FFF Friday: “Formula nourished my baby when my breasts could not.”

Women sometimes tell me they want to write something for FFF Friday, but feel bad doing so because they are still breastfeeding in some capacity, like Ashley is. I completely understand why they would think that; after all, the site is called Fearless Formula Feeder, not Fearless Combo Feeder or Fearless Breastfeeder Who Had to Supplement for the First Few Weeks. But anyone who has had to use formula is an FFF, in my book. We’ve gotten to the point where any supplementation – hell, any bottle use – is considered sub-optimal by certain folks, and moms are paying the price.

While on a research level I appreciate Ashley’s mention of body image issues, on a personal level it makes my heart hurt. Because she’s so unfortunately spot-on – breastfeeding “success” is yet another way that women’s bodies are monitored, assessed, and judged. If your body doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, or you opt not to conform to specific parameters of what society decides “good bodies (women) do”, you’re going to be punished. 

But we’re changing that – one fearless feeder at a time. And just in case it isn’t clear, the formula is only one part of it. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Ashley’s Story

I was seventeen and standing on the band practice field when I yelled at my band director, “You have no idea what you’re doing!” And, “Oh yeah, no one likes you, either!” That was just the beginning of the breastfeeding/formula saga and debacle.

By the time my senior year of high school rolled around, I knew something was terribly wrong with my body and period. It was sporadic to say the least—coming and going whenever it felt inclined, leaving me with lots of surprises. The headaches, lack of a period, and blurry vision I experienced I believed to be induced by stress, depression, eating disordered behaviors, and whatever angsty hormones were flowing through my veins at the time. I eventually ended up seeing an OBGYN who did lots of blood work and an ultrasound on my uterus and ovaries. Through the series of tests, it was discovered that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (think bubble wrapped ovaries, just clearly not as fun) and a suspected pituitary tumor. Talk about a double whammy of a diagnosis and a basic guarantee that I would be stuck with a malfunctioning body for all of time. I headed to the endocrinologist who confirmed that “Yes, something is wrong. You need an MRI and we need to get it done as soon as we can.” A pituitary tumor was found which explained my blurred vision, headaches, fatigue, and most likely a good deal of my depression and horrible body image.

Enter me, once again, screaming on the band field, all due to a pituitary shrinking, dopamine inhibiting medication, better known as Dostinex. The medication caused some pretty intense mood swings, hence the yelling. I mean, I had never raised my voice at anyone in my entire life and there I was screaming at this poor woman who probably disliked us just as much as we disliked her. Someone please go give that woman a cocktail and cookies on my behalf. Anyways, I digress. The Dostinex worked (yay!), but I was still left with PCOS and the promise that the pituitary tumor would come back eventually. I felt great for the remainder of my senior year and then I entered college where things went well for quite some time, until my sophomore year. Blame it on the alcohol abuse or yo-yo dieting (though, through an academic research project and proposal that I completed at my university, I did find a correlation between hormone disorders and both eating disorders AND alcohol/drug abuse), I felt terrible again. I mean, who wouldn’t? It turned out that my tumor was back based on preliminary blood work, and I decided I wasn’t going to do anything about it. So, however silly that decision was, I left it to get worse until I graduated from college.

I got married the day after graduation. We discussed having children, but didn’t give ourselves a firm timeline. Without getting too deep into detail, we were only able to conceive once I haphazardly took birth control that I suddenly stopped because I didn’t like the way it made me feel. It was supposed to regulate my cycle. Oops!

Enter our little bundle of joy. I found out that I was pregnant on a frigid December morning and had him on a steaming hot Mississippi afternoon nine months (and two weeks!) later. I did everything I could to be the perfect pregnant mother. I took my prenatal vitamins, ate healthier, cut out caffeine (for the majority of my pregnancy anyways…), read up on attachment parenting, invested in baby carriers, and most important of all, decided to breastfeed. I was all set! So, when my nearly perfect pregnancy went two weeks late and I had to be induced, I tried not to sweat it. After all, I still had the Ergo and my boobs! Don’t forget the co sleeper! We were going to rock this parenting thing.

Though I had anticipated a natural birth, once I was induced, I only lasted a few hours until I was begging for the epidural. I had a fairly short labor, but had a few scares with Job (the baby) showing signs of distress from the intensity of the contractions. Luckily I didn’t have to have a c-section, something that I was deathly afraid of recovering from. Once he was born and his lungs were cleared of meconium, he was laid on me to breastfeed. The nurse, who I found out wasn’t a lactation consultant after asking, sloppily threw his cute little face onto my breast, and it immediately hurt. Badly. But, I didn’t say anything because I figured the new sensation was something I needed to get used to, and the cuteness of his face was just too distracting. Ha! I felt pretty good about the nursing that was accomplished before he was swept away for a four hour – YES, four hour!) transition in the nursery. I got settled into the room and we nursed without much pain or confusion on and off throughout the night. The next day, however, things got frustrating for the both of us. He wasn’t staying awake at all and I could barely get him interested in my breasts which made me start to panic. That night is when we all (including my poor husband) just mentally and emotionally fell apart. I had never felt such excruciating pain in my life as I did when he was latching on to nurse. All of the nurses seemed baffled because his latch “looked perfect” and I “just needed to keep taking him off and putting him back on.” After hours of doing that, I started to realize that maybe we weren’t so prepared for breastfeeding after all.

The next day we were sent home and reassured by the lactation consultants that establishing a breastfeeding relationship just takes time and that pain is normal in the beginning. Everything I had read correlated with what they were saying, so I didn’t question it and prepared myself for the few days (ha) that it would take getting used to the pain. Things did not get better and the day before his check up I had been up for 23 hours straight. I couldn’t fathom how this beautiful baby that stayed attached to my breast an hour and a half at a time, was still hungry and inconsolable. Weren’t babies supposed to eat, sleep, and wet/dirty diapers? He did none of those things! I should add that when we called the nursery, they told us to not be too concerned about his lack of diapers and that some babies just took a while to get started. What did I sign us up for?

We went to his check up the next day (he was five days old at this point) and realized that he had lost an entire pound. That was definitely more than what is usual for a baby to lose. The lactation consultant tried expressing breast milk from my breasts and looked concerned. Nothing was coming out. She told me to nurse Job so that she could inspect his latch. She again said that his latch was great but that he obviously wasn’t getting anything out, which explained his major weight loss, lack of

diapers (thanks, nursery) and inconsolable crying spells. I asked her to inspect his tongue and lip frenula, and she said his tongue was tight, but that it shouldn’t be the cause of any issues. She asked how I felt about formula and on the inside I was horrified, but I let out “That’s fine!” through my sobs. I have never seen a baby guzzle down a bottle so quickly before. It took him about a minute flat to drink an ounce. He quickly went to sleep after she burped him and I was mesmerized by this beautiful, sleeping, peaceful child placed in my arms. We left with a plan to do a weight check in two days. Our hope was that he would gain weight after supplementing him with formula, me pumping and nursing until my milk came in.

I felt an enormous sense of relief, but left extremely concerned that we would remain dependent on formula. If there was one thing that La Leche taught me, it was that you do not want to supplement with formula. The next day (day 6) my milk finally decided to make an appearance. I pumped an entire drop in fifteen minutes! When we went checkup we discovered that he had gained 14 ounces! That is a LOT of weight to gain for a little baby in just a short two days. I was thrilled. “He must have gained so much because my milk is fully in and he is getting formula. Let’s wean off formula!” We decided to wean off of formula and two weeks later, at his pediatric appointment, we discovered that he had lost weight again after weaning from formula. I immediately sat down and cried while Matthew (my husband) tried to reassure me, while also expressing his concern for Job’s weight and well-being. The pediatrician came up with another plan for supplementation, but it wasn’t nearly as “invasive” as our last plan, the one that actually made him gain weight. Eventually we discovered that my milk was still in a pitiful state because the two ounces a day that we were supposed to be feeding him was turning into two ounces per feeding.

The story should fade out peacefully at that point, but somehow, it continues. Through my obsessive research online and a post made out of desperation to a tongue and lip tie support group at 4:30 one morning, I discovered that Job did indeed have a lip and tongue tie. When I looked at the symptoms (painful latch, poor milk transfer, weight loss, reflux, gas, sleeplessness, no dirty diapers) I cried tears of joy. We had a solution! We just had to get his ties revised and we would then enjoy the breastfeeding relationship that I always read about and was witnessing secondhand through friends who had also had babies that same month. I scheduled an appointment for two days later and didn’t look back. The doctor did a fabulous job and completely revised the ties, but my low supply persisted. She suggested that we bring him to the chiropractor because that often helps babies with ties to nurse better. We went twice and I definitely witnessed an improvement in his attitude and ability to turn his neck, but alas, no more milk.

I decided I would go to a lactation consultant one last time. I had already used up all of my visits at my other lactation consultant and she basically told me that there was nothing else she could for me and that I should be at peace with the fact that combo feeding would just be our new normal. The new lactation consultant took a strong interest in my case and said that she had no doubt that my PCOS and tumor were at the root of my low supply. I think that all along I just wanted someone to validate my feelings by telling me what the other lactation consultant never really would. “You have multiple issues, but there is one last thing we can try. Have you heard of domperidone?” Had I heard of it? Of course! But I had no idea that people actually got prescriptions for it. It sounded like something out of a Harry Potter movie or a land of unicorns. Something so magical that it would cause you to lactate? I wanted it. And I got it. Nine pills a day later, I am happy to say that this depressing saga has somewhat of a happy ending for all of you who have stuck it out this long. I am now breastfeeding my baby and supplement half of what we were at. I neither feel very much a part of the breastfeeding or formula feeding community, but like many other mothers who discovered that for whatever reasons, breastfeeding was just not possible for them, I identify more with formula feeders. Why? Because formula nourished my baby when my breasts could not. Formula, it turns out, was not the enemy in this story.

Throughout all of this I felt completely worthless. The only reason I mention my feelings of self-worth throughout high school and college because since meeting my husband, breastfeeding was the first time I had felt hopeless in a very long time. When I looked in the mirror, I felt like I was again, judging my perfectly acceptable and even small 120body. Only this time I was judging my breasts nstead of obsessing over calories, I obsessed over ounces of milk. Through the fenugreek, oatmeal, lactation cookies, gallons of water, Gatorade, and special teas, I barely enjoyed the first four weeks of my child’s life because I was so overly concerned and hyper sensitive about what people would think if they found out what I was “doing” to my child by feeding him formula. I used to be vegan, for goodness sake! I had people tell me that I just needed to try “this” or “that” and that low supply really didn’t exist unless somehow I wasn’t nursing enough and didn’t I know that “breast was best?” I barely slept and sobbed throughout many of the days while my husband was away at work. My poor baby was wet more with my tears than he ever was with breast milk, but that’s okay. It’s all ok now. And you’re okay, too. Don’t let anyone guilt you into thinking that you’re “doing” anything to your baby except for loving them the way I know that each of you do.

FFF Friday: “It’s okay to stop. You are a good mom.”

I took FC to the park this morning. While he ran off to collect sticks with a few of his friends, I chatted with another mom, who’d just had her second child 8 weeks ago. 

I certainly didn’t bring up feeding (I never do). But it came up anyway (as it always does). She mentioned that breastfeeding had been a bit challenging, and I listened for awhile before casually mentioning that this was “sort of what I do.” That opened the floodgates, and she began telling me a story which would make a perfect contribution to FFF Fridays. 

After we talked about it for awhile, she said that it was really nice to hear that what she was doing was okay (supplementing) and that she was right to prioritize her mental health. Apparently, the nurses and lactation support staff she’d encountered thus far had made her feel the opposite. “Even when I tell other moms, they just tell me to ‘keep going’,” she said with a sigh. She knew they meant well, but at the moment, that wasn’t the type of support she needed. 

It was only a brief encounter, but it was the perfect end to #ISYWeek, for me. It felt really good to know that I truly supported another mom today – a stranger – in a way that made a difference. It wasn’t a big deal, and it certainly wasn’t newsworthy. It’s not even something worth blogging about, really. But that, I think, is what we’re lacking right now – these face-to-face, tiny moments of true support, of building each other up and making sure each of us is being heard, is being seen. True, individual, basic support, free of parenting politics, free of drama. That’s what Kim and I wanted to achieve with #ISupportYou. And today, I felt like I did achieve that, if only for 5 minutes, if only with one person.

I chose Elizabeth’s FFF Friday story to close out I Support You Week, because even in her attempt to exorcise her own feeding demons, she’s thinking about other moms. She’s thinking about the women who may need what she needed. That means so much, especially in the bottle feeding community, because we haven’t really had a community – but I’d like to think that’s finally changing. I am so grateful that Elizabeth got the support she needed, and even more grateful to her for paying it forward. I hope we can all do the same, so that our voices are heard by those desperate to hear them. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Elizabeth’s Story

When I was pregnant with my first son, and people asked me if I planned on breastfeeding (which, in hind sight, was such a personal and nosy question, but I got asked it a lot!), I genuinely answered “I’m going to try, and if it works it works, and if it doesn’t that’s okay.” My dad is an obstetrician, and I had heard him caution several times that he felt that expectant moms who set too stringent of plans for themselves were more likely to fall prey to post-partum depression and anxiety when things didn’t go according to plan — such as having the birth proceed in a particular fashion, or being absolute about breastfeeding (as an aside, he was not at all saying that these were the only reasons that a new mom might suffer from post-partum depression, just that he saw an increased incidence when rigid expectations were set, and then reality fell short of meeting these expectations).  So I really believed that I would give breastfeeding a shot, and if it worked, great! And if it didn’t, we would use formula, which would also be great!

For the first several weeks, breastfeeding went well.  Sure, there were some early hiccups with figuring out the latch and a little discomfort.  And, I never was very comfortable with feeding my baby in public (a self-imposed self-consciousness).  But my baby was thriving, and that’s all that mattered.

After about a month, though, I noticed that in the evenings my baby was wanting to nurse constantly. I understood this to be normal cluster feeding.  Except that my baby was getting angry, and I realized that he just wasn’t getting as much milk as he wanted or needed.  I spoke to a lactation consultant, who told me that my supply would catch up in a few days.  Except that it didn’t — the evenings just got worse.  I continued to speak to lactation consultants, and constantly ended the conversations feeling like I was doing something wrong — if nursing wasn’t working, then it was clearly due to some error or omission on my part, because nursing was “natural” and it’s “not that common for a mom to not produce enough milk.” There were a number of things going on that, in hindsight, probably affected my supply — I got a horrible cold around this time, my husband was recuperating from knee surgery and wasn’t mobile which added to an already busy, stressful, and sleepless time, and my gallbladder started to act up — so I was in a fair amount of pain (and ultimately had to have surgery myself).

Despite the chastising from the lactation consultants that I should just try harder (not the exact words, but that’s how it sounded to me), we decided that my husband would feed our son a bottle of formula at bedtime while I pumped.  We were all happy with the situation — my son had a full belly and stopped fussing as much, and my husband really came to enjoy the bonding time he had with our son every night.  And while I didn’t love pumping, I was happy that my son seemed to be happier.

Then I went back to work. My plan was that I would breastfeed first thing in the morning, pump at work, breastfeed when we first got home in the evening, and my husband would give my son a bottle before bed (while I pumped again).  My son, however, had other plans — once he started having bottles all day while I was at work, he had absolutely no interest in nursing.  So rather quickly, he became exclusively bottle fed.  I figured I would still pump, and supplement with formula when needed.  Great plan, right?

Except that it wasn’t.  My body did not respond well to pumping at all, and my supply immediately started to dwindle.  I started talking to lactation consultants again and researching online how to increase my supply.  Despite my early “laid back” approach to breastfeeding that I would try, but not stress about it, I became obsessed with my supply.  I ate the oatmeal, I took the fenugreek, I drank the herbal tea, I had a Guinness at night…I tried everything.  All the while, I was pumping more and more every day, and producing less and less.  I was getting jealous of my husband’s bedtime routine with my son, because I felt like I was just chained to the pump while he got to spend quality time with our baby.  My work began to suffer because of all the time I was devoting to pumping during the workday (I will note, my job never hassled me about the time I spent pumping, but I knew it was affecting my ability to be efficient and meet deadlines). On the weekends, time with family and friends was interrupted by my fixation on scheduling pumping breaks. My life revolved around the pump — and constant thoughts that I clearly just wasn’t trying hard enough.

I blame my obsession largely to the messages I was receiving while trying to increase my supply.  A lactation consultant told me that I should consider pumping as a gift to my child and should keep trying; a message board commenter noted that my resentment of pumping was “selfish” because it was what was best for my son.  Websites devoted to breastfeeding made it seem like formula was poison, and that if I was a good mom, I would figure out how to continue to provide breastmilk.  Even the back of the formula canister stated that breastmilk was best. Everywhere I turned, I was made to feel like I was failing my son, and failing as a woman and a mom — after all, wasn’t producing milk perfectly natural? And so my obsession continued. I think this had nothing to do with what I personally thought about formula, and more about societal pressure to breastfeed.

By the time my son was nearly five months old, I was pumping for at least three hours a day, and sometimes not even producing enough for one bottle — TOTAL.  Around this time, I had the opportunity to take my baby with me for a long weekend to visit my brother and sister-in-law.  I had unloaded everything from the car but my pump (I really resented that thing, so I don’t think that was accidental!).  It was nearing time to pump, and as I got ready to return to the car to get the pump, I shared my frustrating experience with my lovely sister-in-law, who also happens to be a pediatrician. I hadn’t said anything to her before, because I just assumed she would tell me “breast is best” and tell me to keep trying. But instead, she looked me in the eyes and said very simply “It’s okay to stop. You are a good mom.” And I just started to cry – I so badly needed someone to give me permission to stop pumping (and obsessing), and to tell me that I wasn’t a failure.  I never got the pump out of the car that weekend, and it was so liberating and freeing to actually spend quality time with my son, and to feed him his bottles (instead of handing him off to someone so I could pump), and to just be.

I just welcomed a second son to the world about four months ago, and I was very nervous about how I would feel about feeding him this time.  I decided to give breastfeeding a shot again, but am trying to be very aware of not letting myself cycle down into obsession and depression if it doesn’t work out.  So far, it’s been just fine.  I am back at work, but my son still choses to nurse when I’m around (in fact, he has the opposite problem of his older brother — he refuses a bottle if he senses that I am in a ten mile radius of him!). Pumping is going okay, but I also supplement some with formula.  When I pump, and feel those anxious feelings return if I don’t have a great session, I gently remind myself that it’s okay. And I have promised myself that if I am not producing a good amount of milk through pumping, I am going to stop – I will not make myself jump through all those hurdles like I did before, because it negatively impacts my sanity, and in turn, negatively impacts my relationship with my children.  The best thing I did for my relationship with my first son was to turn exclusively to formula, and I will not hesitate to do it again with my second. 

This is long, but it is cathartic to write it all out (I have tears running down my face as I type).  I’ve carried around the guilt and anxiety of my experience with breast feeding my first son for too long. Even as a currently-breastfeeding mom, I still bristle when I read or hear “breast is best.”  Because while breast is best for some moms, it’s not best for others, and feeling shame, anxiety, and frustration over how to feed a baby is not stress that a new mom needs.  What I also hope is that if anyone reading this is a new mom, and my story resonates sounds at all familiar, you will listen when I tell you that it’s okay to stop.  It’s okay to switch to formula.  As silly as it sounds now, I needed someone to give me permission.  My angel of a sister-in-law did that for me, and it was such needed relief.  She freed me from a vicious emotional downward spiral that impacted just not me, but also my son and my husband.   And so, if you need that permission like I did, please let me give it to you:

It’s okay to stop. You are a good mom.

***

Want to share your story or thoughts? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com and join the FFF Friday community. 

FFF Friday: “My breastfeeding challenges have made me more compassionate.”

It’s Halloween, and I am in a major candy coma.

But I still wanted to take a minute and post Colleen’s excellent FFF Friday submission, because it raises such an important point – one that I’ll be keeping in mind when I speak at MommyCon tomorrow for the #ISupportYou movement. Colleen shares how her mind expanded after facing her own challenges with breastfeeding, and how this experience altered her world view. Policy becomes less black and white when you’re living and breathing it, you know? And this is why listening is so essential. If we were all open to hearing other people’s experiences and feelings, empathy would come far more effortlessly. It’s difficult to really understand something unless you’ve been there. But if we can take the time to think more deeply about all the what-if, if-thens, etc, maybe women will stop feeling so bereft and start feeling empowered. Or maybe it’s just the candy talking.

Happy Friday (and Happy Halloween), fearless ones,

The FFF

Colleen’s Story

I was a huge fan of breastfeeding before I actually breastfed a baby.

After all, breast is best, right?

At the time, I worked for an international humanitarian organization that supported many breastfeeding promotion programs in the developing world. The programs were truly laudable, but I had never even considered that there might be an alternative point of view – that, even in the developing world there might be situations where a mother might not be able to or want to breastfeed, and that in those situations helping her baby get a supply of safe formula might be the truly humanitarian thing to do. Now, I look back on myself refusing to accept donated formula during disaster situations (the organization’s well-intentioned policy) and wonder if this was really the best way to go.

I am also ashamed to admit that when a friend quit breastfeeding after a few months I secretly judged her, convinced that she hadn’t tried hard enough, and that she probably was ill-informed; someone who had quit because she just didn’t know about the benefits of breastfeeding for at least a year.

Then I actually breastfed two babies and had to change my tune. Unlike many mothers who struggle with breastfeeding, I didn’t struggle due to lack milk – but rather due to too much. I spent many weeks with engorged breasts, painful cases of mastitis and plugged ducts, searing nerve pain, sore nipples and other problems. I experienced both the “joy” of pumping at work and the “joy” that comes with being the parent responsible for nearly all the night feedings (after all, even if your husband is willing to help, you might as well be the one to get up night after night if you wake up anyway due to painful engorgement and leaky boobs). Were there some benefits to breastfeeding? Of course. I did like knowing that my children were receiving the health benefits that come with nursing. However, after reading the medical literature, I have come to believe that the benefits, although certainly there, are not nearly what the popular literature has made them out to be. I mean, is it not true that my husband, and millions of other Americans born in the sixties, never drank a drop of breast milk and turned out just fine? (The hairstyles they had in the eighties notwithstanding).

So, when my second child was seven months old I decided I had had enough. It was time to thumb my nose at the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, Dr. Sears, and all the other authorities who recommend breastfeeding for at least a year, and become a real live, honest-to-God “fearless formula feeder.” Well, maybe a “fearful formula feeder” – most of my peers breastfeed for at least a year, and often when I mix a bottle in a public setting I fear judgment. Of course, this is probably because my previously-thriving son has now become an obese, asthmatic infant with chronic ear infections. (Just kidding). Actually, my son is doing great and I feel physically and mentally much better. I feel strongly that quitting breastfeeding was the right decision for me – I am now a happier mother – and that it was therefore the right decision for my family.

My breastfeeding challenges have definitely made me more compassionate – if I ever go back to working in the international aid arena I will have a more nuanced view of what is “best” for babies, and I will never, ever judge a woman for her infant feeding decisions again.

I am so grateful to the FFF community for offering infant feeding support to all parents. Of course a breastfeeding mother should be supported, allowed to breastfeed anywhere she needs to in public, and given space and time to pump at work. By the same token, a mother who can’t or doesn’t want to breastfeed should also be supported and not made to feel like a terrible parent. Finally, we should acknowledge the fact that breastfeeding isn’t an either/or proposition –many, many parents “combo-feed,” breastfeeding sometimes and using formula sometimes.

It’s time for the health care, baby care, online parenting communities and various “mommy bloggers” to stop haranguing women for their infant feeding choices. What is right for one family might not be what’s right for another. Being a parent is hard enough, and we all deserve all the support we can get.

***

Share your story: Email it to formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “It’s not worth having the best moments of motherhood stolen from you…”

I‘ve been thinking about labels lately. Exclusive breastfeeder. Formula Feeder. Combo-feeder. Exclusive Pumper. Attachment Parent. Natural Parent. Conventional Parent (um, for the record, I don’t think anyone calls himself or herself a “conventional parent”, but I do hear this term bandied about rather derisively in certain circles). 

Sometimes, it feels like you need a punch card to be part of a specific parenting philosophy. For example, if you’re a “natural parent”, that means you exclusively breastfeed, babywear, cloth diaper, and eschew epidurals and interventions, But what happens if you don’t get one of these items punched on your membership card? Can you still find community? Or, more specifically, can you find a community that accepts you for who you are, and doesn’t ask you to make excuses, or hide your true feelings?

The problem with treating parenting as a “style” or “type” is that raising a child is a fluid, ever-changing experience. I fear that in our human desire to find community, to find a tribe, we limit ourselves. An exclusive breastfeeding mom can feel just as much anger towards the pressure to breastfeed as an exclusive formula feeder (see Gamze’s story, below). I’ve seen formula feeding moms turn rabidly judgmental, and I’ve also seen them divide themselves in an ugly game of those who “had” to formula feed and those who chose to. 

In the following FFF Friday, you’ll hear from Gamze – a mom who happens to exclusively breastfeed her child. That certainly does not define her. In fact, she resents the system that tells women that their feeding choices have anything to do with what sort of mother they are. These are the conversations we need to have; these are the stories we need to share so that women don’t continue to be bogged down by defensiveness, resentment, and fear. We are not how we feed. We are our stories. We are so much more. 

#ScrewLabels.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Gamze’s Story

I guess my story could be ‘marketed’ as a triumph over adversity, one that “should inspire all new mothers to keep on trying and to have faith that if they try hard enough, they too can succeed.” But in reality, it hardly is. Yes, I still breastfeed my 11 month old beautiful, healthy son. For what it is worth, he was (dare I say the magic word?) exclusively breast-fed from when he was 40 days old until he was 6 months old. He still receives only breast milk in addition to his solids.

So you might ask, “why are you writing all this?”

I am writing because the first 40 days of my son’s life and the first 40 days after my having given birth were a completely different story. A traumatizing, sad story.

I was breastfed. In fact, everyone in my family – across generations – was breastfed. Naturally, I had no question about how I would feed my baby when he was born. I was convinced that I would not put “commercial” formula in my baby’s tummy ever. (God forbid!)

My son was born post-term after 30+ hours of labor that I really was not ready for. Again, all the women in my family gave birth very easily. I am my mom’s first born and she had me in just a breezy 7 hours! And with no pain killers, might I add? I was convinced my experience would be a repeat performance. Maybe not by 7 hours but surely by 10… And no epidural (or so I thought!). I did end up delivering with an epidural because I had not slept for 2 days by the time labor started progressing and I was completely wiped out. I needed those 2 hours of sleep. So much for natural birthing!

Then my son was born. He was beautiful, healthy and mine! He was a little over 4 kilos (that’s just shy of 9 pounds) so they called him the “big boy” at the hospital when he was born. They placed him on my chest right away after he was born and he seemed to be suckling very happily for 45 minutes. I thought “Yes, we’ve got this!”. We hadn’t… Not by any stretch of the imagination.

He was very alert and pretty quiet during the day. During those 4 days that we stayed in the hospital, latching was a nightmare. The nurses and midwives kept thrusting his head toward the nipple, latching him was next to impossible, despite all the books and pictures I studied, he did not look like he was rooting… It was a bloody painful mess. He screamed every night at the hospital from 10 pm to maybe 2 am after being put at the breast repeatedly and then just passed out tired on my chest. I could not wink for fear that he would fall off of my chest. For 4 nights I did not sleep! The midwives said he must have colic (he was crying so hard) because I clearly had plenty of milk (read: painful engorgement). We got home and he still was screaming at night, nothing we did could appease him. He was producing wet diapers but not soiled ones. We went to a pediatrician because we thought maybe he is constipated? Looking back, I still feel terribly guilty and stupid for not realizing that he was starved. The pediatrician said something that made my world crumble: “Your son is just very hungry!” I had not managed to feed my baby! What kind of mother was I? Really, I thought a week old could be constipated? I am doing a freaking PhD! I have a degree from an Ivy league school!

So, after all the self-blaming, the self-pity, the crying, I went to a lactation consultant. She asked me about any underlying conditions I had. I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis but was on hormone replacement therapy and was doing fine. She said that the disease made lactation levels fluctuate and that probably was the culprit. She also said, “Your priority is to feed your baby! Give him formula now!” He had lost 200 grams. That is 5% of his body weight!

I cried giving him his first bottle of formula. I cried all the more because he gulped it down and wanted more. My feelings of inadequacy kept eating at me. He was 10 days old now and was combi-fed. I was in such excruciating pain every time he tried to latch that after a while I just pumped whatever I could pump and topped up with formula. I did not want him anywhere near my breasts. I thought maybe he had a tongue-tie but everyone (all the lactation consultants, the doctors we saw) said he was fine. (Many months later, after his teeth came in, we found out that he in fact did have a lip-tie and a tight tongue frenulum. That probably was the reason why he could not latch in the first place. Later, I also found out I had no milk supply issues).

My mom, who had been there since before the birth to help us out, kept telling me to stop pumping and get some sleep. She told me that I had tried hard enough and that the colostrum I fed him the first three days was gift enough. Although I have no recollection of this, apparently I kept snapping at her for telling me to stop pumping when she very well knew my milk would completely dry out if I did.

So, I pumped and I pumped and I pumped. And I didn’t sleep. And kept counting the ounces of milk I produced and that was dwindling. An added bonus: I felt like a cow. I did. I joked about being a cow hooked on to a milking machine (aka the double breast pump). My son was getting most of his intake from formula now. I could only give him maybe 1 ounce or 2 ounces of breast milk every other feeding. I looked terrible. I felt even worse. I could not go out, I had not seen another adult (save my mother and my husband) for weeks. Did I say, I did not sleep? (By this point, I spent all the little ‘free-time’ I had obsessively reading EVERYTHING I could find on low milk supply, exclusive pumping, you name it, I’ve read it! That’s when I found the Fearless Formula Feeder website. Thanks to a wonderful suggestion from a friend.)

Why did I think having a baby would be such a great idea anyways? I could not remember any more. So, I loved my son but I hated being a mother? Did I even know what being a mother meant? Was motherhood just about breastfeeding your child and feeling miserable and defeated because you couldn’t? So one fateful day, I decided I would stop pumping. I would accept the reality and do whatever my son needed to have a happy, caring and somewhat rested mother. Even if that meant formula-feeding full-time. And I would try one last time to get him to latch. If it worked, it worked. If not, he didn’t care. He seemed perfectly happy guzzling down his bottles anyhow.

I tried one last time to put him to the breast. He was 40 days old. This time, it worked. I felt a brief period of euphoria. Eureka! I did it!

Sorry, what did I do again? Nothing, really. It was sheer luck – or coincidence or whatever you might want to call it – that he could now somehow (miraculously) latch and feed at the breast.

Looking back, I don’t see a story of perseverance or success. All I know is that I needed to let go of my judgments and preconceptions but that it is easier said then done. I think it is time to acknowledge that the way a mom chooses to feed her baby is not an indication of how good a mother she is or will be. It really isn’t. It is not worth having the best moments of your motherhood stolen from you just to follow some generic advice about what is best. I will never again be a first-time mom. My son will never be that tiny, that wrinkly. I will never be able to reclaim the time I lost with him in my blind quest to provide him with what I thought was best. Now, I am thoroughly convinced that what is best for a baby is a sane, loving, well-rested and happy mother. Yes, now that it doesn’t hurt like hell and deprive me of my sense of self-worth, I do love breastfeeding. I love the convenience. I love the closeness. I love that when all else fails, the breast can calm my little son down in a matter of seconds. But I also know what it feels like to be judged for supposedly not having tried hard enough or to have people feel sorry for you because you tried so hard and ‘failed’. And I am saddened to see so much of that judgment being passed around as if there wasn’t already enough to make new mothers self-doubt and feel inadequate. And that’s why I wanted to share my story.

***

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

FFF Friday: “Enabling their rudeness perpetuates the problem…”

This is one of those FFF Fridays that will make you want to riot in the streets. Which I highly encourage you to do. I’d join you but I have a raging migraine at the moment, so I’m just going to sit here quietly and read Natalie’s post, and gingerly raise my fist in solidarity.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Natalie’s Story

My mother breastfed me exclusively in the late 70’s in a place where most people were formula feeding, and she was pretty defensive about it. There’s a picture of me at two years old giving a toy bottle (it came with my peeing baby doll) to my teddy bear. When she would show me the picture when I was older, my mother always told me that it’s OK that I’m playing with the bottle, but it’s not really good, because breastfeeding is better.

Fast-forward thirty years or so, I’m pregnant, and my mother’s crunchy beliefs are mainstream. So mainstream, in fact, that public health entities present all kinds of “data” to support it: breastfeeding will prevent obesity, cancer (which my mother died of), asthma, allergies, and a slew of other infectious diseases in your children, who will also have higher IQs. And then there are the supposed benefits for mothers: immediately losing “baby weight,” keeping your period at bay, reducing cancer risk for yourself.

Sad to say, the baby weight one really attracted me. I’ve had body dysmorphia since age twelve, and two years prior to my pregnancy I started exhibiting signs of hypothyroidism, including significant weight gain that no amount of careful eating or exercise would shake. The hypothyroidism wasn’t caught or acknowledged until my second trimester, when I also started getting medication for it (I got on the meds and people instantly started complimenting me on my thinner face). I felt better as well, but I couldn’t wait for breastfeeding to straighten me out further postpartum and get me back to my previous thinner self. I also have large breasts, which were always an issue in my dysfunctional family; my parents did not approve, not that I could have done anything about it. I was really looking forward to breastfeeding to give my breasts a meaning beyond early-instilled humiliation. I wanted to feel something about my breasts other than that they were so sexual as to be unattractive.

I was so gung-ho about breastfeeding that I spent almost three months of my pregnancy in a state of fear and dread.  My rather negligent and inconsistent OB practice attempted to treat me in a haphazard way for gestational diabetes because I was on the high end of normal, though within normal range, on the glucose test. Their endocrinologist is running research (without obtaining patient consent, I might add) to attempt to prove that far larger swathes of the population have it or are at risk for it than previously supposed. She appears to be sort of shoehorning data (that is, pregnant women at the hospital and the treatment they undergo) to support her theory. Unbeknownst to me I was one of them, even though I didn’t have gestational diabetes and they eventually admitted that the treatment wasn’t medically necessary.

I was so anxious because I’d read that babies born to GD mothers are automatically given bottles at birth. A LLLI representative and every other website I’d read told me that just one bottle would ruin the breastfeeding process forever–which would therefore ruin my kid, or so I believed. These were mainstream websites, traded back and forth on the internet in mainstream online birth month groups I belonged to. Or else were from my own research. Or were recommended by rational, educated people I knew.

Whenever I asked nurses at my appointments, or other hospital officials–like the one who ran our childbirth class, who warned about the dangers of formula feeding—about it, they’d say, “Well, DO you have GD?”

“…no…I mean, I don’t know, they said no, but they said I need the treatment anyway…”

“Well, if you DO, they’ll give a bottle—but breast IS best, I’m just warning you—and if you DON’T, they won’t! Which IS it?”

It was “no,” but it took my husband coming in with me to an appointment towards the end of my pregnancy (and demanding the same answers I’d demanded earlier) for them to stop warning that I was going to get GD treatment “fairly soon, at some point, be ready” and to admit that it wasn’t medically necessary. I even wrote in my “birth wishes” that no bottles could be given without my consent, and had the pleasure of being treated like a Birthzilla by the nurses and OBs, with lots of side-eye, reminders that the health professionals know best, and “you DO know that our hospital is trying for baby-friendly status, don’t you?”

In part, I was so assiduous about internet research and doing what official, “scientific” sources tell me because I’m an American transplant in Canada, and I’m living far from my family or any support network I can really rely on. My mother is dead and my family has never really been the supportive kind. My husband’s family lives overseas. I did have the presence of mind to join a mothers-and-babies group while I was pregnant, and it’s an amazingly non-judgmental group for the most part, with many formula feeders in it—formula feeders with lovely, healthy, happy children. I acknowledged this, but, as with my feelings concerning everyone else’s body shapes and sizes versus my own, I believed that everyone else was fine—beautiful, even, no matter what–but that I had better breastfeed or else.

I was induced when my son was fashionably late, and we had the clichéd but totally-real-for-us bonding moment where we gazed into each other’s eyes. My son was beautiful, happy, healthy, large though skinny, had good scores, and was interested in eating. I had the chance to breastfeed after they finished stitching up my third-degree tears. I had watched videos but didn’t really know what to do on the ground. I put him to my boob and nothing happened. The nurse said not to worry, he didn’t need anything right now, and it was time to go to the mother-baby ward and I could try again later.

In the ward, the supercilious new nurse lectured me for not having breastfed yet, since my baby had been out of the womb now for four hours and I could have done it twice. I was so tired that I was incoherent, though happy, and managed to mumble that I wasn’t really sure what to do. She sneered, “You did prepare for this, right? You did at least watch a video?” and left. It was 3 AM and I’d been awake for 36 hours. A few hours later, when I asked for help with breastfeeding anyway, she bent my hand, which had blood running down it because she was bending it at an unnatural angle around an IV, and then yelled at me when I asked her not to and pointed out that I was bleeding so much from her forced bending that blood was going back into the IV tube. “Do you want to breastfeed or DON’T you?”

Nothing much came out that I could see. Even the colostrum was negligible. I sat zombie-like in a “lactation class” with my husband and baby and five other couples, still dragging the IV tree (an OB decided against medical advice from the OB at the birth that I needed the IV in for another twenty-four hours for an infection that clearly wasn’t there), watching the lactation consultant fondle a plush breast. I was still smelling like birth goo, wearing a hospital gown that was bloodstained on the butt. No nurse would help me take the gown off around the IV, or clean myself—they were only concerned with breastfeeding. A series of nurses who were somewhat kinder but no more competent then the previous one taught me what I now know are incorrect latches that raised blood blisters. My breasts felt like they were on fire. My baby screamed for another day and night until we were discharged. My third-degree tears were agonizing and all I got was Tylenol. They and the bloody IV meant I could never get in a bearable nursing position while in the hospital. We rang for a nurse in desperation the second night and she sneered at us for not quieting our son down with my boob, which we had tried to no avail. Except for me a few hours after the birth, neither my husband nor I slept for about four days.

Our baby continued to scream when we were home. We were clinging to sanity by a tenuous thread when we went to our son’s 48-hour pediatrician’s appointment. The pediatrician took one look at our baby—he was still howling, with a look of desperation and anguish in his eyes–and remarked, “Well, he’s NOT huge.” I wondered what she was talking about—he was long and skinny and looked like me as a baby, except that I had been premature and had weighed about five pounds. The nurses in the hospital had said he was fine and that he needs to get used to the idea that he’s only getting breast milk, after all.

She pointed out gently that he had lost 12% of his body weight, that he had orange crystals from dehydration in his diaper, and that he was very hungry. She told us that we needed to give him formula, that we should try the ready-to-serve liquid kind because there was no point in going for powdered and fussing with all that stuff since I was planning to breastfeed. My husband checked out with our son, and I sat in the examination room alone and bawled silently until I could control myself. I hated myself for causing my baby suffering, even accidentally, and because I was already starting to feel physically like a failure as a woman. My body had changed so much, even before pregnancy, and was failing me, and now I was failing my son.

Giving my baby formula and watching him relax and sleep was one of the scariest, most relieving things I have ever done. I wish that it hadn’t been that way, because there was no reason for it to be that way.

My milk came in a few days later, when I took a brief nap and woke up in a chilly pool of it (good times!). I worked on getting my baby to exhibit what I thought a good latch was from all the literature I pored over, but it wasn’t happening all that well. His sessions were always very long. I both read that at this stage I couldn’t let him use me as a pacifier, that each feeding should last maximum thirty minutes…AND that I had to let him eat as long as he wanted.

My stitches continued to bother me to the point that I had to fashion a donut out of a towel for six weeks in order to sit down (and breastfeed) at all. I would sometimes hide in the bathroom and cry because they hurt so much, long past the time they were supposed to get “better.” The nurse at my OB practice told me crisply over the phone when I begged for advice that they were not responsible for me again until the six-week appointment and that I should consult my family doctor. My family doctor said, “I don’t know what to do. Isn’t that something your OB should take care of? Ask them.” I dreaded the pain of sitting but did it anyway, because I was terrified of not breastfeeding at all. (No variations of lying down worked for us either—my baby didn’t recognize it as a viable eating position.)

Then, my endocrinologist told me I had to go off thyroid meds for two months, I assume so that she could see if I only needed them in pregnancy or needed them long-term. My supply plummeted instantly. For the space of a week, feedings on demand became deranging twelve-hour long marathons. I didn’t sleep. My baby would scream and cry if he wasn’t on my breast, and would nurse fretfully the whole time when he was. I called LLLI, only to be told that by “allowing” an induction and epidural and formula supplementation, I had RUINED my supply. In a pissy, aggrieved voice, the LLLI representative said, “I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have done that, exactly, but you shouldn’t have done that.” She also told me that there was nothing wrong with twelve-hour feeds, that it was only a problem if I made it one, and was I dedicated enough to do what it takes? And do I co-sleep? Because our not co-sleeping is also harmful!

Next, I saw about ten lactation consultants at the hospital and local public health office, who said:

a)   According to their weighing numbers, I was producing “enough” for my baby (who was at the 95th percentile in height and 25th in weight, and always hungry);

b)   My baby’s latch is good. Except it isn’t. Except it is. Except it isn’t. Etc. But no instructions on how to make it better, other than “keep trying;”

c)   My body would eventually produce what my son needed if I really worked at it, because our bodies were made to do this;

d)   Only 1-2% of women have supply issues and it’s inconceivable that I would be one of them, especially with those breasts;

e)   I should nurse for ten minutes on each side, pump for fifteen minutes on each side, and then formula feed WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS WRONG AND BAD FOR BABIES—DO I KNOW THIS? Until he’s done, and then repeat the whole process every 1.5-2 hours, while taking blessed thistle, fenugreek, and Domperidone (which I did not continue with because it made my breasts hurt so much that nursing was impossible);

f)     Nobody “really needs” the size Large flanges for the pumps (I did, because hello, G/H cups while lactating!), though they sold them to me reluctantly after I insisted;

g)   Also, they kept trying to push hand expressing on me, even though I had severe “mommy thumb” from trying to wrangle my large breasts, because “women have been doing this for thousands of years.” (If there’s any sentence I really hate now, it’s “women have been doing this for thousands of years.”) After letting them corral me into trying it in front of them, I said, “ow, this hurts, I need to stop,” and the lactation consultant replied loudly, “YES, ISN’T IT GREAT.”

h)   My goal should be the cessation of formula feeding and the adoption of exclusive breastfeeding. But it was MY CHOICE, of course.

Incidentally, the literature from the hospital on breastfeeding says that formula feeding carries an increased risk of death. DEATH.

 

This breastfeeding advice, combined with the rest of the abysmal prenatal medical experience, which is not worth going into now, created perfect conditions for my postpartum depression. It didn’t help that my husband has anxiety that usually manifests itself as obsession over finances, and he would stand over me while I was pumping and cluster feeding, saying, “this HAS to work. Formula is EXPENSIVE.” Ironically, the postpartum depression help I’m still receiving at the hospital seven and a half months out is great, and probably the best health care experience I’ve had in Canada. However, I probably wouldn’t need it if I hadn’t had such bad prenatal and postpartum care, and particularly if I hadn’t been subject to the militant breastfeeding propaganda.

At around week 12 of my son’s life, I decided that enough was enough. I hated pumping and usually never got more than two ounces at a time. I preferred getting enough sleep to trying to do the “right” thing, and I was done trying to make exclusive breastfeeding work. I stopped pumping and could finally focus enough to bond with my baby. He started nursing vigorously, maybe because he had energy because we upped the formula, and I could finally see what that proper latch thing was all about. My husband gave him bottles and also got to experience the lovely bond that feeding can facilitate.  More formula feeding in public meant I didn’t have to be so crushed by the comments I overheard most of the time that I nursed in public with my large breasts. (My baby never did take to the cover.) I didn’t have to keep searching for nearly mythical, overpriced nursing tops that would accommodate both my breasts and my narrow torso. We would breastfeed in the morning for my baby’s first breakfast and Hobbit-like second breakfast, in the evenings, before bedtime, and when I remembered during the day—or when he wasn’t too hungry, because breastfeeding while hungry enraged him. Wouldn’t you rather have a full meal when you’re really hungry than a steady stream of tiny snacks?

It makes me furious that the public-health-run Living and Learning With Baby class I attended—for people who might not otherwise have family support networks–would only present breastfeeding-related info, despite the fact that probably about half the class was formula feeding their babies. It makes me furious that hypothyroidism is known to be a potential factor in low milk supply, yet my endocrinologist said dismissively when I asked her about it at my two-month postpartum appointment, “yeah, I heard about that, I read an article…but I don’t know anything about it. I doubt it’s important.” It makes me furious that a “baby-friendly” hospital that is adamant that you must breastfeed exclusively to avoid doing horrible things to your child…has an endocrinologist on staff who insists that you do things that will likely further jeopardize your milk supply. Or has nursing staff who are willing to let you hallucinate with fatigue and your baby starve because of their ideology. “Baby-friendly,” my a**. Not baby-friendly OR mother-friendly—more like lactivist-friendly!

And I haven’t even gone into the non-medical pressure: my otherwise lovely belly dance teacher, mid hip-swivel: “are you breastfeeding?” “Yes, but—“  “GOOD GIRL.” (Not wanting to hide what I was doing or misrepresent myself, I told her I was combo feeding and watched the smile fall off her face.) Every woman we know from my husband’s world region, combining collectivist society-style judgemental attitudes with newly-acquired North American values: “are you breastfeeding? OH NO DON’T GIVE FORMULA. IT WILL MESS UP YOUR SUPPLY. YOU HAVE TO STOP WITH THE FORMULA! BREASTMILK IS LIQUID GOLD.” (Funny, isn’t urine liquid gold?) Or my best friend’s mother staring at my chest when we’re on a visit to my hometown: “You’re not just breastfeeding? It’s weird, you don’t LOOK like you’d have a problem.” My best friend, trying to be helpful, warned me that I was pouring GMOs into my baby by giving him formula, and I might want to try GMO-free formula (which, as far as I can tell, is quite expensive and not for anyone younger than twelve months). Another friend, who doesn’t have children, informed me that formula was unhealthy and I should try feeding him goat’s milk.

And then there’s the whole hushed, reverential, and frankly paranoid attitude people have these days towards breastfeeding vis-a-vis drugs of any kind, even people who really should know better. My therapist asked me whether I should really be taking thyroid meds because I was breastfeeding. (Answer—YES. If even the ridiculous LLLI militants say it’s OK, it’s OK. The meds can only help, in this case.) My pharmacist, who knows I’m combo feeding, when I asked her if I could take NeoCitran or zinc lozenges during a debilitating upper-respiratory infection, said “well, OK, but only ONE per day! Baby is nursing! Drugs are bad for baby!” Motherisk, the very conservative entity in Canada you can call with breastfeeding and drug interaction issues, said it was fine to take as much as I needed, and it wouldn’t harm the baby but might cause a drop in supply. (At this point, breastfeeding was largely ceremonial for us, so I didn’t really care.) The Motherisk nurse also asked me how I was feeding my baby and tried to shame me for not breastfeeding exclusively, but I told her that I wasn’t interested in her input on this matter. (I wish I could have been so bold when another Motherisk nurse shamed me for my pre-pregnancy, hypothyroidism-induced weight when I called to ask if I could eat nutritional yeast while pregnant, but hindsight is 20/20.)

So this is what I do now: if someone expresses anything other than neutrality or approval when they ask about our baby-feeding habits, I lecture them passive-aggressively about hypothyroidism and its effects on milk supply until their eyes glaze over and they wish they had never said anything and they change the subject. After all, they brought it up, so they should be willing to hear any response they elicit. If they don’t change the subject, I warn them that I’ve vowed to myself to expunge all undermining negativity from my life at this vulnerable time, and I’d rather not expunge their presence. They usually stop.

When we buy formula cans—the generic Wal-Mart kind, because that’s what we can afford—that say “breast is best” on them (the message that used to crush me), I write “F**K to you!”—a direct quote from Borat–over the message in thick black marker. It’s petty, I own it. But it makes me feel better.

I don’t hide the fact that I’m formula feeding, though I would not blame anybody for doing so. I’m just waiting for someone to tell me in public that breast is best when I’m bottle feeding my child, just so I can threaten to report them to the police for harassment. Or else I will wave them away and say “shoo,” because their opinion is as welcome to me as a stray dog peeing on a fire hydrant. Politeness be damned—I think that enabling their rudeness perpetuates the problem, and I now feel strong and belligerent enough not to.

But I wish I hadn’t believed the hype. My baby is thriving on formula with a little breast milk. According to the lactivists I read or talked to, I should have gotten my period long ago because any flagging in breastfeeding dedication, even sleeping through the night, will bring it back, but at seven and a half months postpartum I still don’t have it. I didn’t have “baby weight” other than the baby to lose, but I actually experienced significant drops in my pre-baby hypothyroidism weight specifically during those times when my supply dropped, NOT when I was mostly breastfeeding. So if anything, the opposite was true for me, and breastfeeding LESS helped me lose weight.

I’m also one of those people who can’t handle severe and prolonged lack of sleep because it exacerbates my depressive tendencies. I have a husband who’s willing and interested—enthusiastic, even—about caring for our baby, but we have no relatives around upon whom we can rely in a pinch. No friends that we’re close enough to that we can just drop the baby off with when we’re desperate, tired, or sick. We can’t afford a babysitter. Under the circumstances, nursing round the clock for months on end at the expense of our sleep may not have been the responsible choice.

It’s also interesting to me that the person who was the most directly involved with my baby’s health—his excellent pediatrician—was the one who urged us to supplement with formula. If that lactivism stuff had a strong basis in fact, wouldn’t SHE have been the one to warn us about his IQ, projected potential weight, and chances of asthma and illness?

I do like breastfeeding now, because the pressure is now off. My baby does it for comfort or “dessert,” which comforts me. I will be a little sad when my baby weans totally, but I can see now that it’s such a little part of the whole bonding and growing process. The next time around, if I am so lucky that there is a next time, I’m not going to read any propaganda, not going to see any lactation consultants, not going off my thyroid meds, and if I have a supply problem at the outset, I will address it immediately so my baby does not suffer. If this happens in the hospital under the gimlet eye of “baby-friendly” nurses, so be it.

Recently, I was rereading one of my favorite books, The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt, which spans the era from the 1880’s to the end of World War I. I was struck by a throwaway line in it, about how Imogen, one of my favorite characters, was unable to breastfeed her baby at all. The author just mentions it and then goes on with the story. As though it’s normal. Probably because it is. No judgments of Imogen as a mother, no mention of how “tragic” it is, no comparisons to Imogen’s stepdaughter, who gave birth at the same time and had no problems with breastfeeding. I was extremely grateful to the author for it. We need more narratives like this, which is one reason why I love this site.

 ***

Want to share your thoughts on feeding babies? Talk about your experience? Shoot me an email at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

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