Guest Post: Respecting the Bottle During Breastfeeding Awareness Month

The following is a guest post I received in response to the I Support You movement. I’m currently on deadline for a whole mess of work, but will return next week with new posts and (finally) the collection of #ISupportYou messages and photos. Until then, I hope you’ll find Kathleen’s passionate and reflective essay as cheer-worthy as I did.

- The FFF

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Respecting the Bottle During Breastfeeding Awareness Month

by Kathleen Holscher

My daughter turns a year old next week. She’s a joyful force—climbing, cuddling, staggering around the room with growing confidence. There are a thousand things that amaze me about her, and my relationship with her, twelve months in. One thing I’m amazed by, and proud of, is that she and I are still breastfeeding. After a rocky start—a NICU stay, feeding and oxygen tubes, an early bottle given to her by a well-meaning nurse—I pumped, nearly exclusively, for the first six months of her life. For the first six weeks, she screamed at the sight of my nipples, never latching once. After that it was a long, slow, and uneven process—dreary pumping sessions, day and night, punctuated by an occasional hopeful moment when the baby would want to nurse. Most of the time she didn’t. I had just started a new job, and was teaching full time for the first semester after her birth. It wasn’t until I began my (delayed) maternity leave that she and I were able to build our breastfeeding relationship, gradually, one session at a time.

 

Today, feeding her feels comfortable, an expression of who I am, and who we are together. For a long time, though, nursing her (and not nursing her) was hard. Hearing or talking or reading about breastfeeding filled me with guilt that sometimes verged on despair. I’m the woman Americans probably imagine when they think of a breastfeeding mother—higher degree, relatively affluent, liberal leaning, with a desire to do everything from childbirth to diapering “naturally.”

It was how I imagined myself, anyway. Even as I pumped, I felt like a failure. I felt like I was failing my child. The first time we supplemented my pumped milk with formula, after a miserable series of clogged ducts tanked my supply, I cried. We’ve supplemented with formula ever since.

 

And so, while I feel fortunate and proud to be approaching the one-year mark breastfeeding, the culture of breastfeeding has left a lasting and bitter taste in my mouth. Yes, teaching women about the benefits of breastfeeding is important. It’s absolutely critical—and I can’t stress this enough– in the developing world, in places where women don’t have reliable access to formula and clean water to prepare it with. Yes, breastfeeding also benefits women and children here in the United States. It absolutely does. But for many women, breastfeeding is neither easy nor “natural.” For some women it’s not reasonable, given the demands of fulltime employment, or lots of other circumstances life throws their way.  For a few women it’s not possible. My own experience, my opportunity to build a nursing relationship gradually, isn’t typical—most American women don’t have the luxury of a maternity leave that lasts for months and months, a pediatrician for a father-in-law, a mother and a gang of friends who also breastfed. Most women don’t have the resources to build a breastfeeding relationship with their child, when that relationship takes extra time and effort to build. I know many women would love to build that relationship, and many feel like failures (are made to feel like failures) when they can’t.

 

Breastfeeding advocates in this country need to advocate not only for new babies, but also for new mothers with busy and complicated lives. That means more than just urging women on, telling them “You can do it!” (the primary message I received at the lactation class I attended). It means finding ways to continue supporting women when they do not. Until American hospitals, health insurers, and corporate and government leave policies are all transformed to provide mothers with the enormous resources it actually takes to breastfeed, a woman should feel confident and reassured when she decides to give her baby a bottle of formula. At the end of the day, a mother needs to be able to decide which option- breast or bottle- is best for her and her child, without worrying that she’s making the weak, harmful, or “lesser” choice.

 

Again and again, women I’ve met have responded to my baby’s chubby legs and cheeks with the exclamation, “Well, she must be a breastfed baby!” It’s a situation I disliked intensely when I was exclusively pumping, and I continue to dislike it, even now, when I can answer them in the affirmative. Sure that’s me being sensitive—but we new mothers are a reliably sensitive bunch. There’s a fine line between healthy encouragement of breastfeeding, and unhealthy pressure toward the same. Finding that line is easier said than done. Still, in the future, when I give advice to my friends who are approaching motherhood, it will be this:

 

Do what works for you, and do all you can to ignore the rest of them. Formula is not poison—it’s just not. Breast or bottle, your baby will turn out fine.

Kathleen Holscher is an assistant professor of American Studies, and the endowed chair of Catholic Studies, at the University of New Mexico. She lives in Albuquerque with her husband, her daughter, and her dog. 

I Support You: Yes. And.

Back in drama school, we used to play this game called “Yes, And”. Basically, one person would start an improvisational scene by saying something wacky, and her partner would need to accept the challenge by acknowledging the setup and running with it.

“This meatball is causing a traffic jam.”

“Yes, and… I wish we hadn’t decided to take a left turn and run smack into the middle of the annual Butcher’s Parade. Next time, listen to the damn GPS, will you?”

Ok, so I kind of sucked at that game, which is why I never pursed improv as a career. But I always thought that the concept was one that should be applied to debates. Instead of immediately challenging someone’s point of view, what if people listened, accepted the challenge by acknowledging the perspective, and ran with it?

“Breastfeeding needs to be promoted and supported.”

“Yes, and… there needs to be a way to do it without limiting a woman’s autonomy, ignoring social and cultural barriers, and marginalizing those who end up formula feeding.”

This, to me, is what the “I Support You” movement is all about. Offering the yes, and proposing the and. Telling the powers that be, and each other, that what’s currently happening in the world of infant feeding isn’t good enough; that we can’t support some women while penalizing the rest.

When I first approached Jamie and Kim about initiating a supportive, inclusive movement that could bring moms together, I wasn’t 100% sure what it would look like. All I knew was that as Breastfeeding Week approached, I was starting to see more pain in my inbox, more anger on my Facebook page. Memes popped up like snarling Jack-in-the-Boxes, taunting us with images of baby bottles lying in caskets, misquoted statistics, careless messages that divided moms into categories of “good” and “less-than”; “us” and “them”. Women I greatly respect began resorting to schoolyard taunts, when a few weeks prior they were able to discuss the same issues respectfully and calmly.

This happens every year. Breastfeeding Week brings out the best and the worst of breastfeeding advocacy, and thus the best and the worst in the women that this advocacy has failed. No matter how much we support breastfeeding, the current atmosphere in the media and the blogosphere infects our wounds, whether fresh or scabbed over, and immediately puts us on the defensive. Some of us would love to go to one of the incredible “Latch On” events happening in our towns, but worry that by showing up with bottles full of formula we’d be viewed as unwelcome intruders. It’s hard to imagine we wouldn’t be, when so much of what we see online is about how our method of feeding our children is dangerous and a direct threat to the efforts of breastfeeding moms. We want to share “Happy World Breastfeeding Week” messages, but worry that posting something like this is an invitation to be tortured by comments about how sub-par the food we feed our babies is.

I wanted to find a way to celebrate the efforts of our breastfeeding sisters, and to show that we support them – that we aren’t the enemy, not by a long shot.  Jamie and Kim felt the same way, from their respective “sides” of this perceived mommy war. So, we asked women to share photos and messages of support, whatever that meant to them. The response was incredible; far more than we ever expected. I put some of these photos into a video slideshow, which you can see below. I’ll also be putting up all the submissions as a static webpage in the next week, so that we will have a permanent collection of these messages of commiseration, empathy, and hope.

We’ve been getting some backlash about the fact that we launched this project during World Breastfeeding Week, and we understand where this is coming from; we’re not trying to steal the thunder of those advocating for more awareness for breastfeeding throughout the world. But we also feel that the best way to support breastfeeding is to ensure that every woman feels empowered and equipped to feed her baby in the best way possible. That may not always mean breastfeeding; this doesn’t mean that we are ignoring the science, but rather performing our own risk/benefit assessment and making a highly personalized decision. This may not be your choice, and it may not be the best choice on paper, but parenting is not a standardized test. It’s more like an open-ended essay question. By listening to each other’s stories, as long-winded, convoluted, and complex as they so often are, we can start fresh. This can wash away the negativity, judgment and defensiveness, so that we can more adequately address the real reasons women are not meeting breastfeeding recommendations. And we can do all of this without ruining a mother’s sense of self or well-being. I think that’s a pretty clear win-win.

So… yes. And… how do we actually go about doing this? Jamie has written a great post about how we can better support breastfeeding mothers, and why we need to take a global perspective on these issues. Kim has offered some amazing practical tips on how to best support a new mom who is trying to breastfeed. Go and read these; then read them again. Think. Digest. Process.

I’d like to offer my own suggestions, about how we can better support moms who either choose to or have to formula feed, whether partially or exclusively. This may seem counterproductive to Breastfeeding Week, but I don’t see it that way. According to our latest Breastfeeding Report Card, by 3 months out, 63% of us are using some formula. While advocates are fighting to raise these rates for the future, we need to address the NOW. And besides, there have been, and always will be, women who choose not to breastfeed. By ignoring their needs, we are putting their babies’ health and their mental health at risk – and that’s certainly not conducive to improving maternal and infant outcomes.

Start addressing the REAL reasons women are unable to meet their breastfeeding goals.

In the past 4 years, I’ve heard countless stories of women who feel immense loss, pain and guilt due to their infant feeding experiences. Very few mention the reasons for “suboptimal breastfeeding” that are so often cited in breastfeeding advocacy literature – formula marketing, embarrassment over the process, lack of education. What they do mention is feeling incredible pressure to “succeed”; physical impediments that were probably foreseeable, had anyone thought to examine their breasts prenatally; and varying degrees of support that felt more like judgment. To counteract this, we need to time our education and preparation for breastfeeding better. By having more realistic conversations – both with our care providers and each other – we can raise awareness for the problems that might make breastfeeding difficult, so that we can properly manage them. For example, I’ve heard from many women who had never heard of IGT (Insufficient Glandular Tissue) until they read about it in an FFF Friday story, and realized that they had all the symptoms and markers for the condition. If they’d known about it, they may have been able to seek specialized lactation assistance that could have helped them at least partially breastfeed, if that’s what they wanted to do.

As for the pressure to succeed – this is what “I Support You” is trying to counteract. While some people work better under pressure, others are rendered impotent by it. If you know that those around you support you and have your back no matter what happens, you can go into birth and breastfeeding with a sense of confidence and flow.

Provide better educational materials and assistance for formula feeding parents.

Since formula is seen as a competitor to breastmilk, any mention of it is perceived as a threat to breastfeeding success. For those of us who are formula feeding, this means that every article we read about the basic how-to’s of formula begin with long caveats about the benefits of breastmilk, which can feel really punitive, especially to someone who feels crappy about using formula in the first place. We don’t have the formula equivalent of LLL, so there’s little peer support, and prenatal classes don’t typically discuss bottle feeding. The clearest, easiest-to-find information about formula comes from the formula companies – and when we’ve been taught not to trust them, this causes internal conflict and confusion.

I keep hearing stories from parents whose daycare providers are mixing or handling formula in very unsafe ways – and god only knows how they are handling pumped breastmilk. Until we all get a year’s paid maternity leave, the fact remains that a large portion of America’s kids are going to be in daycare. Improper formula handling can make babies extremely ill, so this is a matter of public health. While we are promoting breastfeeding, we can’t throw the baby out with the sterilized, pre-boiled formula water. If we stopped viewing this issue as breast vs bottle, perhaps we could ensure that bottle-feeding parents were given adequate education and information so that they too could feed babies in the healthiest way possible. We have a right to know that we can still do skin-to-skin, that we can “bottle-nurse”, and that we can practice paced feeding and treat mealtimes as bonding times, just like breastfeeding moms can. We have a right to know that there are differences between formulas, and to have more options (donor milk, new types of formula, organic and GMO-free varieties) available to us.

Focus on peer support and maternal mental health as well as breastfeeding support.

Breastfeeding has a learning curve, and it can be really difficult to get through the first few weeks. It’s essential that we have organizations like LLL and hospital-sponsored breastfeeding support groups. But there’s no reason we can’t promote social interaction and professional facilitation of peer support for ALL moms. Postpartum depression is a major problem in this country, and maternal mental health affects breastfeeding in a myriad of ways. Since the only care providers that typically encounter a mother between birth and the 6-week postpartum visit are the pediatrician and the lactation consultant, we need to make sure that these professionals are taught to pay as much attention to a mother’s eyes, behavior and words as the functionality of her breasts.

Don’t put yourself in an us vs. them mindset.

We all want to find our tribe, but try and remember that tribes are made up of individuals. Just because someone doesn’t parent exactly the way that you do does not mean they are judging your choices. The I Support You movement is a launching pad for us to start fresh – to teach the next generation of moms that to be a breastfeeding advocate does not necessarily mean you have to vilify formula; that there’s a way to be positive and empowering in your advocacy. And, for formula feeding moms, I Support You challenges us to stand up for breastfeeding rights; to understand that nurse-ins are not about formula hate, but rather a protest against misogyny and conflicting messages (“breastfeed or else, but not for too long or in front of me”… I mean seriously, what kind of bullshit is that?).

It may seem overly simplistic to think that we can hold up a bunch of signs, snap a few photos, and change the world. But this week, we’ve witnessed how many people are hurting, and how many people are in dire need of support. This doesn’t negate the need for breastfeeding advocacy; if anything, we need it more than ever. But we also need to find a way to reframe this ridiculous battle between breast and bottle. And that isn’t the responsibility of breastfeeding advocates; it’s the responsibility of the rest of us, the moms who have the power to reach out to another mom and let her know you’ve got her back. We can start in our own social circles, and create an atmosphere that counteracts whatever muddled messages society may throw at us. This is a way of saying yes to the positive actions breastfeeding advocates are taking to help mothers reach their breastfeeding goals. But let’s not forget the and.

So, yes. And… I support you.

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Interested in joining the “I Support You” movement? Here are more ways to get involved:

1) Check back later this week, when I’ll be posting a collection of the stories, messages and photos I’ve received from women all over the world, responding to the “I Support You” call for submissions.

2) “I Support You” is thrilled to be partnering with Huffington Post Parents to celebrate Breastfeeding Awareness Month.  Our friends at HuffPo believe that it’s time to celebrate ALL feeding choices, and they’ll be working with us throughout the month to share stories about what feeding with love really looks like.  Let’s make sure that they know how much we appreciate their message that we are all doing our best to feed in a way that works for our family, by joining the conversation here.

3) Join us on August 7th for a Twitter Party at 5 pm PST/8 pm EST.  We will be encouraging all of you to share your stories and connect with parents who are making similar choices.  We’d love to hear your suggestions about how I Support You can take shape in your community, so we hope you’ll join us by using the hashtag #ISupportYou

4)Link your blog up by clicking on the button below, and show us how you feed with love; share an interview with someone you did who has an entirely different feeding experience than you.  In the subject line, please state HOW you feed and WHERE you feed so that other parents can connect to someone who feeds the same way they do.  Or even better, they can learn from someone who feeds differently than they do. (Example: “1st Time Breastfeeder, CA” or “Formula, foster mom, TX” or “EP mom, NICU twins, MI”)

Announcing the “I Support You” Movement

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”.

Created by Cary Lynn Davis

Created by Cary Davis

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 formulafeeders@gmail.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 formulafeeders@gmail.com 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.

 

Check out Kim’s incredible, spine-tingling post on the “I Support You” movement, here.

 

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.

How the other half lives: Negative perceptions of formula feeding and breastfeeding, and why they both suck

Over on Twitter, I follow a woman who goes by “WolfMommy”. It’s an appropriate handle; she’s an incredible advocate for breastfeeding moms, a mother-wolf who hunts a nasty prey comprised of people making disparaging remarks about nursing in public, and confronts them. The stuff she unearths is simultaneously depressing and infuriating; people making comments like “This lady Just pulled her saggy ass Boob out & started Breast Feeding in. my face”  and “Come on lady breast feeding your baby in steak and shake that’s disgusting!!”   (To which WolfMommy aptly responded “Another women’s breasts are none of your business. And if she was feeding her baby ‘in your face’ you should step back”  and “A baby eating is not disgusting”, respectively. See? Told you she was awesome.)

I love following her for several reasons – first, she’s funny and brave, and a true champion for women’s rights. But I also like getting a feed of all the crap breastfeeding moms have to endure, because in my fight to end the stigma of formula feeding, I can’t let myself forget that breastfeeding women are being punished for feeding their babies, too. Here are some more comments that I’ve seen via WolfMommy’s rage-inducing Twitter feed:

LIVE PORN!!!!!!! RT @AyeImShanzii: This lady breast feeding the child in front of us :|

Just saw a Mexican lady breast feeding in the parking lot of work. Broad daylight. Happy Tuesday!

Queen Windjammer@Graceeellen

Some bitch is breast feeding in A&E. Bitch put your titties away.

 

Shall I go on? Or have you vomited at the ignorance and utter disgustingness of it already?

It’s a complicated issue for me to write about, this shaming of women for different feeding methods. My personal shit rises to the surface – I can’t help feel resentful that breastfeeding moms get New York Times articles and fundraising campaigns and nurse-ins to help them counteract the ignorance and cruelty, while formula feeding moms are told they are being defensive, whiny and overly-sensitive when we complain about the insults directed at us. It’s hard to be objective, because I’m human, and I spend hours every evening reading emails from women who’ve been intensely hurt by this vitriol. So I want to preface this post by admitting to a strong personal bias; I admit that I never had the opportunity to nurse in public (or anywhere other than my house, my hospital room, or my doctor’s office – all places that were unilaterally supportive of breastfeeding) and thus have no experience with that particular brand of shame. I am sure, knowing myself as well as I do, that if some asshat store manager had ever asked me to leave or cover up I’d have been livid, and I’d like to think I’d have turned into the kind of warrior that WolfMommy is (rather than the type of breastfeeding advocate who wastes her passion and anger trying to prove the inferiority of formula and formula feeding moms, as if we were the enemy, instead of the actual, ignorant asshats). But that’s not my story, and my role is to defend a group that (in my estimation) has been ignored, misunderstood, and dismissed, so that’s where I’m coming from.

In preparation for this post, I asked the FFF community to send me examples of negative comments about formula-feeders; things on par with calling a woman “gross” for breastfeeding, or inflicting a sexual overtone to her nurturing act. I wanted to compare the types of hate directed at breastfeeding moms to that directed at formula feeding moms, to try and help people understand where we are coming from.

No offense, but…

Interestingly, a lot of what people sent me were not direct insults towards formula feeders but rather negative comments about formula itself – that it was crap, poison, junk food, etc. I understand how that can be triggering; the implication being that anyone who knowingly fed her baby poison/junk food/crap must not care for her child’s welfare. But this does play into the stereotype that we are “overly sensitive”; some argue that it’s a “hate the sin, love the sinner” type of situation and that no one is blaming us for using a sub-par product since we obviously didn’t have the right education/support/personal drive to do the right thing. The problem is, we only have two choices in responding to such attitudes – we can either admit to not caring about what we feed our kids, or admit to being uneducated/unsupported/lazy victims. The only other option is to defend ourselves, and defend the product, which is often viewed as “defensive” or like we are comparing formula to breastmilk, thus belittling the efforts of those who are exclusively nursing:

“I must state that I regret ever using Enfamil or any other brand of baby formula due to the toxic ingredients that compose these products. The fact that they are developed and marketed to be used by infants that are still developing is just disgusting. I wish I had known what half the ingredients were & the potential side effects when I fed it to my boys, this applies not only to formula but all other forms of infant/toddler ‘food items’. I’m writing this as an now informed consumer not someone who is being paid by some other organization to post random things” (Source:  https://www.facebook.com/Enfamil?fref=ts)

 

“Sadly many mothers fall victim to Enfamil’s aggressive marketing. People need to wake up and understand that infant formula should only be used as a last resort. Babies don’t thrive on formula, they only survive.” (Source: https://www.facebook.com/Enfamil?fref=ts)

 

“breast is best…lord only knows the after affects of chemically made formula……..autism anyone?” (Source: http://news.yahoo.com/fatty-acids-formula-linked-quick-thinking-kids-195825033.html)

Are you mom enough?

These types of comments are particularly insidious, because of course moms have every right to feel proud if they’ve dedicated themselves to the goal of nursing and overcome hurdles. But this achievement is no more admirable than that of a mom who faced the same odds and had the strength to do what was best for her family. I also think there is a difference between tooting your own horn and smacking someone over the head with a tuba. For example, if I said, “I’m so proud that my 4-year-old has started to read! I read to him every night, and he finally started sounding out words by himself. So exciting!!”, it might make someone feel a bit defensive that their 6-year-old wasn’t reading, but it’s a lot different than saying “Wow, my 4-year-old is reading! I sacrificed my workout time every night to read to him for an hour, and all my hard work is really paying off. I wish every 4-year-old could have the gift of reading – if only their parents were willing to put their children’s education first rather than worrying about their muffin tops.”

“The past three months, I dealt with cracked bleeding nipples, trying to wean off a shield which now makes it hurt every time she latches still, double mastits, thrush, growth spurts where I thought my tits were going to fall off, not being able to take some time to myself because no one else can feed her, rude comments for feeding my child in public, plus many other obstacles. I could have chose to throw some powder and water into a bottle and have my husband feed her but I powered through and THAT is why I deserve an “award” and you don’t. Harsh? Yes. True? Yes.” (http://community.babycenter.com/post/a41326993/bronze_bottle_award)

 

“Sure some people formula feed but I EDUCATED MYSELF and LOVED MY BABY ENOUGH to breastfeed because it’s the right thing to do. Im not just going to opt for convenience at the risk of my baby’s health.” (source: unknown – sent in by reader from her friend’s Facebook feed.)

Liar, liar, pants on fire

Source: Twitter (unknown origin)

Source: Twitter (unknown origin)

These comments accuse women of lying or making excuses for formula feeding. Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more of this type of anti-formula feeder sentiment, perhaps due to the fact that we’ve found our voices – there’s a backlash happening, with women telling their stories in hopes of countering claims that nearly every woman can breastfeed. Again, there’s no real possibility of defending yourself against these comments; there is no way to prove you had a “legitimate medical reason” unless you are willing to post your official medical records; also, for those of us who believe it’s a woman’s right to choose whether to breastfeed, participating in this type of debate is a losing battle. It gives someone the power to qualify a woman’s pain – is emotional pain valid? How much physical pain is enough? – and no matter what, there’s always someone who will claim to have had the same problem and persevered. Or at least found some donor milk.

“I’ll be the bad guy and admit that I do look down on ff when it’s not for a legitimately medical reason. The times that are for real reasons (which doesn’t include not being able to tough it out past the wretched beginning) are not nearly as common as people claim. It bothers me that we have to go out of our way to make sure ff moms don’t get butt hurt but people are allowed to make comments to moms who nurse in public. I’m over it. Do babies survive on formula? Of course, but it’s there for when there are no other options because there it’s a reason breast is best. Go ahead and hate me!” ” (Source: http://community.babycenter.com/post/a41326993/bronze_bottle_award)

 

“I have no problem with women who chose not to breastfeed. My issues are with women who make every excuse in the book. Just be honest and say,’I didn’t want to BF!’ Quit saying you didn’t have enough milk or my baby was allergic, etc. It makes you look stupid to those of us who are actually educated about nursing!”

(Source: http://community.babycenter.com/post/a41326993/bronze_bottle_award)

“How can a baby ever be allergic to breast milk? I believe that is impossible, sound like your doctor works for Nestlé’s. It is the mother’s diet that has to change and that affects the baby. If I were you I’d start pumping my breasts to start nursing your baby again. Any LaLeche league leader has years of experience in this field. Any fake formula is harmful to your child.” (Source: https://www.facebook.com/askthechicks?hc_location=timeline)

Consider the source

It’s one thing to see a nasty comment from young non-parents, or teenage boys, or people who don’t have a great grasp on grammar or spelling. It’s a whole other sack of potatoes to be insulted and shamed by government officials, medical experts, and respected breastfeeding advocates. The following comments were in response to a lactivist blogger’s question about “defensive formula feeders”, i.e., people like Hannah Rosin, Joan Wolf, and presumably me, who attempt to approach breastfeeding science a bit more critically. But these experts manage to disparage any formula feeding parent who refuses to feel guilty for the way they feed their infants; this is less about a handful of specific social critics and more about the thousands of women who aren’t interested in self-flaggelating behavior:

“We’re talking exclusively gut-level stuff here. My feeling after hanging around the topic these past four decades is that based on the collective knowledge that is readily available to anyone with a keyboard and a broadband connection, if you don’t understand the facts today, you’re very unlikely to understand them tomorrow…

I suggest referring to this particularly virulent variety of obstinate critic as charter members of the Flat Earth Society. I’m not joking, at least not in terms of the implications of their brand of reality that is being bandied about. We are mammals; this is what we do, or at least what we should be doing. To suggest, imply or otherwise posit that, alone among the 5200 or so mammalian species that have been evolving for the past 200+ million years, we are able to willy-nilly forsake our mammalian imperative with impunity would be risible if it were not so serious in its individual and public health dimensions.” – James Akre (source: thealphaparent.com/2013/07/the-art-of-denouncing-breastfeeding.html)

 

 

“Of course, the reality is that for many children in the US, bottle-feeding doesn’t represent a ‘miniscule or poorly understood risk’ – it represents a well-established higher risk of many different diseases both in infancy and throughout life, as well as a risk of a lower cognitive functioning. And for some children, their mother’s choice to bottle-feed will result, directly or indirectly, in their death.” – Katherine Dettwyler (source: thealphaparent.com/2013/07/the-art-of-denouncing-breastfeeding.html)

Another brand of indirect vitriol comes from experts who irresponsibly perpetuate the idea that formula feeding parents are directly responsible for the ills of our society. One frequent offender is Darcia Navarez, who is a professor at Notre Dame and a blogger for Psychology Today, who floats the following out into the ether:

“When your fellow citizens are not breastfed, it costs you. If you were not breastfed, it is costing you. It is costly for all members of society, whether or not you are a parent or grandparent… People who are breastfed are less likely to be get a host of mental and physical diseases throughout life and are less likely to end up in prison.” (Source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201108/breastmilk-wipes-out-formula-responses-critical-comments)

And then, of course, there’s Dr. Jay Gordon, who either has a complete lack of understanding for the concept of correlation vs. causation, or just doesn’t give a crap:

NOT breastfeeding leads to 13 (!!) extra pounds by early teen years. Formula feeding creates increased obesity!

 

Now- none of this negates the fact that women’s rights are being infringed upon when they are being asked to leave Target for nursing their babies, or told that they have to cover up on an airplane. Those are issues of basic human rights; I wouldn’t even categorize them as “shaming” because they go so far beyond that. ALL women should be fighting against the misogyny and puritanism that contributes to this type of injustice – when a mom gets harassed for feeding her baby, that’s an insult to ALL moms. But it has to go both ways – we can’t fight for a woman’s right to breastfeed her baby based on feminist and human rights ideals, and then allow formula feeding parents to be disenfranchised instead. There must be a way to support breastfeeding without throwing formula feeding mothers under the bus. The simplistic, us-vs-them thinking that has created the Mommy Wars must end, because it serves no one, and wastes our valuable time with in-fighting. I don’t know about you, but as a working mom of young kids, I barely have time to go to the bathroom, let alone fight social inequities. It’s exhausting having to constantly defend ourselves; imagine what power we would have if we could stop blaming other mothers for our plight and instead, join together in raging against the paternalistic machine that has made infant feeding a pain in the ass for all of us, rather than the joyful experience it should be?

World Breastfeeding Week is coming up (August 1-7), with this year’s theme being “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers”, and I want to throw out a challenge: I want to hear from breastfeeding and formula feeding moms about how we can support BOTH groups better. I think it’s clear that both groups are being harassed, albeit in different ways, and I am hoping that by communicating honestly with each other, we can give adequate support to all parents. I believe that by supporting all moms, we will be able to support breastfeeding mothers better. But more on that later- for now,  I want answers to the following, depending on your perspective:

For formula feeding mothers:

How would the comments made about breastfeeding (above) make you feel? Can you understand why a mother might feel embarrassed, self-conscious and fed up when her method of feeding is constantly sexualized, made fun of, or stereotyped? Do you really think breastfeeding mothers are the enemy? If not, who is?

For breastfeeding mothers:

How would the comments made about formula feeding (above) make you feel if breastfeeding hadn’t worked out? Can you understand why a mother might feel hurt, defensive and angry when her method of feeding is constantly undermined and insulted? Do you really think formula feeding mothers are the enemy? If not, who is?

For combo-feeding mothers:

Considering you have the worst of both worlds when it comes to negative comments about infant feeding, what’s your take? Which make you feel worse- the comments about formula, or the comments about breastfeeding, and why?

I know it can be hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes- er, bra?- but I think if we can all accept that both types of feeding come with their own brand of bullshit, we might be able to let go of some of the anger, resentment and defensiveness that makes this particular mommy war so violent. There are people out there who genuinely believe that formula feeding is downright irresponsible and dangerous (see above comments by Dettwyler and Akre, for starters), and those folks probably have no reason to join this particular revolution. But they are the same people who want to make every woman birth the same, parent the same, and feel the same. I don’t think that the majority of mothers are so dogmatic- I think most of us are simply too caught up in our own personal plight to take a step back and be empathetic. And please notice I said empathetic, not sympathetic. There’s a difference between the two definitions, and in this case, that difference means everything.

World Breastfeeding Week post for my imaginary friends

Remember a few weeks ago, in the post I did for the Breastfeeding Carnival, I talked about my “dream world”? I was thinking about that world again today, as I contemplated my deepest/darkest thoughts about World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7, 2011).

Of course, one can’t discuss dream worlds without acknowledging the masters of this particular domain: young children. My son’s BFF, “J”, is so convinced by his own vivid imagination that he becomes possessive of imaginary objects. He’ll be playing “ice cream shop” and his dad will pretend to steal a cone, and J will fly into a rage…”Give me back my ice cream coooooone….!!”

I love this kid. Probably because I can relate to this pathological suspension of disbelief. Blame it on 25 years in the theater world, but I tend to get so caught up in the way I think things should be that I forget that they aren’t that way. Which is why I get excited for Breastfeeding Week every year, in the hopes that it will focus on the right sort of breastfeeding promotion, rather than being what is little more than a masturbatory exercise, patting the same folks on the back for pushing the same sort of primarily well-intentioned, but typically misguided form of lactivism.

This year, the Surgeon General kicked off WBW with a statement that made me think that my dreams might actually be coming to fruition:

World Breastfeeding Week provides an opportunity to highlight the benefits of breastfeeding and to encourage everyone to support mothers who want to breastfeed. One of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant and herself is to breastfeed. It protects babies from many infections and illnesses, such as diarrhea and pneumonia. Children who have been breastfed have lower rates of childhood obesity. Mothers who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

The decision to breastfeed is a personal one, and a mother should not be made to feel guilty if she cannot or chooses not to breastfeed. But given the importance of breastfeeding for the health and well-being of mothers and children, we need to do what we can to help mothers who want to breastfeed to do so successfully.

Earlier this year, I released the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding which outlines steps that can be taken to remove some of the obstacles faced by women who want to breastfeed their babies.
The Affordable Care Act has made significant progress to support breastfeeding,which include historic new insurance guidelines that will ensure millions of women receive preventive health services without a co-pay or deductible. These new guidelines, developed by the independent Institute of Medicine, require insurance companies to cover certain women’s preventive services, including breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling.

In addition, the ACA amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 by having employers provide reasonable break time and a place, other than a restroom, that is private and clean for a mother to express milk.

I hope World Breastfeeding Week will spark conversations and efforts that will support women who want to breastfeed.

Source: Statement from Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin on World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7. 2011.


Notice all the caveats? Women who want to breastfeed? Breastfeeding is a personal choice? This is good, FFFs. This is progress. I can’t help but feel that our voices are finally being heard.

Now, this doesn’t negate the fact that this Surgeon General has championed breastfeeding as a panacea, for the cure for whatever ails ya, and still neglected to address the multitude of underlying issues that make exclusive breastfeeding difficult. In this same statement, there are definitives where there should be “suggestives”. Rather than stating that “children who are breastfed have lower rates of obesity”, it would have been more honest to write that “in a few select studies, children who have been breastfed exclusively have lower rates of obesity at x year of age, although this may be more a case of correlation.” Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, though, does it?

In honor of my dream world version of World Breastfeeding Week, I submit to you what I would like to have seen the Surgeon General write in her statement. I know it’s irrelevant, and preaching to the choir, but my stats have been falling lately…I doubt many people are reading this blog anymore, so I might as well enjoy myself.

In that spirit, here is the FFF Amended Surgeon General Statement for World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, 2011.

World Breastfeeding Week provides an opportunity to highlight the advantages of breastfeeding and to encourage everyone to support mothers who want to breastfeed, as well as all mothers who are feeding their babies so that they grow and thrive. One of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant and herself is to feed her baby in a way that works for the entire family. Breastfeeding may have a slight protective effect over bottle-feeding against ear infections and gastrointestinal distress (although instructions on proper formula feeding could lessen these risks to a certain degree, as well). Studies have suggested that mothers who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers, although other studies have shown that waiting too long to have children, taking birth control pills, or taking drugs to dry up milk may also have beneficial or deleterious effects on these cancers as well.

Therefore, please realize that the decision to breastfeed is a personal one, and a mother should not be made to feel guilty if she cannot or chooses not to breastfeed, nor should she choose to breastfeed under a cloud of fear or misunderstood risk. But given the importance of breastfeeding for the empowerment of women – many women find breastfeeding to be the most rewarding thing they have ever done – we need to do what we can to help mothers who want to breastfeed to do so successfully.

Earlier this year, I released the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding which outlines steps that can be taken to remove some of the obstacles faced by women who want to breastfeed their babies. However, I want to be clear that this Call to Action misrepresented much of the breastfeeding-related science, and that it exacerbated an already grotesque misunderstanding of risk in our fear-driven culture; for this, I apologize. I do maintain that the obstacles to breastfeeding should be removed, though, because every woman should have the right to feed her baby from her own body; additionally, the same obstacles that prevent women from nursing their babies also prevent women from enjoying and caring for their babies, regardless of how they choose to feed them.

I realize that our society is driven by the almighty dollar, and we have had to present breastfeeding as a means to save us money in healthcare costs, otherwise no one would give it the time of day. But I admit this is a risky way to go, considering mothers may now be blamed for the decline of our nation’s health and well-being, when the real culprits are more likely a toxic environment, nasty food (including horrific school lunches), a public education system that’s in shambles, a lack of exercise and fresh air, and parents so strapped for time and money that they need to rely on sub-par childcare or fast food or the tv/video games as a babysitter.

The Affordable Care Act has made significant progress to support breastfeeding,which include historic new insurance guidelines that will ensure millions of women receive preventive health services without a co-pay or deductible. These new guidelines, developed by the independent Institute of Medicine, require insurance companies to cover certain women’s preventive services, including breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling. I am also allocating funds to conduct research into common breastfeeding problems, since I believe women when they tell me that they did have proper support and still suffered insufficient milk, children with extreme allergies despite stringent elimination diets, and babies who could not latch.

In addition, the ACA amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 by having employers provide reasonable break time and a place, other than a restroom, that is private and clean for a mother to express milk. I think this will help, but I am also pushing for paid maternity and paternity leave, because a woman having breastfeeding problems should not be left alone with an infant; many of us do not have family or friends who can help out for the first 4-6 weeks which lactation experts claim is the typical “hump” the breastfeeding dyad must survive in order to enjoy a successful breastfeeding relationship.

I hope World Breastfeeding Week will spark conversations and efforts that will support women who want to breastfeed, in REAL ways that address real women. I hope that it will allow for women who have tried and “failed” to openly express their concerns and offer suggestions for ways we can improve breastfeeding support. I also hope that someday we can rename this “World Feeding Your Baby Safely and Happily Week”, so that all women will be afforded proper support, guidance and encouragement to find a manner of feeding that is correct and appropriate for their individual situations and needs; that we can support mothers for the sole purpose of supporting motherhood and all its challenges, rather than focusing so much on what those mothers are doing with their nipples.

Yeah, I know. It’s a dream world, okay? Don’t make me face reality just yet. As my little buddy J would say, give me back my ice cream cone. I want to enjoy a few more imaginary licks before it’s taken away.

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