Bonding requires love.
Thanks to the FFF community for showing this to be true! (And special thanks to the amazing Amanda Peters for coming up with the #bottlebonding idea and hashtag!)
Bonding requires love.
Thanks to the FFF community for showing this to be true! (And special thanks to the amazing Amanda Peters for coming up with the #bottlebonding idea and hashtag!)
Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes, it’s not.
As any journalist, blogger, or parenting-forum moderator can attest, merely mentioning the words “breastfeeding” or “formula feeding” will create controversy – or at least a comment thread that derails within the first three posts. It’s virtually impossible for someone not to feel offended. It happens on both sides of the debate; some breastfeeding advocates see red anytime a person writes favorably about formula, while some formula feeding mothers are guilty of taking it all too personally, and assuming that every positive aspect of breastfeeding is dig at their lack of lactation.
This bugs me, being someone who writes about this topic regularly, because it dilutes the conversation. We lose track of what we’re talking about, and lose the chance to understand, to evolve, to connect.
Of course, this problem is endemic to any hot-button parenting issue. Circumcision, sleep training, working vs. staying at home, vaccinations… But when it comes to breastfeeding, what I’m talking about goes far beyond the mommy war bullshit. We’ve apparently lost the ability to discuss anything to do with breastfeeding and formula without heaping layers of preconceived notions, philosophical ideals, and emotional reactions onto whatever’s being discussed. Even if the conversation takes place in a respected medical journal, the halls of a hospital, or a human rights nonprofit.
With that said, I want to make something clear: this post is not about breastfeeding. It is not about the benefits of breastfeeding. It is not about a woman’s right to breastfeed or formula feed. It is not about you, or me, or your sister-in-law. It’s about language, interpretation, and bias. If it helps, substitute the word “breastfeeding” for something less emotionally loaded. “Drinking coffee”. “Wearing palazzo pants.” Whatever.
In the past month, two stories popped up, buried so deep in the news that only someone who obsessively googles terms like “infant feeding” and “lactation” would have seen them. They were about studies showing negative associations with breastfeeding (see? Didn’t your heart start beating a bit faster? …Negative associations with palazzo pants. That’s better, right?) The first one found that longer durations of breastfeeding (past 12 months) were associated with higher rates of a specific form of breast cancer in Mexican and Mexican-American women. The evidence was based on subject recall of breastfeeding history, in a specific population. All I will say about the study itself is that it is one, isolated result; more research must be done before anyone can make proclamations about whether women of Mexican descent might want to wean after a year.
Which is basically what I say about every infant feeding study. These results do not prove a causal relationship. It would be patently false and extremely irresponsible to have headlines screeching “breastfeeding causes breast cancer!”
Luckily, there were no such headlines. The story didn’t receive much coverage in major news outlets, but here were the headlines I did find:
Breastfeeding May Increase Cancer Risk for Mexican-American Moms (http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/health/Breastfeeding–Cancer-Rules-May-Not-Apply-to-Some-226050001.html)
Lactation may be linked to aggressive cancer in Mexican women
Women of Mexican descent more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive form of breast cancer http://www.news-medical.net/news/20131002/Women-of-Mexican-descent-more-likely-to-be-diagnosed-with-aggressive-form-of-breast-cancer.aspx
Mexican Women’s Breast Cancer Risk Tied to Breast-Feeding? http://healthcare.utah.edu/womenshealth/healthlibrary/doc.php?type=6&id=680757
Notice all the qualifiers. May be linked. More likely. And my favorite example, the question mark at the end of the last headline.
Now, let’s compare these measured, accurate headlines with those that stemmed from similar studies (self-reported data, specific populations, single studies rather than meta-analyses) that showed a positive effect of breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding reduces cancer risk http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-88785/Breast-feeding-reduces-cancer-risk.html
Breastfeeding Cuts Breast Cancer Risk http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/news/20070417/breastfeeding-cuts-breast-cancer-risk
Study: Breastfeeding Decreases Cancer Risk http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9656285
Breastfeeding Protects Against Breast Cancer http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/08/10/us-breastfeeding-cancer-idUSTRE5795CZ20090810
Not one qualifier to be found.
But FFF, you’re arguing semantics, you say. Perhaps. But how can we argue that subliminal messages that come through the advertising of formula or bottles can so greatly affect a woman’s breastfeeding intention, and then argue that the language used in widely-read headlines doesn’t make an impact?
Not convinced? Let’s go beyond the headlines. The one quote from the lead researcher of the breastfeeding/cancer in Mexican women study used in the media was this:
“Our results are both puzzling and disconcerting because we do not want to give the wrong message about breastfeeding…If you treat breast cancer as one disease, breastfeeding is beneficial to both mother and baby. That should not be dismissed.”
Puzzling? Disconcerting? Science needs to be free of bias. It’s perfectly acceptable to be “surprised” by findings, but “disconcerted”? And as for the point about ”breast cancer as one disease“, this is not the sentiment expressed in the quotes from articles reporting a positive effect, many of which proudly extrapolate their specific findings and make sweeping statements about breastfeeding promotion:
Clearly, the researchers conclude, breastfeeding is associated with “multiple health benefits” for both mother and child…”That’s why we need supportive hospital policies, paid maternity leave, and workplace accommodations so that women can meet their breastfeeding goals…” (source: Reuters)
The same double standard popped up a few weeks later, when a study hit the news which found that babies breastfed longer than one year, as well as babies introduced to gluten after 6 months, had an increased risk for celiac disease. Again, hardly any media coverage; the one major outlet (Yahoo News) that covered it used the headline “Parent’s Feeding Choices May Raise Baby’s Risk for Celiac Disease“. Absolutely accurate headline, but no mention of breastfeeding. Granted, there were two findings that came from this study; both of which did involve a feeding “choice”. What I find interesting, though, is that whenever formula is associated with something negative – even if that particular finding is buried in a mess of other data – the headlines make sure to mention it. (Remember the arsenic-in-baby-formula scare of 2012?)
This study had many flaws. (Science of Mom has a great explanation of what these were over on her blog, if you’re interested.) But it didn’t have more flaws than 99% of the formula-is-risky studies which we are subjected to on a weekly basis, none of which are handled with the same degree of intelligence and moderation.
In Bottled Up, I discuss the problem of publication bias, and the professional death knell it is to report or support anything that detracts from the supreme perfection of breastfeeding. This is a bigger problem than one might believe – because if the end goal is to find ways to reduce disease and increase health in populations, we should be striving for information, not propaganda. And this is why I fight so hard to reframe how we discuss and promote breastfeeding – because if we are basing all of our support for the practice on science, then we run the risk of bastardizing – or at least “tweaking” – that science to justify our promotion.
Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar. But when it comes to infant feeding science, the results are never just the results.
There’s an embarrassing lack of support in the early postpartum period for all women, including those who are formula feeding. While breastfeeding moms are understandably in dire need of lactation clinics and LLL meetings, there’s little to no practical support when you’re feeding with a bottle rather than a breast, and even less emotional support. And god knows we all need support… breastfeeding and bottle-feeding alike.
This morning, I posed the following question to the FFF social media audience, both on Twitter and Facebook:
“If you had to give one piece of advice to a new formula-feeding mom, what would it be?”
The answers were fast, furious and fabulous. I thought it would be nice to post some of these comments on the blog, to provide a collection of informative and self-affirming tidbits to struggling new parents – kind of like our own “virtual” bottle-feeding peer support group.
So, here you go: a random, but beautiful, collection of sentiments and practical tips for those bleary-eyed new moms and dads, peering anxiously at the formula can, measuring out scoops of powder with shaky, sleep-deprived hands. You’re doing a great job. And we support you.
Emotional: Love YOURSELF and your BABY. There is nothing that matters more on a mommy’s long list of concerns. Don’t let the people who challenge/doubt that love even make the list! You have enough to worry about without wasting precious time on them. While loving your baby is just about the easiest thing ever, loving yourself may take a little work and practice. That’s ok! Take the time to bathe and breathe! You really do need/deserve it. Practical: Even when you’ve done your research your child’s specific digestive system may not agree with your findings of the “best formula”. Don’t stress it! Move on to the second best on the list and keep going until you find the one that works for your baby. It’s better to find what works best for them than to have the best according to “whoever”. And don’t be afraid to ask questions of your pediatrician! Not only are they expecting it from the new mama but they often have information to help ease a decision you’re unsure of. They don’t expect you to know it all and won’t make you feel like an idiot for not. Promise! – Jessica
Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for feeding your baby formula. You are the Mom and therefore you know what’s best for your baby. As long as the baby is happy, fed, and loved then you are doing it right. – Alicia
If you tried to breastfeed, but were not able to for one reason or another, mourn that loss and then move on! Parenting (and life in general) is so much bigger than this issue (although when you’re going through it, it seems like it’s EVERYTHING). Be thankful for the beautiful child in your arms, and remember how many women would give anything to have a child. What a baby eats in his first year of life is comparatively small potatoes when you consider everything else. Soon enough, you’ll be agonizing over choosing schools, when to let your child go on sleepovers, how to explain the birds and the bees, and how to handle bullying. Do not let how you feed your baby in these first few months get in the way of enjoying your new baby. – Amy
Breast feeding doesn’t work for everyone, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Enjoy your baby. They’re only little for such a short time, so don’t waste it second guessing yourself and trying to please others and their ideals. – Emma
Treasure these moments. Babies grow so fast! It sounds like a cliche but you are making memories that will last you a lifetime. They will spring into your head when you watch your child’s first bike ride, their first day at school. You will think, “where did the time go?” and later, ” how is it my baby can look me in the eye standing?!?!” Enjoy every minute of awesome squishy babyhood. And ignore pointless criticism from people who know “f” all. -Jo
Throw away the sample packs that come in the mail and pick out the formula brand you would want for baby. It sounds simple, but I found my self switching to formula feeding from breast b/c my milk wasn’t coming in and grabbed one of my sample packs, which happens to be one of the most expensive brands. Luckily, Target makes a generic brand of several major formulas. – Elise
For the parents who make up one bottle at a time the ounce markers are for RTF formula. So if you use powdered formula the marks on the bottle are not correct. For example 6oz of water fills to the 5 1/2 mark on my bottles and is right at 6 when I mix the powder in. -Elizabeth
It is MORE work than breast feeding as you need to watch for hunger/satiety cues and will be doing “the dishes” for a year plus, but it is just as rewarding as breast feeding. Do not listen when the lactation police say you will have a dumb baby or a fat one. Pacing feelings and watching cues will prevent over feeding. Hold, love and cuddle your LO and know you are a good mom. – Megan
There is no such thing as too many muslins and bibs and enjoy watching your friends & family create a bond with your baby too as they feed him/her – Roberta
Don’t sweat formula feeding in public. Every cafe, restaurant, cinema and airport that bubs and I have been to have been great about warming bottles for me. I have received no nasty looks or comments. Most people understand… And you can leave bubs with family and have some couple time! – Clare
Don’t feel guilty! A happy mom is a happy baby! A friend mentioned yesterday bottle-fed moms probably bond even more with their babies since they can look in your eyes while you’re feeding:) – Michelle
It’s not poison. This way you can get help from hubby with mid night feeds, as a new mum your not superwoman …. you need rest too. – Tanya
Momma knows best! All that matters is your baby is well fed, and well taken care of. Also, keep a back bottle in the diaper bag! Nothing like leaving the house, and forgetting the bottle. – Jessica B.
If you aren’t able to wash the bottles right away, I’ve found a good tip to keeping them from getting icky is to rinse, refill with fresh tap water, put a drop of dish soap in and let them soak that way. The soap will dissolve the milk and oils making scrubbing them clean later a snap. Plus no smelly bottles! – Melissa
When you’re feeding your little one a bottle, just be in the moment. Connect with your baby. Doing this and realizing how feeding my baby a bottle was so much more of a bonding experience than it ever was when I struggled to breastfeed really helped me get over the feelings of failure. – Erica
Be easy on yourself – Caitlin
There is nothing wrong with formula feeding. Your child will be just as happy and healthy as any other child. Oh and don’t read all the scare-mongering articles about breast/bottle online. Studies actually show that maybe breastfeeding is a little better. Funny how when portrayed to the public they only pick out the ones that show bf babies as healthier. Never mind the thousands that show absolutely no difference whatsoever. – Michelle
Buy a Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep Machine its saved my household & no screaming baby & no testing formula made to right temperature everytime – Charley
You don’t always have to warm it up if you use room temp nursery water for blending. -Zachalis
Nuby Milk Powder Dispensers are the best formula dispensers! The formula slides out and actually into the bottle instead of the floor, counter, table, etc! Also – for the powder feeders, make a nighttime basket. We put water in our bottles, load up our formula dispensers and then all we need to do at 3 am is drop the powder in. – Amanda
For the powder feeders, make a nighttime basket. We put water in our bottles, load up our formula dispensers and then all we need to do at 3 am is drop the powder in. – Susie
Get a Sam’s club membership. You’ll save TONS on their store brand formula AND diapers. – Holly
Start baby out on room temp bottles. They don’t know the difference if they have never breastfed and it makes life A LOT easier down the road – Jennifer
Try a formula that is 100% whey (whey is protein that is already broken down, ‘casein’- their tummies have to work alot harder to digest) for newborns, unless they are very hungry babies then a formula with casein is good. Our poor bubs was struggling and in pain but once we found a formula that was 100% whey she is so much better. – Megan
Go for the bottles with as few parts as possible, buy as many as you can. Wash and sanitize in the dishwasher if possible. Get a formula mixing pitcher and enjoy feeding in a rocking chair using your boppy pillow. I loved ff my son, it was special looking at him and rocking while he drifted off to sleep! – Kimberly
Read about formula. I can’t believe I didn’t know that traditional formula is just cows milk with some modifications to protein, etc. It’s not chemicals – just a slight variation on a food I eat all day. Helps me to remember that it is nutritious. – Maegan
I’d just say “You’re doing it right!” – Sarah
The advice my pediatrician gave me. “Feed your baby ….stop beating yourself up, breast feeding doesn’t work for everyone. Do you want to look back on this special time with your child with regret??Enjoy your son.” I love my son’s pediatrician. – Loreen
Keep in mind that the directions on the back of the tin are for a 50th percentile baby for that age…my boy has always been 97th percentile so I realised early on that the ‘recommendations’ were never going to work! I’m taking part in an Australian formula study with University of Queensland and for his weight my boy is meant to have 240mls but the tin says 180mls, since upping this I now have a boy who sleeps from 9.30pm to 5.30am!! Oh and just love your baby. – Skye
A thermos of hot water and prepackaged powdered formula sticks make traveling MUCH easier. No worry about spoiling formula or waste. You can use what you need as you go. – Kathryn
If you can get a kitchen scale, measure the powder out by weight, not by scoops. It will be more consistent and accurate. My son has reflux and adjusting the measurement helped a lot and we used less than before. – Amy
I just switched to playtex bottles with throw away liners…I wish I would have started 8 months ago because it saves so much time in cleaning- more momny time : ) I also do bottles room temp. Less spit up. – Kristen
Ignore anyone who tries to make you feel bad, you’re feeding, loving, and bonding with your baby in your own way and in your baby’s eyes the sun and moon rise and set because of you, no matter what you feed them – Amanda
Babies need food and loving, caring, nurturing parents give it to them however they can. They key is to be present, look in those little eyes, warm up that tiny body with yours and the rest will fall away in love. – Stephanie
Delete anything and anyone who is a negative cloud out of your life. Those BF FB support pages and groups will only remind you of what you “didn’t try hard enough” or what you “didn’t try at all”, delete online friends or even real life friends who put you down in anyway! Learn early on to tell others to F*** off if needed! – Mindy
After a feeding, always open and rinse the bottle at your first chance. hot, old formula is NASTY!! – Beth
Mums still count when they have a baby. You don’t want to breastfeed, then don’t! – Victoria
You are a rock star!!!!! – Jennifer
Your baby loves you no matter how you feed them, and you love your baby enough to feed them. When they’re school age, you won’t even care about how it all happened! – Karly
Formula is not the new “f” word. Stand by your decision and move on! – Linda
Expect to be made to feel bad but realise that you are not! – Jamie
Pick one night a week, give your husband baby duty, and go sleep all night! Embrace your choice! – Abby
Most people (at least in my experience) really don’t care how you’re feeding your baby. They just want to see your adorable baby coo and smile at them! Guilt plays too big a role – embrace the fact that you love your baby and whatever you do, it is the vest option for your family. Enjoy your baby! – Emily
Take no notice of the mammary militia. Formula is not poison!! -Karyn
Always hold your baby while feeding the bottle. You still have that eye contact and connection/ closeness. – Kerissa
Welcome to motherhood, now, surround yourself with uplifting people. -Vera
Don’t waste your time or energy feeling badly for how you provide nourishment to your baby. Use it to love on and care for him/her. – Kristen
Prepare multiple bottles ahead of time so when baby is hungry you can just pull one out of the fridge rather than mix it. – Amber
Enjoy it- it is wonderful! Oh- and Dr. Brown’s formula pitcher is awesome! – Trish
Try everything until you find what makes YOUR BABY happy! Each and every baby is different you may never know what will work best until you try it all. Try different bottles, different formula, and different recommendations till you find what makes your baby and you happy! – Erin
Focus on your baby, not the background noise.. breast is the best way, but it’s not the only way, and you are not poisoning your child. If you are happy and sane, that’s the most healthy thing you can do for your baby. – Alison
Support yourself with people who support you and believe in yourself – Nic
You will become so efficient at making bottles, when someone mentions how quick they can feed their baby by breast, go right ahead and brag about whipping a bottle together in 30-45 seconds. I know I did/do! – Megan W.
Don’t read anything online regarding breastfeeding. It will just drive you crazy! Don’t sit in the rocking chair hooked to a pump for hours and hours a day like I did. HOLD your baby, smell them, stare at their beautiful face. You are the Mom. NO ONE can do that job for your child any better than you. Remind yourself this every single day. Your baby loves YOU not the bottle or boob. – Dana
If you got here and it wasn’t part of your original plan of how motherhood/feeding was “supposed” to go…it is OKAY. How you feed your sweet baby does not and WILL NOT ever define you as a mommy. Just love on that baby and enjoy the perks of FF–family being able to help, being able to take time away when you need a break, and (a big one for those type-A folks like myself), knowing just how much your baby is getting. Perhaps more importantly, DO NOT allow others to brow beat you or shame you for how you are raising your child. – Rosemary
Get a formula dispenser, fill it up and ur bottles with water so at night its already to mix! So helpful it have 2 story house! Can use the bathroom sink to warm it up. Oh take a shower everyday you and baby will feel better! – Shelley
Cut yourself some slack and enjoy your baby. Soak up all the tiny humanness. – Peyton
Your baby will be healthy and smart! How awesome are our kids to be so perfect despite the fact they didn’t have breastmilk?! – Elizabeth
You didn’t fail and your baby will THRIVE with formula -Megan D.
I don’t use the term “Breast is Best” I use the term “Mom knows best” but mostly if you’ve had women coming up to you telling you off for buying formula like I did until your hormones are under control and you’ve come to terms with it make sure you buy the formula with someone in your support system or when going to get the formula off the shelf get on your cell phone to talk to someone in your support system it makes it harder for someone to be rude when there are people around or your on the phone so you can come to terms with it on your own time without people making it worse – Whitney
Enjoy the quiet moments. It’s the time when the house is quiet, everyone is asleep and it is just you and your little one. Listen to their breathing, savor their smell, and think of how much you love that little bundle in your arms. – Jessica
Formula feeding doesn’t make you a bad Mom. You’re feeding your child, and making sure he/she gets the nutrition they need. Don’t ever, ever let anyone make you feel “less than” because you couldn’t/chose not to breastfeed. – Brandi
Be proud knowing you are a great mom doing a great job! – Michele
You don’t owe anyone an explanation. How you feed your baby is between you, your partner, your pediatrician, and your child. Oh, and if your baby is on any of the hypoallergenic formulas like Neocate, check with your insurance to see if you can get reimbursed! – Ilissa
Do what you feel is best for you and YOUR baby regardless of the critics – Sheena
Read the instructions carefully and make sure anyone who will be feeding baby does as well. – Jennifer
Don’t listen to criticism. You’re doing the best you can do – Crystal
Just feed that baby. You’re doing a great job! – Jessica
Enjoy the fact that your spouse and family members will get to help feed baby and bond too – Amanda
Be gentle on yourself when your child starts school you won’t be able to tell who was breastfed and who was formula fed. – Olivia
Trust your gut. If you think this formula isn’t working for your baby, switch. Not all formulas are created equal and different kids need different kinds. It can be trial and error but you will find the perfect fit for him/her. – Katie
Own it. There are tons of up-sides to FF. Don’t be scared to enjoy them! – Annie
Find a support system! A group of other new moms, family/friends who’ve been there, and a doctor who supports your decisions (no new mom needs to be stressing and fighting with her kid’s doctor instead of healing and bonding with her baby). – Amanda
Emotional advice: Once you make the decision to FF you have to let BF go otherwise you will continue to feel down on yourself. (If you originally tried to BF and it didn’t work out like me) Practical application advice: Keep a soapy bowl of water in the sink and just throw dirty bottle pieces in when they are dirty. Then only wash bottles once a day instead of washing each piece everytime you use it. Total time saver! – Brittany
Everything they say about Breastfeeding- the special bonding, the love, how it’s good for baby…that is all just as true with formula feeding. Enjoy and live that baby. Nothing has changed but the delivery system of milk. : ) -Alyson
When you look back don’t wish you’d held your baby more!!! – Barbara
Don’t get hung up on HOW your baby is being fed, focus on the fact they ARE being fed with love! – Emily
Connect with other formula feeding moms. – Amy
Bonding happens with a breast or a bottle if you make it that way. I always try to talk to the baby and make eye contact even with a bottle. – Charis
Be confident and happy in your decision. You will still bond with your child JUST as much, Your child will be JUST as healthy. Bo confident in your insticts as a mom. You, and only you (and your SO) know what is best for you and your family. Do not let anyone guilt trip you. You are a super mommy, don’t forget it! – Jenny
I know you were taught to always listen to the doctor, but you are mommy now and what you say goes! That includes feeding your child however you need to OR want to. – Alisa
Spoiler Alert: By the time you are at the bus stop, no one can tell which kids were EBF and which were FF. – Alexis
Treat the bottle like the breast. (Also, make sure you mix it correctly. Too many odd-numbered ounce bottles going around! ) – Lisa
When it all said and done FF vs BF issue is only discussed for the first year. Then they move on to some other judgement. – Angela
What works best for you is what works best for YOU. You are who you are, your circumstance is yours- that’s what you work with, not some image of how you are supposedly “supposed” to be. An act of strength + love for you + baby!!! Also: wash/sterilize + fill all next days bottles with water and formula dividers with servings; then you’re set for tomorrow!-Claire
If you can afford it, do the pre-made formula, especially for travel! Unbelievably simpler. – Perpetua
People probably aren’t judging you nearly as much as you think they are. Ok, except the mean trolls that live on the internet – Sarah
Never forget that you are in the best position to determine what is right for you, your child, and your family… – Janice
Stay off the Internet. People online will just make you feel bad. – Rebekah
What are your tips for new formula feeding parents? Leave them in the comments section and join the virtual hug-fest.
Last week, I got together with a group of friends for a rare “mom’s night out”. We sat for hours, sipping white sangria and inhaling carcinogens from the nearby fire pit, laughing in that way only overtired, overstressed moms can when they finally get a chance to let loose.
I’d met these women at Mommy & Me when our firstborns – all boys, born within days of each other- were about 8 weeks old. So it was no surprise that as the night wore on and the wine glasses were emptied, our conversation turned to those hazy postpartum months, when we were younger, more confused versions of ourselves. I began inwardly musing how much we’d all evolved since then; how through two pregnancies each, our strength and power as women had stretched to new limits along with our bellies.
And then it happened.
“Do you guys remember breastfeeding support group? What a godsend that was!” one of my friends gushed.
“I remember sitting next to you and crying,” said another. “Eh, I think we were ALL crying,” another responded, and the whole group started laughing in self recognition and commiseration.
I felt my shoulders tense up, an ancient and forgotten ache shooting through them, down into my belly, where old pain dies hard. The ache grew deeper when one of my friends told me that my children probably didn’t sleep as long as hers did because she breastfed them, because “nursing gives them sleepy hormones”. And when another, trying so hard to be kind and include me in the conversation, reminisced about seeing my son in his infant carrier making little sucking movements with his lips as he slept, “as if he was still sucking on his bottle”.
And all I heard was “other”; all I heard was “different”.
The next day, I was interviewed for a documentary about breastfeeding, and asked about my journey from passionate breastfeeding wannabe to Fearless Formula Feeder. I’ve done interviews like this a hundred times now; told my story a hundred more. But this time, when I came to the part where I went to Mommy & Me for the first time – the first time I’d really been out in public, let alone surrounded by other moms and babies, as prior to that I’d been stuck at home attached to my pump and held down by the weight of postpartum depression and a baby who couldn’t stop crying, no matter what we did to soothe him – I felt the ancient pain rise up like bile in my throat. As I recalled sitting there, in a circle of nursing moms, feeling like all eyes were fixated on my bottle, judging me, I choked back ugly, rusty sobs. Rancid tears punctuated my typically canned tales of feeling separate, isolated, and constantly on the defensive.
I don’t think I’d realized how much the previous evening’s conversation had affected me. My children are 2.5 and 4.5; while some of my friends have younger babies or are still nursing their second-born toddlers, breast vs bottle is not something that our group is emotionally invested in. Breastfeeding, in and of itself, doesn’t really come up anymore. But breastfeeding support group does. The days
we they spent at the park discussing breastfeeding difficulties do. Those days carry a rosy glow for my friends, but my memories are tinged with gray. Those days I sat silent, clutching my son’s formula filled bottles, gritting my teeth through the inevitable comments about how terrified they were of having to supplement, smiling a frozen smile when a new mom would join our fold and ask the inevitable question “are you pumping?” which would be met with someone else in the group recounting my story of going above and beyond, as if I needed excusing.
Something I’ve heard a lot from those who don’t quite understand my passion for this issue is that “once your kids are out of the infant stage, you won’t care so much about breast or bottle.” And that’s true, to a large degree – the scary statistics and shaming memes don’t carry the same power; I’m able to dismiss them, laugh at them, debunk them without it affecting me personally. What surprised me about the other night and my subsequent breakdown over faded memories, is that while the logistics cease to matter, the old pain and doubt are always there.
There’s a lot of research out there about imprinting, and how first experiences affect infants. But isn’t new motherhood a sort of infancy, itself? Here you are, reborn into mother, your skin and organs and thoughts raw and foreign. Everything is new. Everything is a first, postpartum- your first shower, the first time you have sex, the first time you take the baby for a walk, the first time you feel confident in your new role. Is it surprising, then, that your first social interactions as a mother don’t imprint on you in the same way a new food imprints on an infant’s taste buds?
What would have my postpartum experience been like if I could’ve sat next to my new friends without being afraid of what they’d been made to believe about formula feeding? If I could’ve attended a support group in those first weeks, too, and not had to wait 8 weeks before my community allowed me the gift of peer interaction? And what would my friends’ experiences have been like if they hadn’t been made to feel like failures for the supplementing they had to do, or made to believe that their ability to breastfeed was what made a mother worth her title? What if we could have all been supported in our individual experiences and goals, without fear of some Orwellian gaze, labeling us with a “pass” or “fail”?
And most of all…. what would have happened if I’d had the courage to speak up; to give voice to my demons, to help my friends understand how their innocent words could hurt more than my Pitocin-induced labor pains? What if we could have spoken openly, and found our differences to be our power, the power that could bring light to our fundamental sameness?
World Breastfeeding Week begins in a few days, and the theme this year is “Breastfeeding Support – Close to Mothers”. This is a fantastic theme, because breastfeeding moms need tremendous support, especially in those early days. But I think we should be taking this a step further. ALL new moms need support. Hell, all moms – those with toddlers, those birthing their fourth babies, those with teenagers – need support. I think brand new moms are the most vulnerable, though; these are the women who are not only dealing with all the craziness that babies bring, but also their own rebirth.
I want to support breastfeeding mothers. I wanted to support my friends, in those early days; I wanted to help them through their struggles, but I felt trapped by my own insecurity. Their efforts seemed like an indictment of my choice. Their well-meaning questions about whether I’d tried talking to a lactation consultant (try seven) felt like judgment.
The problem is not us, us mothers just trying to do our best for our babies, us mothers desperately seeking a tribe, a source of support, a group to someday drink sangria with and laugh about how tough those first few weeks were. The problem is with how breastfeeding has become the antithesis of formula feeding; the problem is with how the two are set up as black and white, as polar opposites, as competing interests – rather than as two entirely independent, valid ways to feed children. Those promoting breastfeeding because they honestly believe formula is risky can continue to do so, but I think there is space for a new type of breastfeeding advocacy and support: one that celebrates and honors mothers’ autonomy, and focuses energy on providing REAL support to those who need it, regardless of feeding method. If infant feeding wasn’t set up as a succeed/fail dichotomy from the beginning, imagine how moms might be able to support each other without feeling alienated or judged for different choices?
My belief that this type of advocacy would be far more powerful in helping mothers meet their breastfeeding goals is what has inspired me to join forces with Kim Simon of Mama By The Bay and Jamie Lynne Grumet of I Am Not the Babysitter, to encourage moms to stand up and say “I Support You”.
The I Support You movement is a respectful, empathetic, compassionate exchange between parents. We all feed our children differently, but we are all feeding with love, and in ways that work for our individual circumstances and family dynamics. I Support You is the first step in helping formula-feeding, breast-feeding, and combo-feeding parents to come together and lift each other up with kindness and understanding. We have chosen to announce this movement during World Breastfeeding Week, to honor the commitment of those who fight for better support for breastfeeding moms; we are inspired by this, but believe that by changing the focus to supporting all parents, we can truly provoke positive change without putting the needs of some mothers above the needs of others. The “I Support You” movement aims:
1) To bridge the gap between formula-feeding and breastfeeding parents by fostering friendships and interactions.
2) To dispel common myths and misperceptions about formula feeding and breastfeeding, by asking parents to share their stories, and really listening to the truth of their experiences.
3) To provide information and support to parents as they make decisions about how to feed their children.
4) To connect parents with local resources, mentors, and friends who are feeding their children in similar ways.
(written by Kim Simon with a tiny bit of help from me)
If you want to join the movement and celebrate real support with us:
Send us your photos. I’m creating a slideshow of photos to show how beautiful support can look. If you are willing to let me use your image, take a photo of you, your baby, your family, you and a friend – doesn’t matter – with a message of support (i.e., “I exclusively breastfed, but I know every mother does what is right for her – and I SUPPORT YOU” or “I may formula feed, but I’d fight like hell for a woman’s right to NIP. I SUPPORT YOU”) and send it to email@example.com by Friday, August 2nd.
Interview Your Opposite. Are you a blogger? Are you a formula-feeder who is best friends with an extended breastfeeder? An adoptive parent who knows of a mom using an SNS nurser with a baby in the NICU? We want you to interview someone who is feeding in a different way than you are, and then publish it on your blog. If you’re interested in participating but don’t know where to start, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of interview questions. On Sunday, August 4th, we will ask you to share your story with us, by adding your link to the I Support You blog hop. If you don’t know anyone who feeds in a different way, send me an email and I’ll try and connect you to someone.
Join us for a Twitter Party on August 7th, at 5pm PST/8pm EST. We’ll be asking you to share your truths about your feeding choices, and connecting you to other parents who might be feeding their children the same way. You can find us with the hashtag #ISupportYou.
Create your own meme or message of support. If you’re tech savvy, feel free to create a meme or shareable video that honors the “I Support You” message, and share it on the FFF Facebook page.
The best way to counteract hate is by drowning it in a sea of change. The tide is rising, and we can float above the negativity and fear; push down the us-versus-them bullshit and let it sink to the bottom, where it belongs; lure it to its death with a siren song of I support you, sung far and wide.
Start swimming, fearless ones. I support you.
Today’s post is a bit of a departure for me, since it has absolutely nothing to do with infant feeding, or infancy, for that matter. And this is a good thing, because to be perfectly honest it gets rather dull writing about babies. Babies are kind of boring. Preschoolers are much more interesting. Also more whiny, but that’s fodder for another post.
The reason I’m writing about preschool today is that I’ve joined an incredible group of research and science-driven parenting bloggers. It’s nice to feel I’m part of a group, rather than my usual position as the parenting world’s social media pariah – and I also appreciate that by joining this group, who will be doing a monthly blog carnival with rotating topics, I will be forced out of my comfort zone and inspired to write about a variety of parenting-related issues.
This month’s topic is Preschool. This is a subject which I don’t think much about; ironic, as my children are both in preschool. You’d think I would have at least done some thinking about what type of educational environment would be best for them, but when the time came to decide on a school, I didn’t feel I had much choice. There were very few schools in my area which were not church-based; being Jewish (totally secular, but still self-identifying) I wasn’t sure how I felt about my children learning about God in a way that didn’t feel kosher to me. Thus, we chose the one Jewish (secular, but self-identifying) preschool within a 30-minute radius and called it a day.
We were lucky, because that school turned out to have a warm, outdoor-focused, play-based curriculum. In other words, there really is no curriculum. The kids run around outside. screaming like banshees, riding trikes around the play yard sans helmets (oy), planting lemon trees, and creating Thomas the Train out of old boxes and paint. When holidays arise, they usually approach them by crafting some sort of makeshift art project (i.e., the “Star Wars”-themed Passover seat cushion my 4-year-old proudly brought home last month). It’s a haphazard, seemingly directionless environment, and I adore it (so much so that I’m willing to drive 20 miles to and from school every day, in LA traffic, with gas prices being what they are).
However, a few months ago, I started getting a wee bit nervous when I entered my son’s preschool classroom and discovered him doing a “Letter Book” with one of the teachers. That day’s letter was “C”; I was hoping they’d have him think of all the words that started with “C”, or talk about the different sounds “C” can make.
Instead, the teacher had him glue a “C” she cut out from construction paper onto the book. That was the extent of the project.
Now, my son, like many 4-year-olds, can write the entire alphabet, and is starting to sound out words on the page when we’re reading together. He recently created a pair of paper “shoes” for his sister using nothing but tape, construction paper, and our (regular, non-”kiddie”) scissors, so there was no reason he couldn’t have at least cut the darn “C” out himself. So this project seemed a bit…well, for lack of a better word, pointless.
I started panicking a little. What were other preschools doing? (I didn’t know, but I knew you had to sign up for them before you even conceived.) Had I picked a school for my son out of laziness? (Yes.) I knew play-based curriculums were all the rage, but this wasn’t the sort of free-form artwork I’d envisioned. And maybe I’d picked the wrong environment for my intellectual, perfectionist child – my daughter was thriving at the same school, loving the social interaction and singing and craziness of it all. My son, though – he flourished with structure. He loved instruction and learning. Maybe this was the wrong school for him?
But through the panic, the uber-rational devil on my shoulder kept whispering “does it really matter? It’s preschool.”
Of course, I started looking into the research (a few years too late, but whatever) and found myself even more confused. The overall benefits of preschool have been all over the news lately, as Obama has announced a new plan to bring universal preschool to our nation’s 4-year-olds in “low and modest-income families”. The opposition has argued that this will be a waste of money and resources; a spokeswoman from the Heritage Foundation countered that “the administration should be working to trim duplicative and ineffective programs, and leaving the provision of early childhood education and care to private providers and, most importantly, parents.”
Taking away the politics for a minute, let’s consider the research being used to back up Obama’s assertions that funding universal preschool will make an impact on society, and what this research means for parents. The National Institute for Early Education and Research (NIEER) put out a position paper trying to explain the research, and it does seem clear that there is a small but significant benefit in early education, in both cognitive and social development, that lasted well into the school years – this effect was seen in a number of studies and meta-anaylses, across different populations and socio-economic groups.
Still, one must ask: How much of this advantage had to do with the children merely being surrounded by their peers? Was it the educational component of the curriculum, or simply having an adult who paid attention to them and attended to their needs? What were these kids’ home lives like? If it was more an effect conferred by social interaction, are parents doing kids a disservice by homeschooling preschoolers? (This would be relevant to the Heritage Foundation’s argument, because it might mean that a parent can give all the attention, education and creative play s/he can muster and it wouldn’t be as beneficial as sending a kid to a multi-age daycare).
The NIEER report does attempt to address some of these quandaries. For example, there has been substantial research on whether preschool has more of a positive effect on disadvantaged children:
Generally, studies in the United States and abroad (where universal programs have a longer history) find that preschool education has larger benefits for disadvantaged children, but that high-quality programs still have substantive benefits for other children (Barnett, 2008; Burger, 2010).
They discuss a twin study which “finds positive impacts from attending preschool at age 4 across most of the socio-economic spectrum with effects declining gradually as socio-economic status increases” and another study from 1983 (almost as old as I am) that found “positive effects on achievement continued into the school years with very large effects for boys, in particular, found in the second and third grade (Larsen & Robinson, 1989.” even in higher socio-economic groups. But I still wonder – higher income is not synonymous with healthy home life. I’m not sure any of these studies really address whether the kids involved had parents around who were giving them the type of interaction, attention and play that they needed; that would again matter for those who choose to homeschool, or who didn’t qualify for public programs and yet didn’t have access to good preschools. Could parents make up for any shortcomings in their children’s early education?
The NIEER report also makes the point that the type of program matters. They cite the HighScope Preschool Curriculum Study, which randomly assigned 68 kids to one of three types of preschools:
Both the HighScope and Nursery School approaches emphasized child-initiated activities in which young children pursued their own interests with staff support. The Direct Instruction approach, in contrast, focused on academics and required young children to respond to rapid-fire questions posed by teachers. (Source: http://www.highscope.org/Content.asp?ContentId=241)
They followed these kids through adulthood, and found significant differences in outcome. There wasn’t much difference in terms of IQ between the groups, but in terms of social development, the “direct instruction” kids fared the worst . And these results were… well, odd. For instance, the HighScope kids were more likely to be living with their spouses. (Crap- I should’ve asked about Fearless Husband’s preschool curriculum before we made it legal.) The Direct Instruction group were more likely to be involved in delinquent activity by the age of 15.
So what the heck does this all mean?
Obviously, my concerns, sitting here in my suburban Starbucks and obsessing over the quality of my childrens’ preschool curriculum have little to do with the concerns of the Obama administration or those criticizing the push for higher-quality public preschool. But I think all of us could use a dose of reality – these studies do not seem to show a definitive answer to what is going to help kids the most, in terms of both academic and social success. What does seem clear is that kids are helped to a small, but significant, degree when they are given some higher-quality early education. Child-led curriculums seem to fare better than having kids sit in chairs and firing questions at them (surprise) and having social interaction is a positive thing. Do with it as you will.
As for me? I’m sticking to my down-home preschool. The kids are nice, the teachers are warm, and my kids seem to like it. I can work on the alphabet at home; what my son really needs is to learn to be free, to get dirty, take risks on the slide, and run around playing Power Rangers with other boys. He will enter elementary school thinking that school is a fun place where you can spend half the day wandering outside finding “treasures” of broken barrettes and rogue shoelaces in the sandbox. He might be in for a cruel awakening, but I’ll deal with that when the time comes.
Check out the other posts from the Carnival of Evidence-Based Parenting Bloggers (all much more coherent than mine, I’m sure):
The Early Education Racket (Melinda Wenner Moyer)
Preschool Should Be Less School and More Play? (Momma Data)
Preschool at Home? Let the Children Play! (School of Smock)
Mixed-Age Preschool: Benefits and Challenges (Science of Mom)
Picking a Preschool (Momma, PhD)
On parenting (and teaching) in the name of science (Jeanne Garbarino)
Universal Prekindergarten: Evidence from the Field (Six Forty Nine)
What Can We Learn from a Single Preschool Study? (Red Wine and Apple Sauce)