A Mother’s Day Wishlist

As you’re all aware (provided you haven’t DVR-d past those jewelry commercials and avoided the card and party aisle at the drugstore), this Sunday is Mother’s Day.

Beyond the usual Hallmark cheese, our new digital age has ushered in a new wave of delights in honor of the occasion: viral videos showing (in a imperceptibly condescending manner) just how hard this mothering gig is; flowery status updates about the importance of motherhood clogging up your news feed; and, come Sunday, an onslaught of staged “Mother’s Day 2015″ photos from your friends, perpetuating the myth that all of us are perfectly coiffed, perfectly happy, perfectly perfect moms who are perfectly adored by our children.Mums-Jewelry-Gifts

Don’t get me wrong – I like it. My kids make me great gifts in school (like the card Fearlette brought home yesterday, which included her guess of my approximate age as “72″ and my height as 2 feet, which is totally accurate). Sometimes, I get to sleep until 8:30, which is heaven. I’m not kicking this holiday out of bed.

I just wish that, instead of overpriced flowers and jewelry, generic sentiments and hero worship, we could get what we really need for Mother’s Day.

Like subsidized maternity and paternity/partner leave, because having a newborn is hard, and being all alone with what amounts to a tiny terrorist (or several terrorists, if you have multiple children) is easier when there’s two adults around. Safety in numbers and all that.

Like a prenatal experience that actually prepares you for taking care of a baby, and doesn’t pretend that every woman has a supportive partner, money to burn, and the desire to breastfeed, birth naturally, and quit her job.

Like a hospital experience that respects your wishes to breastfeed or not to breastfeed, and is mother-friendly as well as baby-friendly, because pushing a baby out of your vagina/ having major surgery is kind of hard work. Not that being born isn’t hard, too, but why can’t we be friendly to both mom and baby? And while we’re at it, friendly to partner-parents, too?

Like a world that accepts that the term “good mother” doesn’t have one definition, and that what works for me and my child might not work for you and yours, and that’s a beautiful thing, because we aren’t robots. (At least not yet.)

Like more inclusivity for adoptive mothers, on this holiday and every day, because growing a child in your body isn’t a prerequisite for the title of “Mother”, nor has it ever been, or ever will be.

Like an Internet that gives us all the good stuff – support, information at our fingertips, a way to connect with the world even if we’re housebound, stuck inside with a immuno-compromised preemie in the dead of winter/having a hard time getting out of our pajamas, but leaves the bad stuff behind, like the judgment and smug pseudo-science and mommy-board trolls and my-way-or-highway bullies.

Like safe, clean, food-secure environments for all women and their children, because it’s so easy to forget that as we fight about feeding our babies, some women can’t feed themselves.

Like partners and/or family members and/or friends who are always there for us, and who have been given the tools to support us while we are breastfeeding but also respect when we decide not to.

Like care providers who acknowledge that postpartum depression and anxiety are real, and prevalent, and treatable, and worth prioritizing over general recommendations from the World Health Organization or the AAP.

Like accessible and judgment-free lactation assistance and bottle-feeding assistance, without having to take out a second mortgage to afford the help.

Like the realization that mothering extends beyond the first year, and that we will face all sorts of challenges as our kids grow which will give us an opportunity to be amazing or screw it up, and thank god for that, because too many parents have that ripped away from them, and we are so, so lucky to be able to screw our kids up for as long as we can.

Like health recommendation messages that are backed up by hard science but also humanized, because they are being delivered to a group of people who just got hit with a Mack truck of change and upheaval, and who are living in constant fear of all those .001% risks that you make sound like very real possibilities.

Like a magic solution to all the mother-on-mother competition and turmoil, because while it’s human to judge and question, our utterly inhuman method of communication has taken it to an insidiously harmful place where we hide behind screens and levy our judgments without ever having to endure the impact this has on those being judged. The jury of our peers is the least just.

Like a promise that we will stop pressuring women into using their bodies certain ways; assessing their strength and power by their bodily functions; and forcing them into narrow categories based on how they birth, feed, diaper, and transport their babies.

Like any of these things. Even just one.

Or you know. Something from Zales.

Happy Mother’s Day, fearless ones,

The FFF

 

 

 

FFF Friday: “No one is going to completely understand how difficult it is for you, except you.”

In the early days of Fearless Child’s life, I used to feel caught between a rock and a hard place. Or, more accurately, between a pump and a crying baby; between feeding my child, and caring for him. To keep up with his needs, I had to pump around the clock. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that my husband went back to work a week after FC was born, and we had no local family, no help. So, when I was pumping, I couldn’t hold him. I couldn’t rock him, or walk with him in the sling, or do any of the things that would soothe him when he was inconsolable. I couldn’t even feed him, because I was too busy milking myself for his next meal.

The irony wasn’t lost on me, but I continued, because…. well, we all know why. Because we’re told that providing breastmilk is the most important job a mother has. Not loving your baby, or responding sensitively to his particular needs, but simply providing milk for him. And while there’s no doubt that giving him the “ideal food” is important, when every parenting decision is an exercise in risk/benefit assessment, it’s easy to see why some of us – like Whitney, who has written this week’s FFF Friday – decide the bad is outweighing the good.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

Whitney’s Story

When I was pregnant, I knew I was going to be breastfeeding my child. “Breast is best” is the slogan that a pregnant woman, and the public in general, sees everywhere. There are commercials, billboards, and internet ads dictating that breast feeding is the best choice for a growing baby. I thought that too. I knew there was no way my baby was going to touch formula. To me, formula was poison. It was what people who did not care fed their children, and I looked down on any woman who fed their child formula instead of breastmilk. It is so easy, natural, and FREE I thought. Then, I had my baby.

My daughter is perfect in every way. She was born 6 lbs and 19 inches with the tiniest mouth I had ever seen. When she opened her mouth to cry I noticed the thick attached upper frenulum, but did not think anything of it. She started breastfeeding well in the hospital, so well, in fact, that the pediatrician asked if I had other children. I felt awesome. I was rocking this breastfeeding thing. Then, we came home. Little one stopped eating. Completely. We came home at 11 am and she still refused to latch on until the following day when my mom ran out and bought me some nipple covers. She was able to latch a little better, but only for about 5-8 minutes, and then she was done. Then we would spend the next hour with her crying and me crying and frustrated trying to get enough milk in my daughter. We would take an hour break, and then we would start again. I went to a lactation consultant and she said that it possibly could be due to the frenulum attachment. I asked the pediatrician about cutting it, but she wanted to wait and see if it detaches on its own. Eight weeks this went by, and I was exhausted. I was angry at my baby. Why couldn’t she do this? Why did this have to be such a struggle. I envied the mothers posting happy breastfeeding pictures online, while I lived on the couch, an hour of feeding, an hour break. Every day. Something had to change, but I didn’t want to.

I started to exclusively pump and bottlefeed. I had bought widenecked bottles for Avie before she was born since they were supposed to be easier for breastfeeding infants. Of course, she could not use them at all, and I had to go out and buy standard sizes. At this time, I was also worried about having enough milk once she started daycare (more on that later). I started pumping and  freezing, and gave her formula occasionally. This was such a hard decision, but I wanted her to get some sort of breastmilk as long as possible, and I did not make enough to feed her and store extra. I had no clue about what formulas to try, or even how to prepare it, but through reading blogs and trial and error we learned. I felt like a failure. I had a friend, who does not have kids, tell me, “oh my sister had a hard time too, she had to use covers, her nipples were bleeding and cracked too, ect ect,” and she gave me “the look.” We all know what the look is.  The automatic judgement look of  ”I cannot believe that women is feeding formula to her baby! She is so lazy, and her baby is going to suffer for it.” My friend had no idea what my struggle was and how it affected me and my child.  I could care less about how breastfeeding was painful, but I did care that my baby wasn’t eating. No one is going to completely understand how difficult it is for you, except you.  What we should have, though, is empathy. From that point on, I internalized my feeding struggle. I was embarassed and did not want anyone to know my child had formula. However, things were better for my baby and me.quotescover-JPG-62

Once I started work, things changed. I have a job in which I work out of the car. I am a home health pediatric therapist and spend 30 to 45 minutes at a patients home, and then I drive 30 minutes to the next patient. It takes me an hour and a half in the morning from the time I leave my home, take my daughter to daycare, and then arrive at my first patients house. Then, I have 5-7 patients a day, driving over 100 miles, with my furthest patient being 50 minutes from my house in no traffic. Needless to say, it was hard trying to find time to pump. Usually it would be 5 hours between my morning pump and my next available time to pump. I pumped in the car on a daily basis. I even pumped while driving. I don’t recommend. I would massage myself if I could not pump, until I felt the let down. I took Fenugreek capsules, up to 10-12 of them a day. I did everything I could to keep milk production up.  Since my job does not involve being in an office, my company does not have to go along with the guideline of Obamacare stating that a breastfeeding  mom should be provided with a room with a sink and adequate time to pump. In fact, my company did not care when I told them I needed time to pump in the car. Instead, they told me I needed more numbers, and said I needed to start seeing two patients that were an hour away from the patient that was right before them.  I broke down and told them no. The alternative was for me to drive around with the just out of college male office recruiter. Yes, because I was really going to be able to pump that way. I felt like all they cared about was making money off me while sending me driving around unsafely trying to pump every free chance I had. I wonder how a company specializing in pediatrics can treat their breastfeeding mothers this way, but I have digressed. Needless to say, my milk production declined, and my stress about it rose.

When Avie was 6 months old, I had to undergo a minor surgery to inject cortisone and hyaluronic acid into my hip. I have avascular necrosis which is too far along for surgery, so this is my only option until I get a hip replacement. At 27 years old, I want to wait as long as possible. I did not realize that cortisone could decrease milk production. After the injection, I got 2 ounces out the rest of the day. I spent the next 3 days (it was a long weekend), pumping for 30 minutes every hour and a half except 6 hours at night until I brought my production up to 12 ounces a day. I was even more stressed about pumping as often as possible to maintain this production. A month later, I had a cortisone injection in my knee for the same complication as my hip. I had to go through the whole pumping for 30 minutes every hour and a half for three days situation again. I wish I was exaggerating. But, I am not. This time my production went up to 6 ounces a day. You may wonder why I would have gone through with another injection after the results of the first one. Well, I had hip surgery 4 years ago that never fully resolved. I always had some degree of pain. In the 9 months  prior to my injection, I was unable to walk without severe pain. I was unable to go up stairs or even the slightest incline. I could not take a single running step on my left leg, could not hop, and could not bear weight on just that leg. I walked via a step to pattern. This is not an option for a pediatric physical therapist, and I could not tolerate it any longer. Now my pain has decreased immensely and I am so grateful for my doctor.  I feel like I am trying to justify my decision to put my health needs over my babies breastmilk needs for all those women out there who refuse to acknowledge that formula may be a better option for certain women. I, nor any other woman, should have to feel this way, but so many of us do.

During this time, I started losing weight. I gained 24 lbs when I was pregnant. I went from 106 to 130. When my daughter was at 5-6 months I went down to pre pregnancy weight. Then, two months later I had lost 13 more pounds. I weighed 92.8 pounds. I had not changed my eating habits, albeit they were not the greatest. Since I don’t get a lunch break and I was pumping during free time, my lunch consisted of snacks in the car. The stress of trying to pump as much as I could, yet only getting .5 to 1 ounce every 30 minutes I pumped was taking its tole.  There is another slogan. “Every ounce counts”. When it takes you 30 minutes to make that ounce, 30 minutes that you could spend time with your child, or get work done, or just relax, I promise you, that ounce does not count. I had to do something. So, when my daughter was 9 months old, I had to quit.

Quitting pumping was one of the hardest decisions I have made. My mother, a pediatrician, was pressuring me to continue pumping even though I made so little. I felt like a failure when I stopped and I felt ashamed. I still am a bit ashamed, but I should not be. I live in a predominately white, middle to upper class, bubble of a city. A majority of the moms around me stay at home. I can feel the judging when I take out a water bottle and formula mix versus a boob when I am at a restaurant. I can see the judging on the face of others when they ask if my daughter is breastfeeding.  Apparently, that is a common topic among mothers. I know there will be plenty of people out there who probably think I did not try hard enough or think they would have kept going no matter what in my situation. If I did not go through this, I would probably be that arrogant too. Here I go again, trying to justify my decision for a group of women who no matter what the circumstance, believe that formula should never be given. (Yes, I read too many blogs where these women come out of the woodwork). They have no idea how hard I tried to give my daughter milk; how much my health and relationship with my child was sacrificed. But you know what? In the long run breastmilk vs formula does not matter. No one is going to care that my daughter received formula when she is entering kindergarten ( and if they do care, they have issues of their own). My daughter is happy. She is healthy. I am happy; the happiest I  have been since my daughter’s birth. In the month since I stopped, I have gained two pounds and I get to actually spend time loving on my child when I get home from work instead of fret while pumping.

I wish judgement of moms by other moms and women would come to an end. Wouldn’t that be a sight to see. All moms supporting each other instead of trying to prove they are better than each other.  If you choose to breastfeed: Great. If you choose to use formula from day one: Great. If you choose to breastfeed and it does not work and you try formula: Wonderful. You have chosen what is best for your family, and no one should make you feel less because of it.  I am sick of the breastfeeding campaign throwing stats down our throat, and people interpreting it to be if a child is not breastfed he or she will be dumb and sickly.  That is just not true.  I do not want anyone to have to go through the struggle and the feelings of inadequacy that I went through.  My child is being fed, I love her, and she loves me.  She is a happy, healthy 10 month old, and an incredible miracle. That, above all else, is what is most important.

***

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

FFF Friday: “Motherhood and martyrdom aren’t the same thing.”

The stories I receive for FFF Fridays tend to fall into three categories: those who never wanted to breastfeed, those who couldn’t breastfeed for physiological reasons, and those who ended up formula feeding due to situational and/or emotional reasons. 

I want to make one thing very clear: in my mind, they why’s shouldn’t make a difference to anyone but you. Choosing formula or having the choice made for you only matters because of how it affects your experience (ie, are you grieving the loss of the breastfeeding relationship, or do you feel relief after a traumatic experience with it). It does not in any way affect how I see you, or how anyone else should see you, or how you should see yourself. It does not make you a bad mother. It makes you a formula feeding mother. That’s it.

Still, I also think it’s important for people to voice their feelings and their personal truths. So if someone needs to explain how they “had” to choose formula, that’s okay. In a perfect world, no one would feel like they have to give an excuse. In a perfect world, like Kate says, no one would ever ask “why”.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, so there’s FFF Friday.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Kate’s Story

To everyone who would like to know how I will feed my next baby:

Firstly, it’s good to know you’re interested. I worry about how you’ll respond to my answer, which might be delivered at you with a one-word sentence: “Formula.”

I might not say any more, because this is a hard one for me to discuss.

It’s a difficult decision to talk about because we live in an era where our choices as mothers tend to be driven by particular ideologies. As it happens, I do subscribe to the “Breast is best” ideology in theory. It’s a tired old aphorism which has often been quoted at me by well-meaning individuals oblivious to my own circumstances. Sure, perhaps breast is best in a scientific sense, or in a health and wellbeing sense. Very few would dispute this.

Unfortunately, due to the gap between ideology and reality, breast was not best for me. Breast was not even possible for me. Most importantly, it didn’t work for my baby, and probably won’t be for any future babies.

I started off wanting to breastfeed. Apparently, 97% of Australian women do begin this way. (This is possibly related to the way it is relentlessly promoted by grim Nazi-style midwives, and the cruel manner in which formula feeding is openly belittled. Am I a bad mum for ‘choosing’ formula? No, I’m not – but it wasn’t really a choice, as you’ll discover.)

Here’s what breastfeeding did: purely and simply, it starved my baby. Initially, she wasn’t even going to be allowed home from hospital because she had lost too much weight. My breasts bled each time I tried. Nurses alternately (and incorrectly) attacked me for not ‘latching on’ correctly and then suggested that my baby might have a tongue tie. (They were correct about this, as it happens. I have nerve pain to this day because of a problem that wasn’t diagnosed until it was much, much too late.)

So I saw a lactation consultant. (If breastfeeding is so natural, why are there so many professionals whose job it is to help us with it?) I didn’t get any answers. She was brusque and frustrated. “Just try harder” was her general advice. New mothers are in an incredibly vulnerable situation, and of course you want to take all advice on board. So I tried harder. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was both time-consuming and ultimately disheartening.

My baby couldn’t sleep because she wasn’t being fed. I couldn’t look after my baby because I was too busy hooking myself up to a breast pump. Night after night, every couple of hours, and I still couldn’t produce enough. I sat there, freezing and crying in the dark with shrivelled up, hideously bruised breasts – one on a pump, the other attached to an unhappy infant.

My baby cried constantly.  I couldn’t look after her – I didn’t even have the time to take care of her and be the inadequate labouring milk-producing machine I had reduced myself to becoming. I didn’t play with her. I didn’t even have time to eat properly. All was sacrificed to the ultimate goal of the “liquid gold” I had been promised. I was a mental wreck – I felt shivers of pure panic whenever she woke up, because waking meant feeding. There were nights where she would latch on for an hour and sleep for 15 minutes.

The milk bar was closed, against the wishes of its owner.quotescover-JPG-53

Later on, I was to realise that the combined effects of gestational diabetes, a caesarean birth, my baby’s tongue-tie and a condition called insufficient glandular tissue had all conspired against me. The fact that I feel compelled to give a medicalised explanation implies that I still feel defensive about the whole business. Well, you’re the one who asked about it.

I’m not sure why we all feel free to inquire about every mothering decision, especially given that, regardless of how I feed, I’m still Top Dog in my baby’s life. No one has as much of an interest in her as I do. I have the legal and moral right to make decisions about what works for both of us.

The first time I fed my daughter formula was possibly also the first time she slept properly. She didn’t look cross and anxious as she had before. She knew I cared about her enough to make sure she was nourished.

As opposed to putting myself first. Realistically, why was I breastfeeding? I thought it was expected. Most people I know could do it without too much worry. I didn’t want the judgements that came with formula feeding. The worst reason to do anything is to satisfy others. But, at the time, I thought I had to live in this miserable manner. I looked in the mirror and saw a tired, stressed martyr in those days.

Here’s the secret: motherhood and martyrdom aren’t the same thing. I’m Catholic, so I know a few things about martyrs. They all make amazing sacrifices for strong beliefs. They generally go against the grain of their times and are individual and counter-cultural in the way they live and die.

You can’t be a martyr to breastfeeding! Nor can you base your decisions on the expectations of others. The only person whose opinion I care about other than my own is my husband’s, and he supported me because he was the only one who saw and appreciated what breastfeeding was doing to me.

So, whenever I’m blessed with another child, it’s straight to the bottle. I hope my next child will smile and laugh as much as my little girl now does. She’s great. She’s never been sick. No one’s going to look at her in a year’s time and know how she was fed.

I am immeasurably angry that I live in a society which seeks to define my worth as a mother by how I can or can’t use my breasts.

For those who struggle with breastfeeding and don’t give up, I have only admiration. I wish them success, though not at the expense of their own health or their relationship with their baby. For my own sanity, I had to realise when it was time to put the whole experience in the ‘too hard’ basket.

I hope that answers your questions.

Most importantly, I hope it also makes you realise that you were wrong to ask questions in the first place

***

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

FFF Friday: “I will give you the moon, but I can’t give you my milk.”

Those of you who’ve submitted FFF Friday stories may have noticed it can take a looooong time for them to be published. It’s just a matter of the queue being ridiculously long; there is no shortage of hurt, anger, or conflict about infant feeding. But every story is equally powerful and important to share, no matter how long ago I received it. 

Today’s post is one of those stories that has been sitting in my inbox for awhile now. When I re-read it today, I was struck by how palpable the love the author has for her daughter is. The description she gives of their bottle-feeding times made my heart skip a few beats. THIS is #bottlebonding. It’s beautiful, and it’s real, and I wish more parents were told that it is possible. For those of us who’ve done it, this seems like an obvious truth, but the negativity about formula feeding has convinced parents that they will miss out on an essential connection if they do not or cannot breastfeed. So if you feel that way, read this. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Rebecca’s Story

Today my baby girl turned 18 months old. A while back, her pediatrician had said in passing that he likes to see toddlers weaned off bottles by 18 months. At that time, it was a finish line and a time I would look forward to. I have hated those plastic bottles on my kitchen counter with a vengeance.

I was meant to breastfeed.I grew up with a La Leche League Leader, my mom. I remember those noisy meetings in our living room as I was trying to fall asleep down the hall as a little kid. I knew I was going to breastfeed. When I was pregnant, I had dumped out the cans of formula samples that had arrived in the mail swearing I wouldn’t give my baby that artificial stuff. My husband and I attended a breastfeeding class taught by the hospital’s lactation consultant. I remember asking the teacher if she would recommend purchasing a breast pump before the baby arrived or if it made sense to wait. Her response was that if you want to make breastfeeding work, you can. Go ahead and purchase one. I went ahead and ordered the pump through our health insurance and signed up for a few weekly calls from their own lactation consultants. It was ingrained in my head: breastfeeding was obviously the only choice if you had any desire at all to raise a healthy child. And then, 18 months ago, my body and my baby had other plans.

My daughter was delivered by C-section at the end of 37 weeks after a routine OB appointment. I was given 6 hours to pack my bag and meet the doctor at the hospital. I was really counting on those 2 or 3 more weeks to prepare myself for the baby. One item on my list was to read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Of course I didn’t get to it. In the recovery room, when the baby was first put to my breast she rooted, bobbed her head and nuzzled. But, she never latched on. The nurse was excited and said, wow- when she gets it, she’s going to be a good nurser! Well, we never got it. I had visits from the hospital’s lactation consultants who were just too busy to stay and help. Both implied that there was something wrong with my breasts and never questioned whether something was going on with the baby. I remember a stressful visit from a technician who shoved the baby’s face into my breast and handled me in a way that was extremely uncomfortable and very stressful. I was afraid to ask anyone else for help after that.

After the addition of a nipple shield given to me by the hospital’s lactation consultant, the baby finally latched and achieved some suction. However, the nipple shield restricted the amount of milk flow due to the limited number of holes. The baby had some wet and soiled diapers that we tracked consistently on the hospital’s clip board. However she continued to lose weight and when questioned, the pediatrician said it was still within normal range and keep trying to breastfeed without the nipple shield. “You’ll get it. It just takes practice.” No one else seemed concern, but I still knew that something wasn’t right.

We had some very long nursing sessions, with the nipple shield, in the middle of the night at the hospital. When a nurse came in to check on me, I told her that the baby had been sucking for about an hour and was still going. “Oh, she’s just using you as a pacifier. Let me take her to the nursery so you can get some sleep.” Yet, an hour later, around 2AM I was pacing the maternity ward halls because I couldn’t sleep and really missed the baby. I wish the nurse had asked me why I couldn’t sleep rather than just trying to tell me the baby was fine and I should go back to bed. We were discharged from the hospital with no real suggestions or advice about how to eliminate the nipple shield. Just keep trying.

I spoke to my mom who insisted I call a La Leche League volunteer and looked up the number of someone in my area, picking her out by her pretty name. This LLL leader was extremely patient with me and asked me what the baby’s tongue looked like. Did it make a little heart shape when she cried? Well, sort of. As a speech language pathologist, I had studied the anatomy of the mouth and knew what short lingual frenum would look like on a toddler who was having speech problems. I never really knew what an infant frenulum should look like, nor did I look at her lips.

The next day at the pediatrician’s office, I mentioned the tongue tie to which he said the baby’s tongue looked fine, but she was still losing weight. He said we could continue to breastfeed without supplementing, but return the next day for a weight check. And of course the next day she had lost even more weight and was now a shade of peachy yellow from jaundice. The pediatrician instructed us to supplement with expressed breast milk after each breastfeeding session. And he sent us home with some formula samples, “just in case your milk dries up in the middle of the night.”. He also put us in contact with a lactation consultant who generously came out to our house that evening. I don’t remember whether she held the baby or examined her mouth in any way, but she stayed for a long time and showed us some techniques to help the baby latch. We were able to do it (and by ‘we’, I mean me, my husband, the baby, our recliner, 13 pillows and a bunch of rolled up blankets.) We kept up the new techniques and the baby fed without the nipple shield for the whole night which was both exhausting and overwhelming. I’m not sure anyone slept.

By this point in the game, I was beyond anxious. While I was on the look out for post partum depression, the anxiety piece wasn’t in the forefront of my mind. I believe it started with the surprise delivery and just continued to mount. I couldn’t relax enough express any milk with the pump and it just became a vicious circle. The baby needed to be supplemented after each feed, but I couldn’t produce any milk.

My husband called my mother who came immediately from Connecticut. A lot of that is still a blur- I didn’t know it was that bad. Finally, in a way that I don’t really remember, I was sent to bed with some medication and my husband and mother, armed with bottles and formula, fed the baby through the night. I think it was the first time I had slept for more than 30 minutes at a time for the past week. I was told that I should not feed the baby any of my breast milk because of the anti anxiety medication that was starting to help.

Slowly I lifted out of the fog and the baby began to thrive, regaining her weight and returning back to a healthy shade of pink. I think I cried every time I had to prepare a bottle for at least a week. The reminders of “breast is best” is EVERYWHERE. It just kept stabbing at my heart- on the formula container, on the coupon from Target (!), every other line on Facebook and in every baby/parenting book out there. I continuously recalled the lactation consultant who told me after class that if I wanted to breastfeed, I could. Well, I’m not sure I’ve tried that hard or wanted something to work that badly ever before. I just felt like my body had failed me and I had failed my daughter.

For some reason, I didn’t feel that I should keep seeking answers after 3 lactation consultants and a pediatrician told me that there really is no reason for the baby’s inability to latch (without the 4 adult hands and acrobatics that ensued). The pediatrician assured me that the baby was going to be ok when I questioned him (between sobs) about the differences in her life growing up on formula rather than breast milk. The psychiatric nurse practitioner that was helping me with medications for the post partum depression/anxiety, just couldn’t understand why it was so important to me to breast feed my daughter. “What’s the big deal?” she said. She doesn’t have children. At my 2 week check up with the OB, when I asked about ways to increase my milk supply, she said that pharmaceuticals don’t work well. And besides, she was raised on formula and she’s done pretty well for herself! This was not helpful advice.

Slowly, our family was establishing a routine. My husband returned to work and I began to venture out with the baby. The first event I remember going to on my own was a local babywearing group meeting. If I wasn’t going to have my daughter on my breast for feeding, I was going to have her as close to me as possible. I met some wonderfully helpful women and borrowed a wrap from their lending library. A few of the moms and newborns that I met through my prenatal exercise class were at the meeting as well. At one point I remember looking up and seeing at least 5 women nursing beautifully next to each other at the same time. I just held back tears. My daughter began to get hungry while we were at that meeting. Instead of mixing up the bottle of formula there and continuing to visit with other new moms, I said quick goodbyes to everyone and drove down the street to an empty spot in a parking lot to feed the baby. How ironic that some moms feel they need to find discreet places to nurse in public. I was afraid to bottle feed in front of my peers. Every where we traveled, when it was time to feed, I apologized to everyone as I mixed the formula. I spent so much energy trying to hide that we were bottle feeding- always aware when someone was taking a picture, I would do my best to get the bottle out of the shot. Instead of spending so much energy being embarrassed, I wish I had directed that energy at seeking answers from other lactation experts.recite-1owp3jx

At some point during the first month, I looked up re-lactation on the internet. When we were home alone on a quiet calm afternoon, I put the baby to my breast, watched her bob her head as she unsuccessfully tried to grasp me with her mouth. The feelings of overwhelming sadness and anxiety came flooding over me. I guess this is it, kiddo. I will give you the moon, but I can’t give you my milk.

Eventually bottles just became a way of life, although I complained every time I had to spend money of formula. As I learned more about nursing from friends and lots of questions about tongue ties and lip ties circulated on Facebook, I was more alert when I looked in the baby’s mouth. Somewhere around 5 months of age, I noticed her lip tie. At her 6 month well visit the pediatrician said it wasn’t an issue and we’d wait to see what happened when her teeth grow in. (Soon we will return to the pediatrician for her 18 month well visit. It will be her first visit with both front teeth grown in with the tell tale gap between the teeth. I am already a bit anxious for the doctor’s take on that.)

Somewhere around 11 or 12 months of age, when she had a diet full of solid foods, the baby stopped taking bottles from my husband or her grandmothers. Somehow she had equated bottle with mommy as I was the primary feeder being at home during the day. At 12 months we changed over to cows milk and I rejoiced at never having to buy formula again. I figured we would slowly make the transition away from bottles to sippy cups. But then I realized that something strange had happened and I was starting to enjoy our snuggle time with the bottles of milk. She would have one before each nap and one before bed. It was our special time. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy feeding my daughter before this, but something started to feel different. Over the past few months, I have really started to pay attention to what was happening when I gave her milk in her bottle. She always sits in the same position on my lap, with her cheek against my breast. Sometimes she nuzzles in. She often takes my hand and puts it on her leg so I will gently rub it. She holds my fingers with one hand and twirls her hair with the other. She has never tried to hold the bottle herself (despite all those other acts of independence that come with toddlerhood). She will pause sometimes to say something to me and when she wants to drink more, she raises my hand that holds the bottle, never reaching for the bottle itself. It’s become a very special time for me to spend with her. I consider it an amazing gift that she has given me that I will always cherish.

Motherhood is far from an easy journey. I really worried about my daughter’s future without being breastfed and those fears still creep into my thoughts periodically. But then I look at her in awe of what an amazing little girl she is.  To think, a child that has been on earth for exactly 18 months could teach a grown woman so much about love, making choices and finding the beauty in a challenging situation.

 ***

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

Experiences of Formula Feeding: Results of a survey of 1,120 formula-feeding parents

We talk a lot in the Fearless Formula Feeder community about the negative experiences we’ve had with medical professionals, media outlets, and our peers. And this is good, and healthy – we need a place to chew on these bitter feelings, and hopefully digest them so we can move on with our lives. Still, I want to go a step further this year, and really think about (and act upon) what could be made better. I think the time for some positive, real change is now, don’t you?

Considering how much the infant feeding world likes research, I think some data is a good place to start. Mind you, what I’m about to talk about isn’t peer reviewed or even professional compiled data; it’s merely a Survey Monkey study, which any Joe Shmoe can do at any time. This one was written by me, and I am by no means an epidemiologist (although I like to pretend I am, and probably would have tried to be if I could wrap my mind around simple algebra, let alone statistics) or PhD or anything of the sort. So it’s important to take this data with a grain of salt; it’s simply anecdotal, self-reported data crunched by a website to give us some idea of what’s going on for a particular, self-selected group.

Let’s talk a little about what this all means. Basically, I posted this site on the FFF Facebook page. It was shared and spread around a fair amount, but it’s safe to say that the majority of the respondents were FFF members. Which means something, because as a group, we tend to be a few things: educated, interested in parenting, mostly white, mostly lower-middle to middle class, mostly English-speaking (although the respondents included people from the U.S., Canada, the UK, France, United Arab Emirates, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, South Africa, Russia, and Mexico), and people who read a lot and care a lot about formula feeding issues. Because of this, we can’t necessarily assume that our experiences are typical of ALL formula feeding parents, but considering we have a pool of 1120 people, from a variety of geographic areas who formula feed for a number of different reasons, we can infer some things from the data we have here.

That said, I think it’s interesting and helpful to at least collect our experiences in a way that can help us talk about them more clinically, to understand the experience of some formula feeders, who tend to be parents who think a lot about parenting. That’s important, I think, because it suggests that these answers are relevant for care providers who are trying to serve this market.

With no further qualifications and hemming and hawing, I’d like to present you with the results of the first ever Fearless Formula Feeder/I Support You Survey on Formula Feeding Experiences. 

 

Question 1: When did you begin formula feeding?

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The majority (32%) of respondents began using at least some formula shortly after birth, although breastfed at least once. But those who began using formula after one month were a close second, at 25%, and 19% formula fed from birth.

Real-world implications: If most of these respondents were formula feeding a one-month infant or younger, their responses on the degree of instruction they received carry particular relevance. In completely unscientific terms – we’re talking about tiny babies and brand new, very sleep deprived parents. If anyone needs explicit guidance on something which can, at times, resemble a junior high chemistry experiment, it’s these folks.

Question 2: What were your reasons for choosing formula?

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Respondents were able to select more than one answer here, so please note that there was often a combination of reasons that led an individual parent to formula feed. The most common answers were “I couldn’t produce enough milk” (44%); “My child wasn’t able to breastfeed successfully” (33%); and “Breastfeeding contributed to my postpartum depression” (22%). 17% of respondents chose “I did not want to breastfeed.” As respondents could elaborate on their reasons via a text box, some of the comments received were as follows:

“I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and both childbirth and breastfeeding were intensely triggering.”

“I stopped because it was straining my mental health and I felt like I was missing my daughter’s life because I was so consumed with trying to make breastfeeding work.”

“When they tested my milk with my 2nd child (32 weeker preemie) it was as fatty and nutritious as tap water.”

“Doing all of the nightfeeds by myself was never a realistic option for our family because I earn most of our income, I can’t show up to work massively sleep deprived and I have no opportunity to pump during the workday. This little detail was glossed over in all our prenatal breastfeeding education. When I caught on to it in the first week postpartum my husband and I jointly decided that breastfeeding was not for us.”

“I had mastitis so severe I was hospitalized. It turned into an abscess that they tried 3 times to drain with a needle but it didn’t work. They eventually had to do surgery to remove it. I tried to breastfeed through all that up until the second time they tried to drain it with a needle when I finally decided to stop trying because it was killing me.”

“Child ended up hospitalized due to dehydration.”

“I had postpartum thyroiditis. Only ever… produce(d) 2 ounces of milk per day. It also triggered devastating insomnia that lasted for 12 days. I decided it was killing me, so i stopped.”

Real-world implications: The responses on this question are obviously all self-reported, and there’s no way to verify the validity of medical reasons such as an inability to produce milk. However, I’m in the business of believing moms when they tell me things, so I’m assuming that there was a valid reason each of these moms felt that breastfeeding did not work for them. The point of including this question, for my purposes, was to see the variety of reasons parents chose formula and to get an idea of what would be best discussed prenatally. For example, there are visual cues for Insufficient Glandular Tissue, which physicians could be trained to notice during prenatal exams. Or, for women with histories of depression or sexual trauma, it might be helpful to be more open about the effect breastfeeding may have on them in an individualized, sensitive way – because what is empowering and healing for one woman might be damaging and re-traumatizing to another.

Question 3: When you first began formula feeding, were you given instruction/guidance from medical/hospital staff?

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55% of respondents said that were not given any formal instruction or guidance on how to use formula. While 33% of the rest of the group did get some sort of verbal guidance from a medical professional, only 12% got a pamphlet or written material.

Real-world implications: This seems like a no-brainer – how hard is it, really, to give new parents a brief one-sheet on formula prep, with resources listed for further help?

This leads me to….

Question 4: Where did you receive most of your guidance on using formula?

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53% – just over half- said that the main source of instruction was from the back of a formula can.

Parents are also getting help from other sources – nearly 30% did cite their pediatrician/other medical professional as a resource, so that’s promising. Another 33% said that websites were helpful, and 23% got assistance from friends or relatives.

Real-world implications: Considering pediatricians typically give verbal or written instructions on how to administer baby ibuprofen, and discuss things like television use, potty training, and sleep training with patients, I think it’s odd that we assume the instructions written on the back of a can are sufficient for safe formula prep. Not all parents are native English speakers or fully literate. Not all parents can read tiny print on the back of a can at 2am, when they are sleep deprived and worried about a newborn.

 

Question 5: Do you feel you received adequate information about formula feeding safety and use?

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While 40% said yes, 34% said “no” and another 22% said “I’m not sure”.

Real-world implications: This suggests more than half of parents using formula aren’t convinced that they were given enough information to feed their babies safely. Not acceptable.

Some additional responses:

“Too many people I spoke to IRL seemed to be compelled to remind me that breast was best. That shaming did not help me during a time when I was very vulnerable and wanted information”

“Eventually, after I did my own research. The nurse in the hospital almost yelled at us for leaving the half consumed bottle of ready-to-feed out at room temperature. We had no idea as new parents what we were supposed to do with formula, and no one had taken the time to explain it to us. So any information I got was from my own research.”

“I feel I had to ask too many questions to the pediatrician that should have just been told to me. For example, in the hospital they gave him 2oz every 4 hrs. When we went home no one told us to change that so he dropped a lot of weight…”

Question 6: If you could choose the way you received info on formula, how would you like it to be given?

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Respondents could choose more than one answer here, but there were two methods which received the vast majority of responses: “a nurse or doctor to talk to you about it” and “a pamphlet or written materials.”

Real world implications: Medical professionals need to be informed on formula feeding safety and practicalities, and be allowed to impart the information in a judgment-free manner. Written materials should also be created to be given to parents at discharge. Since 18% and 16% responded that they’d like to learn about formula via a peer support group or websites/books respectively, it also may be helpful to offer a resource list to all expectant mothers that is truly comprehensive, and not just helpful for those planning to breastfeed.

Question 7: What was the hardest thing you faced when you began using formula?

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This was one of the most interesting questions on the survey, in my opinion; 65% of parents responded that “my own feelings about formula use (guilt, shame, fear, etc.)” was the hardest aspect. The other two popular answers were “the lack of social/emotional support from fellow parents” and “the lack of information on safety, choosing a formula, bottle feeding, etc. (practical issues).”

Real-world implications: Formula feeding parents need a safe space where they can access peer support, work through feeling of guilt/shame/fear, and learn about practical issues of formula feeding. To me, the simplest answer is that we need peer support groups, our own version of La Leche League. Kim Simon and I have been developing a platform for these peer groups through the I Support You organization, and I am really excited that two FFF members have already started their own local chapters (Atlanta and Baltimore). I hope that we can grow this movement so that every major metropolitan area has a resource for formula feeding/combo feeding parents, because as these numbers show, it is desperately needed. Need more proof? Here are some of the open-ended responses to this question:

“I became very depressed and felt worthless as a mother and human being. Luckily, my husband caught me in the middle of writing a good bye letter to my daughter as I had planned to end my life.”

“felt like a failure for not giving the “liquid gold.” I really had to search for good evidence. I remember finding a paper by 3 biostatisticians who had all breastfed. They dug into the evidence. Reduced mortalitly? One study had one infant death in the formula fed group, but the baby fell off the counter!!! Finding unbiased, easily accessible info would have been great. “

“The NICU lacation consultants were relentless. My doctor told me that I most likely would not be able to successfully pump. The NICU nurses understood that it didn’t work out. My baby’s doctor made arrangements for donor milk. However, the lactation consultants hounded me and made me feel like it was my fault it wasn’t working. They added unnecessary stress to a situation that was already a nightmare.”

“I didn’t know any other formula feeders. It wasn’t that my fiends/peers were unsupportive… but they were all breastfeeding and could not relate to formula feeding.”

Question 8: Did you have any trouble with the technical aspects of formula feeding?

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43% of respondents said no, they hadn’t had any issues in this regard. Of the remaining respondents, the most commonly-faced issue was reflux/other GI issues, followed closely by “I had trouble finding a formula that worked for my child.” A small but significant amount (14%) “(were) confused about formula or supplementing and felt lost on where to go for help.”

Real-world implications: More than half of those surveyed endured some sort of struggle with the technical aspects of formula feeding, suggesting that using formula is not as simple as “add powder and water” for many parents. I hear this excuse a lot from those who deny the importance of formula feeding education and support – that it doesn’t have a learning curve, that doctors don’t need to know much about it because every formula is the same, etc., etc. And that is certainly true for some people, but not for all. Not for over half of us.

Question 9: Did you experience any emotional challenges due to your choice to formula feed?

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Only 18% of respondents said no, that they hadn’t experienced emotional challenges. The rest (who were allowed to choose more than one answer) mostly struggled with their choice or need to use formula (58%), and worried what others would think (55%). 35% felt “left out by other moms” and a quarter of respondents (26%) felt that the emotions around infant feeding contributed to postpartum depression and/or anxiety.

The open-ended responses included:

“I would have felt very comfortable in my decision to formula feed from the start if I had not been pushed into breastfeeding by the hospital, and also my mother and stepmother made me feel incredibly guilty. I had asked for info on bottle feeding while in the hospital and was snubbed. These issues contributed to my emotional challenges. It took almost 4 months for me to realize everything was okay.”

“I felt guilty for not feeling more guilty. Also felt like I didn’t try hard enough and that subconsciously maybe I was using PPD risk as an excuse. Oh, and I ended up with PPD anyway.”

“I was worried that all the negative health outcomes would come true- it’s pretty dirty to scare a mom into thinking that one choice could make her child overweight, less intelligent, and generally unhealthy. Happily, none of these things have come true in 3 years!”

“Despite knowing better, I felt guilty that I wasn’t giving my baby “the best.” That I hadn’t “tried hard enough” for her. The pediatrician at the hospital compared bottle feeding to “taking your baby to the drive through.” Thankfully her actual pediatricians were wonderful and told me it absolutely makes no difference either way.”

“I did feel some guilt about not breastfeeding, though I got over it rather quickly. What resonates more with me, though, is the fact that I didn’t want to breastfeed in the first place, but felt pressured friends, my community, the hospital, etc. to do it. And while it’s true that my kid had serious reflux, allergies, etc., and I had production problems, I also just HATED breastfeeding. And even sites like FFF sometimes make it sound like it’s only ok to FF if you tried to breastfeed and couldn’t. I’d love for women to have permission to just chose not to breastfeed in the first place.”

“I knew that there was no way that I could carry on attempting to BF and pump while still taking care of myself and my child (literally I would feed, attempt to pump, and he would be ready to eat again). But I could not relay that kind of feeling of desperation and failure to other moms who had no problems BF. I thought I was doing something wrong.”

“…I was confident in my decision about FF from birth, well educated and versed BUT still got side-eyed and looks from some people. No matter how confident you are when there are people who truly believe formula is poison and if you don’t BF you don’t deserve to have children (even when you fought with infertility to get said child) it’s disheartening. The lack of correct info on FF and the slew of misinformation on the benefits BF make it difficult to even the playing field.”

Real-world implications: Mothers are hurting. When over 80% of formula feeding parents are talking about the emotional ramifications of their feeding method, we need to sit up and listen. We have a large body of breastfeeding research now, but an abysmally small body of research on the effect of postpartum depression and adjustment difficulties on both mother and baby (not to mention other children, partners, employment, future relationships, etc.). If the way we approach infant feeding is contributing to emotional duress in a generation of parents, it seems worthwhile to reassess the risk/benefit of promoting breastfeeding in the way we currently do.

If we insist on continuing down the same path, then we need to also make sure that the negative experiences of formula feeding parents are tempered by appropriate measures. This means ensuring that they are treated with respect and with regard to personal autonomy; setting up social support systems like peer groups or pre/post-natal classes which address other methods of infant feeding; and perhaps providing sensitivity training for those dealing with newly postpartum or expectant parents so that they learn to impart the benefits of breastfeeding in a manner devoid of shame, guilt, or fear-mongering. It is possible, and it is well worth it.

Question 10: What country do you live in?

Most respondents were from English-speaking countries: the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

Real-world implications: Not sure we can take much away from this, except that the reach of FFF (which is how respondents were recruited) is mostly in the English-speaking world. But while we’re on the subject… let’s address the need for culturally-specific infant feeding recommendations and policies. Even within the countries we’re discussing here – which on the surface have many similarities – there are demographic, socioeconomic, religions, cultural, and political differences. People cite the World Health Organization as a good source for formula feeding best practices, but it’s rather simplistic to try and make this issue universal. Mixing formula in a place with unsafe water and hygiene issues is quite different than doing so in a Lysol-happy kitchen using filtered, purified, boiled water and a dishwasher with a “sterilize” cycle. And that’s not even mentioning the impracticality of assuming that genetic, lifestyle, and dietary factors do not affect biological processes; to say IGT only affects 1% of the Swedish population, for example, means nothing to a demographic of Eastern European Jewish women in Manhattan. There are higher rates of breast cancer and Crohn’s disease in some ethnicities; higher rates of genetic diseases in others. Why should breast tissue be immune to these same factors?

I know I’m going off into tangents here, but the point is: it is time to think of infant feeding with more nuance, even in seemingly homogeneous populations. At the same time, we need to recognize that feelings of guilt, shame and fear are common in Western, relatively privileged demographics, regardless of breastfeeding rates and months of paid maternity leave. This is complicated stuff, and requires far more complex analysis than we’ve been given it. It’s time to step it up.

Question 11: What would have helped your experience with formula be more positive?

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The highest amount of responses went to the following (again, respondents could choose multiple answers): more support and guidance from medical professionals (50%), more support and guidance from peers (45%), prenatal preparation for formula feeding (50%) and a peer support group for bottle feeding or combo-feeding parents (44%).

Real-world implications: All of this would be so simple to accomplish. If medical professionals were not scared to discuss formula, lest it be considered giving women “permission” to not breastfeed; if formula could be discussed in prenatal classes in an honest, clear, factual way; if we could stop making it “breast vs. bottle” and just make it two different, sometimes compatible, ways to feed a baby…. just imagine what could happen.

When La Leche League began, it was due to the inadequate support for breastfeeding mothers from society and physicians. While there are still battles to be fought, we are seeing more and more support for breastfeeding (as long as its done within the parameters of what is deemed “socially acceptable” – ie, for no more/no less than a year or two – which is most definitely a problem we need to address), if not from society as a whole, at least from the medical establishment, the government (at least in lip-service and funding for Baby Friendly and corporate lactation programs) and the parenting community. Now may be the time for a formula-feeding equivalent of LLL to do the same noble work – ensuring that moms (and dads – formula feeding is not gender-specific, and dads need to be included more in this conversation, especially those that are primary caregivers) are getting the support they need, when the powers that be cannot provide it themselves.

I will be following up with another survey soon, which will examine if there truly is a need for more “education” about formula feeding, or if it really is simple enough to merit the lack of focus given to it in prenatal and postnatal settings. But until then, I want to leave you with a few more of the comments left in the open-ended sections of this survey. My hope is that this will inspire those with the money and resources to conduct actual, peer-reviewed research on these topics to do so. At the very least, I hope it gets us thinking. Because we need to be thinking, and not just shouting at each other, endlessly, about who knows best.

 

“I just wish that they would give better instruction at the hospital to moms who choose to formula feed about mixing, feedings and choosing the right formula for your child. They send lactation consultants for breastfeeding moms. Why can’t they teach formula feeding moms a few pointers about formula feeding? We are all feeding babies. Why give one method so much attention and neglect another entirely? All that matters is babies get fed. Is that not the most important objective?”

“If there was more support (from) medical practitioners perhaps breastfeeding mums would be less critical.”

“I took a breastfeeding class, but looking back I wish it would have been a general baby feeding class. To learn about pros and cons of breastfeeding, formula feeding, using bottles, and starting solids. Because although not everyone will breastfeed, everyone will at least need to learn about several of these options.”

“I  had no idea what I was doing and didn’t even know where I should look to find the information. It’s hard to find good formula info online and I didn’t know what to trust, especially when I was emotionally and physically exhausted and felt judged by others as well as by myself.”

“Can you fix the world and let everyone know that formula feeding isn’t bad? As long as you feed with love. This is such a touchy topic and I just wish everyone would let it go bc they only make it worse for moms. I also hate the attitude that formula feeding is okay IF you tried to breastfeed or IF you have low supply. I really want the attitude to be that there is nothing wrong with a mom who chooses to formula feed from the get go. Essentially if you could fix the whole attitude about how we feed our babies that would be great.”

 

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