Friday, March 2, 2012

Breast... may not *always* be best.

I'm about to crack open a subject that tends to get people all riled up and panty-bunched.

Before anyone fluffs out their feathers and prepares to do battle, that's not what I'm after here.

So breathe.  In... out... in... out...  See?  Air is good! ;)

Breast-milk versus Baby Formula is a hot topic on the baby boards.  People on both sides have excellent reasons for the choice they made for their children.  The debate can get pretty heated, and hyperbole often rears its ugly head with declarations like "Formula is POISON!!!" and "EEEEWWW, breast-feeding is gross!!"  At which point the debate usually spins out of control into name-calling and LOLcats pictures.

Being respectful of others' parenting choices goes up in smoke.

And you know what?  It's sad, it really is.  Because whether it comes from a breast or a bottle, the babies are getting fed.  They are growing and healthy and happy and THAT is what matters.  I find it disgusting that mothers who formula-feed are vilified and told they are poisoning their children, choosing the "easy" way instead of what's best for their child (which is BS, ask anyone who has to wash bottles daily), etc.  Similarly, those who find breast-feeding to be unsavory should take a hard look at their overall world view and see if they're upholding that viewpoint by eschewing all exposure to flesh in the media.  Hello, advertising.  

A significant percentage of formula moms are formula-feeding out of flat necessity.  There are myriad reasons why this can happen, from an undiagnosed tongue-tie causing a poor latch, to dietary issues in the mother, flat/inverted nipples, all the way to a straight up allergy to breast-milk (rare, but it happens).  If it's a latching or a dietary issue, poor advice from doctors relying on outdated education can contribute to the problem.  Or, for some, one day for no apparent reason whatsoever, your baby may just refuse to breast-feed.

That's what happened to me.  One day when JJ was about three weeks old, the debate over breast-milk vs. formula became frighteningly personal.  He started to scream bloody murder if a naked breast got anywhere near him.  I tried everything.  Different positions, pulled EVERYTHING out of my diet (seriously, I had the most hypoallergenic milk on the planet, folks), hand-expressing into his mouth, and every feeding session was a fight.   He was gassy and miserable, screeching that started at 4pm was a good day, and I was fast becoming convinced that my child hated me.  And then one morning he just would not latch, no matter what I tried. So we started giving him thawed breast-milk in a bottle.

Voila.  Probably seventy percent of the gas issue cleared up overnight.  My happy content baby reappeared.  Oh, the screeching banshee child was still occasionally in evidence, but it was thirty minutes before he would go down for the night, as opposed to starting up at 4 in the morning and going all day.  So I got my hands on an electric pump and started pumping every two hours around the clock.  The baby was suddenly growing faster, more content, less gassy, and John was getting to feed the baby.

But here's the rub... I was devastated.  Every time I saw JJ drinking from a bottle, I wanted to scream.  Even if I was feeding it to him, I felt somehow that I was failing.  And I didn't get to feed him that often. Needing to pump every two hours during the day and every three at night meant that I was getting less sleep, more stressed, and less and less time with my son.  I would sit hooked up to that damned machine, watch someone else feed my baby, and cry.  Let me tell you, I was starting to get severely snuggle-deprived.

Add to that, the spectre of the Dreaded Formula was looming nearer and nearer every day.  My production was not coming up fast enough or far enough, and eventually the baby would need formula to supplement what I was able to pump, once he burned through what I had stored in the freezer.  I was absolutely frantic.  I was (and still am) taking every natural milk-booster I could get my hands on, and at one point talked a doctor around to a short term prescription for Domperidone.  That's a whole other post there... effective as a milk-booster, no painful side effects but I started gaining weight pretty rapidly, so I weaned off it again before I even finished the initial supply.  And nothing was working well enough to keep that poison away from my baby.  Yes, I'm ashamed to say it, I was a member of the Formula is Poison crowd.

Bad Laura.  No cookie for you.

One Friday night, the baby was asleep, and John and I were lying in bed trying to figure out how to get my head into a place where the baby getting formula wouldn't send me into an emotional tail-spin.  I basically made up my mind that I would keep pumping, keep working at getting my supply up, but it was good we already had some formula on hand because JJ was going to burn through the stored milk before my production caught up with him.  We called it a night at that point, and still in an emotional stew I got JJ out of his cosleeper and brought him into the bed with us.  Bedsharing isn't my all-time favorite thing, kid's a wiggle-butt, but I was desperately in need of some bonding time with my son.  

The next morning, about 4 am, right when he would normally be waking me up fussing for a bottle, I woke up and found that during the night, JJ had found the breast and latched on, and was happily sucking away, still sound asleep.  I laid there and stared at him in total astonishment, joy and disbelief chasing each other through my soul.  I didn't so much as twitch for three damn hours, and when I finally did get up, it was slowly... cautiously... must not upset the baby... Of course by that time he was awake, but he was smiling at me!  He was calm!  He was happy!  He was... 

Wet.  Soaked through.  Yeah, reality came crashing back in a hurry, y'all.  LOL

That week was dubbed Nursing Boot Camp.  I literally sat on our bed and watched Ghost Whisperer.  I did all the things the sleep-trainers run from in horror... I let the baby nurse to sleep, and even then let him sleep at the breast.  For at least four days I took him off the breast so I could go to the bathroom.  That's it.  John brought me food, and the baby slept next to me at night so he could nurse whenever he wanted to do so.  By the end of the week JJ had gotten a little less clingy, and I had stopped wondering if he liked me.

It was two weeks before I let another bottle anywhere near him.  Even now it's a rare occurrence and will continue as such.

But folks, that's not the end of this story.  See, while I was in the middle of that, I was reading and researching and asking everyone I knew for advice.  And several very well-meaning people offered great ideas... while at the same time using the language of failure to describe the cessation of breast-feeding.  Oh, it wasn't intended to make me feel badly, but the fact is that I *already* felt like the worst mother in the entire damn world.  A doctor was telling me that bottles are responsible for  breast-feeding failure.  A friend was telling me that she hated to see people try so hard to breast-feed and then fail.  Folks on the BF'ing boards were urging me not to give up on giving my baby THE BEST POSSIBLE FOOD.  Folks on the Pumping boards were telling me it was okay to supplement as long as I kept pumping, because ANY BREAST MILK IS BETTER THAN NONE.  All with the very best of intentions.

And the whole time I was thinking "Yes, I know, I failed.  God designed the perfect system for feeding babies, it's practically idiot-proof, but I can't even make that work.  WOW, I suck at this."

If you know someone who, for whatever reason, feeds their baby formula, leave it alone.  Formula has its drawbacks, but it is in fact not poison.  It doesn't set babies up to be obese later, it doesn't automatically trash their developing immune systems, and it doesn't mean they love their child any less.  

If you know someone who is struggling to continue breast-feeding, please, for the love of her sanity, watch your language.  Words like "failure", "giving up", "inadequate" and so forth can be damaging to a mother already hurting over the perceived ideal of baby nutrition.  If she's determined to supplelemnt with breast-milk, get her in touch with a milk bank and find out if her insurance will help defray the costs.  Remember that stress and emotional upheaval also have a huge impact on milk supply, so rather than focusing on that supply issue, try words like "love", "food", "comfort", and for pete's sake, send the woman a LOLcat or two.  Make her laugh.  Take her out for a coffee or a manicure if you can.  Focus her attention on the happy, healthy, thriving child she is raising on whatever combination of baby milk works best.

This is the goal.  No matter how you get there.

But never, ever, ever imply by word, thought, or deed, that she has failed in her duty as a mother.

Because, I promise you, she's already thinking it herself.


  1. I agree largely with this post. While I think breastfeeding is always worth a try and a good effort, I know from experience it isn't always enough. In addition, breastfeeding is a learned behavior, not an instinctual one. There is a problem with our society's perception of breasts and this leads to many women not ever seeing or being around other breastfeeding moms. Did I ever tell you about the story where I was supplementing my twins with formula in the mall and this old guy came up to me and gave me a hard time about it and told me that "breastfeed is the best feed". Whatever. No boobs no opinion, right? Anyway, glad to hear of another Mommy refusing to participate in the Mommy wars.

    1. Heya! Thanks for stopping by, and for getting through that monster of a post! The "Mommy Wars" (Love it!!!) really are ridiculous sometimes, aren't they? I am thrilled and grateful that JJ decided to resume nursing, but never again will I be prideful over the blessing of being able to nurse my son.

  2. Laura I'm sorry to have added to your feelings of failing :( That REALLY was NOT my intention. When I said I hate seeing moms try so hard and fail, I wasn't talking about you. You weren't failing. You were fighting! You didn't have one little glitch and decide no more. I'm sorry :( You stuck with it more than I think I would. I've been blessed to have no problems other than a short bout of low supply from stress with Natalie. I don't look down on mamas who use formula but I will say I'd be pretty hard pressed to use it.

    1. Jamey, I didn't use that as an example to make you feel badly. I knew when you said it that you didn't mean it like that. I used the example to illustrate the point... how easy it is to say something with every intention of being supportive, and not realize how the choice of words can undermine the intention. *hugs* I was never upset with you, hon.