Breastfeeding has changed over the years (so the women of our parent's generation assure me). It's gone from a shameful and private practice to an overt and public one, from being seen as gross to beautiful and back again. What has also changed are our options as moms. With technology on our side, we can breastfeed, pump, bottle feed, supplement with formula, or not breastfeed at all, and still end up with a healthy, well-adjusted child.
In my case, low milk supply demanded that I supplement with formula from the first few weeks onward. With Lily (who was tongue-tied to boot!) I continued breastfeeding until she was 4 months or so. Around that time she started solid food and I became pregnant with Oli. From then on, her diet was 100% formula to drink and solids to eat. With Oli, in addition to low supply there were latching and alertness problems. The second he was on the breast, he'd fall asleep. Common for a newborn, but not for a 5 week old. It wasn't getting better, after all the tricks he just wanted to sleep and breastfeeding is very relaxing. The problem was, he wasn't "dream feeding" he was straight up sleeping. So I started the grueling process of using the breast pump, every 3 hours, 8 times a day. I'd pump milk for him (which would take 30 minutes or so) and then bottle feed him (which would take up to an hour). And repeat. It was no way to live.
As I saw my supply thinning out with both babies, I knew formula was my only choice. I ate the suggested foods and drank the suggested drinks. I tried to feed the kids after a warm shower or even in the bath. I fed them in all positions. At all times of day. It was time to throw in the towel. Enter: deep feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
What makes breastfeeding so controversial is not the act itself, it's oftentimes when women choose not to, or can't. It's formula that's controversial, even in this day in age when it has well over 90% of the same ingredients of breast milk. While people swear that formula-fed babies end up over-weight and with a poor immune system, neither has been the case with my children.
What made those days of deciding to start supplementing with formula (and eventually use it full time) impossibly difficult were the comments from other women. I didn't feel bad for my children, in fact, they were thriving for the first time. Lily was still under birth weight at 4 weeks old, and jumped to a healthy weight within days of formula-feeding. And Oli started sleeping for longer than 2 hours when he had his first encounter with the glorious supplement. I knew they were not only fine but excellent. The guilt comes from outside.
From comments like:
"Keep trying, every woman can breastfeed!"
"You have breasts, you were designed to feed your children this way"
"Oh you're having supply issues? Everyone thinks they are, keep moving forward."
"Try ______ (enter method I've tried already here), then you'll have no problem!"
"You've decided to use formula instead? That's too bad, but at least you tried"
"It was hard for me at first too, but I didn't give up, and now I can breastfeed. So keep at it"
In my experience, women who don't breastfeed are looked down upon. I understand in other times and cultures, it's the total opposite. And that's an absolute shame as well. I'm not writing this to say I'm pro-breastfeeding or pro-formula feeding. I'm writing to say I'm pro-mom. I firmly believe that a family should decide which route is best for them and outsiders should only offer advice if asked, or at the very least, very sensitively. After all, low supply is not the only case where a woman may need to back away from breastfeeding. There are many cases where formula may be a better (or only) choice for parents:
- single dads
- adoptive parents
- moms of multiples
- breast cancer survivors
- moms with complications from childbirth
- moms with severe postpartum depression
- moms who become pregnant again quickly
- moms who have to go back to work quickly
- moms who have had breast augmentation surgery
My point is, the list is exhaustive. The decision is personal and private. But the judgments, advice and comments (often negative) seem free-flowing.
Which begs the questions:
Have you had a negative experience with choosing to breastfeed or choosing not to?
Do you support breastfeeding to the determent of supporting the mother who can't?
Are you excited to breastfeed (It can be wonderful!)?
What are your thoughts on breastfeeding in public?
What was your experience with breastfeeding?
I would love to hear from all of your undoubtedly unique experiences! Also sincerely hope my terrible experience(s) are unique. Let's go feed and nurture our babies, however we are able to do so best.
This article on the Sacrificial Mother has been an encouragement to me.
I also love this idea at reversing the stigma formula has.
I can absolutely relate to this article on people's unwanted comments!