It seems that no matter where I go, who I’m with or what I am doing – there is one question I just cannot get away from. “Are you breastfeeding?“ – this is probably one of the most delicate, loaded questions one mom could ever ask another and I am taken aback every time. Why do I need to answer that question? And when did private decisions become a public curiosity? (Yes, I get the irony of me addressing this issue on my very public blog).
It did not bother me so much in the first few weeks when I could still give yes as an answer – but after my second child and second failed attempt at breastfeeding and having to answer no – only to be met by judgmental stares and be given a whole lecture on how it is impossible not to be able to breastfeed, that I am robbing my child of a healthy life and how selfish I am being – it’s become a soul crushing guilt trip.
The whole issue of how we feed our babies has become too divisive and mean-spirited. It comes at a time in a woman’s life when she needs more support than ever. Most moms who breastfeed exude superiority, as if nursing is the only acceptable way to feed a baby. In certain circles, breast-feeding is no longer a choice—it’s a no-exceptions requirement, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting.Well guess what, it’s not. Bottle-feeding my babies was one of the best parenting decisions I ever made. And while this simple statement will likely enrage men and women all over the world, I won’t be made to feel guilty about it.
In the so called Mommy Wars there are two camps regarding feeding – Breastfeeding vs. Formula. The fact that I’m writing a post which adds to the breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding debate may show that, despite truly feeling that the decision I made to formula-feed my baby from five weeks on was the right one, I guess I do still have some defensiveness to express over my choice.
With my first baby I managed to breastfeed for three months until my milk dried up, and before I get bombarded by messages from lactation consultants – i tried everything. I started taking Fenugreek, I tried the magical boob juice (jungle juice), my doctor gave me Eglinol, I changed my diet, I let my baby sleep on my chest, maximized skin-to-skin contact, I had a lactation consultant on speed dial… nothing worked and Mikayla was very underweight. It seemed that she was not getting enough milk from me for a while before I dried up, but no-one believed me and I kept on trying. All moms can breastfeed, it is the most natural thing in the world, right? When breastfeeding was no longer a healthy choice for my little one I switched her to formula and she finally picked up some weight, she also did not cry as much and her colic improved. I did not feel guilty, it was the right decision to make and I gave it my all.
When I fell pregnant with my second baby I was hell bent on getting it right this time around. I read article after article on increasing breast milk supply, worked out a proper meal plan, researched foods that causes colic and got myself a proper breast pump. My baby was born a month premature and was put in NICU for a while. I couldnt nurse him and he was fed breast milk using a feeding tube. I had no problem with my milk coming in, I followed a brutal pumping routine and everything was going great. When we eventually brought him home from the NICU I was so happy, I loved nursing him and could stare at him all day long. That is, until he wanted to nurse all day long – he was hungry all the time. I nursed him every three hours for an hour and a half, expressed for another 30-40minutes to try keep up my supply and that meant I had less than an hour to have a nap and spend time with my toddler – it was impossible. He sucked so hard that it hurt every single time and for some reason this time around, my body was making too much milk. We went on a roadtrip to Upington (an eight hour drive) and I thought I would be okay – I had my sterilizing equipment with me and was expressing milk every two hours on our drive and feeding him my expressed milk with a bottle. The next morning when I woke up my breasts were extremely swollen and painful, I carried on feeding him and expressing – it just made things worse. My milk came in every 30 minutes and it hurt like hell. I stopped nursing him, it was just too painful and I pumped exclusively. I eventually developed Masitits, my boobs were extremely swollen and bruised, I got sick with a fever and spent most of my day lying in a bathtub trying to massage my blocked milk ducts. I have never experienced so much pain before in my life. It was my mom who eventually talked some sense into me.
“Stop breastfeeding“, she said, “you are in too much pain to bond with your son and you are neglecting your daughter. You will feel guilty, but get over it.”
I knew she was right – I gave in. My doctor sent me a prescription for a drug to dry up my milk and everything went back to normal after a day or two. I felt so guilty as this time it was a choice to stop breastfeeding him. Once again, it was the best choice for my family.
I wish that I could breastfeed my babies successfuly for longer periods of time, but unfortunately that is not the reality for every mom. No one should make another feel inferior when it comes to their choices regarding breastmilk vs. formula. All three of my sisters and myself were exclusively formula fed as babies and besides me having Asthma there is nothing wrong with us. My husband on the other hand was exclusively breastfed for about a year and he struggles with digestive problems and ADHD. You cannot prevent these things.
The fact that breast milk is such an amazing part of what our bodies can do – changing over time to provide just the right amount of nutrients to meet the needs of the growing child – is awesome. However, the fact remains that formula is sold to the market as a safe and healthy alternative to breast milk shows that formula-fed children will grow up with very few (if any) significant disadvantages compared to their breast-fed peers (it wouldn’t be let anywhere near the public if there were the slightest real concern about any kind of prevalent detrimental effects). Environment, class, money and parental age are all likely to affect the outcomes for each and every child. So many new moms feel such pressure to breast feed. While doctors and nurses are pushed to tell you to do it, it’s your decision. Whatever it may be. Some physically can’t breastfeed for whatever reason and some just don’t want to and that is okay. I promise. I couldn’t breastfeed and instead of feeling guilty, I learned to embrace motherhood with the decision I made. When you become a mom, I can promise tough choices are ahead and you need to learn how to overcome your guilt and remember you know what is best for your child.
Here are some reasons why I do not feel bad about not breast feeding:
• I love my baby just as much as any breastfeeding mommy loves hers.
• Our bond is just as strong.
• Sleep – with sleep comes sanity.
• Sociability (because I never felt comfortable about breast-feeding in public).
• Lack of pain and the possibility thereof (through developing mastitis/blocked ducts etc – I never want to experience that again).
• The ability for other family members to share the lovely close feeding experience, especially my daughter and husband.
• More time for my oldest child.
• Introducing a solid routine into all our lives at an early stage (I love routines).
• A happier, more chilled out baby due to a happier, more chilled out me.
My bond with my son did not suffer as a result of formula-feeding. I love him madly and the same goes for my 4-year old daughter. Psychological health is just as important as physical health. I wish mothers would unite over this issue. We all do our best and need support for feeding our babies however we choose to do so. We are all mothers first. So to the formula mommies, I repeat: you are doing the best you can. And you’re doing it beautifully. Remember that the mommas who breastfeed face their own set of fears and judgments. They’re also doing the best they can and this isn’t and should never be a “me versus her” or a battle to be won. It’s simply motherhood and we’re all scraping by and exploding with love at the same time. So please, put down your harshness and give what you hope to get in return.
I love this Similac formula ad, it bought me to tears. Have a look at it, maybe you will think twice before judging another parent who is doing his/her best to raise their child.