FFF Friday: “If I was anymore committed, I wouldn’t be here anymore.”

Today, I read through a Facebook debate about whether the pressure to breastfeed is negatively affecting the mental health of new moms, and then stumbled across a great post on the same topic. Kara’s story, below, pretty much sums up my own argument. As someone who has the honor of being “keeper” of these stories of yours – all of your heartbreaks and frustrations and disappointments – I can’t believe the connection between depression/anxiety and breastfeeding pressure isn’t obvious to everyone. But sadly, it’s not. And until our society starts taking responsibility and changes the way it treats new mothers, this is going to keep happening. This isn’t our faults, as moms, for being too sensitive. It isn’t a matter of not getting enough practical support for breastfeeding. The fault lies in how we are overloaded with overly-dramatic information, taught about ideals, and then thrust into a reality that ignores us, berates us, and belittles us. 

No woman should be feeling worthless or suicidal because of her breasts. For any reason. End of story.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Kara’s Story

 

It’s hard for me to share my story, but I have been following this blog for a couple of months now, and I feel like there might be some healing that comes with getting it out, so here it goes.

I became pregnant with my son baby N at 30 years old, after almost 2 years of my husband and I trying to get pregnant.  Just three months before we found out we were pregnant, I lost my dad to a long battle with cancer, and so my joy of finally becoming pregnant, had a shadow of grief tinged in there at the knowledge that my son would never know his grandpa who would have just loved him to pieces!

My pregnancy was pretty normal for the most part in the beginning.  About half way through it I started spilling sugar in my urine tests so I spent the rest of my pregnancy stressed about Gestational Diabetes (not something I was ever actually diagnosed with, but constantly lectured about at every OB appointment from there on in).  During the first part of my third trimester I also started experiencing constant pain in my upper abdomen that increased and lasted throughout the rest of my pregnancy (thought to be caused from a previous abdominal surgery I had).  This pain was so terrible, that I had to be pulled from work 8 weeks early, which caused a lot of guilt on my part.

My due date came and went, and then another week came and went, and finally we were induced 11 days after my due date.  My son was born on day 12 (he must have been very cozy;).  He was a large baby 9lbs. 4 oz, and perfectly beautiful, healthy and just downright perfect!  Finally all of that pain, and the depression I was feeling throughout my pregnancy (which I’ve battled for years), and all the anxieties would fall away now that I had my perfect little man in my arms.  My husband and I felt like our life was complete.

Throughout my pregnancy I was convinced that I was going to breastfeed.  While I was never anti-formula (in fact I and all my siblings were formula fed, as well as my husband and his brother), I just felt that breast feeding was something I wanted to try.  The fact is I never thought it an option not to try really because it’s the “thing to do.”  I could only think of one friend I had who had chosen not to BF from the start, but every other mom I was surrounded by in my immediate life BF, so I guess it must be best, right?!

Once baby N was finally born, and we attempted out first latch, it was noticed immediately that he was not properly latching.  After about 5 minutes of trying, the lactation consultant told me that I had “flat nipples” and immediately handed me a nipple shield.  There was no further talk about how to eventually wean off the shield, or if I was to use it permanently, just “here you go.”  We saw 3 different lactation consultants in the hospital some were more helpful than others.  One (who was the most helpful in the amount of time she actually spent with us), put us on a schedule of breastfeeding every two hours (at least 15 minutes on each side), then pumping for 10 minutes on each side, then hand expressing as much as would come out.  Needless to say after this routine was completed I got about 10-15 minutes of sleep before I had to start all over again.  To say I was exhausted was an understatement.  On top of that I was in a great deal of pain from actually giving birth to my 9lb, 4oz baby (no c-section), which resulted in a 3rd degree tear and still needing an episiotomy.  Not to mention that pushing for two solid hours left me with hemhorroids the size of baseballs, and so the physical act of even sitting to nurse was extremely painful (all I was ever offered was ibuprofen and some useless numbing spray, b/c hey, I was nursing).

We finally left the hospital and went home.  The first couple of times I nursed baby N at home, it actually seemed to be successful.  He would latch on (with the nipple shield of course) and go to town, and he appeared to be satisfied when he was over (at least I thought so, as he would pass out hard afterwards).  Then around 6 pm the night we came home, he started to refuse to nurse at all.  There was nothing we could do to keep him awake long enough to eat, or get him to latch when he was awake.  By the time we had our pediatrician appointment the next day at 10 am, he had gone 16 hours without eating anything.  Needless to say he was lethargic and we were extremely concerned.

At the doctor’s we were told that baby N had lost 12% of his birth weight.  While he was a big baby, we and the doctor were all very concerned.  In that moment in the pediatrician’s office, I broke down and cried tears of shame and guilt for the fact that my son wasn’t getting what he needed, and of course it was all my fault! Our pediatrician was amazing and quickly said that he wanted us to supplement with formula and reiterated to us that I am not a bad mom and that we would get this worked out.  I want to note that our baby N’s doctor is a big breast feeding proponent, since I keep hearing women saying that we should just ignore the doctor when they suggest supplementing with formula b/c that will be the end of breast feeding.  Now I can say “sorry sister, but starving my kid is not an option, and the doctor has our child’s best interest at heart!”

Fast forward, or this will be your longest post in history!  So for the next couple of weeks we tried breast feeding and supplementing with formula.  This took a few different shapes, sometimes it was nursing with the evil nipple shield, and sometimes it was pumping a bottle and doing it that way.  Eventually we did seek the consult of a lactation specialist who came to our house.  She was extremely nice, non-judmental and gave us some helpful hints and advice.  As a result I continued to try to nurse baby N for another week or so using the nipple shield.

As time went on, each nursing session would get increasingly frustrating for both baby N and I.  As a big baby, and impatient feeder, baby N was not getting milk quick enough once we started nursing (not due to let down, mine was pretty good actually, but due to having to use the shield).  So for almost every nursing session we spent at least the first 5-10 minutes (on each side) with him screaming, kicking, and clawing at my breast.  I was extremely sleep deprived, depressed, and frustrated, and a week later I finally said enough is enough, no more nursing. I had tried to reach out to the lactation consultant we met with to discuss getting my son off the shield, but she insisted my son was tongue-tied, to which his pediatrician examined him and said no he was not.  When I further discussed this with her, the only advice she could give was to go have his tongue clipped, which my husband and I were not feeling comfortable with, especially b/c I knew that if we went down that route, then I could never give up on nursing if it wasn’t working b/c I would feel I had to commit after cutting my sons tongue! I decided that I was going to exclusively pump breast milk and just supplement with formula when I needed to.

Well for anyone who has tried exclusive pumping, you know it is not an easy thing to do.  I would pretty much pump for 20 minutes, feed my son what I pumped, supplement another bottle with formula, then desperately get him to try to fall asleep so that I could start pumping again for his next feeding.  Let’s just say mommy and baby bonding was starting to become non-existent and I was becoming a slave to this machine (which felt like some degrading torture device to me, and has anyone else heard their pump talk to them?  Mine definitely did!).

I knew that I had to return to work after 6 weeks b/c I was pulled so early, a longer maternity leave was not an option for us.  I quickly became despaired as to how I was going to continue this crazy pumping schedule, and work full-time, and actually get to spend any quality time with my son, who was spending a lot more time awake as he got older and really wanted my attention (and I desperately wanted to give it).  I knew at this point that I had started to slip down the path of post-partum depression.  I was not surprised as depression and anxiety are something I’ve struggled with since I was a teenager.

At about week 4 of my sons life, I was walking down the basement stairs with a load of laundry in my hands.  Our stairs are kind of steep and narrow, and I lost my footing briefly and almost tumbled down.  I was able to quickly catch myself on the railing, but the very first thought that popped into my head was “stupid, you should have just let yourself fall.”  That moment was a very big wake up call to me in how bad my depression was getting.  Now don’t get me wrong, I have a great life, a wonderful husband, and I am head over heals in love with my son.  I don’t relish the idea of leaving them, however I was at a point where I personally felt like such a failure as a mom (all because I couldn’t make nursing work or give him only breast milk), that I was starting to convince myself that they would both be much better without me.

It was a terrible time, and I knew that something needed to change or the question wouldn’t any longer be how my son was fed, but who was going to be around to feed him.  I started to realize that my “commitment/dedication” to giving him breast milk had become such an obsession and idol in my life, that I was allowing it to not only defeat me, but cause me to doubt whether or not I was the best mother for my son.  I can say now, when people question my “commitment” to breast feeding, that if I was anymore committed, I wouldn’t be here anymore.  I really connected with the post you shared on here, it was a letter from a husband whose wife had committed suicide due to post-partum depression, and she has also had significant struggles with breastfeeding.  She ultimately laid down on the train tracks and took her own life.  My heart broke reading that story, and yet I could completely understand those feelings.

A week before I returned to work, I wrote my husband a letter pleading with him to allow me to stop breast feeding.  Please don’t get the wrong impression, he was not in any way shaming, forcing, or guilting me into doing it.  Any encouragement he ever gave was because he truly wanted to be supportive of me being successful, and shared that common “breast is best” feeling that I had had as well.  He really is amazing and only wants the best for our family.  Once I shared what I was feeling with him, he immediately told me to stop, and that I was a good mother and we did not need to keep trying to provide breast milk to baby N.  At this point, his formula to breast milk ratio was tipping higher on the formula side anyways, so really it started to feel like a lost cause.

Since the day I decided to stop pumping and just switched baby N to exclusive formula, there has been a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders.  I will not say that I haven’t struggled with the decision.  Like a lot of other women on here, I have gone, and sometimes continue to go through, feelings of shame when I pull out that bottle of formula in front of other people, especially my breast feeding friends (who have all really been nothing but supportive of me).  I hope to eventually get to a place where I truly feel no regrets, shame or guilt over making the best decision I could have for my son (and I truly did do what was best for him, I decided to give him a mom who will hopefully be around long enough to see him grow up and nurture him in ALL of the ways required by a parent, not just what I feed him).

People have asked me if I am going to try to breast feed with my second child (if we are blessed with one), and right now I really don’t know the answer to that.  I’m still too close to the situation (my son is only 13 weeks), to be able to feel positive about trying again.  But I didn’t smash my pump in the yard with a hammer, or throw it in the creek behind our house like I wanted to so many times, just in case I do want to try again.  I do know, that if I decide not to try it, or even if I do, I will be much more confident in my decisions and know that whatever happens I really do truly have my child’s best interests at heart, and no other person on the planet is qualified to tell me what that is!

My true desire is that someday no woman will have to feel so lost and desperate over what she chooses to feed her child.  There are so many aspects to being a parent, and what you feed you kid is such a small one in the grand scheme of things.  At the end of every visit to the pediatrician, baby N’s doctor always says “love him, grow him, keep him safe.”  What words of wisdom!

 

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

Common Bonds: The challenge of nurturing friendships in the early days of motherhood

When I was first trying to get pregnant, I suffered a few early miscarriages. Going through that particular kind of hell actually had a silver lining: it led me to join an online “support” message board on a popular baby site, something I probably never would’ve done otherwise. But I didn’t have any close friends who’d gone through pregnancy loss, and there was something intensely comforting about turning on the computer at any time of day and finding at least one virtual “friend” at the ready, available to commiserate and connect.

This group of ours became inseparable, and over the course of a year, we bonded through fertility treatments, pregnancy scares, and subsequent, unfair, heartbreaking multiple losses.

And then, we started having babies.

And this group, which had been so strong despite our geographical, religious, political, ethnic and socioeconomic differences, did begin to splinter, but just a tiny bit. Comments tinged in tentative judgment about birthing choices, small digs about things someone would “never” do or questions met with not-so-hidden sanctimony. Things were changing, and it was hard to watch, but  overall, we were still miles above the typical mommy-chatroom behavior norm.

When I started having trouble breastfeeding, I immediately turned to this crew for help. I expected some judgment, especially as I’d started seeing so much friction in the group. But oddly, magically, there was NONE. There was only support. These friends of mine – women whose voices I’d never even heard, or whose eyes I’d only seen in photographs – reassured me, counseled me, implored me to do what was best not only for my child, but also for myself.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t find the same degree of support in real life. Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Wasn’t the World Wild Web supposed to be the cesspool, teeming with anonymous, heartless trolls, whereas the “IRL” people were grounded in the humanity forced on us by feeling someone’s breath on our skin, having their eyes meet ours?

I’ve thought a lot about this over the years… why our group was immune to the usual mommy war bullshit. I don’t think it was because we were better or kinder or more highly evolved – I’ve seen the same group disintegrate over political arguments and anti-vaccination threads on Facebook, 6 years after our merry band of miscarrying misfits had formed. No, I think our immunity had more to do with us starting out so different from one another. Unlike most friendships, we didn’t have a lot of common ground. For the most part, we only had one thing in common: grief. The rest of it never mattered. We had perspective.

Perspective, in my opinion, is what destroys friendships. Or rather, the lack of perspective is what destroys friendships. Especially when your friendship faces the hurdle of parenthood. As new mothers, we are all floundering, trying to find our way through thickets of thorny branches. Go to far to the right, you get pricked. Lean too far to the left, you get pricked. Either way, you’re going to bleed. Our friends should be there, but often they aren’t in the woods with us at all, and from their vantage point, the forest looks picturesque and cheery. If there’s someone by your side, swaying in the same direction into the same thorns, you can hold each other steady. But someone who leans in a different direction might pull you too far, topple you over. It’s easier to let go of her hand and find your way through the woods alone.

When I was struggling with breastfeeding, my friends who didn’t have kids yet couldn’t understand why I was so obsessed with what did (or didn’t) go into my baby’s mouth. Others, child-free friends who thought they “knew” how important breastfeeding was, understood why I was thinking about these things, but acted confused when I grew sensitive at their intellectual discussions about human milk. (For them, it wasn’t visceral, it wasn’t personal, it was just what they’d read in Time magazine. For me, it was my nipples, my body, my baby.) My breastfeeding friends couldn’t understand what I was going through, assuming my struggles paralleled theirs, and if they could push through, why couldn’t I?

They couldn’t understand.

But here’s the secret: they didn’t have to.

Friendship isn’t about commiseration. It’s about empathy. You don’t have to have walked through the same thorny thicket, you just have to show up with band-aids and beer.

There are many friendship theories about how like-attracts-like, and I worry that this is never more true than during the mothering period of a woman’s life. Not only do we find it hard to connect with friends who don’t have kids, but we find it hard to connect with women who have kids but parent them differently. That’s normal, I suppose; there’s a human tendency to want to validate ourselves through other people’s choices, and an innate desire to see ourselves reflected in our friends’ eyes. When we seek out new mom-friends, of course we will gravitate towards women who can relate to our everyday experience, and whose discipline, feeding, and parenting styles are close to our own.

It’s so easy to forget, in those poop-stained, exhausting, dizzy days of baby and toddlerhood, that we are more than mothers. We are sisters, aunts, daughters, employees, poets, musicians, writers, readers, dancers, athletes. We are multifaceted. Yet the part of ourselves that takes utmost priority when it comes to nurturing and developing friendships is the part that gave birth. Why can’t we connect with a woman who feeds and diapers her child differently, when three years ago we would’ve bonded quickly and powerfully over a mutual love of Ani DiFranco? Maybe it’s hard to feel close with a former friend who is formula feeding, when you’re struggling so hard to breastfeed because you feel it’s the most important thing you can do for your child – but why can’t you step back and celebrate what you do have in common?

This potent mix of hormones, hopes, fear and ambivalence – this thing we call motherhood – can create amazing friendships. It can also destroy amazing friendships.

I’m pondering all of this, because I am honored to have an essay in a new collection of stories about female friendships, which is available for purchase now. It’s called “My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Loving and Losing Friends”, and it’s part of the phenomenal HerStories Project, spearheaded by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger. Not all the stories in it are about motherhood, but many are, and nearly all focus on times of transition. Each and every story is heartbreaking in its own way, but for me, the ones about motherhood provoked a powerful sense of frustration and sadness. Because it doesn’t have to be this way. These things that divide us don’t need to do so, but they do. They almost always do. Fear, judgment, resentment, pain – emotions that should be mitigated by friendship, but are instead exacerbated by it.

 

My-Other-Ex-final-3-266x400

So tell me, FFFs – did you lose friends during your transition to motherhood? Did you patch them up later? Do you have “another ex”?

 

Two sides to every story – except when you’re talking about breastfeeding

I’m starting to wonder if the health journalism community needs some lessons in scientific reading comprehension, or if we’re all just so convinced of the benefits of breastfeeding that we read every study with rose colored glasses. Either way, the discrepancies in the reporting of a group of new infant feeding studies are so alarming that I don’t even know where to start.

You know what? I do know where to start. How about the studies themselves.

Source: www.encognitive.com

Source: www.encognitive.com

All come from a special supplement published in the journal Pediatrics, using evidence from the 2005–2007 IFPS II (Infant Feeding Practices Study II) and follow-up data collected when the children were 6 years old.

A couple articles from this publication are specifically making headlines, the first being Breastfeeding and the Risk of Infection at 6 Years. The results:

The most common past-year infections were colds/upper respiratory tract (66%), ear (25%), and throat (24%) infections. No associations were found between breastfeeding and colds/upper respiratory tract, lung, or urinary tract infections. Prevalence of ear, throat, and sinus infections and number of sick visits differed according to breastfeeding duration, exclusivity, and timing of supplementing breastfeeding with formula (P < .05). Among children ever breastfed, children breastfed for ≥9 months had lower odds of past-year ear (adjusted odds ratio [aOR]: 0.69 [95% confidence interval (95% CI): 0.48–0.98]), throat (aOR: 0.68 [95% CI: 0.47–0.98]), and sinus (aOR: 0.47 [95% CI: 0.30–0.72]) infections compared with those breastfed >0 to <3 months. High breast milk intensity (>66.6%) during the first 6 months was associated with lower odds of sinus infection compared with low breast milk intensity (<33.3%) (aOR: 0.53 [95% CI: 0.35–0.79]).

Translation: No link between breastfeeding for any duration and the risk of colds/upper respiratory infections, lung infections, or UTIs. Babies breastfed for any amount of time had lower risk of ear, throat and sinus infections, and babies primarily breastfed for the first 6 months had lower odds of sinus infections.

The second one to cause a stir is Infant Feeding Practices and Reported Food Allergies at 6 Years. The researchers found:

In this cohort of 6-year-old US children, socioeconomic (higher maternal education and income) and atopic (family history of food allergy and infant eczema) factors were significant predictors of pFA (probable food allergy). Our analysis did not find a significant association between pFA and feeding practices at established dietary milestones in infancy. However, among children who did not have pFA by age 1 year, exclusive breastfeeding of ≥4 months was marginally associated with lower odds of developing pFA at age 6 years. This potential benefit was not observed among the high-risk atopic children, which suggests the need to separate children according to atopic risk when studying preventive benefits of exclusive breastfeeding on food allergy.

Translation: Kids in higher socioeconomic demographics, kids with higher-educated moms, and those with family history of food allergies were at higher risk for food allergies by the age of 6 than their peers. The only time breastfeeding or not seemed to make a difference was in kids with none of the risk factors I just mentioned, who had been breastfed at least 4 months.

A slew of other studies were also included in this supplement, and were summarized by a team of AAP researchers:

The first set of articles examines child health outcomes at 6 years of age. The study by Li and colleagues demonstrates that longer breastfeeding and later introduction of foods or beverages other than breast milk are associated with lower rates of ear, throat, and sinus infections in the year preceding the survey. However, they find no associations with upper or lower respiratory or urinary tract infections. Luccioli and co-workers find no significant associations between exclusive breastfeeding duration or timing of complementary food introduction and overall food allergy at 6 years old. Pan and colleagues examine childhood obesity at 6 years of age and show that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by infants doubles the odds of later obesity. Lind et al describe how breastfeeding is associated with various aspects of psychosocial development. They show a protective relationship between duration of breastfeeding and emotional, conduct, and total psychosocial difficulties, but these relationships become statistically nonsignificant after other confounding factors are controlled for. Though certainly not conclusive, these studies demonstrate that infant feeding is predictive of some later health outcomes (eg, some infectious diseases and childhood obesity) but not others (eg, food allergy and psychosocial development).

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported these findings, publishing an entry on its website called “How infant feeding practices affect children at age 6: A follow up.” Great, neutral, accurate title. Here is what they report:

The longer a mother breastfeeds and waits to introduce foods and drinks other than breastmilk, the lower the odds her child will have ear, throat, and sinus infections at 6 years of age.
Children who breastfeed longer consume water, fruit, and vegetables more often at 6 years of age and consume fruit juice and sugar-sweetened beverages less often.
When children drink sugar-sweetened beverages during the first year of life, this doubles the odds that they will drink sugar-sweetened beverages at 6 years of age.
When children eat fruit and vegetables infrequently during the first year of life, this increases the odds that they will continue to eat fruit and vegetables infrequently at 6 years of age.
Study authors conclude the data emphasize the need to establish healthy eating behaviors early in life, as this could predict healthy eating behaviors later in life. For more information about the IFPS-II and the IFPS-II follow-up study, visit www.cdc.gov/ifps.

Pretty clear, right? 

Apparently not.

From ABC News: Breastfeeding May Influence Kids’ Eating Habits at Age 6

“Childhood nutrition experts not involved with the study said the findings provide additional weight to the importance of shaping a child’s diet early. Dr. David Katz, editor-in-chief of the journal Childhood Obesity and director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, said the findings serve to underscore the long-established relationship between breastfeeding and health in mothers and children.

 

“The question we need to be asking is not ‘Why should mothers breastfeed?’ but, ‘Why shouldn’t they?’” Katz said. “For all mammals, our first food is breast milk.”

For the love of god. At least now we know about the publication bias of Childhood Obesity. 

No mention of the fact that the researchers themselves stressed that breastfeeding was only protective in certain ways, and not others, and that aside from consuming more veggies/fruits/water, there were no other nutritional advantages associated with breastfeeding in this study. No mention that they found no positive association between breastfeeding and food allergies in the highest-risk populations.Just a skewed interpretation that makes it sound like breastfeeding is the MOST important part of your child’s future health and nutrition, instead of ONE important part.

Strange framing also comes from Today.com:

Breast-feeding in infancy also increased the likelihood that children would be consuming a healthy diet later on. At age 6, children who were breast-fed drank sugary beverages less often and consumed water, fruits and vegetables more often than those who were bottle-fed, CDC researchers found.

 

That all makes sense, Scanlon said. “We know from other studies that children’s eating behaviors and preferences develop very early and are influenced by a variety of factors,” she explained. “They seem to have an innate preference for sweet and salty foods and dislike bitter flavors, which are found in vegetables.”

 

That can be changed when children are exposed to in utero and through breast milk to the flavors found in vegetables, Scanlon said. “Breast-fed infants are more open to different flavors,” she added.

Sure, that makes sense. But considering the same study found that breastfed infants were just as likely to eat junky savory/salty snacks, I am not sure that one could say breastfeeding = “healthy diet”. What the study did find was that they drank a statistically significant less juice, and ate more fruits and veggies at age 6. My daughter can’t stand juice and eats her weight in brussel sprouts, broccoli, and blueberries. But she also pours sugar on oatmeal and sneaks chocolate chips from my fridge and basically lives on soy yogurt. I wouldn’t call that a “healthy diet”.

WebMD’s title suggests a much different story than the one we can glean from the studies – “Breast-Feeding Lowers Kids’ Allergy, Infection Risk” – and frames the findings in a way that is…. well, see for yourself:

They found that children who had been exclusively breast-fed for four months or more had about half the odds of developing a food allergy compared to children who had been breast-fed for a lesser amount of time.

 

As Wu noted, the finding did have one limitation, however. “While breast-feeding did not decrease food allergies in high-risk populations, such as families who already have a history of food allergy, there was a decrease in low-risk populations,” she said.

“One limitation, however”? Um, considering the highest rates of allergy were found in the “high risk populations”, and this particular finding was somewhat brushed aside by the researchers themselves, it’s puzzling that WebMD latched on (sorry) to it.

And then -

Another expert said the studies provide valuable information.

 

Nina Eng, chief clinical dietitian at Plainview Hospital in Plainview, N.Y., said the findings “point out two of the many important benefits of breast-feeding.”

 

“These articles provide evidence that should inspire new moms to breast-feed their children,” she said.

 

Does it? Will it? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think any of these findings are so convincing that they might “inspire” a mom to breastfeed if she’s already decided not to. For those who have chosen to breastfeed, sure, maybe they will be somewhat heartening…. but I find it seriously odd that the media is spinning these studies as evidence of a “breastfeeding boost” (thank you, Today.com) instead of the more realistic framing: we now have a body of evidence that shows that choosing better foods at weaning and being responsive to feeding cues may have lasting effects.

In other words, give your kids produce and don’t force feed them. But that’s not as sexy as talking about breastfeeding, so…. BOOBS. There you go. Problem solved.

 

FFF Friday: “I clearly remember feeling ashamed, and afraid…of being reprimanded…”

It’s been a long time since I felt hopeful about the state of breastfeeding promotion, but tonight, I do. That’s because for once, women spoke up and were actually heard. We had the strength to say, enough. And I hope – oh god, do I hope – that this is the beginning of the end. The end of inexcusable abuse in the name of public health, the end of ignoring the lived realities of women, the end of treating formula feeding parents as second-rate, the end of misleading rhetoric and misrepresented research. The end of sitting back and letting women go through what Lo went through. This is not okay. 

Say it with me: THIS IS NOT OKAY. Say it in the pediatrician’s office, the OB’s office, the WIC office, the maternity ward. Say it online, and to the media, and to your local mother’s group.

Say it louder. Keep saying it. Because people are starting to listen.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Lo’s Story 

 

I gave birth to my first child on December 1, 2013. He was born via c-section at 41 weeks after a failed NST, subsequent induction, and 24 hours of grueling labor. The labor took everything out of me physically and emotionally. I was a mess, experiencing terrible side effects from the epidural, delirious, thirsty, swollen with fluids from the IV, flushed, my cervix was swelling and my blood pressure was rising. I have a complex anxiety disorder and suffer from panic attacks and medical environments are a major trigger for me, so on top of all of this I was basically shaking and petrified for the duration of the experience. It was pretty much the opposite of the kind of birth I’d hoped for. Thanks to my exhaustion, the side effects from all the drugs, and my own anxiety, I was totally out of it when Arthur was born, weighing in at 9lbs and 13oz (no wonder he wouldn’t come out!). I was able to look at him, to touch his cheek briefly as I lay flat on my back in the OR, but mostly I was drifting in and out of consciousness in a morphine and fentanyl-induced haze.

 

After we were transferred to the postpartum unit and set up in our recovery room, the pressure to breastfeed was on. I had not even fully regained consciousness when the nurses descended upon me, roughly pinching and squeezing my breasts, forcing colostrum out my nipple as I slumped over repeatedly, unable to keep my head up or my eyes open. They told me it was the hormones, the oxytocin from expressing the milk making me sleepy. It wasn’t — it was the morphine and the extreme physical exhaustion.  I remember that it hurt tremendously, and I remember that I just wished someone would give him a bottle of formula so that I could know that he was full and comfortable, and so that I could rest. I clearly remember feeling ashamed that I felt this way, and afraid to express it for fear of being reprimanded.

 

After learning that Arthur was jaundiced and that his blood sugar was a little low, we did decide to offer a bottle which the nurses reluctantly provided. Despite the fact that my baby was comfortable and eating well, and despite my own exhaustion and an extreme amount of pain thanks to the surgery, the staff continued to “encourage” me to breastfeed, bursting into the room and shoving him onto my breast every 1-2 hours, allowing me no sleep.

 

By the following morning I was truly at my wit’s end. My emotional and physical reserves were completely obliterated — I cannot overstate the extent of my exhaustion and pain. My sweet husband was finally passed out in a deep sleep on the small sofa beside my bed, and Arthur was sleeping in the bassinet when the Lactation Consultant arrived. As soon as she entered the room, I told her that all three of us were trying to get some much needed sleep and that it wasn’t a good time. Instead of leaving, she came around to the bed and sat down. Noticing the half empty bottles of Similac scattered around the room, she began preaching to me about the importance of breastfeeding and the inferiority of formula. I was too tired and too vulnerable to fend her off. Her ranting woke the baby, who began to cry. She continued to talk over his screams as I sat helpless in the bed, sick and swollen and unable to get up to tend to him without assistance. My exhausted husband, bless his heart, remained asleep through all of this, so I was on my own. Finally as I began to attempt to scoot myself over to the edge of the bed to try to get to my screaming child and/or my sleeping husband, feeling as if I were being stabbed repeatedly in the gut, she looked at me and snidely remarked, “You know, giving him a bottle won’t make him stop crying.” This was honestly the lowest point in my entire postpartum experience. I don’t even remember what I said to her, but I do know that she left the room and that I broke down sobbing and hobbled over to my husband — the most excruciatingly painful three steps I’ve ever taken. I was crying hysterically and I had to shake him repeatedly to wake him from his deep sleep so that he could tend to Arthur. I have rarely felt so helpless or so belittled as I did in those moments when this stranger invaded my space and began criticizing the choices I was making as a new mother, when I was literally the most physically and emotionally vulnerable I’ve ever been in my entire life. Her comment to me implied the assumption that I was only interested in shutting my baby up so I wouldn’t have to deal with him. Judgmental and rude at best.

 

It is astounding to me that these “professionals” do not realize that a woman who has just given birth — especially in the case of a traumatic birth or unplanned c-section — absolutely NEEDS just as much compassion and gentle care as her new child does. I felt like I was an afterthought — my wellbeing was an afterthought. The message I received was that the only thing that mattered was that breastfeeding was established. Nothing about making sure mom gets some sleep. Nothing about making sure baby isn’t hungry. Nothing about making sure mom is okay emotionally after her ordeal. Only the colostrum, the all-important colostrum. Nothing about whether mom is comfortable having strangers hovering over her, breathing into her face, leaning on her as they squeeze her breasts and squash her nipples despite her cringing and timidly expressing that yes, it hurts (right at that moment, everything hurt).

 

Fast forward two months. Arthur is a giant, gorgeous, happy, formula-fed baby. We did combo feed for the first eight weeks, and it was really nice and went relatively smoothly. But I’m ready to do formula full-time now. With my history of anxiety, I need to take care of my mental and emotional health, and for me that means being able to get back on various herbs and supplements and regaining my physical autonomy, especially after the difficult recovery from the surgery. When I give my baby a bottle I hold him close to my body and he looks into my eyes and often smiles. He makes the same sweet, contented noises and pushes his little feet against me the same way he did when he was at the breast — exactly the same way. I’m recovering well and love being a parent. My anxiety is well under control. My husband enjoys participating in the act of feeding our beautiful son. We are a happy, loving family and we have chosen formula because it works for us.

Why The World is So Screwed Up About Breastfeeding Research, In Several Paragraphs & A Few Headlines

The headlines:

“Study: Breastfeeding can ward off postpartum depression” (Press TV)

“Breastfeeding mothers less likely to get postnatal depression” (The Independent)

“Breastfeeding ‘helps prevent postnatal depression’” (ITV)

“Breastfeeding could help prevent postnatal depression, says Cambridge researchers” (Cambridge News

“Breastfeeding ‘cuts depression risk’, according to study” (BBC

“Failing to breastfeed may double risk of depression in mothers: study” (Telegraph)

“Mothers who breastfeed are 50% less likely to suffer postnatal depression” (The Independent)

“Mothers who choose not to breastfeed are ‘twice as likely to get postnatal depression because they miss out on mood-boosting hormones released by the process’” (Daily Mail, UK)

“Breastfeeding Keep Mothers Happy and Reduces Postnatal Depression” (International Business Times)

“Breastfeeding moms have lower depression risk” (Health Care Professionals Network)

“Breastfeeding protects mothers from postnatal depression, study finds” (The Australian)

 

And the reality:

New Evidence on Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression: The Importance of Understanding Women’s Intentions.

Borra C, Iacovou M, Sevilla A.

Abstract

This study aimed to identify the causal effect of breastfeeding on postpartum depression (PPD), using data on mothers from a British survey, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Multivariate linear and logistic regressions were performed to investigate the effects of breastfeeding on mothers’ mental health measured at 8 weeks, 8, 21 and 32 months postpartum. The estimated effect of breastfeeding on PPD differed according to whether women had planned to breastfeed their babies, and by whether they had shown signs of depression during pregnancy. For mothers who were not depressed during pregnancy, the lowest risk of PPD was found among women who had planned to breastfeed, and who had actually breastfed their babies, while the highest risk was found among women who had planned to breastfeed and had not gone on to breastfeed. We conclude that the effect of breastfeeding on maternal depression is extremely heterogeneous, being mediated both by breastfeeding intentions during pregnancy and by mothers’ mental health during pregnancy. Our results underline the importance of providing expert breastfeeding support to women who want to breastfeed; but also, of providing compassionate support for women who had intended to breastfeed, but who find themselves unable to.

In other words, women who wanted to breastfeed and did = low risk of PPD. Women who wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t = high risk of PPD. The researchers stress “providing compassionate support for women who had intended to breastfeed but…found themselves unable to”.

This does not prove that breastfeeding cuts depression risk. It proves that women who had a goal and met it tend to have lower rates of depression. It does not prove that there is a biological reason that breastfeeding may be protective against depression. That may indeed be the case, but then the depression risk would have been similarly high in women who never intended to breastfeed.

Our societal confirmation bias is so damn strong, that we blatantly overlook the finding that suggests something potentially negative about breastfeeding promotion. But here’s something to ponder: while we can’t force insufficient glandular tissue to produce adequate milk, or force women to breastfeed who don’t want to, we CAN ensure that every mother gets support in her feeding journey. We CAN listen to research that suggests the pressure to breastfeed is contributing to feelings of guilt, shame, and judgment – a potent trifecta of emotions for those prone to depression – and do something about it. If we are going to take this one study as “truth”, as so many parenting-related studies are mistakenly interpreted, something good might as well come out of it.

At this point, there is a pretty clear correlation between not breastfeeding and PPD. Instead of using this as ammunition against formula use, we could be asking the tougher questions: Why are women who don’t breastfeed more depressed? If it is something biological, wouldn’t the rates of PPD have been skyrocketing in past generation where breastfeeding was rare? If we stop making breastfeeding seem like the only-best-right choice to raise a happy, healthy child, would it mitigate this risk?

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Szent-Gy%C3%B6rgyi#Medical_research

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Szent-Gy%C3%B6rgyi#Medical_research

One of my favorite quotes about research comes from the Nobel-prize winning scientist who discovered the importance of vitamin C, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi: “Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.” These days, the reverse seems to be true – research is to confirm what everybody else has seen, and everybody has already thought. This needs to change, and it won’t, as long as our society and media turns even the most interesting findings into self-confirming soundbytes.

 

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