Sore Spots

It’s spring. Love is in the air. So, it must be time for . . .

the latest throw down in the breast vs. bottle wars. There are some great pieces about this, um, yeah. See, here’s the first problem. If I call it a controversy, someone’s going to yell at me because breastfeeding is natural and utterly not controversial. If I call it a discussion, someone, somewhere will say I’m not taking it seriously. If I call it a war, well, yeah, that’s probably the best word for it because it is polarizing. People feel really strongly about what’s appropriate and what’s not and harsh words end up getting spoken.

Here’s the thing. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, needs to take a chill pill. First up, the formula feeders (or former formula feeders): relax. Not every post, tweet, or comment about breastfeeding is a slam on you. If someone makes an “I” statement, it’s about them, not about you. If someone is talking about an “ideal” that’s all it is, an ideal. It doesn’t mean that everyone can live up to the ideal — hell, most people can’t (this is why you’ll find homemade chicken nuggets on my menu more frequently than I like to admit, but hey, they’re homemade, right?)

Next, the breastfeeders: congratulations on feeding your babies. Great work! Now, please take a deep breath and remember, it’s not rocket science. You haven’t invented cold fusion; you’ve fed your baby. This does not now entitle you to tell anyone what they should be doing or how they should be doing it. Is breast best? In an ideal world, yes. Do we all live in an ideal world? No.

Let’s think about a couple of points that keep getting pounded on by lactivists: 1) There are only a few, rare women who can’t breastfeed; and 2) Your body gave birth, it’s a miraculous thing, so it can feed your child.

Having watched these posts explode with comments from women who couldn’t breastfeed? I think the few and rare is not as few and rare as we’ve been led to believe. And it is NOT HELPFUL to tell someone that she “could have done it” with proper support or whatever. Because that? Creates a sense of failure and guilt. And why, for the love of God, would anyone want to create more guilt in a profession that already corners the market on guilt (especially since it’s quite clear that all of my understanding of Roman Catholic guilt was *way* out of proportion with reality). Also, it’s frankly none of your business why someone couldn’t/isn’t breastfeeding.

It’s nothing short of rude to tell someone that if they had a baby then they should be able to breastfeed. I’m sorry, because I know this is the conventional wisdom, but it’s wrong. It’s as wrong as saying that every woman can give birth vaginally. It’s not true. Read your history. Know that before there was formula babies DIED because they couldn’t get fed. There is a REASON there were wet nurses. And it wasn’t just because some women (and/or upper class women) didn’t want to breastfeed.

Look, I’ve heard it all: I should feel confident in my “choice,” and so nothing anyone says should be able to induce guilt or make me feel bad; I don’t respect my children because I didn’t breastfeed; I abused my children by giving them formula; I’m a snake for not breastfeeding; and so forth.

I know I have some fairly ardent breastfeeding advocates following me and I have a question. How does that rhetoric further your goal? And see, you can tell me that only the fringe of the movement makes those arguments and that you don’t agree with those comments, but I’ve heard them from too many people in too many different forums to feel that this isn’t a fairly representative opinion.

Now, for the formula feeders, I also have a question: why don’t you tell your stories? Talk about why you feed formula. Write a blog entry. Explain the reasons/reasoning behind the decision (if you were actually able to make a decision), and then try to let it go. Ignore the arguments. Don’t let yourself get sucked in. Realize that no matter how many times you explain your circumstances, there are going to be women who simply refuse to view the feeding of formula as a reasonable choice in some circumstances and pretty much only see it as the worst possible option.

Finally, for all of you ardent breastfeeders? Put your money where your mouth is. If you are so adamant that breast is best for every child, then make sure you have a local milk bank and donate to it if you’re still lactating. If you’re not still lactating, volunteer, advertise for them, recruit nursing mothers for it. If there were actually milk banks available with screened breast milk, women like me could have done something other than formula.

But there aren’t. And so, my children received formula. And they’re thriving. They did not get a significant number of illnesses (and certainly not more than any of their breastfed confederates), and Katie’s trigonocephaly was certainly not caused by lack of breast milk.

Please know, I’m not condemning anyone (well, still not crazy about the people who said I don’t love/respect my children or that I abused them), but I think we all need to consider whether any of this is worth hurting others for. One thought, though, I’ve seen a lot of similarities between the rhetoric used about formula feeders and the rhetoric that the students at Candace McMillan’s high school use to defend their actions. I’m not sure that’s an association that anyone wants.

Edited: Should have been Candice McMillan’s school, I’ve fixed it in the text.

11 thoughts on “Sore Spots

  1. What a great post. I actually did write about breastfeeding, because while I thought I’d do it for a year with my daughter (I did it for six months with my son until he stopped gaining weight), it just wasn’t working for us. I came down with PPD, she fidgeted and cried after every feeding. She never seemed happy or satisfied with the breastmilk, and I remembered that my son was content, so I knew something wasn’t right. My endocrinologist told me I needed a huge amount of calcium each day, and yet lactivists (like that word!) would say to cut out dairy. So. I did it for two months, she’s now on formula, we are a happier family. I think you did a great job of summing up this conflict. Everyone just needs to back off and respect other parents, mothers, to decide what’s best for their family, in breastfeeding as in other things. (Perhaps the whole breastfeeding debate is just the first of a series of opinions about how to parent in general, and we all need to get off each other’s backs.)

  2. As you know, I am a fan of the milk, but not any nastiness over it. It’s awesome that my body makes milk, but it’s not like I can take CREDIT for that!

    When M was born, I cried because I had to supplement. Initially, I felt like a failure because the message was always breat-milk ONLY. Then, because he was a determined little bugger, I ended up nursing him for over 2 years (he ate food too after 6 months). I honestly tried to wean him after a year, but he was having none of it. I am pleased at how this worked out – but not proud, as I only had a little to do with it.

    With K, I have been at ease with the occasional bottle of formula. And of course, since Mr. Coffee stays home, I pump at work (big bonus is that we can give C some of my milk this way – and yes, sometimes K gets formula so C can have a wee bit of mommy’s milk ~ the only breastmilk he has ever had as far as we know).

    But I know I am lucky that I have a job where pumpimg is possible. I have had to be much more stubborn to keep K going – he’s not quite as INTO it as M – but we’re doing okay. A year will be a big success. And I like lactating, so I may pump longer if he weans HIMSELF early. We’ll see..

    And I ramble, but what I wish is that the message was:
    1. It’s more up to the baby than th mom and
    2. If you can nurse, do it as much as you can; your body will adjust (to produce at night, for instance, but not so much in the day).
    And then leave it at that.

    I suspect that people who are unable to nurse exclusively due to, say, clerking at Walmart, or simply because they only make a little milk, would be less likely to give up if the message DIDN’T stress the ONLY so much. And perhaps there’d be less contention over all.

    We all do what seems best given our situations at the time. No one ever REALLY knows another person’s story.

    But maybe there would not be less contention. Maybe then it would just be the best thing to….get the stars removed from our bellies…

    *sigh* I hope you aren’t getting hassled about this still. It is a MEAN thing to do – as if being a mother isn’t guilt-producing and worrying enough without people saying you’re doing it wrong when you are trying so hard to do what seems right.

    Oh, and apparently – no vaginal births for me. Only C was born vaginally, but he came to our home on a plane with Mr Coffee…

    • Oh, I know you are. And, honestly, I am, too. But when it comes down to a choice between me being here for the long haul and her having breast milk for the first year, it was no contest. Given how crappy I still feel, and how much strength I still don’t have, I can only imagine what a year plus of breastfeeding would have done to me.

      • Indeed. And I couldn’t have brought myself to use uncreened milk from someone else either – that seems way riskier than forumla to me too….

        I hope your health improves; feeling crappy for prolonged periods is…well, it’s crappy (and hard to get support)

  3. After 10 years in mommy environments on the net I have no idea why anyone gets drawn into a discussion of this. Honestly. No idea.

    It’s too partisan and contentious to be useful to anyone EVER.

    • Yeah, I know. I just can’t quite get myself to keep quiet when people are insisting that bodies were made to give birth to babies and feed them.

      I’m a living testament to the fact that it’s not always that way. If I lived a hundred years ago, I would have died in childbirth. My son might have survived, but only if a wet nurse could have been found. I’m grateful, every day, for the medical advances that allowed me to live and that allowed my children to be nourished and I will stand up and be heard when these crappy discussions get started.

  4. Just wanted to add that there are some babies who are also not capable of breastfeeding, even if the mom is able to. Thanks for a lovely, balanced post. Of course it’s healthier to breastfeed, but that doesn’t mean it’s always “better” (stopped trying w/my son after more than 2 months of work with a lactation consultant, tons of tears and some really negative mom/baby vibes) or even possible.

  5. I must say… I am in love with you. Okay, not REALLY in love with you, but I wish you were in the moms group that I am in because your words make a serious impact.

    We have a small band of moms in our group that are “lactivists”, but in my mind… they’re honestly just downright evil. Sounds horrible, I know. But if you heard some of the things their ringleader has said, you’d be cringing as well. Things like:
    “I was smiling the entire day that the similac recall happened”.
    “Feeding your child formula is equivalent to putting them in the backseat of your car without a carseat and driving over a bumpy road”.
    “Only 1% of women can’t breastfeed- I doubt you’re actually one of them, you didn’t try hard enough”.
    “Put a blanket over your babys head when you feed her a bottle; it’s what is expected of me when I breastfeed”

    Is your blood boiling yet? Just a few of the things that she has said. She’s left me literally in tears before. I’m kind of a softie anyway though to be honest with you.

    I hate conflict, I hate when people judge other people- and I’ve never felt so judged before in my life. Yes, I feed my child formula. Yes, I have bumpers in her crib. YES I let her touch that toy that fell on the ground for a whopping 5 seconds. No, she doesn’t get a bath every single day. Yes my dogs lick her in the face- do I like it? no, but I have Three dogs and I can’t always keep them away from her.

    Sorry for the ramble. Please come be a guest speaker for my moms group 🙂 People are SO afraid of this one lady in particular that she bullies the entire group. Sad and pathetic, I agree.

    • Hi Sara!

      Welcome! I’m pretty adamant about speaking up when I feel like people are being jerks. I didn’t survive long in the local moms groups. I’m just not a good fit (big surprise) because I won’t let them beat up on me.

      Though I admit, it’s the sneak attacks that are the worst. The snide comments that are made just at the level where I can hear them and so on. There are some people who simply cannot understand that some things are out of our control. We might prefer to do them a different way, but we can’t.

      I’m tempted the next time a big breastfeeding event comes around to have people tell their stories about formula feeding. Would you want in on that?

      • Yes, yes and YES I would want in on that. Not for a huge personal history, but a sum up:

        My daughter was 5 weeks early. 5.5 lbs, she was very weak and was whisked away from me shortly after the emergency c-section. I didn’t see her until the next day.
        Bottom line- I have kidney disease and it’s what caused her prematurity. It’s also what caused my milk to dry up at 6 weeks (despite faithful breastfeeding/pumping EVERY TWO HOURS TWENTY FOUR HOURS A DAY… not to mention doing everything possible to keep the supply up- fenugreek mixtures, the all natural mothers milk pills, insane hydration.. nothing got it up). Apparently that was me “not trying” hard enough.

        I’d love to be a part of anything formula related. Formula has kept my daughter alive.

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