The American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG) recently release a new policy statement on infant feeding, with language that subtly implies a woman’s autonomy and ability to make an informed choice must be respected. Good news, right?
Well, I thought so, at least. After all, the policy statement (read it here) was abundantly pro-breastfeeding and pro- Baby-Friendly Initiative; they just threw in a scrap (a desperately needed, much appreciated scrap, don’t get me wrong) for us formula feeders, stating that we have the right to make our own choices.
But some didn’t think this was good news. The instagram thread of a leading breastfeeding peer supporter (one who truly does support infant feeding choice, and is extremely open-minded and kind, by the way) evolved into a full discussion of why the concept of “choice” was detrimental to women and to breastfeeding efforts; this was not a huge shock, as the “choice is only choice if its informed choice, and informed choice means telling women formula is bad for babies” opinion isn’t a new one. But I was shocked to see a comment from a woman who recently became insta-famous for a media-friendly breastfeeding story. This woman, who is now a popular voice in the breastfeeding community (i.e., people are listening to her), left a comment suggesting that she was incredulous that breastfeeding promotion could cause women pain and shame, ending it with the hashtag #byefelicia.
Bye Felicia? Really?
I hope this woman reads Claire’s story, but I doubt she will. And even if she does, a woman who would so quickly dismiss another woman’s pain is unlikely to be swayed by even an essay as emotional and raw as this one.
Luckily, most women aren’t like her. Most women are like the members of ACOG, who understand. And women like you, who know that just because you personally haven’t experienced something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. These are the women who will bring us to where we need to be, where stories like Claire’s cease to happen, or at least happen far less frequently.
Stay the course. And in the meantime, say #byefelicia to ignorance and judgment.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
I have a 3 and a half year old daughter. She is bright, enthusiastic, funny, kind and get this, she is healthy. She was also formula fed!
Backtrack, I was young pregnant and positive that I would breastfeed, I mean why wouldn’t you? “That’s what they are there for, it’s easy, saves cleaning bottles” and all the other things people tell you. My midwife insisted that I went to my local Breastfeeding workshop. Wow. 20 minutes on why you should breast feed, I think we were all at the breastfeeding workshop because that was what we wanted to do, we didn’t need convincing. I also think that all of the Google searching and pregnancy websites we read adequately informs us pregnant ladies. So in I went all positive, then I was told for the next ten minutes all the benefits my baby would receive through breast milk;
- It’s natural
- It builds a strong bond between baby and mother
- It protects your baby from infections and diseases
- It will make your baby healthier
- It will make your baby more intelligent
The list increases. So does the pressure. They gave a statistic about how many of the 30 of us in the room would go on to breastfeed. We looked at each other nervously, which ones of us would fail? A breastfeeding Mum arrived to tell us how easy it is. I wondered why there was so much encouragement, pressure and information being thrown about? If it was that easy and natural why did we all need convincing? Why did we need a class? Nobody talked about what happened if you COULDN’T. Can’t was not an option.
Skip forward, I had given birth to my beautiful baby girl. Due to the pethadine I received in labour she was a little sleepy, so we did not try feeding until later. It is probably important that I tell you a little bit of awkward personal information about myself. I was sexually assaulted, many years prior to this day. Despite this negatively affecting my view on relationships, it more importantly affected my nipples. To put it lightly around 7 years prior to giving birth someone chewed on my nipples until they bled. It hurt. After that no one ever touched them again, and I high spiritedly thought that a baby sucking on them would be fine, ignorance is bliss as they say. My midwives agreed. I was not fine. It hurt. It made me cry. A lot. They kept telling me she had a perfect latch and it shouldn’t hurt. Well it did! Why did no one care about that? All of a sudden your feelings are cast aside. It turned out the hospital I gave birth in had received an award for the highest amount of breastfed babies, and were unforgiving in their approach to breastfeeding. I should point out that all the midwives were wonderful, they were just following their hospital policies. I could see the pain in their eyes while they sat with me, crying in the middle of the night, comforting me on my failure, but unable to tell me that it was ok. Trying pumping with me while I squeezed my eyes shut, clenched my fists and curled my toes, telling me that I was doing my best. They were not allowed to tell me that it was ok if I couldn’t do it. I kept being told that she would be losing weight, which caused more pressure and anxiety. When they weighed her she was surprisingly ok. Eventually my husband went and stocked up on all the necessities for formula feeding. They wouldn’t let me go home until they had seen her drink a bottle, you see after all the failed breast feeding attempts they said she might not know how to drink from a bottle. I sobbed my heart out while she guzzled the entire bottle, obviously hungry.
Do you know whilst on the ward I was next to a breastfeeding Mum who smoked. She told the midwives that she had breastfed her last child up until 18 months and that she smoked outside. NOTHING MORE WAS SAID!! I wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t and they could not say ok, good for you. Is this a joke? Were they actually playing on my fears and emotions to win an AWARD? I was then left thinking my baby would be unhealthy, slow, ill, wouldn’t bond, and be less intelligent because I couldn’t do what was natural. Hello Post Natal Depression! who knew you would stay with me so long that you have become a normal part of my life?
When I was going home, more downtrodden and disheartened than I had ever been, one midwife whispered to me “I bottle fed. It’s not that bad, but I’m not supposed to tell you that” She probably saved my life. Her words were just enough to keep me going.
I persevered at home, but every time she cried I insisted she wasn’t hungry. I cried while we tried. I was anxious and on edge. I tried pumping, but because I wasn’t relaxed I just wasn’t producing any milk. I even tried sniffing her clothes while I pumped as my midwife suggested, I felt uncomfortable doing that. I was pumping about an oz and adding it to her formula. A lady came with her daughter to buy my car, she was a midwife and saw my struggles. She told me I needed to look after myself in order to look after my baby and I should end the emotional and psychological torture I was putting myself through as it was affecting our bonding and my mental health. She was a stranger but was more caring towards me than those providing my care, she talked sense. Once I decided to bottle feed I bonded with my baby. I wanted to hold her close. Unfortunately the guilt I felt made me overcompensate with the rest of her care, I didn’t want to fail her any more.
3.5 years later I have learnt;
- Your baby won’t hate you for bottle feeding
- bottle feeding also builds a strong bond between baby and mother
- My baby has not suffered any infections or diseases that her breast fed cousin hasn’t also had
- She is healthy
- She is intelligent
- She is happy
I also learnt that a friend who had her baby in a hospital 30 minutes away from mine was asked, after her little boy was born “breast or bottle?” She said “bottle” and get this, they got her one! She too has a happy health baby and nothing bad happened to her baby, or to her feelings or her mental health. I still take antidepressants to this day, I cry when I see breastfeed pictures on Facebook and can’t even think about what I experienced. Thankfully my daughter is too busy holding slugs, wearing dresses, riding her bike and asking me endless questions about what her guinea pig is saying to her, to notice my unnecessary strife. Don’t get me wrong I am a happy parent, I love my daughter and she brings me joy and laughter every single day, but I don’t think I could have another baby again, I couldn’t relieve that experience. (What’s that? single child guilt? NOOOO!)
Moral of the story? Stop pressuring women, you are doing lasting damage emotionally and mentally to women, and this will not assist their ability to raise children. We must look after each other whatever we choose to do, we must care for the children and those raising children, and support each other. We must love ourselves, we must love each other.
Thank you for listening to me.
Want to share your story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org