In Defense of Formula.

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by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor

 

I have to touch on a political hot button for a few minutes. And it has nothing to do with the Middle East but everything to do with mammary glands. I'm just sick of the culture of breastfeed or die out there right now. A woman named Hanna Rosin wrote an article for The Atlantic which stated that breastfeeding may not be everything it’s been extolled for. She received vicious backlash from other women! And she even breastfed!

 

Why do so many women have so much animosity toward other women based on the way they feed their children? In my first book, Sippy Cups, I wrote a chapter about my bad experience with attempting to breast feed. For me personally, it was a terrible trauma that entailed malfunctioning milk ducts, nonstop crying on my end and the baby's, a fenugreek addiction, not to mentioned how much it exacerbated my postpartum depression. In the end, wasn't even worth the three weeks I endured it. Yet, many many readers attacked me for daring to state my own experience. If you don't believe me, check my Amazon reviews.

 

The reason I'm still fired up over this is because I am still approached women at various functions (okay, fine, the few - very few- book signings I've had) who tell me how relieved they were to read my first book and find out they weren't alone about breastfeeding becoming a huge ordeal for them. Quite a few of these women told me they quit breastfeeding but were afraid to tell their friends because they've been openly judged. You (and by you, I mean everyone out there) have no idea how many women among you don't breastfeed but will lie to your face and tell you that they do! Why is that? I'll tell you why - the anti-breastfeeding of the 50's and 60's has experienced a backlash so huge it's gone completely the other way. I know that there are moms out there who still feel they are stigmatized by breastfeeding. I hear you, believe you and feel for you - sure, someone was booted from a plane for exposing a nip and Starbucks booted a breastfeeder from the premises. That’s wrong, But I don't feel it nearly competes with what is going on in the opposite direction. Women, are proud of openly judging other moms who don't breastfeed and will tell women straight out with passion usually reserved for religious zealots that they are lesser for their choice (or non-choice for many many women).

 

I know of a million breastfeeding fanatics yet I don't know one person who is vehemently opposed to people breastfeeding. I read a blog awhile back where the author said she was at a park and saw a woman bottle feeding her baby. She said that she pitied that woman and her baby because the woman wasn't breastfeeding. I was so angry I wanted to punch my very expensive computer screen, but, many readers commented that they related to her feelings! First of all, how did she know the bottle feeder wasn't feeding breast milk but secondly, how is it anyone's business?

 

jmpolnik
05.20.09

Yes, yet again, thank you! I tried very hard with my twin boys to breastfeed them, but between them being very hungry and my having a spinal headache a week after their birth and being pumped up on morphine for it I just couldn't do it. I really didn't care what anyone else thought, but I do have to say that I decided to try it because of the disapproving look the lactation nurse gave me when I told her I was just too tired after their delivery to try it (21 hours of induced labor where the epidural wore off every 20 minutes and then barely worked at all, delivery of the first boy, a 2 hour wait for the second because my cervix closed up on him and I then had a C-section anyway ,,, hmm, and I was too tired to breastfeed? How terrible of me!). So, after pretty much being told I wasn't being a good mother for not even trying to breastfeed I gave it a go before I left the hospital. They were still hungry and needed to be formula fed. I tried it for a few days at home before I had the spinal headache and that didn't go well either. My boys would have never survived on breastfeeding and neither would I. Now, I am happy that I breastfed them -- they've been sick a handful of times in their 2 years (seriously, I can count the times they've been sick on one hand), they eat everything they are given, and are so big no one believes they are only 2. If you can do it, go for it, but yes, please, stop judging the rest of us.

maryellie
05.20.09

Thanks for this. I am one of those moms who "hid". I never exactly lied, but I wasn't open to others. I never breastfed. I never wanted to breastfeed. It was very important to me that my husband have as equal a part in our son's life as he could. I selfishly wanted to have a couple of nights a week where I could sleep through the night. This is why I didn't breastfeed. My now 5 1/2 year-old son is fine. He is as smart as his peers, he doesn't get any sicker than any of the others, he doesn't have asthma or food allergies. He's fine. This worked for me. However, the vehemence of my fellow mothers cowed me into isolation on this issue.

Like prior posters here, I have found that the breast/bottle debate is related to the at home/work debate and all others that come down to mothers judging other mothers. I just can't stand the judgment. How does it help anyone?

mhpp
05.20.09

Bravo!! I am so glad you wrote this article. I have had conversations with many of my "breast feeding nazi" acquaintances over this issue. I had a conversation with a pediatrician who was visiting from the UK, she said something to the effect of "you Americans always take things to the extreme" and "that in the United States, you would have to actually purposefully work (or to not feed) to have a malnurished infant here." Really, the "formula/breast feeding war" is very similar to the whole "stay-at-home/working mom war" in that some women feel that it is perfectly alright or somehow their duty to make judgments regarding parenting/family decisions of other women. I'm not sure why women feel this behavior is appropriate or acceptable, whether it is some sort of need to have these decisions confirmed by someone else, some innate need to please or some twisted sense of superiority. What ever the reason, this "kick them when they are down" behavior makes life more difficult for all women.

boombostic
05.20.09

hooray!!!! My son is 3 1/2 now. Never had more than the common cold either. NEVER been on antibiotics. NEVER had an ear infection. AND He was bottle fed. I tried to breastfeed and I wasn't able to. I had several specialist helping me in the hospital...finally they said, ok...time for formula because it just didn't work for me. I was a lil sad but I never let anyone make me feel less than a women for not breatfeeding. What works for us, works for us, what works for you, I could care less.

bransj1
05.19.09

Thank you so much for talking about this!! Moms really need to stop being so judgemental of one another and bond together for support.
I am a physician who owns my own practice and I had to go back to work after 4 weeks. It was not a choice it just was the reality of my situation. I felt horrible guilt about this already and to top off the guilt I had the worst experience with breastfeeding. My son latched on right away however I was producing minute amounts of breastmilk. I also tried every single natural supplement to increase my supply but he was losing more & more weight so I "supplemented" with formula. I then started pumping around the clock every 2 hours and feeding him and was getting 1 ounce for 30 minute pump with the Medela hospital style pump!! I had the horrible guilt like I was failing him on top of the guilt of having to go back to work. I felt like I could not tell anyone because my doula and the la leche women were saying "oh it will come." Well guess what it never did come more than that little amount and after 3 months of torture I finally stopped it all. Well let me just tell you that women have still asked me, "oh so how long did you breastfeed like if I said the right amount I was worthy." I tell them no number and just tell them that we did what was best for our family. I know how judgemental people are and you can feel it so much when they ask. My son is now 18 months old and had very little breastmilk and only for 3 months. He is healthy as a little horse. I wished he could have had more breastmilk but it just did not work out for me or him, but I definitely want no other mother to judge me for this!!

sthielen
05.19.09

Interesting article. It seems that there is a great division out there between the "Breast Feeding Mafia" and those that use formula. What I find disturbing is how many seemingly healthy women have such a hard time starting breastfeeding. For my first, 15 years ago, I had a terrible time too, but I persevered ( I'm stubborn ), but I went into it not knowing a couple key things. It's hard, really really hard to do. The ceasarian didn't help. Depression was a big problem, very much helped by iron supplemenation. I just don't think that women realize that it is as difficult as it can be. The biggest problem I see is the health care industry, and it is an industry in the US, isn't very pro-active in actually supporting women to do this.

I found the whole process pretty difficult this time as well, for my today one-year old boy. Luckily I have a lot more knowledge, and am just as stubborn. The hospital where I had him was not exactly pro-breastfeeding. The first week at the hospital was full of classes for breastfeeding, but the most important thing a brand new mom needs, and that is rest, wasn't supplied. Once we "got out" and got home to bed, everything went much more smoothly. The stressful environment of the hospital didn't help. I'm sure a lot of problems that women are having with the whole breastfeeding process is actually this sort of stress.

While breastfeeding is better for everybody, any of the stress involved is not good for anyone. What we need is a more laid back approach to the entire process. Babies are a bunch of stress as it is! Feeding them should be easy and relaxing.. and breastfeeding is one way to do this.. when it gets established.. But it doesn't get established all that quickly or that easily. It becomes convenient only with time and patience, rest and proper nutrition. But don't let anyone ever say that it's easy just because it's natural!

In the end, breastfeeding is a much handier and less stressful way to go. I just wonder what I could do to help out anyone else out there who is struggling with it.

Formula or breast and all this controversy doesn't mean anything to anyone. Whatever works, as long as the baby gets love and attention. Isn't that what really counts?

snevans
05.19.09

Thank you so much for writing this!! I am a new mom, and I haven't had success with breastfeeding - at all. The lactation nazis at the hospital and my women's health center have made me feel so guilty that my baby blues started to spin out of control. The situation was only to be made worse when the pediatrician told me I had to start supplementing the feedings. When I realized breast feeding just wasn't going to work, it took me going to my doctor and the pediatrician to confirm it was okay before I would even admit to my family I stopped breastfeeding. "Breast is Best" but "stressed out and seriously depressed mom" is much worse for a newborn struggling to get enough to eat. Now my baby is now on formula only, and she is putting on weight and looking much healthier.. and I am not depressed about that.

Beckalina
05.19.09

This post arrived in my mailbox at the perfect time for me...I intended to nurse my second son just as I had my first, but due to a series of infections (on both our parts) and food allergies (on his part) I had to switch to formula. Once we made the switch he was happier than I'd ever seen him during the course of his life and I was in much less pain physically. Despite that I still fretted daily about going to formula...the pediatrician, mom group mommies and others made me feel as if this should have been the last resort and the guilt I felt was endless. In the end we're sticking with the formula and doing what is best for both of us, but it was amazing how badly I was made to feel given the number of formula-fed children I know who are healthy, intelligent and wonderful. Thank you for this essay!

KCsMama
05.19.09

Thank you, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!! I tried to breastfeed for a very short time. I was so scared to quit and start feeding my daughter formula that you would have thought it had arsenic in it. I didn't like breastfeeding. Call me selfish, but that's the truth. I also worried about when I eventually had to go back to work. The day I finally gave in and gave her formula was such a relief. I am in complete and total awe of my "sisters" out there who breastfeed exclusively. It's tough to give that much of yourself and I respect you all so much. However, I chose not to do it. My daughter thrived, and we were both happy. I cannot agree enough about our need to support each other's choices. We all have one big thing in common. We all love our babies. Thank you for saying what so many of us feel.

iselfidentify
05.19.09

Amen! I tried my hardest to breastfeed (fenugreek, multiple LC visits, a new pump, mother's milk tea by the gallon, homeopathic remedies...) and still just couldn't keep my supply up. Even as my son's weight fell from the 50th to below the 5th percentile. I sobbed the first time we had to supplement with formula. My husband fed him formula for the first time because I couldn't bring myself to do it. After a very tearful conversation with my LC, I came to the realization that breastmilk isn't the best if it isn't the best for my family - all THREE of us. I wanted a natural childbirth, ended up with a cesarean (after 8 hours of pushing naturally...), I didn't have the birth I wanted and breastfeeding was my last chance to get something right. Or at least that's how I felt. Before I had my son, I was judgmental about the decisions other moms made. I get it now. Interestingly, when it comes up that I'm not breastfeeding any longer, I still feel the need to share my tales of BF'ing woes - I mean, what would happen if I said, "Nah, I didn't really care for it, so I stopped."

Parenting is hard enough. What we need is more support, not more division. Thank you for a down-to-earth perspective.