About Suzanne Barston

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

FFF Friday: “I clearly remember feeling ashamed, and afraid…of being reprimanded…”

It’s been a long time since I felt hopeful about the state of breastfeeding promotion, but tonight, I do. That’s because for once, women spoke up and were actually heard. We had the strength to say, enough. And I hope – oh god, do I hope – that this is the beginning of the end. The end of inexcusable abuse in the name of public health, the end of ignoring the lived realities of women, the end of treating formula feeding parents as second-rate, the end of misleading rhetoric and misrepresented research. The end of sitting back and letting women go through what Lo went through. This is not okay. 

Say it with me: THIS IS NOT OKAY. Say it in the pediatrician’s office, the OB’s office, the WIC office, the maternity ward. Say it online, and to the media, and to your local mother’s group.

Say it louder. Keep saying it. Because people are starting to listen.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Lo’s Story 

 

I gave birth to my first child on December 1, 2013. He was born via c-section at 41 weeks after a failed NST, subsequent induction, and 24 hours of grueling labor. The labor took everything out of me physically and emotionally. I was a mess, experiencing terrible side effects from the epidural, delirious, thirsty, swollen with fluids from the IV, flushed, my cervix was swelling and my blood pressure was rising. I have a complex anxiety disorder and suffer from panic attacks and medical environments are a major trigger for me, so on top of all of this I was basically shaking and petrified for the duration of the experience. It was pretty much the opposite of the kind of birth I’d hoped for. Thanks to my exhaustion, the side effects from all the drugs, and my own anxiety, I was totally out of it when Arthur was born, weighing in at 9lbs and 13oz (no wonder he wouldn’t come out!). I was able to look at him, to touch his cheek briefly as I lay flat on my back in the OR, but mostly I was drifting in and out of consciousness in a morphine and fentanyl-induced haze.

 

After we were transferred to the postpartum unit and set up in our recovery room, the pressure to breastfeed was on. I had not even fully regained consciousness when the nurses descended upon me, roughly pinching and squeezing my breasts, forcing colostrum out my nipple as I slumped over repeatedly, unable to keep my head up or my eyes open. They told me it was the hormones, the oxytocin from expressing the milk making me sleepy. It wasn’t — it was the morphine and the extreme physical exhaustion.  I remember that it hurt tremendously, and I remember that I just wished someone would give him a bottle of formula so that I could know that he was full and comfortable, and so that I could rest. I clearly remember feeling ashamed that I felt this way, and afraid to express it for fear of being reprimanded.

 

After learning that Arthur was jaundiced and that his blood sugar was a little low, we did decide to offer a bottle which the nurses reluctantly provided. Despite the fact that my baby was comfortable and eating well, and despite my own exhaustion and an extreme amount of pain thanks to the surgery, the staff continued to “encourage” me to breastfeed, bursting into the room and shoving him onto my breast every 1-2 hours, allowing me no sleep.

 

By the following morning I was truly at my wit’s end. My emotional and physical reserves were completely obliterated — I cannot overstate the extent of my exhaustion and pain. My sweet husband was finally passed out in a deep sleep on the small sofa beside my bed, and Arthur was sleeping in the bassinet when the Lactation Consultant arrived. As soon as she entered the room, I told her that all three of us were trying to get some much needed sleep and that it wasn’t a good time. Instead of leaving, she came around to the bed and sat down. Noticing the half empty bottles of Similac scattered around the room, she began preaching to me about the importance of breastfeeding and the inferiority of formula. I was too tired and too vulnerable to fend her off. Her ranting woke the baby, who began to cry. She continued to talk over his screams as I sat helpless in the bed, sick and swollen and unable to get up to tend to him without assistance. My exhausted husband, bless his heart, remained asleep through all of this, so I was on my own. Finally as I began to attempt to scoot myself over to the edge of the bed to try to get to my screaming child and/or my sleeping husband, feeling as if I were being stabbed repeatedly in the gut, she looked at me and snidely remarked, “You know, giving him a bottle won’t make him stop crying.” This was honestly the lowest point in my entire postpartum experience. I don’t even remember what I said to her, but I do know that she left the room and that I broke down sobbing and hobbled over to my husband — the most excruciatingly painful three steps I’ve ever taken. I was crying hysterically and I had to shake him repeatedly to wake him from his deep sleep so that he could tend to Arthur. I have rarely felt so helpless or so belittled as I did in those moments when this stranger invaded my space and began criticizing the choices I was making as a new mother, when I was literally the most physically and emotionally vulnerable I’ve ever been in my entire life. Her comment to me implied the assumption that I was only interested in shutting my baby up so I wouldn’t have to deal with him. Judgmental and rude at best.

 

It is astounding to me that these “professionals” do not realize that a woman who has just given birth — especially in the case of a traumatic birth or unplanned c-section — absolutely NEEDS just as much compassion and gentle care as her new child does. I felt like I was an afterthought — my wellbeing was an afterthought. The message I received was that the only thing that mattered was that breastfeeding was established. Nothing about making sure mom gets some sleep. Nothing about making sure baby isn’t hungry. Nothing about making sure mom is okay emotionally after her ordeal. Only the colostrum, the all-important colostrum. Nothing about whether mom is comfortable having strangers hovering over her, breathing into her face, leaning on her as they squeeze her breasts and squash her nipples despite her cringing and timidly expressing that yes, it hurts (right at that moment, everything hurt).

 

Fast forward two months. Arthur is a giant, gorgeous, happy, formula-fed baby. We did combo feed for the first eight weeks, and it was really nice and went relatively smoothly. But I’m ready to do formula full-time now. With my history of anxiety, I need to take care of my mental and emotional health, and for me that means being able to get back on various herbs and supplements and regaining my physical autonomy, especially after the difficult recovery from the surgery. When I give my baby a bottle I hold him close to my body and he looks into my eyes and often smiles. He makes the same sweet, contented noises and pushes his little feet against me the same way he did when he was at the breast — exactly the same way. I’m recovering well and love being a parent. My anxiety is well under control. My husband enjoys participating in the act of feeding our beautiful son. We are a happy, loving family and we have chosen formula because it works for us.

Why The World is So Screwed Up About Breastfeeding Research, In Several Paragraphs & A Few Headlines

The headlines:

“Study: Breastfeeding can ward off postpartum depression” (Press TV)

“Breastfeeding mothers less likely to get postnatal depression” (The Independent)

“Breastfeeding ‘helps prevent postnatal depression’” (ITV)

“Breastfeeding could help prevent postnatal depression, says Cambridge researchers” (Cambridge News

“Breastfeeding ‘cuts depression risk’, according to study” (BBC

“Failing to breastfeed may double risk of depression in mothers: study” (Telegraph)

“Mothers who breastfeed are 50% less likely to suffer postnatal depression” (The Independent)

“Mothers who choose not to breastfeed are ‘twice as likely to get postnatal depression because they miss out on mood-boosting hormones released by the process’” (Daily Mail, UK)

“Breastfeeding Keep Mothers Happy and Reduces Postnatal Depression” (International Business Times)

“Breastfeeding moms have lower depression risk” (Health Care Professionals Network)

“Breastfeeding protects mothers from postnatal depression, study finds” (The Australian)

 

And the reality:

New Evidence on Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression: The Importance of Understanding Women’s Intentions.

Borra C, Iacovou M, Sevilla A.

Abstract

This study aimed to identify the causal effect of breastfeeding on postpartum depression (PPD), using data on mothers from a British survey, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Multivariate linear and logistic regressions were performed to investigate the effects of breastfeeding on mothers’ mental health measured at 8 weeks, 8, 21 and 32 months postpartum. The estimated effect of breastfeeding on PPD differed according to whether women had planned to breastfeed their babies, and by whether they had shown signs of depression during pregnancy. For mothers who were not depressed during pregnancy, the lowest risk of PPD was found among women who had planned to breastfeed, and who had actually breastfed their babies, while the highest risk was found among women who had planned to breastfeed and had not gone on to breastfeed. We conclude that the effect of breastfeeding on maternal depression is extremely heterogeneous, being mediated both by breastfeeding intentions during pregnancy and by mothers’ mental health during pregnancy. Our results underline the importance of providing expert breastfeeding support to women who want to breastfeed; but also, of providing compassionate support for women who had intended to breastfeed, but who find themselves unable to.

In other words, women who wanted to breastfeed and did = low risk of PPD. Women who wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t = high risk of PPD. The researchers stress “providing compassionate support for women who had intended to breastfeed but…found themselves unable to”.

This does not prove that breastfeeding cuts depression risk. It proves that women who had a goal and met it tend to have lower rates of depression. It does not prove that there is a biological reason that breastfeeding may be protective against depression. That may indeed be the case, but then the depression risk would have been similarly high in women who never intended to breastfeed.

Our societal confirmation bias is so damn strong, that we blatantly overlook the finding that suggests something potentially negative about breastfeeding promotion. But here’s something to ponder: while we can’t force insufficient glandular tissue to produce adequate milk, or force women to breastfeed who don’t want to, we CAN ensure that every mother gets support in her feeding journey. We CAN listen to research that suggests the pressure to breastfeed is contributing to feelings of guilt, shame, and judgment – a potent trifecta of emotions for those prone to depression – and do something about it. If we are going to take this one study as “truth”, as so many parenting-related studies are mistakenly interpreted, something good might as well come out of it.

At this point, there is a pretty clear correlation between not breastfeeding and PPD. Instead of using this as ammunition against formula use, we could be asking the tougher questions: Why are women who don’t breastfeed more depressed? If it is something biological, wouldn’t the rates of PPD have been skyrocketing in past generation where breastfeeding was rare? If we stop making breastfeeding seem like the only-best-right choice to raise a happy, healthy child, would it mitigate this risk?

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Szent-Gy%C3%B6rgyi#Medical_research

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Szent-Gy%C3%B6rgyi#Medical_research

One of my favorite quotes about research comes from the Nobel-prize winning scientist who discovered the importance of vitamin C, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi: “Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.” These days, the reverse seems to be true – research is to confirm what everybody else has seen, and everybody has already thought. This needs to change, and it won’t, as long as our society and media turns even the most interesting findings into self-confirming soundbytes.

 

FFF Friday: “The end goal is not how you feed your child.”

FC started kindergarten a few weeks ago, and it’s been an emotional time for the Fearless household. Suddenly, I’m back in that awful, confusing state of “what ifs”: What if this isn’t the right school for him? Did I make the wrong decision? Will he be okay? Is he having a hard time making friends? Should I switch him to a different teacher? Should I, could I, would I….?

But the hard, true answer is this: I don’t have all that much power. He’s out in the world, now. This isn’t nursery school, or mommy and me class. This is the beginning of childhood. No more coddling, or nurturing. Kids can be mean, there’s bullying, there will be times when he will be teased, or will do the teasing. Now is when his character will begin to truly reveal itself. The tough parenting starts now, and it will only get harder as he gets older.

I tell you this, because I think it’s so important to realize that you will have a million other opportunities to second guess yourself, to regret, to overanalyze, to wonder. You will have a million other doubts and triumphs and questions.

And thank god for that, you know? Seriously. Thank god for that.

 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

Samantha’s Story

I’ve wanted to write one of these forever and share my story, but I wanted to wait until I was fearless about my decision to formula feed or at least sort of happy. Well, today I became fearless.

I had a pretty normal pregnancy (in my family.) Preterm labor at 20 weeks that put me on lift and exercise restrictions. High blood pressure at 26 weeks that landed me extra appointments. A minor car accident at 28 weeks that put me in the hospital for monitoring. From 36-40 weeks, there was constant debate about inducing me, but my blood pressure always stabilized and my protein levels were always borderline. I know this after multiple 24 urine tests and an overnight stay in the hospital where I didn’t come home with a baby. Through all of the extra appointments, I always responded “yes” when asked if I would breastfeed. I figured I should do one thing really right.

I was induced at 40 weeks and 3 days when my blood pressure finally became enough of an issue to do something about. I had a perfect labor. When the OB came to break my water after my epidural, I was ready to push. My daughter was out in 15 minutes while 12 student nurses that I unwittingly agreed to let watch me give birth stood amazed since it was the first they had witnessed. Then came the problems. My daughter swallowed too much amniotic fluid and kept throwing it up. She couldn’t latch without gagging and vomiting. They say their stomachs are tiny, so I don’t know where she stored all that fluid, but it just kept coming.

The nurses decided since she wouldn’t latch that I needed to try to get something out right away. They tried to manually express and nothing. They went and got a pump. Nothing. I pumped every hour for 20 minutes. Three friggin drops the entire first 24 hours. Well, my daughter finally stopped puking up amniotic fluid and was actually hungry. I pulled out the trusty double pump and finally got something. Blood. It was that moment that made me a formula feeder. I demanded formula. I hit that nurse call button over and over until someone brought me something, anything to feed the tiny starving thing I was holding. The lactation consultant decided that hour was the best time to show up to my room. She poked and groped until my sister threw her out. I cried not just because it hurt but my feelings were hurt. My expectation of doing one thing right was shattered.

Fast forward 6 weeks, and we find out my beautiful girl has a milk protein allergy and reflux. She needs special formula, and breast feeding would have been a struggle. I am, however, still upset about it. Fast forward to three months, and whenever someone on the forum of ladies with babies born the same month as my daughter mentions breast feeding, I still get upset or sad or depressed or angry at myself. I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe my milk would have come in if I pumped enough blood first.

Now fast forward to today. A friend of mine from high school and his wife are expecting their first child, a baby girl. They found out at 28 weeks that the baby they have longed for and spent two trimesters falling in love with has trisomy 13. For those who don’t know, this diagnosis is fatal. Don’t google it, but this baby girl probably won’t survive to term and if she does will, more than likely, die during birth or shortly after. They aren’t deciding whether to formula feed or breast feed. They are deciding whether or not to set up the crib they ordered months ago that arrived a few days after they got the news. They are not deciding about cloth or disposable diapers but where to bury their child who they can still feel kick and wiggle in her belly. Her blog posts are heart wrenching. All about loving a baby who has no real chance at life… And I cry over not breast feeding.

This sort of forced everything into perspective for me. The end goal is not how you feed your child. The end goal is the child. That’s why we do all of this. That’s why we cuddle and soothe instead of sleep. That’s why we worry about making the best decisions and why that looks different for every family.  I’m not saying losing a breast feeding relationship when it is something you had your heart set on is not something to mourn, but it isn’t the most important part of being a parent. Being a parent is.

I lost site of the end goal for a few months, but now that I’ve found it again, I am fearless.

***

Share your story – email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

 

FFF Friday: “If you love your baby then you are giving her all the food she needs for her soul…”

Jessica, whose story is below, brings up a point I’d never thought of: we hear so much talk about “normalizing breastfeeding” (something I agree is important), but also much criticism of sites like this that share “negative” experiences of breastfeeding. “Mommy guilt is a powerful poison, and it took reading other women’s stories to help normalize my own,” Jessica writes. She’s right, of course, and I don’t know why I never looked at it like this – sharing our feelings normalizes them, which makes us feel less alone, less flawed, less confused. So keep these stories coming – because you never know who might be reading yours and thinking, “Finally. Finally, someone gets it.” And that’s powerful stuff.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
The FFF 
***
Jessica’s Story
It wasn’t until I first stumbled upon “Fearless Formula Feeders” that I finally felt like my breastfeeding experience was “acceptable.” Mommy guilt is a powerful poison it took reading other women’s stories to help normalize my own. I read the personal story of a public health nurse who promoted breastfeeding herself but then wasn’t able to nurse her son. Like her, I was a family physician in my third year of residency and I championed breastfeeding among all my pregnant patients. If they were planning on bottle feeding I chided them gently, relaying how “breast was best” and it was free, natural and had benefits ranging from raising IQ to preventing obesity, diabetes and asthma. So I think the universe was trying to teach me a lesson in irony and empathy when I had my son, Silas, one cold November morning.
I’d had a pleasant and uncomplicated pregnancy despite working many 30 hour call shifts in the hospital, so I assumed that mothering, especially with my medical background, would be similarly manageable. But within two days of delivering, I felt a cloud of anxiety, guilt and dark depression sweeping over me. Over the next several weeks my husband and I pushed through the fog of sleep deprivation and adjusting to our new life as parents. Breastfeeding was not going well either. My nipples were cracked and bleeding, Silas never seemed satisfied after a feeding, and despite several appointments with lactation consultants, many phone calls to La Leche League and help from my mom (who breastfed all three of her kids), it still felt hard. I tried reading books ranging from “Baby Wise” to “The No Cry Sleep Solution” but it just felt like a cacophony of contradictory advice – “get your baby on a schedule,” “wear your baby,” “never let your baby cry,” “sleep when you baby sleeps.” Many tears were shed — in fact I cried every day for the first 13 days and on the 14th day I cried because I hadn’t cried yet!
My feelings were so discordant — on the one hand I knew I had to love and protect this little creature we brought into the world, but at the same time I mourned our loss of our independence - sleeping in, going on long runs, eating out, hiking.  Now we had a baby who was constantly needy, constantly demanding my physical and emotional energy. It was also difficult going from an intellectually and emotionally stimulating job as a medical resident to a 6 week maternity leave feeling like a glorified diaper changer. What was my identity? Why did I have such cabin fever? Why wasn’t I overcome with love for my “bundle of joy?” I remember getting a card from a friend that said “A new baby – how fun!” – and just wanting to rip it into shreds and scream! I walked around in a daze looking at other moms and feeling incredulous that people procreated, not just once, but twice, or three times! I was angry and envious of these women because it meant that they got through it, even enjoyed it, and did it again—and what kind of a defective mom did that make me?
Looking back, one moment stands out to me as the moment I knew I couldn’t go on breastfeeding. It was around 5 AM after a rough night and I had just fed Silas an hour prior. Silas was now crying as my husband tried to comfort him in the next room and I lay in bed wishing myself back to sleep. Finally my husband knocked, came in the bedroom and said, “I’m sorry honey, but he’s hungry again.” So I put my baby up to my breast and the tears just started flowing – it felt like he was sucking the life out of me. And at the risk of sounding extreme, at that moment nursing him truly felt like an abusive relationship. Silas may have been getting my “liquid gold” breast milk but there was no love in my milk and the actions were perfunctory and even resentful.
And yet despite this, I felt so much pressure to keep nursing – as a professional, as an educated woman who wanted the best for her baby. It was hard to see Facebook pictures of women from my Hypnobirthing class breastfeeding their babies in a sling while hiking the Rocky Mountains, or to hear comments from my medical school friends about how their child “never drank a drop of formula until he turned 1.” And yet while I felt some judgment from these women, no one could be a harsher judge than me. I was my worst enemy, internally beating myself up for being an inadequate mother who didn’t relish breastfeeding her own child.
It wasn’t until I had a 3 week follow up appointment with my midwife that I allowed myself to entertain the thought of really stopping. After spilling my heart to my midwife she said, “Jessica, breastfeeding is not always right for every mom and baby.” And that completely logical comment just blew me out of the water. I had so internalized the mantra that “Every baby was born to breastfeed” that the idea that there may be an exception to this (outside of ignorance, maternal death, extreme prematurity or a major anatomical defect like cleft palate) had not once entered my mind.
A few days later, I developed a bad case of mastitis. I exclusively pumped for a few days and then finally I just saw the insanity of it all – the depression, the deep fissures in my nipples, the sleepless delirium, the obvious fact that Silas was happier drinking from a bottle – and I gave myself permission to stop breastfeeding. For two days I let my breasts expand and engorge as I let go of all the preconceived notions I’d been clutching so dearly. I knew that I would be a happier, healthier mom with more love and energy for Silas if I gave up breastfeeding. Oh the blasphemy! But this revelation felt so freeing. Breastfeeding was not right for me and Silas, and I was finally able to say this out loud.
And then a funny thing happened. My parents and sisters arrived for Thanksgiving. And suddenly there were many hands to help cook, clean, hold a crying baby at midnight, speak words of encouragement, and make this desperate new mom laugh at her overblown emotions. And suddenly I had renewed energy and motivation. If I couldn’t breastfeed then I was at least going to pump milk for my baby. And so I became an exclusive pumper for 2 more months. But after weaning for a couple days my milk supply was never back to normal, and pumping in random corners of the hospital, parked cars and various doctor’s offices during my residency rotations was not conducive to continuing. So when I finally put the pump away for the last time, I felt more relief than guilt.
If you’d told me I’d have another baby after Silas was born, I would have raised my eyebrows. Those first couple years were hard, and I struggled with a lot of “mommy guilt” being a busy working mom and comparing myself to other moms who stayed home with their kids, or wrote poems about how their true selves weren’t born until their kids were born, or had 6 kids because they just loved babies so much. But with time I realized that Silas truly was an amazing person, and he adored me just for being his mom, and I was the best possible mom for Silas. You see, the mind tricks you into thinking that guilt is a motivator when it actually just makes you feel like a pile of cow dung. And so I let go of false expectations, I let go of comparing, I let go of trying to be the kind of mom I should be and just started being the mom I was.
So we took the plunge and got pregnant again when Silas was 3. Of course I had some concerns about the postpartum period, and being a type A personality I got organized right away – I increased my dose of antidepressant, took fish oil and probiotic supplements, hired a postpartum doula, planned on placental encapsulation, tracked down nearby breastfeeding support groups, and scheduled my parents to arrive right after we came home from the hospital. When my daughter first latched after she was born I thought I would cry and be overcome with mixed emotions. I wasn’t. She nursed for 45 minutes straight and because I had the perspective of having been through it once before, I knew that whether breastfeeding worked out or not, I was a good mommy.
My postpartum experience was completely different the second time. I almost felt “blissed out” despite still dealing with issues like bleeding nipples, my daughter’s tongue tie, and lack of sleep. Maybe it was all the preparation and emotional support I’d lined up. Maybe it was because I wasn’t a shell shocked new mom giving up her autonomy and identity for the first time. But between Netflix episodes of “Homeland,” warm meals prepared by our doula, and snuggling with our beautiful daughter, I felt normal.
We are now 10 months into breastfeeding and going strong. I pump at the office, I nurse at home. It’s a special relationship, but the most special part is not putting boob to mouth, but that I’m able to enjoy our relationship without the fog of depression. Breastfeeding happened to work out this time, but I do not judge anymore. If you love your baby then you are giving her all the food she needs for her soul, regardless of the type of food you put in her mouth. Looking back on my experience with Silas, I don’t think it could have been different. I don’t think that breastfeeding was right for us, and I love and accept my relationship with both of my children. My experience has also deepened my compassion and understanding with my patients, and I’m a better mom and doctor for it.
***
Share your story – email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

A World Breastfeeding Week Plea: Stop celebrating, start collaborating

Usually, I’m all over the place this week. Getting quoted in the requisite “it may be breastfeeding week but gosh darnit some women still find exclusive breastfeeding super hard” articles. Posting my own stuff here on the blog, or over on HuffPo. Talking about #ISupportYou and pissing off hundreds of people in the process, because they see it as a veiled attempt to “steal the thunder” from World Breastfeeding Week.

But this year, I’m all but invisible.

Part of this was unintentional. I’ve been going through some stressful career-change mishigas, dealing with the inevitable gaps in childcare that occur between camp and school, entertaining a ridiculous number of visiting extended family members. I’ve been too exhausted to blog, or talk to media sources, or self-promote (because let’s be honest – that’s a part of what all of us parenting bloggers do. Even the most altruistic of us. Even those of us who don’t depend on hits or advertising or who never make a cent off their blogs. We write because we want to be heard; we pray for bigger audiences, book deals, evidence that we’ve made some sort of impact. I happen to be rather shitty at this, which is why I don’t blog much anymore. I don’t have the stomach for that part of the job).

Another part of my conspicuous silence has been intentional, however. Probably more than I care to admit. See, I’ve been focusing my efforts on the supportive stuff. Reaching across the aisle, trying to understand all facets of this debate, and hoping that by creating better resources for all moms, I can help stop all the guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt. I know that breastfeeding is important to many, many women. I want those women to succeed, and feel happy and proud and supported. So this year, I wanted to try and stay out of World Breastfeeding Week drama like I try and stay out of my kids’ sibling squabbles.

Yeah. Because that works so well with my kids.

The problem is, I also want formula feeding mothers to feel happy and proud and supported. And for some reason, it’s not okay to want both of these things. It’s ok to pay lip service to it, to claim #ISupportYou and tell formula feeding moms that celebrating breastfeeding isn’t about them. But if you actually do the work you need to do to ensure that non-breastfeeding parents are supported, you are violating WHO Code. You are taking attention away from the women who “need it”. You are stealing…. what? Resources? Sympathy? One-up(wo)manship?

I tried to stay out of it. I really did. I held my newly-minted CLC certification close to my non-lactating chest and bit my tongue.

And then the articles came, and came, and came. And so many this year were not about the benefits of breastfeeding, but rather how hard it was. Or how hard it was NOT to breastfeed. How this mom felt like she was poisoning her baby, or this one felt like she’d be booted from the “mom club” because she didn’t wear the EBF badge.

So much guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt. None of it is stopping. There’s more this year than ever before.

Then this happened.

https://www.yahoo.com/health/olivia-wildes-breastfeeding-photo-causes-a-stir-93893024387.html

https://www.yahoo.com/health/olivia-wildes-breastfeeding-photo-causes-a-stir-93893024387.html

And I heard my community inwardly wince. Not for the reasons you might think. Not because they didn’t think it was a beautiful image, and not because it glamorized something that had been messy and painful for most of them, although those certainly were thoughts that some of us had to squash down into that endless pit of mother-guilt. No, it was because it was yet another image of a breastfeeding celebrity, with headlines and stories that spoke of her bravery for normalizing nursing, and comments all over the place about how breastfeeding was finally being celebrated.

I think, for many of us, it was the “finally” that did it. For many of us, it would seem far braver for a celebrity to do a shoot with her bottle-feeding her kid with a can of formula in the background. We have only seen breastfeeding being celebrated. There’s so much partying going on, and we feel like the crotchety old neighbors calling the cops with a noise complaint. But you know, it’s late, the music is loud, and we’re tired.

Now, just to be clear – I’m talking about breastfeeding being “celebrated” That celebration doesn’t do us much good. It does not mean that it is easy for moms to nurse in public. Obviously, it isn’t. Or that lactation services are plentiful and accessible to all. Obviously, they aren’t. Breastfeeding is celebrated, but that doesn’t stop it from being difficult for the new mom in the hospital, whose birth didn’t go as planned. Or the one who has to go back to work 2 weeks postpartum. Or the one with a job not conducive to pumping. Breastfeeding is celebrated, but not when you’re overweight. Or when you’re nursing a toddler.

Idealized images in the media of what breastfeeding looks like do not normalize nursing. In fact, I’d argue it fetishizes it – not for men, so much, but for women. Now, we don’t just have to feel inadequate for not fitting into size 2 jeans a month after giving birth, but we need to feel inadequate if we don’t meet the feeding norm and make it look gorgeous and natural and easy.

Please do not misread what I’m saying here – talking about breastfeeding, supporting breastfeeding, and implementing changes to make breastfeeding easier for those who want to do it are important, admirable, and necessary goals, as far as I’m concerned. But the comments I saw coming from my community after this photo hit the news were not about any of these things. They were from women feeling totally drained, frustrated, and alienated after a nearly a week of hearing how inferior their feeding method was, who were sick of being told they were defensive or that they feel guilty if they tried to stand up for themselves. This story was the last straw. It’s weird, when you think about it – it wasn’t the piece on the risks of formula, or the memes about the superiority of breastfed babies – what broke the camel’s back was a seemingly innocuous spread of a gorgeous, confident actress proudly nursing her baby.

This is what perpetuates the cycle of guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt: our lived experiences are so damn different, that it’s like we’re constantly talking at cross-purposes. The nursing mom who is the only one in her small town not using a bottle sees a photo spread like this as thrilling, victorious, self-affirming – as she should. The formula feeding mom living in Park Slope who carries her formula-filled diaper bag like a modern-day hairshirt sees the same spread as just another celebrity being held up as a pioneer, when she’s only doing what’s expected of a woman of her stature – as she should. Both are right. Because both are personal, emotionally-driven responses.

Earlier this week, I said that deciding how to feed your baby is just one of a myriad of important parenting decisions. But somehow, it’s become the most important one. We cannot expect formula feeding moms to support their breastfeeding sisters when they don’t receive the same support. We just can’t. It’s not fair, and it’s not realistic. I feel like that’s what I’ve been asking of all of you, and somehow I just woke up to that fact.

Why are there still articles talking about how shitty we feel for not breastfeeding, instead of articles talking about what’s being done to change this? Where is the news story about the doctors who are saying enough is enough (because I know they are out there – many of them contact me, and I appreciate these emails, but I wish they were able to say these things publicly without fear of career suicide)? Where’s the NPR program about ways we can improve breastmilk substitutes so those who cannot or choose not to nurse aren’t left hanging? Where’s the Today Show, The View, The Katie Show, doing segments on why women are REALLY not meeting breastfeeding recommendations, instead of segment after segment on how brave so-and-so is for posing nursing their newborn on Instagram, or talking to dumbasses on the street about the “appropriate” age for weaning?

When we stop “celebrating” and start normalizing and supporting and being realistic about how different life can be even just a street away, maybe World Breastfeeding Week can have it’s proper due. Maybe we can actually talk about ways to help women in the most dire straits feed their babies as safely as possible – clean water, free breast pumps, free refrigeration, access to donor milk.

I want to be able to be silent during World Breastfeeding Week. It shouldn’t have to be “overshadowed” by emotional, personal pieces about breastfeeding “failure”. It shouldn’t be a time for articles about not making formula feeding moms feel “guilty”. These words shouldn’t even be part of our infant feeding lexicon, for godsakes. Failure? Guilt? For what?

This year, I want us to stop celebrating, and start having some calm, productive conversations with people outside your social circle. For many of us, the celebration feels exactly like high school, when the popular kids had parties and we sat home watching Sixteen Candles for the thirty-fifth time. That’s not to say breastfeeding isn’t worth celebrating, but the end goal should not be one group feeling triumphant and the other feeling downtrodden. Formula feeding was celebrated for decades too – and that celebration made the current atmosphere of breastfeeding promotion necessary. Please, let’s learn from our mistakes. Let’s move on. Rip down the streamers, put away the keg, and open the doors to the outsiders looking in. You never know – they could end up being the best friends you’ve ever had.

 

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