FFF Friday: “How breastfeeding nearly killed me”

All I can say about Maria’s story is that it is not the first I’ve read that nearly ended in tragedy. And I know it won’t be the last, until we start prioritizing maternal mental health over meeting breastfeeding recommendations. There is a perfectly acceptable alternative when a mother does not breastfeed. There is not a perfectly acceptable alternative when a mother does not receive help for severe postpartum depression or anxiety. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Maria’s Story

My name is Maria. I have two gorgeous children, who were both, ultimately, formula-fed. My youngest is nearing his second birthday, and I have found I still get bothered by the whole “breast is best” campaign. A part of me assumes I always will be. Since healing can be done through sharing stories, I thought I would share mine.

My first child was a girl. She was perfect, hairy, chubby, and amazing. I was a new mom of 22 with zero information on this whole parenting thing. Facebook was still new, and not every detail of life was out there. My choice to feed formula after a week of bleeding nipples was a quiet one, one met with little to no issue. My mother formula fed me, after all, and I was a single mom so it was no problem. Fast forward to my son. My husband and I anticipated the arrival of this boy like no other. We did not, however, anticipate preterm labor at 25 weeks, or preterm birth at 36 weeks. But he was perfect. 7 pounds, 12 ounces of perfection. His first cries were met with audible relief, as it meant his lungs worked. My first words were “He’s not small!”. He immediately latched to the breast, it was bliss.

He had mild jaundice at discharge two days later, and had lost 12 ounces. My first regained her birth weight in under a week, so I wasn’t concerned. I was determined to successfully breastfeed this time, but I did buy a pump and accessories in case the need arose. We went home a happy family. My milk came in some days later, and I knew something was wrong immediately. I wandering my son in bed, and when I pulled him away, I noticed my shirt was wet. Most of what my son pulled from me never made it into his mouth. Well, I figured my milk came in, so I will be more careful with latching after that.

Impossible. It was discovered at his 2 week appointment that he could not latch, due to a lip tie. I had already started pumping by then, and using bottles he could get his lips around. The downward spiral began.

He was barely gaining weight. 2-3 ounces were all he gained after coming home. His jaundice was technically in the zone of hospitalization, but the doctor said to try putting him in sunlight at home first. I was failing him. Then my milk started drying. I had a freezer stash. Excess coming out of my ears… and I was already dipping into reserves. His appetite grew, my supply shrank. I bought supplements, I pumped hourly, I drank dark beer, ate enough oatmeal to kill a horse, pumped less often, more often, for thirty minutes after nothing came out…. it was useless. He was insatiable, and drinking twice as much as I could produce.

I started to hate him. Every time he woke up at night I wanted to scream and run away. I would feed him and change him, then attach myself to the pump for an hour. Go back to bed and repeat. I got no sleep. Not “Oh I slept terrible last night” I am talking hallucinations. I hated my husband, he couldn’t help. He was on night shift and didn’t have boobs. I hated him. I hated this baby we made, I hated my family and myself.

One night, while the baby screamed in his pack n play, literally starving, I got the gun. I sat and listened to him scream for an hour, gun on my lap, weighing my options. Hearing over and over, “breast is best” “formula gives you cancer” “you don’t love your baby unless you breastfeed”, etc. Somehow I had the stamina for one more feeding.

The next day I went to the doctor. I was fine and then started bawling. After I became coherent I was scolded, lightly, for taking it this far. I should have switched as soon as I started having bad feelings towards my baby. He said breastfeeding is not at all a requirement of motherhood. He was formula fed and a doctor! I started antidepressants that day.

I switched my son to formula. He was 14 pounds by 2 months. By a year he had grown an entire foot! His jaundice was gone almost immediately, and he became a very happy baby. He is now nearly 2. One slight ear infection a month ago, a tummy bug last week are the only illnesses he can claim. He is happy, he is healthy, he is smart. All the things they say formula-fed babies can’t be.

So when I hear “breast is best”, I scoff. The breast nearly killed me, and was starving him. Tell me how that is best for anyone?!

Bottle or breast… FED is best!

***

Feel like sharing your story for an upcoming FFF Friday? Simply email it to me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “She assured me that all I had to do was try hard enough.”

I may be biased, but I really think FFF Friday stories should be a mandatory part of any IBCLC, CLC, or maternity RN training. This one, in particular, sums up everything that is wrong with how breastfeeding is handled in our society. It’s not about whether breastfeeding should be promoted or not, because right now, it’s going to be. That won’t change. But what needs to change – like, yesterday – is the completely asinine approach that we use to do so. We should be helping mothers, individual mothers, and not adhering to rigid “rules” about what breastfeeding is “supposed” to be, “supposed” to do, or “supposed” to feel like. If you don’t agree. please read Lisa’s story. Then let’s talk. For real – let’s talk, in an honest, open, intelligent way – and tell me how this is okay. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Lisa’s Story

I always wanted to be a mother from the time I was a young teen and held my infant baby sister in my arms as I rocked her to sleep. My mother raised and breastfed all seven of us. It always seemed perfectly natural, and this is how I pictured life… a sweet baby in my arms and latched to my breast. When I had my first child, he was totally perfect, and I was shown awkwardly how to latch him and get that working right. I proudly nursed him and continued after I left the hospital. It never entered my mind to even buy a bottle ahead of time because I didn’t plan to need one. I hadn’t even heard of the option of pumping, I just wanted to breastfeed. It went without my notice that my breasts never changed in pregnancy, that I never had let down, and that I never felt engorged or that supposed tingle feeling of milk coming in (because no one had ever told me while pregnant or even after what I should expect in the least even if it was working right). When we left my son had jaundice so we kept checking his levels, and within two days of coming home, we had the bili light suitcase. That’s just miserable, but I had no idea that his increasing lethargy, and jaundice was due to not enough to eat. I thought he wasn’t eating because he was lethargic from the jaundice. That’s what they told me would happen. I started to worry when I saw that he was always so tired, too tired to cry much, and he was looking thinner and more frail… bird like really. I hated not being able to hold him while he was under those lights, and could only do so to feed him. Finally, I listened to the voice I heard in my heart telling me he needed more… and I gave him some ready to feed formula I had gotten at the hospital. (thankfully before they banned such practices!) He eventually recovered, but my milk didn’t come in. Everyone assured me it would and I asked every known relative for help. I was doing it all right.. but a week went by, and nothing changed. I talked to the LC from the hospital who told me that it could be “normal” with a first baby and to keep letting him eat. She set me up with a pump. I spent so much time pumping and feeding, and desperately trying to sleep that I could hardly cope with the times my son was awake because I was so exhausted. At three weeks, I plain gave up and bought bottles. The doctor recommended formula because he was continuing to lose weight. To this day he’s quite healthy.. no allergies, asthma, or lower IQ that formula supposedly causes.

While I was pregnant with my second baby the “Every woman can breastfeed” campaign started. I had lost a few friends in new mommy groups online because of my experience, but I was redeemed in their eyes because I was DETERMINED that I would breastfeed this time around. I hired an LC before I was due. She assured me it was all possible and all I had to do was try hard enough. I told her of my previous experience, and she reassured me with all the common platitudes of “every woman can breast feed”, and “breast size doesn’t matter”. I even told her my breasts don’t get bigger in pregnancy, and this didn’t even faze her. I joined an online mentor group where they assign an experienced breastfeeder as your mentor to talk to about it and keep encouraged. I had my supply of oatmeal, bottled water, goats rue, domperidone, reglan, fenugreek, all the galactagogues, the books on correct latching, nipple shields, a hospital grade pump, an SNS kit, boppy, nursing bras, nursing pads, lansinoh cream, nursing cover, and even meditation tracks to relax me while I breastfed and walked me through breastfeeding hypnosis. I was SET!

 

My second son arrived just barely after Christmas day via induction for pre-eclampsia. He was also a little bit jaundiced when we took him home, but I figured that was normal. Two days later, again we had the bili lights, but this time not only the suitcase, but the bili blanket as well. They worried more about his levels, and he struggled more than his brother. He lost more weight, resembled a sickly struggling baby bird even more. Looking back, I should have seen these as warning signs. I hardly changed diapers.. another warning sign I should have seen, but I was FAR too focused on breastfeeding. I was latching him and feeding him every 2 hours if not every 90 minutes… feeding him till he wouldn’t suck any longer (about 30-40 minutes total), and then pumping for another half an hour to 45 minutes before grabbing about 20 minutes of sleep and starting all over again. I did this night and day.. could hardly stay awake, and my poor toddler suffered for it. I had to have people come in and help care for him because I literally did nothing but breastfeed. I still had no changes in breast tissue. I had no let down, no tingle, no engorgement, no leaking… nothing… but! When I squeezed, there was a drop there. My LC assured me that all was well despite his weight loss and my milk WOULD come in. I kept going.. popping the pills.. and the whole regimen until the 2 week appointment.

He had lost too much weight. He was classified as “failure to thrive” and I was sent immediately to the hospital. I was so exhausted, and confused! I was doing the right thing! I was breastfeeding more than ever before.. how could this be happening to me??? To my baby??? I bawled and sobbed all the way to the hospital. It was a grueling three days that we were there. I stayed the whole time feeling utterly horrified that I hadn’t realized something was wrong. They ran test after test after test on him, and filled him with IV fluids. That was the best I’d seen him look! Then one day they came in just after I visited the pumping room and brought back my container of milk. I proudly proceeded to put a nipple on the bottle feeling very happy that I’d gotten more than ever before! I had just produced 1/3 an ounce… from both breasts combined! The nurse and the doctor exchanged looks and looked a bit horrified. They asked me if that was common, and I explained no.. ¼ an ounce was common, but I nursed him very frequently. They asked to do an exam on my breasts, asked a lot of questions. They wanted to know what the LC had told me, what I was taking, how many wet diapers, and so on. At the end of this exam the conclusion was laid on me… there was nothing wrong with my son. The problem was with me. They talked about Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). I was confused. I regurgitated “every woman can breastfeed!” and the doctor explained that just wasn’t true in my case, nor would it ever be. He said that no amount of supplements and trying and pumping would ever help me produce more than I was, and that exclusive breastfeeding was not possible for me. My world went spinning. I had done everything right!! Why was this happening to me? I took my son home, and began to feed him formula feeling like a complete failure. Very obviously I could not breastfeed him, and he needed all the calories he could get at that point.

And then came the rejection. Almost every mommy in those new mommy groups online rejected me. I was lazy they said. I just didn’t try hard enough. They listed all the things I should have done or should continue to try. I had done them all. There was no tongue tie, or latch issues… they utterly rejected the notion that I was a woman who couldn’t breastfeed… and I was called names, ostracized, and ridiculed. Even WIC laughed at me and said that I had given up. I bawled. I spent HOURS bawling and sobbing. I developed post partum depression, and no one cared. Not my doctor’s office, not the LC’s who were long since done with the failure that I was…. Not the mentor because I was beyond her advice or care. No one. I sobbed and bawled and was miserable. I remember very little of that son’s infancy because I was so alone other than my husband who tried to console me. I had done the best I could he said… I had given everything I had to give… but every woman can breast feed… I would reply. No joke… I had believed that lie, and it broke my heart.

It was years before I stopped crying and grieving over the breasts that I have apparently only for display. I was broken. My son was my consolation. Son #2 is still very healthy… despite all the evil wicked formula. He has no asthma, no allergies, and no medical problems at all. He is also ahead of his class in school and does not lack for IQ.

I experienced a miscarriage, and then fell pregnant with my third son. I knew from the start that I could not breastfeed. I didn’t even bother to try… not at all. What was the point really? I told the hospital up front that I would be formula feeding. They asked why, and did I know about the benefits of breastmilk? Yes of course I knew, but I had IGT… “you have what?” How can a hospital not have ANY CLUE what that is? Well…. Because ‘breast is best’ and ‘every woman can breastfeed’. They repeated these things so often I think they honestly believed them. Miracle of miracles though – this son passed all his meconium MUCH faster, and did not need bili lights at all! His Jaundice was very mild, and I found that I enjoyed him as a newborn so very much! I would hold him and feed him his bottle and sing to him. I found that the bonding thing wasn’t about the source of the food at all, but about love, and about caring for my sweet baby. Oh how I enjoyed that little boy! I was not exhausted, and I was fully capable of being the mother he deserved. I wished I had been properly diagnosed years ago! I could have enjoyed two previous babies so much more, skipped all the hospital bills and misery and worry!

WIC still didn’t believe that IGT was a thing. They told me I had to have x-rays to confirm it… that I didn’t have proof. If you ask me, I think they didn’t like that I had a legit medical reason they couldn’t “educate” me out of. The heavily leaning towards breastfeeding was evident… if you breastfeed, they give you twice to three times as much babyfood at that stage. I tried not to let the jabs from other mothers and the dirty looks when I pulled out a bottle get to me. It still stung some.

Then came five more miscarriages and immense heartbreak. I wanted desperately to have another child… and I wanted the feeling of breastfeeding again. I knew that wasn’t possible exclusively, but I could give what I do make right? As tiny as it is…. FINALLY! I conceived and though the pregnancy was rough, I made plans to combo feed, and to not give a flying flip what anyone else thought. I had been through enough grief and heartache, and I more than deserved to enjoy my daughter! I told the hospital staff when they asked that I intended to combo feed and that I could not exclusively breastfeed.. I had IGT. They smiled and said “Ok. Do you want the LC or would you like some formula brought?” There was no prejudice in the nurse’s voice. I asked for both. The LC came in, and saw that I was using an SNS system to feed formula. I explained that I had IGT, and don’t produce much, but I wanted to enjoy breastfeeding because I liked the feeling of it. She smiled, and asked if she could look at me kindly. She nodded and said she confirmed that diagnosis, and that she thought I was impressive by knowing what I wanted and finding the means to do what I could. She was very kind, and not pushy. I appreciated this. My daughter is now almost 3 months. My tiny bit of milk dried up at 2 months, but oh how I cherished the longest breastfeeding relationship I have ever have even if it wasn’t exclusive! How I wish that more nurses and LC’s had treated me this way!

If there is one thing I found lacking in this last experience, it is that I was never given instructions about how to safely prepare formula, or for that matter… how to prepare it at all. I was handed nursettes, or cans of formula and waved away. I am still learning all the better ways to feed formula despite this being my fourth baby. I find myself feeling angry when other women are bullied and mistreated as I was by WIC and all the people who lied to me, or weren’t educated on biology to know that not every woman can breastfeed. I would have loved to breastfeed more, but that was never a choice I could make no matter how hard I tried. Some women do have that choice to breastfeed… and some prefer to formula feed. I now respect all mothers. You never know what she has been through.

***

Want to share your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “I can’t bring myself to say it out loud…”

This is a different sort of FFF Friday submission. Lynn wrote to me last spring, saying that she couldn’t bring herself to write out the entire tale of her infant feeding journey, but that she still wanted to share her story.

She felt the best way to do this was to submit the email she sent her husband, approximately three months after her son was born, three weeks after returning to full time work.

 

And you know what? This email told enough of the story. It told it all. Everything so many of us have felt, experienced, thought… all of it, laid bare, stripped down. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***
Lynn’s Story

I suffer from depression and anxiety.  The thought of postpartum depression scared the CRAP out of me, so much so that I wasn’t sure I wanted to bear a child (rather, adopt).  I was advised early on in my pregnancy that I’d need to get at least six hours of sleep a night during those first six weeks.  Little did I know, not only would that be nearly impossible, it would be absolutely crucial.  Between a lactation consultant at the hospital thinking she observed my son having a seizure (which put us unnecessarily in NICU), and my son having a tough time staying latched, pumping ultimately became the most reasonable thing to do.  

Two bouts of mastitis later…. this is the email I sent to my husband:

I can’t bring myself to say it out loud…

I can’t pump anymore.

I’m typing this in tears, shivering, with a 100.3 fever and an incredibly sore and tender boob.  It’s nothing short of self-torture to keep doing this and maintaining a milk supply requires a shift in lifestyle that I obviously can’t maintain.

My therapist asked me to complete this sentence:

If I stopped pumping I would…

…go shout in the streets hallelujah.

This was not the response she expected.

She also asked, what would you tell yourself if you saw what you’re going through…

…stop.

I wish I weren’t the one pulling the plug (or, putting in the plug?).  It is a smack-in-the-face reminder that I have to mother myself… which is just a Freudian nightmare in and of itself.

It’s fucked up, honey and not only can I not voice, I cannot type what I am truly, truly afraid of if I keep doing this to myself.

<deep breath>
I love you.  I love William.

I love me, too.

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

FFF Friday: “It feels like this is something for which I must beg forgiveness.”

My #ISupportYou partner, Kim Simon, and I have been working hard on developing a guide for bottle feeding support groups. In doing so, I’ve been pondering the reasons why we need such groups. After all, isn’t bottle feeding easy? Shouldn’t a decent handout on proper preparation and sterilization be sufficient for new formula feeding parents? There isn’t a learning curve like there is with breastfeeding; once you’ve got the hang of it, and have found a formula that works, you should be good to go.

 Right?

This is what most of society believes, and it is so far from “right”. Maybe it is true for some families, but certainly not for the women who frequent FFF. True, the logistics of bottle feeding are pretty straightforward (although I personally believe troubleshooting is often needed, and resources for bottle issues are sorely lacking). But there is an emotional, psycho-social component to formula feeding that requires support and community. 

If you don’t believe me, I urge you to read the story below. As Erin writes below, her experience with the shame of formula feeding “has been tremendously awful for the relationship I have with my baby. I started to pull away from him because it hurt so much to feel like I was harming him in some way. Everything about him reminds me of what wrong I think I’m inflicting.” How can we put so much pressure on women to nurse in the name of better bonding with their infants, when that same pressure is having the exact opposite effect on those who are unable or choose not to nurse? What would happen if, as bottle feeding parents, we had a place to come, to feel normal, to feel accepted, and to work through these conflicted emotions?

I want to create those spaces. Because I don’t want Erin and others like her to feel this way. It isn’t fair, it isn’t healthy, and it isn’t “right”. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,
The FFF
***
Erin’s Story

I had my first baby last month, after spending several weeks in the hospital with preeclampsia. When the preeclampsia became severe, I was given a c-section. My son was born at 35 weeks. The c-section did not go well–an insufficient amount of anesthesia was used, so that while I experienced some pain the muscles of my uterus did not relax, causing a half-hour struggle in the OR where a tech pushed at my belly and the OB tried to pull my baby out. Eventually they were forced to do more cutting in order to save his life.

As a preemie, he found it really hard to nurse, but I was determined. After my milk came in, I cup-fed him so that he would still be able to breastfeed. We had many visits by the lactation consultants. We were sent home with him nursing a little bit and supplemented by the cup. He was first introduced to formula when I was hospitalized again for an infection of my incision. As soon as I could, I was trying to nurse him again.

But it became clear after several weeks that it wasn’t really working. I had to nurse him for an hour, then feed him several ounces of pumped milk or formula, and then pump. It was the most exhausting ritual I’ve ever experienced, leaving no time for sleep. I paid for another visit with a lactation consultant, who found that he has a tongue and lip tie that prevents him from nursing successfully. We are now scheduled to have it removed, but for now he is being bottle fed, and it’s unlikely I will be able to nurse. In the post partum emotional rollercoaster, this is a punch to the gut. I have tried so hard. Seeing him refuse the breast (because he got nothing!) made me have crying jags for days.

What I’ve noticed is that this has been tremendously awful for the relationship I have with my baby. I started to pull away from him because it hurt so much to feel like I was harming him in some way. Everything about him reminds me of what wrong I think I’m inflicting. Seeing this happen, I know I had to give up the expectation of breastfeeding and not think about it. Otherwise he is going to have a depressed, withdrawn mother, which I’m sure will be much worse for him than any difference between methods of feeding. It’s just so hard to let it go. The cultural saturation of “breast is best” is really not helping. Everything I read online is disdainful of formula, even though many moms I’ve called, in tears, say they used it early or even exclusively. This needs to be an acknowledged reality so that when breastfeeding can’t happen moms don’t feel like they are harming their child, especially as it seems like a large number of women don’t breastfeed for whatever reason.

Reading other’s stories has helped. I am still crying a lot, and it still feels like this is something for which I must beg forgiveness. But my son is healthy so far, and I need to let this go.

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

FFF Friday: “Why I am suggesting my wife stops pumping.”

Lately, I’ve seen more discussion about the roles fathers (and partners) play in supporting breastfeeding. But I fear that there’s something missing in this discussion, a rather large elephant in the room that everyone is stubbornly ignoring despite the odor coming from the large pile of elephant dung in the corner. 

Having a supportive partner is absolutely fantastic when you’re trying to breastfeed. But what does being supportive really mean? Does it mean being a breastfeeding cheerleader, reminding your partner of the benefits and imploring her to keep going? Or does it mean stepping in when you see her emotionally disintegrating before your eyes? How do we help our partners truly support us – by indoctrinating them on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, or by educating them on postpartum mental health, and the importance of the emotional stability of the family? 

My husband struggled with this. It’s something I’ve talked about before, but probably not to the extent that I should have. In our case, he took the breastfeeding classes and was entirely convinced that formula was NOT an option for our family. Plus, I’d told him I wanted to breastfeed. This meant that he believed his role was to keep reminding me of these things; every time I burst out in tears, wanting to quit, he’d say “this is what we decided” or “I have to think of FC, and what’s best for him.” As I was already halfway down the rabbit hole of PPD, these were not helpful statements. I resented him, and felt even more like a failure when things didn’t work out. 

Six years later, Fearless Husband can’t even discuss what I do for a living. He’s still drowning in anger about it all; he feels like he was manipulated, which led him to put his wife’s emotional health (and his son’s physical health) at risk because of what society and the “experts” told him was absolute truth. I can look at my own experience with perspective; the passion I feel about this topic is no longer personal, but about feminism and justice and truth. For him, it’s still personal. 

Our partners can be part of the solution, or part of the problem. They can’t win. They are doomed if they push us to keep going when we really need to stop, or if they push us to stop when we want to keep going; when they don’t have an opinion either way, or when they have too strong an opinion. So what can we do to help them help us? 

I’d love to hear your ideas, and to collect them in a post that can be shared with concerned fathers and partners. Leave them in the comments below, or on the FFF Facebook page. 

To start this conversation, I want to share a unique submission I received from Jeff, a father who is dealing with this exact Sophie’s choice of a situation. I am grateful to him for sharing his thoughts, and for supporting his wife in the best way he can. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

Jeff’s Story

We wanted to breast feed our baby for six months. We were committed to it. In fact, I was worried that as the dad, I wouldn’t have enough to do in the first months to care for our baby. And it hasn’t worked out that way…

I am completely fed up with what breastfeeding – exclusive pumping – is doing to my wife. Some background – our baby is 7 weeks old. We had a normal, uneventful delivery, and she’s healthy, gaining weight, and a perfect angel! But she just won’t latch. Let me tell you – we have tried. For hours, doggedly and desperately. Nipple shields, syringes and tubes, pillows, massage, hand expression, “lactation cookies”, lecithin, goat’s rue, countless cups of tea, rain dances and magic invocations… The few times she did latch, she did not get enough milk to satisfy her. After weight loss, dry diapers, and a lethargic baby, we started supplementing with formula. Our stress level went down, and our baby sprang to life!

We have seen four lactation consultants (two in the hospital, and two since we got home). They gave us terrific support – hours of individual attention and lots of moral support. They are wonderful, encouraging, and compassionate people – and I would not say we’ve felt bullied into breastfeeding. I’m very thankful to our insurance (Kaiser Permanente) for providing the support, because we didn’t want to give up. Our pediatrician and an ENT specialist checked for tongue-tie, and found nothing amiss. They also worked with us on the pump, so we’ve really given this an honest effort. We just don’t know where the issue is.

Both baby and mom have been in tears after attempt after attempt – robbing them of pleasurable bonding time. I’ve watched my wife in tears over the pain of engorgement and plugged ducts, a bout of mastitis, and the frustration and embarrassment of being hooked up to a pump while I get the pleasure of holding and feeding our baby. We haven’t had to supplement with formula much after the first week, but it’s come at a huge personal cost.

So, my wife became an exclusive pumper. Maybe our experience is atypical, but pumping takes forever. She spends close to an hour per session, many hours a day, just to keep abreast (pun intended) of the demand. It takes at least half an hour before she gets any flow. There simply are not enough hours in the day for her to pump, sleep, and hold the baby. So in the name of “breast is best”, our baby is being deprived of the comfort of her mother’s arms.

We blindly subscribed to the “breast is best” philosophy. Since these problems stated, however, I went back and read the primary literature on breast milk versus formula (I have a PhD in immunology, and my wife has a MPH and worked for the World Bank in the nutrition hub). I was surprised at how weak the evidence for breast milk over formula was! The most convincing evidence I can find is that breast milk protects babies from GI infections, which makes sense if you don’t have a clean water supply as a basis for your formula. That’s not a significant concern in the developed world, however. For nearly every study I read, the differences in IQ and every other measure are less than the test-to-test variation seen in individual children. (i.e., the difference seen between a breast fed and a formula fed baby is less than the difference seen if you tested the same baby twice.) Even if you believe those differences, the link between intelligence and breastfeeding is confounded by the many other variables that cluster with extended breast feeding, especially socioeconomic factors.

I’ve reached the conclusion that this is not serving my wife or our baby’s best interests. So, I am going to tell my wife tonight that I think she’s done a fantastic job giving our baby nothing but breast milk for the first 7 weeks, but that I am concerned that “extraction” of breast milk is dominating their relationship to the detriment of both of their health. I would rather see my daughter held in the arms of her happy mother drinking formula than look across the room at my wife’s teary eyes while I feed the baby breast milk sucked from her body.

I still support efforts to encourage breast feeding, but we have to be wise enough to recognize when it isn’t serving the best interests of the mother or baby. Public health recommendations are based on large groups of people – they cannot (nor do they try) to predict the best action for all people in all situations. If breastfeeding works for your family, that is wonderful and I’m genuinely happy for you. Please respect that it does not always work, despite desperate desires to the contrary. We didn’t want or choose this outcome, but I don’t feel bad for making a decision that protects my family’s physical and emotional health.

That’s why I think it’s time to support my wife and baby by suggesting she’s done enough, and that it’s time she put down the pump and picked up the baby.

***

Want to share your thoughts or story about infant feeding? Email me – formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

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