don’t use lactose is not because it’s expensive, but rather because cow lactose is different than human lactose, and many babies have a hard time tolerating it. I want them to know that yes, ingredients matter, and it’s absolutely okay to care about what goes into your body and your baby’s body (not that you need my permission or anyone else’s to feel how you’re going to feel, but you know what I mean), but the formulas on the market now have been tested, highly regulated, and proven to work beautifully for the majority of babies.

Insisting that we have more choices and better consumer knowledge does not have to mean throwing the generic brand-fed baby out with the bathwater. Let’s stop and talk to the people who are creating these formulas, and not just stop at the Cornucopia Institute (because both sides are affected by very strong bias, and you need to balance one extreme with the other), as well as some totally independent, science-minded folks. Let’s aim for truth and nuance rather than absolutes and middle-class food politics.

And now, I’m going to go celebrate the Cubs securing their place in the post-season, because that’s the only news really worth talking about, anyway.

 

***For a great breakdown of the organic formula options currently available in the US, visit the Incredible Infant’s Guide to Organic Formula.***

 

 

FFF Friday: “I gladly packed up the Medela and never looked back.”

I’m currently on a family trip, and have about 5 minutes to post – so all I will say about this week’s submission is that I adore it’s simplicity, and the unabashed self-awareness of the author. Knowing your limits….what a concept. One that too many of us are afraid of, I imagine.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Suzannah’s Story

I have 2 children – one 14 and another who is 4.  I have a 10 year gap because of hyperemesis gravidarum with my first and it took me that long to get the courage to have another.  I had it with my second, too.

My first was born at 5 lbs,1 oz, most likely because of the hyperemesis (I couldn’t take my prenatals, drink plain water, and there was a 2 week period where I ate nothing but chicken broth.  I once threw up 48 times in one day and had to be rehydrated in the ER).  When I tried to breast feed her, my sister commented, “Your boob is bigger than her head and your nipple is bigger than her mouth!”  My baby could barely latch on and when she did, was practically completely covered by my gargantuan boob, which I kept having to pull back to keep from smothering her!   I also found that I was just not producing milk.  I had a complete lack of appetite when I first had her and my friend said I wasn’t eating and drinking enough to make the milk.  After trying nutrition supplements, drinking water, making sure I ate well for a few weeks, and even rubbing my breasts in the shower to stimulate milk production (while sobbing because I felt like an inadequate mother who couldn’t provide for her child),  I still produced barely an ounce every time I pumped.  And my baby clearly wasn’t getting enough breast milk when I tried nursing.

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I went to the pediatrician (I was pretty much bottle-feeding and supplementing with breast milk – what little I had) and he said to me, “She’s tiny, she needs to eat, don’t make her struggle for it.  Give her formula all the time.  Forget the nursing and pumping.”  I was absolutely shattered. I felt completely inadequate and that I was a terrible mother.  I kept thinking, “Everyone nurses! It’s natural! Why can’t I do it!?”  But I bottle-fed her from that day on.

 

For my second child, I decided, since I was older and wiser, to do lactation consulting, etc., and I found I produced a little bit more (while I was filling barely up to the 2 oz mark on the bottles, I had friends who were filling up to 4 oz plus, and had stock in the freezer!).  When I could get my son to latch on, I admit it was a great experience.  It was wonderful knowing I was able to nurse him, but those moments were few and far between.  When I couldn’t nurse him, I pumped, and I found pumping to be depressing.  I told my husband that must be what it felt like being in prison, chained to that damn pump all the time (I also had latching problems with my son because he was only 5 lb, 13 oz), and the actual nursing sessions were short and it was just an overall miserable experience.  My son’s lack of sleeping during the day pretty much killed any hopes I had of exclusively nursing.  I got my lactation consultant, took the Fenugreek, got up every two hours at night to feed my son, and cried when I realized the vicious cycle was going to repeat day after day and night after night.  I would never get more than 2 hours of sleep at night, and none in the daytime since my son never, EVER napped, and I couldn’t handle it.  I felt I would be a better mother by recognizing my limits.

 

This time, though, I was proud of myself for making the decision to stop nursing and pumping.  I missed the times when I could nurse my son, but I didn’t beat myself up the way I did with my daughter and I was confident I was making the best choice for me and my baby.  Better to be a rested parent than a crazed, sleep-deprived lunatic, who barely produced a drop of milk anyway!   I gladly packed up the Medela and never looked back.  Both of my children are happy and healthy.

***

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

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