I’ve seen lots of news items and Twitter conversations lately that have made me bristle and cringe. The subject? Breastfeeding vs formula feeding of course – what else gets the mom-blogger community more in a tizz?
We’ve had supermodel Gisele telling us breastfeeding should be law for the first 6 months. We’ve had the usual condemnation of formula companies and witch-hunting of anyone who dares to offer formula samples or be connected in any way to the promotion of formula. Old Navy stirred the pot and risked being burnt at the stake by stocking the ‘Formula Powered’ onesie. (Personally I wouldn’t dare put my toddler in that garment for fear we’d be egged, or maybe ‘milked’, walking through the mall.) We’ve had a particularly nasty outbreak of rather uncomradely Tweeps delighting in the recent Similac beetle debacle. Absolutely the contamination of a baby food product is horrific and no, you wouldn’t get beetles in breast milk as one particular smart-arse tweeter pointed out, but don’t you think these moms who’ve been using Similac deserve some support? They’re worried sick, they don’t need unhelpful, playground-style ‘serves you right’ and ‘I told you so’s being hurled at them.
There are many good reasons why women breastfeed and many just as good reasons why some turn to formula as an alternative or a supplement: some are health reasons; some are down to pure choice. Babies shouldn’t be given cow’s milk until 9-12 months of age. They might start solids around 6 months of age, but they still need nutritional boost provided by breastmilk or formula until they are old enough to digest cow’s milk and are eating a varied diet and sufficient amounts of solid food. By condemning formula we are saying women are duty bound to breastfeed their babies solidly for almost an entire year – without fail. Whoa, that’s a tall order. There are too many what-ifs.
So I’m jumping on the bandwagon and putting in my two-penn’orth on the great breastfeeding dispute by recalling my what-ifs.
I breastfed both my babies to start with. As I explained in my last post, Pickle was born with a cleft lip. So of my two babies one would assume I would have had more trouble breastfeeding her. I presumed she would need to be fed with a special bottle, but thankfully no: with some invaluable help from the maternity team in hospital Pickle and I learned a proper latch. She was a trooper, even managing to breastfeed right after her operation when her face was tight and swollen with stitches. I can’t imagine how much it must have hurt the poor little mite. Although breastfeeding Pickle certainly had its challenges (especially when the orthodontic plate that she had to wear started chafing my nipples *shudder*) it was mostly a pleasurable motherhood experience and with some additional support from a lactation consultant along the way she breastfed well until deciding it was no longer for her just before her first birthday.
So, when Bowser came on the scene I assumed breastfeeding him would be a breeze. It was my second time around and this time there were no facial-furniture challenges to overcome. Wrong: it was a nightmare pretty much from start to finish. I got the full range of breastfeeding ailments: sore, cracked and bleeding nipples; a plugged duct that developed into mastitis; and thrush. These were painful and discouraging, but with help again from a lactation consultant they were overcome. However Bowser never seemed particularly happy with the whole thing. He wouldn’t stay contentedly snuggled into my chest nursing. Instead he would continually pull away, jaws clenched around my nipple, dragging it across the room. (I totally blame him for the sorry state my nipples are now in. Not wanting to risk poking someone’s eye out or draw stares with my ridiculously extended and permanently standing-to-attention nipples, I’ll forever have to wear padded bras.) We never relaxed into it and it started taking a toll on my emotions. I desperately wanted to carry on breastfeeding him at least seeing out the first year, but reluctantly decided to throw in the burp-cloth after a miserable 5 months. Could I have tried harder? Yes. If Gisele had her way and I’d had to stick it out for another month I would have, but thankfully I wasn’t risking breaking the law, so, for the sake of my sanity, I quit. A healthy, happy mom free to make her own choices is more use to her baby than a depressed, stressed mom who’s doing what she thinks she’s supposed to or is being bullied in to.
Breastfeeding vs formula doesn’t have to be a battleground. In fact there shouldn’t be a versus at all. Can’t we agree that although breast is undoubtedly best, sometimes formula is needed? Please let’s accept both and allow each mom to CHOOSE to do whichever is right for her and her baby without judgment or hectoring and without having to justify her decision.