FFF Friday: “Adoptive mothers are already subject to added scrutiny…”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so. 

This week’s FFF Friday comes from Robyn, a mother who speaks about how breastfeeding pressure has affected the adoption community. 

 

I’ve thought quite a lot about how this debate ignores the experiences of many groups – tube feeders, fathers, male/male couples, etc. Obviously, adoptive moms are on that list, but as Robyn explains, the pressure to breastfeed has become so strong in that community that I end up lumping them in with non-adoptive mothers. Adoption is no longer considered a valid “excuse” for formula feeding, so adoptive moms are expected to induce lactation – a process which is not always successful, or desired. But I’d never thought about how this pressure, and an inability or disinterest in inducing lactation, might hurt an adoptive mother in so many additional ways. I’m really appreciative of Robyn’s essay, for that reason, and for many more.

Happy Friday, fearless ones – no matter how you became a parent. Giving birth is not what makes you a mom, and neither is feeding a child from your breast. And I’d question the emotional intelligence of anyone who says otherwise.

The FFF

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Robyn’s Story

I was born in 1975, my sister in 1977. Growing up, I was the smart one, she was the pretty one. I taught myself to read at age 4, and by third grade, I was reading at an 8th grade level. I was also fat – 70 pounds at age 5. My sister was skinny and beautiful. She was also never any good at school. I graduated with honors from a top private university in the US.  She ended up taking 6 or 7 years to graduate from a mediocre state school. (Although, to her credit, she did get a degree. Oh, and I got my weight under control.)

Which one of us was breastfed? Which one was formula fed?

You don’t know, do you? You think, “Formula-fed babies are supposed to be fatter and dumber; breastfed babies are supposed to be skinnier and smarter. Here, you have one fat, smart kid and one skinny, dumb kid. How is this possible?!?”

To end the suspense, I was formula fed and my sister was breastfed.

I believe I was in college when “they” came out with a study indicating that children who were breastfed were smarter than children who were formula fed. I remember reading the newspaper (we still had those back then) and thinking, “What a crock!” Even to my English major, “I was told there would be no math” brain, it seemed that any study that compared breast feeding to formula feeding was doomed to fail, because there are so many other factors in a baby’s life. Socioeconomic status, genetics, underlying medical conditions, what the mother did during pregnancy, premature v. full term, vaccinated v. unvaccinated, only child v. child with siblings, daycare v. at home with parent, … the list goes on and on.

In 2004, a good friend of mine had a baby – the first good friend of mine to do so. She was (and still is) a breastfeeding advocate. I came to visit her, to help out with whatever she needed. She was feeding the baby every 20-40 minutes. Her partner came home, held the baby for a few minutes, but then she wanted to eat again. He handed her over, and went to play video games. They agreed that it was more difficult for him to bond with the baby because she was, for all intents and purposes, attached to mom.

As for my own path to motherhood, I always wanted to adopt. I never wanted to be pregnant. I never felt the need to pass down my genes. That was a good thing, because I ended up with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which is most easily described as permanent nerve damage in my knee. Not much is known about CRPS and pregnancy, probably because people with CRPS are in too much pain to have sex. I have been on a number of medications, none of which are recommended during pregnancy. One of the ones that ended up working for me is known to cause problems for developing fetuses. Another is an unknown entity. Pregnancy is not a good idea.

So, adoption. Obviously, I would formula feed. But wait! Apparently, a person can induce lactation, even if she has never lactated before. I had no interest in doing this. The same medication that’s not safe for pregnancy is also not safe for nursing mothers. But moreover, I personally saw the downsides to breastfeeding. Dad doesn’t get the bonding time. Mom is attached 24/7. As for the supposed benefits, I agree, if you’re in a developing nation without access to clean water, “breast is best.” But, here in the US, formula is just as safe as breastmilk. As I learned more about “green parenting” and found out how much we’re poisoning ourselves with our processed food and over-scented bath and body products, I realized that everything a woman ingests or wears ends up in breastmilk anyway.

We chose formula for our son. He started talking at 9 months, and was speaking in full sentences by 18 months. He met all of his cognitive milestones before he was supposed to. He was – and is – incredibly smart. I attribute that to a combination of genes (his birthmom is no slouch in the brains department) and environment (my husband and I aren’t so bad ourselves). He also had no trouble bonding with his dad and me, and remains a sweet, affectionate boy.

When my son was born in 2006, adoptive breastfeeding wasn’t discussed much. Fast forward to 2011, when we were in the process of adopting a daughter. Adoptive breastfeeding hit in a big way. At this point, there are support groups for it, magazine articles devoted to it, I think there’s even a book about it. If you can’t lactate, then you’re urged to get donor milk. Nevermind that donor milk isn’t screened, and even if you’re getting the milk from a friend, you don’t have any control over what goes into the finished product. There was a woman on a support group, her religion prevented her from breastfeeding a child who wasn’t related to her, and, thus, from using donor milk, so she was seeking camel’s milk, because she heard it was the closest to breastmilk.

Camel’s milk. This is the extent to which some people will go to avoid the “toxins” in formula.

There has become a subtle, but distinct, pressure in the adoption community to breastfeed your child if you are at all able. There are the insinuations that bonding will be better and easier if you do so, or the flat out statements that you will not bond properly with your child without that connection. If you don’t breastfeed, use donor milk and an SNS (Supplemental Nursing System), for skin to skin contact that is “crucial for adopted babies.” Now, when people ask about brands of formula, they get lectured on the benefits of induced lactation and breastfeeding.

I’m an anomaly. I never wanted biological children. But many adoptive moms did. They wanted to experience pregnancy, and their bodies would not allow them to. If you spend anytime in the adoption community, you’ll see the posts from people who talk about their bodies failing them, how they felt – or still feel – like failures. It’s heartbreaking. And now, with this mounting pressure to induce lactation and breastfeed, there’s a whole other way for women to feel guilty, to feel that their bodies have failed them again.

Adoptive mothers are already subject to added scrutiny. In addition to the invasive, yet necessary, home study process, the people in our lives want to know every last detail about why we’re adopting, why our kids’ birthmothers “didn’t want them,” what about their birth fathers, how can we possibly stand open adoptions… everything we do is under a microscope. Now, if we don’t breastfeed, we’re somehow denying our children something vital and setting them up for attachment issues, poor school performance, and God knows what else.

As a mom to two children through adoption, I can tell you: Bonding and attachment are absolutely possible when you formula feed. My husband got the chance to bond through feeding too, and I got more sleep, which is incredibly important when dealing with babies. Your child will not be at a disadvantage to her peers if she is formula fed. Looking at my son’s Kindergarten class, I know I couldn’t tell who was breast fed and who was formula fed. Even in my daughter’s preschool class, what is evident is how much the children’s parents love and care for them, not how they were fed as infants.

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

 

Win-win or lose-lose: Study suggests breast may not “beat” bottle in multiple long-term outcomes

Every morning, I receive Google alerts for several terms: breastfeeding, formula feeding, infant formula, breastmilk, etc. And every morning, I brace myself, waiting for the inevitable headline that will cause panic among bottle feeding moms, or re-ignite the incessant argument between breastfeeding advocates and formula feeding parents (as if it ever needs reigniting – it’s like one of those trick birthday candles, always sparking back to life even after you’ve wasted all your breath), or force me to take some semblance of a “position” on an issue that is hardly ever black and white.

One might expect that this morning, I would’ve broken out in that annoying Lego Movie song. You know, ’cause everything is awesome!!!!!

Source: connectedprincipals.com

Source: connectedprincipals.com

News broke that a study out of Ohio State, which examined sibling pairs where one child was breastfed and the other formula fed, had found that there was no statistically significant advantage to breastfeeding for 11 outcomes. These outcomes included things like obesity, asthma, and various measures of childhood intelligence and behavior. As the study explains:

“Breastfeeding rates in the U.S. are socially patterned. Previous research has documented startling racial and socioeconomic disparities in infant feeding practices. However, much of the empirical evidence regarding the effects of breastfeeding on long-term child health and wellbeing does not adequately address the high degree of selection into breastfeeding. To address this important shortcoming, we employ sibling comparisons in conjunction with 25 years of panel data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) to approximate a natural experiment and more accurately estimate what a particular child’s outcome would be if he/she had been differently fed during infancy…

 

Results from between-family comparisons suggest that both breastfeeding status and duration are associated with beneficial long-term child outcomes. This trend was evident for 10 out of the 11 outcomes examined here. When we more fully account for unobserved heterogeneity between children who are breastfed and those who are not, we are forced to reconsider the notion that breastfeeding unequivocally results in improved childhood health and wellbeing. In fact, our findings provide preliminary evidence to the contrary. When comparing results from between- to within-family estimates, coefficients for 10 of the 11 outcomes are substantially attenuated toward zero and none reach statistical significance (p < 0.05). Moreover, the signs of some of the regression coefficients actually change direction suggesting that, for some outcomes, breastfed children may actually be worse off than children who were not breastfed.”

 

Source: Colen and Ramey, Is Breast Truly Best? Estimating the Effects of Breastfeeding on Long-term Child Health and Wellbeing in the United States Using Sibling ComparisonsSocial Science & Medicine, Available online 29 January 2014

I will admit that the comments made in several news outlets by the lead author of this study, Cynthia G. Colen, have made me want to run through the streets, acting as a one-woman ticker-tape parade in her honor. (Case in point: “I’m not saying breast-feeding is not beneficial, especially for boosting nutrition and immunity in newborns. But if we really want to improve maternal and child health in this country, let’s also focus on things that can really do that in the long term – like subsidized day care, better maternity leave policies and more employment opportunities for low-income mothers that pay a living wage, for example.”) But I’m not celebrating the results of this study, any more than I’d celebrate one that said formula feeding caused children to sprout green hair from their chiny-chin-chins and opt to live under bridges.

Why? Because this shouldn’t be a freaking contest.

The backlash that comes out of studies like these feels more like if someone came out with research that claimed fried Oreos were just as healthy as raw kale. Instead, we should be approaching it as if someone came up with a way to make a vitamin supplement that would offer similar benefits to kale, for those who hated the taste. One is natural, one is synthetic; one is manufactured, one exists organically. But for those of us who don’t or can’t eat raw kale on a daily basis, a good substitute is a godsend. (And maybe helps us justify those fried Oreos. A girl can dream.) Now, a study showing comparable effects of the supplement to the organic kale would not negate the fact that kale, grown in your own garden, is a nutritious, amazing thing – and tastes quite delicious to those of us who have a palate for it. If we started telling the kale aficionados that the supplement was better in some way, that would be a problem. But if the people who loved kale insisted that the supplement wasn’t a valid option and was somehow morally wrong, that would be a problem, too. Chances are, if we were really talking about kale, nobody would care all that much. The people who liked kale would eat it, and those who didn’t, might opt for the supplement – feeling confident due to the research that suggested the supplement was a viable option.

But we’re not talking about kale. We’re talking about breastmilk. And that, apparently, is where we all fall apart, and are rendered completely incapable of rational, measured discussion.

What the Golen/Ramsey study shows should not be controversial. The results should be reassuring- evidence that formula feeding does not condemn a child to a life of obesity, poor health, and lackluster intelligence; proof that whether a woman chooses, or is capable of, feeding a baby from her breast is not what defines her as a mother.

Imagine, for a minute, if we didn’t compare breast and bottle, but rather celebrated BOTH as valid, safe, healthy options for mothers and babies. Accepting that formula has legitimacy – that there is a reason it was invented (out of a need and a desire for a safe breastmilk substitute), and a reason why a woman may decide that a substitute is preferable – should not threaten those of us who celebrate breastfeeding. Yes, we should continue to rage against predatory formula marketing, especially in the developing world. Yes, we should speak up and speak out when companies (hello, Delta) retreat to 1953 when they express their breastfeeding policies. (For that matter, we shouldn’t need breastfeeding policies – if children are allowed, breastfeeding should be allowed. End of story.) Yes, we should ensure that women are entitled to adequate pumping breaks, and given solid breastfeeding assistance, and are supported by solid research regarding medications and breastmilk and best practices from pediatric professionals. But none of that means formula has to be Public Enemy No. 1. None of that means parents who formula feed should be left floundering due to an embarrassing lack of support and education. And for the love of god, none of that means we should be smugly celebrating when formula fed babies are shown to fare poorly, or gleefully rejoicing when and if the opposite occurs.

This is one study, with its own set of limitations and biases, like any other study in the modern canon of infant feeding research. But it’s a good study, artfully designed, and one that raises some extremely important questions about how the emphasis on feeding babies might be distracting us from the real work of supporting better maternal and childhood outcomes. Because speaking of retreating to 1953, it’s awfully easy to shove the responsibility for future generations onto women’s chests, rather than addressing true social inequities that can impact children’s lives. Maybe if we stopped wasting energy trying to prove how evil formula is, and just accepted it as part of life – not a slap in the face to our mammary glands, or an excuse for idiots to treat nursing mothers as horribly as they do now – we would have more energy to understand and destroy these inequities.

Or, you know, we could do what we always do and spend time looking for vague connections to the formula industry to discredit the study authors. Because that’s a really great way of helping families thrive.

 

 

 

FFF Friday: “There is still a nagging feeling that I failed at my project.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so. 

 

You what I love most about FFF Friday submissions? You guys are so freaking brave, and you write eloquently and honestly about truths that most people are afraid to admit. These stories define the “fearless” part of Fearless Formula Feeder. I think many folks misunderstand what a “fearless formula feeder” really is – it’s not always about being 100% happy with our feeding circumstances, or turning a deaf ear to the risks inherent in feeding your child a man-made product, or wearing a cape with a big F on the back (although sometimes, it is – except for the cape thing. But that could happen, I guess). What it IS always about is being fearlessly honest, fearlessly open, and fearlessly supportive. 

Sheryl has got to be one of the most fearless FFFs I’ve encountered, because she is willing to admit something that most of us won’t: sometimes, the sting of “failing” at breastfeeding doesn’t have as much to do with a fear or distaste of formula as it does with the concept of “failure”. From one Type A perfectionist to another, I salute you, Sheryl. Because I identify with what you’re saying – probably more than I want to admit to myself. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones.

The FFF

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Sheryl’s Story

I just want to be at peace with not breastfeeding.

Most days, I am. But sometimes, the feelings of guilt, anger, disappointment, failure, cynicism – they can creep up unexpectedly, and then I launch into an obsessive google search using keywords such as: “is breast really best”; “breastfeeding myths”; and “how to deal with smug breastfeeding moms”. This is how I stumbled upon the FFF website, by the way.

One of the earlier articles quoted in this blog mentioned that most women who are from the middle to upper class, educated, and have careers tend to see breastfeeding as a project – something to be studied and obsessively prepared for.  These women read all the literature, attend breastfeeding classes, hire lactation consultants, buy expensive double pumps.  While it is true that the main intent of breastfeeding is, of course, the nourishment of one’s baby, few women would admit to the almost selfish fact that, for them, breastfeeding is also a personal accomplishment.  Something to be proud of, a badge to wave around in playgroups, the number of months or years of EBF being a clear numerical trophy of one’s sense of accomplishment.  For women like this, failing at a project despite all the preparations is a crushing blow.

I should know, I was one of these women. I did all of these things while I was pregnant – set a goal that I would breastfeed for at least a year and did all I could to prepare myself.  I will not get into the details of the how and the why, but suffice it to say that I tried to breastfeed (and to give an idea of the extent of the efforts, I know what the terms ICBLC, galactagogue, and SNS stand for), had some measure of success for four months (success being a relative term, this means mixed feeding), but due mostly to low milk supply, I eventually decided the day I celebrated my 33rd birthday, that I owed it to myself, to my marriage, and yes, to my baby, to regain my sanity and stop breastfeeding.

My baby is now six months and has been exclusively fed with organic formula for the last two months.  She has not gotten sick, thank god, and is in the 90th percentile of height and is just a smidge overweight. We are working on that.  She is generally a spirited and happy baby who started sleeping through the night at four months and is developmentally advanced in some aspects and is on track in others. I am happy.

But there is still sometimes a nagging feeling that I failed at my project.  With it comes the occasional shame, the defensiveness, the bitterness. I pass by the lactation room in our office, and I avoid making eye-contact with my officemate who has just finished a pumping session. I try to avoid going to the water cooler when my other officemate who is a LLL volunteer is there. I quickly click “Hide” when I see preachy breastfeeding articles posted by Facebook friends. This is my hangup.  It is something that I have to continue coming to terms with everyday – just like other things that I’ve failed at in the past.  I am a work in progress, but ultimately, my goal (my new project, really) is to finally, be well and truly at peace with my decision to stop breastfeeding. To see it not as a failure, but just one of those things that did not work out. And then move on.

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Share your FFF Friday story: email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “I promised myself it wasn’t going to go down like this…AGAIN.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so. 

 

This story speaks volumes about – well, about so many things. 

So for once, I’m going to be quiet and let it speak for itself. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones. And Happy Valentine’s Day – I’ve got nothing but love for each and every one of you, including the wonderful Caroline. 

-The FFF

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Caroline’s Story

Recently, I was putting the final touches on the spread I had laid out for our lunch guests when I unexpectedly began to panic.  We were awaiting a visit from a new-to-town couple and their toddler, and I wasn’t worried about normal things, such as kids behaving and everyone having a good time.  Instead, I realized it had been an hour since my baby had had his bottle, and with the frequent feedings his reflux demands, I knew he’d have to eat again during our guests’ visit.  My mind began racing to consider if this was going to be an issue and I immediately recalled the first time I’d met the mom at church, and her tone then and comments as she’d discussed infant feeding with another mom.  I had forgotten about that, and now I was worried about the inevitable discussion (you all know the one!) when the bottle would come out.  Was I going to get the verbal “At least you tried,” accompanied by the condescending smile, or would it be the, “Well, so-and-so’s milk/baby didn’t do x for y whole days, but then she tried z and she was able to nurse!”?  Should I just plan to take my son covertly upstairs to the nursery for a diaper change and give him a few RTF bottles in private?  I spotted my bottle sterilizer – was there still time to hide the contraband from the kitchen?

You know, I promised myself it wasn’t going to go down like this…AGAIN.  You see, this was me (FFF Friday: “These are the memories I have of my sons first few weeks”). Short version: no milk supply.  The happy ending to that story didn’t take place until my first born son’s twelve month pediatric appointment when we were given the clear to switch to cow’s milk.  I drove home that day crying tears of joy, thinking, “He’s FINALLY going to be eating the same as all the other kids his age!  Thank God!  It no longer matters!”

While pregnant with my second born, I became committed to not having another horrible first year.  I read up on IGT and myth vs. fact regarding nursing (yay for this website and Joan Wolf’s Is Breast Best?) and talked at length with my best friend who happens to have both an MD and a PhD in biomedical research.  While I knew in my head that the supposed benefits of nursing are often overstated without proper scrutiny, in my heart I still genuinely wanted to be able to nurse.  I hated bottle feeding my first born – aside from the social pressure and guilt, I hated the preparation time and hassle of keeping sterile equipment, not to mention the mess and cost.  However, while I had decided to give nursing another shot, I wasn’t going to go overboard spending hundreds of dollars on supplements, equipment or consultations – this time, the only extra thing I was willing to try was the one thing we had not tried with my firstborn: placenta encapsulation (talk about the epitome of crunchy motherhood!!).

My second born son’s arrival was nothing out of the ordinary, save him being post-term, with nothing happening that might interfere with nursing.  The day he was born, he had no interest and would not latch, but I was encouraged not to worry.  Eleven hours after his birth, he still wouldn’t latch and had been crying out in hunger pains, so I chose to give him his first bottle.  It honestly felt wonderful to be able to feed my newborn and ease his pain with a bottle!  I had dehydrated and basically starved my first born and wasn’t going to do that with my second born – I refused to put nursing above my child’s health again.  By day two, the placenta pills were ready, my son had a perfect latch, and we spent the day working on getting my milk to come in.  To my utter amazement, it did!  Something white began to come out of my chest, and the feeling I got the night of the third day when I heard a child of mine actually swallow for the first time while attached to me was amazing.  I was not given that blessing with my first born son, so I am grateful to have had it with my second born.

As the days went on, we spent the majority of my newborn son’s waking hours nursing. I would switch him from side to side to side for one to two hours, and only when he was super fussy from hunger and would no longer latch would I allow him a bottle.  The formula milk would then settle him to sleep for a quick nap, and the cycle would repeat.  I was determined to give nursing all that I could, and began to dream that my milk supply would increase so that I could drop off the formula.  As the days and weeks began to pass, the ounces of formula seemed to be winning the race, so I added pumping in to the mix to try to increase my supply, sometimes able to pump one or two full ounces in a twenty-four hour period.

For the following months, I rode the combi-feeding emotional roller coaster.  Breastfeeding became my primary focus.  I knew most of my son’s daily calories were coming from the formula milk, but I continued to get my hopes up about one day nursing exclusively.  I remember getting so happy just to see a bit of breast-milk poo mixed in with my son’s dirty diaper and hoping the next diaper would have more.  I found nursing to be so much easier than bottle feeding.  My son had a textbook latch with only the occasional lip tuck, and he would drop off and re-latch himself if he wasn’t on properly, so I didn’t have pain from the latch – the only pain I experienced was the glass shard sensation from him sucking on an empty breast.  It was also a breeze to soothe a baby at 2 a.m. with the breast while my husband prepared the bottle of formula that would eventually get the baby back to sleep – so much better than having the baby scream while waiting for a bottle!   When I had female visitors over and had to nurse in front of them, they gave me happy smiles as though to say, “Welcome to the club!”  Our pediatrician even treated us differently, talking about the superiority of breastfeeding and how she wouldn’t need to monitor his growth like she did with our toddler (even though they are following a similar curve), which meant no monthly weight checks or daily intake reporting this time.  I even got to experience the odd sensation of nursing in public, both in a private room and in our car, finding that to be an extremely efficient way to soothe a crying baby when out and about.  The only drawback to the nursing side of combi-feeding came in the bonding department: it wasn’t the bee’s knees I’d thought it was supposed to be.  We nursed tummy to tummy with him looking over my shoulder, and I found I better enjoyed gazing into his beautiful eyes while he ate from a bottle.

Eventually, combi-feeding with low milk supply proved to be unsustainable.  By the time my placenta encapsulation pills ran out, we were giving him a bottle every two hours plus nursing every four, and I had lost all hope of ever being able to nurse exclusively.  When my son was a few days shy of four months old, he refused to latch for several days.  I tried to express, but could no longer get anything white to come out.  My milk had dried, and my son had self-weaned (yes, such things actually DO happen!!!).  Rather anticlimactically, with no painful swelling or leaking, nursing was now over.  Meanwhile, my husband had noticed some of the familiar signs of post-partum depression creeping into our lives again, but so long as I had been nursing even a tiny bit, I was unwilling to feed anti-depressents to my son.  Looking back, I know it was a stupid decision to put the idol of nursing above maternal mental health, but at the time, all I could think of was how much we’d gone through with my older son and how I would have done anything just to have been able to give him a teaspoon of breast-milk.  I just didn’t have the heart to pull nursing away from my younger son (once he pulled himself away, though, I did get back on the medication).

So, there it is.  That’s my story for unsuccessful breastfeeding, take two.  There were some lessons I learned the first time around that made things easier: avoiding public baby groups, feeding my son at church in an out-of-view location, ordering formula online or sending my husband in to the store when we had a coupon, avoiding militant lactivists on the internet, staying away from baby books, and taking the toddler but leaving the baby home with my husband when our whole family is invited to a party.  Maybe such tactics make me a far-from-fearless formula feeder, but if you recall my goal of not having another horrible first year, it was essential for me to avoid hurtful comments and invasive questions.  It has also helped to read every post on the FFF so that I can be reminded that I’m not alone.  I have learned the hard way to limit my interaction with some of my more judgmental friends so as not to have another criticism of my child’s feeding, my birth choices, or my parenting decisions bouncing around in my head for days afterward… except for that tiny little omission I mentioned at the beginning of my story.

So, did I cower in the nursery?  Did she see the bottle supplies?  In the end, the family ended up not coming to our house that day, so I was worried for nothing.  That’s how it goes.

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Be my valentine. Email me your FFF Friday story: formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

FFF Friday: “I’ve come to loathe the breast is best rhetoric…”

Today, I posted an incredible piece from my friend Amy West on the Facebook page. Amy is a breastfeeding counselor and advocate, but more than that, she is an independent thinker who understands that the way we support breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers (and fathers) might need an overhaul. I don’t doubt that she’ll receive some backlash for her viewpoint, just my friend Jessica over at The Leaky Boob did for daring to “work” with me (someone who, according to some of her recent critics, should be her sworn enemy. I kid you not). 

But people like Amy and Jessica are the face of the future – supporters of women and families first, who also advocate for and support breastfeeding moms. I feel confident that they are ushering in a new era of breastfeeding advocacy, and I expect it to do more in a few years than decades of the status quo has accomplished. 

In that spirit, I wanted to share Kara’s FFF Friday. It’s a bit different than the usual fare, but I absolutely love it. She describes the flaws in our current rhetoric, which the people perpetuating these flaws don’t want to hear coming from me (because of my admitted bias and position as “formula feeding defender”); I’m hoping that because Kara is a breastfeeding mom, she might carry more weight with these folks. Because as I keep trying to explain – to no avail – my work is not about promoting formula or knocking breastfeeding. It’s about reforming a system that leaves more than half of us struggling with  a lack of support and information, and the other half floundering around with something that passes as support, but often looks more like a pass/fail system that relies on fear and comparisons as a motivational tool.

Anyway. Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Kara’s Story

My breastfeeding story is a success story, because I’ve breast fed my twins for six months now, but I still experienced a lot of pressure, uncertainty and guilt as a result of “lactivism,” so I agreed to share it.

I’ve come to loathe the “breast is best” rhetoric.  I went into breast feeding knowing LLL and others were overstating the benefits of breastfeeding and believing that formula is just fine no matter why a family chooses it.  But I had some difficulties getting breastfeeding started with my premature twins.* They were in the NICU for over a week.  Throughout my pregnancy I assumed breastfeeding would be easy for me.  I don’t know why since the process of getting pregnant certainly wasn’t (I started trying after reaching what doctors like to call “advanced maternal age” and ultimately succeeding with IVF), but I had read enough to know to request a breast pump a few hours after the surgery.  Things started well – I was producing amazing quantities of colostrum and the nurses started turning away my contributions before my babies came home.  But my son was on CPAP and the NICU nurses wouldn’t let me take him out of his plastic box for several days. My daughter wasn’t getting many interventions but only weighed four pounds at birth and although we tried in the NICU, she was too weak to nurse.     I gave up trying to nurse them there and focused on pumping.  I let the nurses give them pacifiers.  I told them to use formula if there ever wasn’t enough colostrum/milk.  And I ignored the hospital lactation consultant who told me I needed to pump a minimum of eight times a day to get my supply up in favor of sleeping through the night while I still could.  That was all wrong, I guess?  But here’s the thing: I hated watching them cry in their incubators with nothing to comfort them.  And I wanted my babies to be fed and grow well so they could come home as soon as possible.  I could see with each of the six pumping sessions I did manage that my supply was just fine.  The LCs gave me a little schedule of target volumes for twin moms pumping in the hospital, and I was ahead of schedule.  The hospital LCs never believed me and insisted I had to pump more often.  But I hated pumping because not only did it hurt, but the sound of the machine had already turned into a voice saying “NIPPLE, NIPPLE, NIPPLE” mockingly.

My little Twin A and Twin B came home at 5.5 and 4.5 pounds, and both were pumped bottle babies.  I still wanted to breastfeed and escape the pump, but couldn’t convince them and decided to give a private LC a try.  I got a great one who *didn’t* bully me or pressure me, and with her advice and support, in six or eight weeks (who can remember?) I had them nursing full-time.  It was hard work, and painful, but it was my choice to struggle through it because a) I’m a single mom without a ton of money and it was cheaper, and b) I had freaking TWINS and tandem nursing, once I mastered it, was the most efficient way to feed them – both at once, with the least amount of cleaning up to do afterwards.  I also got through it because I allowed myself the option of formula if it ever was too much for me.  I kept some pre-mixed formula in the apartment even though the advice I got from the pregnancy boards run by self-proclaimed “boob nazis” was not to do that, because I’d be too tempted to use it and quit.  I stuck it out…because I had the peace of mind of knowing that formula was right there if there was ever some night when I couldn’t take it anymore.**

I never planned to breast feed past six months, but when we hit that milestone a couple weeks ago I suddenly found myself doubting.  Was six months really enough?  Was formula in fact an evil poison?  Didn’t my premature twins need as much extra advantage as I could give them?  How could I be such a bad mom to want to quit now that breastfeeding was finally painless and routine?  I found myself desperately looking for support for weaning at six months and finding little.  Even the advice I found on how to wean was predicated on the assumptions that my children had never had a bottle in their lives and were ready to transition to a full solid diet, no longer requiring breast milk, but just nursing for comfort.  Eventually I found Fearless Formula Feeder, and thank goodness!  But what happened to the person who ignored all the lactivist advice in the hospital?

Online breastfeeding support groups happened, is what happened to her.  After I stopped working with my awesome LC, I consulted sites like Kellymom for information about minor issues as they arose (the thing about how after six weeks breastfeeding is easy peasy?  Not entirely true).  And I like to get information from more than one source (what can I say?  I’m a researcher at heart) and read a lot of these sites.  I found myself questioning my initial position that breastfeeding didn’t provide that many health advantages to babies.  I started to wonder “what if they’re right?”  I went through a period of deep anxiety when I thought about weaning.  The times I had referred to the breast feeding support sites had insidiously planted these doubts even though I had done my research and debunked them before I started reading them. And these sites are the top hits of any online search for breastfeeding information, unfortunately.  You have to dig deep to find the opposing views, and until I found them I felt like crap.  I didn’t want to be selfish!  But I really did want to stop and I kept digging for information until I found what I needed (which was just reaffirmation of what I already knew)

I’m going to be gradually reducing our nursing sessions over the next few weeks, because six months is plenty.  Because I’m tired of plugged ducts and the fear of mastitis.  Because I’m tired of being bitten by two babies at the same time.  Because it will be hard to pump when I go back to work full time.  Because I don’t want to pump when I go back to work full time.  Because I’d like to go out on a weekend for more than four hours without dragging my pump around and using it in a dirty public restroom to avoid engorgement.  Because my twins are doing great and eating solids now.  Because breastfeeding was never how I bonded with my babies.*** Because formula is a pretty darn good food.  Because I want to, and it’s my choice, and I shouldn’t ever have had to question myself about it.

 

*  And as a whole separate issue, I was pressured by strangers about not letting my doctors ever tell me induction was necessary because it would lead to an unnecessary c-section…but with my blood pressure skyrocketing it was necessary.  And you know what?  I did get an epidural and I did end up with an emergency section.  But I also ended up with two live children and I can sneeze without peeing, so there.

** Eventually I joined some twin parent boards and found them a lot more supportive of both supplementing and exclusive formula feeding.

*** You can’t be fully absorbed gazing into a baby’s eyes for too long when you’ve got to make sure you devote equal attention to the second baby, who also likes to squirm and try to fall off the pillow, and the other has reflux and you have an overactive letdown so you spend a lot of nursing time mopping up,**** and both of them nurse with their eyes shut anyway.

**** As glad as I am to have breastfed for six months, here is the memory of it that will last the longest for me: Tandem nursing and the refluxy baby finishes first.  He requires immediate burping, so I carefully lift him up without disrupting the latch of the other…and he promptly vomits down my back.  Since still-nursing baby is not gaining as well as the pediatrician likes and I am strapped to a giant double nursing pillow, so I find myself unable to get up, crying as vomit trickles down my back and puddles on my sheets.  At 3 AM.  This is what breastfeeding is for me. 

***

Share your story, or your thoughts: email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

 

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