Breaking news: All new moms are sleep deprived!

I’m thinking the economy must be better than everything thinks, because some pretty inane studies are still managing to get funding. Like this one, reported on CNN.com, that shows how formula feeding moms and breastfeeding moms get “the same amount of sleep”. (I’m not bothering to read this one because frankly it’s too ridiculous for words, but I would venture a guess that “the same amount” = not much in either case, unless you’re one of those lucky women who gets blessed with a baby that sleeps through the night at 2 weeks. For the record, I kind of hate you, and also want to be you.)

This is not news, people. I understand it’s an old wives’ tale (and possibly a marketing ploy by the formula companies, since as we all know, everything is. They were responsible for the Kennedy Assassination and 9/11 too…although I should probably cut the sarcasm since Enfamil did put out that ridiculous “Restful” formula which set the cause of formula feeding rights back about 50 years) that formula makes babies sleep better, but as the mom of a baby who was fed both breastmilk from a bottle and later straight formula, and who never slept more than 3 hours at a time until he was 5 months old, I can attest that this is far from the truth. I know breastfed babies who slept like lambs, and formula fed babies who kept their poor parents up all night.

Now, I do think formula allows mom one luxury – the night feedings can be shared by partners, whereas breastfeeding moms have no choice but to be involved in the feeding, as the feeding apparatus is attached to their bodies. But in a completely anecdotal, uncontrolled study, performed by myself using my group of mom friends as subjects, I found that no matter how the baby was being fed, the non-primary-caregiving parent woke up far less than the primary caregiver. Sometimes it was because the significant other had to work the next day, whereas the primary caregiver was staying at home, or at least on maternity leave; in other cases, even when both parents were working, the primary caregiver was just more attuned to the baby’s needs and woke up faster and more efficiently than her partner. In my case, Fearless Husband was far more stoic when I was pumping exclusively, waking up to feed Fearless Child a bottle of my pumped milk while I pumped more of the stuff. When we switched to formula, he was suddenly way less apt to wake up; even if his intentions were good, I’d sit up straight the second FC started crying, but no amount of smacking upside the head could wake my beloved. It was just easier for me to get up and make the bottle.

So, I would imagine that these things kind of even out. Yeah, formula feeding moms can share the burden of night feedings, but breastfeeding moms – if they are sharing a room with their infants – can simply roll over and let the kiddo feed. That always sounded blissful to me, especially as I was knocking into furniture in the pitch dark, stumbling into our bathroom to mix up a bottle….

Point being – I’m 100% not surprised about this finding. I’m just surprised someone would bother to conduct a study looking into this issue, when there are so many more important things to be researching. I should have learned my lesson by now, though, because the end of the CNN article made it all perfectly clear:

So what should new moms take from this study?  Researchers hope it will encourage moms-to-be who are thinking about exclusively formula feeding their babies to consider nursing as well.  When it comes to breast milk, says Hawley E. Montgomery-Downs, the study’s lead researcher and assistant professor of psychology at West Virginia University, “the benefits for mom and baby are unequivocal.  Yes, they are exhausted, but getting better sleep can’t be used as a reason not to breastfeed.”

Oh, right. That’s why Montgomery-Downs conducted this study, as an “assistant professor of psychology” – not a sleep expert, or a lactation consultant, but someone who should arguably be more concerned with the effect of lack of sleep on a person’s psychological makeup than worrying about some stupid petty argument between new moms, or giving prescriptive advice about the “unequivocal” benefits of breastfeeding – to ensure that no woman can use “I’m tired” as a reason not to breastfeed. I’ve also yet to meet a mom who seriously factored the rumor about formula helping babies sleep into their decision. It may have been an after-the-fact silver lining, but a reason to go directly to formula? Not so much. And I’d testify in court that I’ve talked to at least 80 formula feeding moms at length, which is the same sample size as this study.

Maybe we need to start a new feature on FFF… Studies That Make You Want to Bang Your Head Repeatedly Against a Brick Wall? STMYWBYHRABW for short? You like?

Guest Post Week: Formula feeding and maternal happiness

For our last Guest Post Week feature (well, thumb not counting FFF Friday tomorrow), I chose a submission from Joy Paley, a blogger and writer.
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Study reports (surprise) no difference in psychological health or infant attachment between breast and formula feeding moms
I know you frequent readers of FFF might initially roll your eyes at this study about maternal happiness, since its conclusions may seem obvious. The research, which looked at psychological health of new moms and their attachment levels to their infants, showed no significant difference in these arenas between women who were breastfeeding and those who had weaned their babies.
The research, out of the School of Psychology at Australian National University, isn’t terribly new; it was published in The Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology in 2006, but there are so many gems in it that when I found it I knew I had to share. It directly challenges many popular notions about breastfeeding and maternal health and is refreshingly unlike the scientific rhetoric in other studies that FFF has helpfully picked apart before.
For one, the authors directly recognize that maternal happiness has not even been mentioned in the large amounts of literature that have come out in support of breastfeeding. In their focus on physiological and immunological benefits of breastfeeding, these studies have completely left out the experience of the mother. “Possible negative maternal experiences of breast feeding and those experiences of formula feeding mothers have largely been ignored in research to date,” says this paper.
Another remarkable part of this study is that it recognizes and discusses the methodological shortfalls of previous studies about breastfeeding moms and happiness. These studies had some serious issues in how they evaluated the psychological health of new mothers; they didn’t differentiate between current or past breast feeders, or women who had used formula from the birth of the child. Some had very small sample sizes, and others measured the women’s psychological health at varying times throughout the pregnancy.
Wait, there’s more: these studies also used psychological distress scales that are inappropriate for a woman who has just given birth; i.e., they count sleep disturbances and tiredness, normal parts of becoming a new mom, as probable signs of depression.
With these previous issues in mind, the researchers in this Australian study stated that the empirical evidence claiming that breastfeeding mothers were happier was mixed at best, even though that is the popularly held assumption. They set out in their study to challenge these commonly held notions and correct the methodological problems found in previous research.
To do the study, the researchers collected data on 60 new breast and formula feeding mothers using a 30 minute interview and a questionnaire. Standardized methods of quantifying psychological states such as life satisfaction, happiness, anxiety, depression, and maternal attachment were used to assess the well-being and attachment levels in the two groups.
And, drum roll please: no significant difference was found between the breast- and bottle-feeding mothers in psychological well-being, anxiety, or feelings of attachment to their infant.
“No evidence was found to support assumptions that breast feeding mothers have greater psychological health or have greater perceptions of attachment with their baby than mothers who are formula feeding their infant after weaning,” said the researchers.
I found the posture of these social scientists and the way they framed their research question to be quite encouraging—here are academics who were not simply looking at data on infant immunity and ending their papers with curt statements like “breast is best.” I’d probably attribute this to the fact that the researchers here are psychologists rather than, say medical doctors. There is an effort made to look at the potential social impact of the dominant opinion that breastfeeding leads to more happy, caring moms, and to thoroughly put to question that popular assumption.
Their final statement of the paper reflects this, and I have to agree with them: “Until more research is undertaken on maternal experience of feeding a baby, widely help assumptions may continue to place excessive and unnecessary pressure on new mothers.”

What about the next kid?

Fearless Husband and I should be committed. We have decided to try for another kid.  

“Aw, come on now, FFF, that doesn’t sound so crazy,” you might be saying. But hang on there, buckeroo. Have you MET my child? He is one of the friendliest, cutest little creatures you’ll ever see, but behind that sweet facade lies a fire-breathing, screeching dragon, otherwise known as “Dairy Allergy”. If one iota of milk protein  should pass those pouty lips…well, you know those disaster movies that rake in the box office dough every summer? Michael Bay could make a blockbuster out of my child’s dairy reaction.

Needless to say, Fearless Child was not the easiest baby, at least until we figured the allergy out. And even then, his stubborn streak was apparent from day one, making him easily frustrated and prone to passionate, melodramatic outbursts (hmm, I wonder where he gets that…). The memory of those first hellish few months still haunts me; so much so, that the sound of a crying newborn is enough to make my ovaries shrivel up.

Anyway… one of the (many) concerns I have about giving Fearless Child a sibling is this: what the heck are we going to feed the little bugger? Am I going to try breastfeeding again, or stick to what I now know and love? And how does this decision affect what I’ve been fighting to accomplish with my blog?

Months ago, we were having dinner with some dear friends who have a son the exact same age as my little guy. Like everyone else I know, the mom, whom we shall call Jane, exclusively breastfed for a year. We got to talking about the book I was working on, and one thing led to another, leading her to pose the inevitable question: “But you’ll still breastfeed your next one, right? I mean, why wouldn’t you at least try?”

I opened my mouth to respond, and promptly shut it (yeah, I actually do know how to do that, unlikely as it may seem from these ramblings). Because I didn’t know how to answer.  I always say I am pro-breastfeeding; if things had been different, I would’ve nursed from the beginning, so why should I deprive future children of that same opportunity?  Maybe the next kid wouldn’t have all the issues that plagued Fearless Child. Maybe my postpartum depression wouldn’t be as severe, giving me more tolerance to work through the hardships, and eliminating my need for potentially harmful pharmaceuticals.

It was the second part of Jane’s question that really got me thinking, though. Why wouldn’t I at least try? Well, that’s the thing… if I believe what I preach here, that formula is a perfectly healthy, perfectly fine choice, one that worked wonders for my family – why would I feel the need to “try”? That implies that something is fundamentally wrong with the alternative; that the option I should attempt is something coveted, something better. This feeds into so many deeper issues, so many philosophical arguments…too complex an issue to hash out over Mexican food and wine.

It is so hard to separate what I actually want, on that pure id kind of level,  from what I stand for. But I need to remind myself that I don’t stand “for” formula feeding, necessarily; I stand for choice. I stand for doing what is best for your family. For my family, I expect that formula feeding will remain the most appropriate option, but who knows? I reserve the right to change my mind. And in the meantime, I’ll keep fighting to protect that right, for myself, and for all of us.

Now that I’ve resolved that concern, I could use some help with the next one. Anyone with two kids under three years old want to explain to me how you go to the supermarket? You can’t put two kids in the shopping cart, right? See? The logistics of this boggle the mind…

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