Beetles and Old Navy Onesies and Supermodels, Oh My!

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.

8 Responses

  1. Well said. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since having a baby (who’s now 6-1/2 months old), it’s how very different each baby is. Also, every mom’s circumstances are different. You can’t judge someone and their choices without walking in their shoes. (And even then you shouldn’t!)

    I have friends who couldn’t BF, friends who loved it, and friends who wanted to continue pumping at work, but it was just logistically challenging. And, of course, everything in between. All of those babies are growing up healthy. Isn’t that all that matters?

    We don’t look at world leaders, sports heroes, and the like and think they got to where they are because they were breast fed (or formula fed), right? Why should it be any different for our kids? What matters is that they’re well-nourished and loved.

  2. I like your post. I think that it can relate to a lot of moms, however, formula is bigger than you or me or any mom. The thing is that it is infant *food* but it is not held up to the standards that it should.
    It’s not the choice that using formula is bad, it’s that formula is bad. Like a chicken mcnugget.
    Let me tell you that I used formula for my son because I had no choice, and I won’t go into details why, but it makes my blood boil that there even is a recall, that people in 3rd world countries use contaminated water, or that you can tamper with a formula can.
    Don’t get me started with the unethical selling to pregnant moms, and poor marketing techniques that the companies use.
    I think while people try to get higher standards for formula companies instead of villainizing the product we end up villainizing each other….and the formula companies love that fact.
    I would never ever judge a woman for choosing to formula feed, ever, as I have been there too…I just wish we would hold these companies more accountable to give us a better product to use, that doesn’t have “high fructose corn syrup” as the first ingredient.

  3. I was determined to breastfeed. I swore I would cry through the pain and do whatever it takes! So when my son was born a month early I was ready! He however was not. We worked hard and nurses would suggest formula and I said no. I went home… and just kept trying. After a week we were back at the hospital because my baby had jaundice…in part because of me… Because I wouldn’t give him formula and help him get enough food. It’s still the biggest regret of my life almost 2 years later. People don’t realize that there are moms out there that wanted to breastfeed… So try not to judge the formula feeding mama until you know her story.

  4. i am going to both with my twins because i know how much work it it is without formula so i would like to this time around be less stressed and let some one else feed them once in a while

  5. Great post Lorraine. I had almost the exact scenario with my two babies. It really frustrates me how tunnel vision some of the statement that people make are. Let people choose and stop passing judgement!

  6. I thought child exploitation was prohibited – legally and morally!
    How can such people sleep at night?

  7. I’m so happy to see this article. I always thought I would breastfeed when I got pregnant and researched every possible thing I thought could go wrong and how exactly we would be able to work through it. I had nothing against people that used formula, I had friends who used it, it just didn’t feel right for my family. Things were hard the first day but by the second, we got it. I told my husband I was shocked that I was so lucky to have had a great pregnancy and almost no problems breastfeeding. A couple days later I went into a type of heart failure specific to women who are either in the last month of pregnancy or 6 months following delivery. Thanks to the doctors at the hospital, I survived! I had to start taking drugs for my heart. These drugs were NOT safe for my son but passed through breastmilk. I asked the doctors for an alternative so that I could continue breastfeeding. There was an alternative that they said they “thought” was probably ok for babies but there were no long term studies done. Those drugs also weren’t nearly as good for me. I couldn’t slow down my progress of getting better and let my son ingest something I wasn’t sure was safe. I had to make the switch to formula. I’ve actually had a woman pass me at the mall and mutter something about being a better mom than me because she breastfed her babies. I had another woman stare at my son’s bottle as I fed him with a look like she thought I was stupid for not breastfeeding. I shouldn’t have to feel judged and embaressed to pull out a bottle to feed my baby. What a world we would live in if people stopped judging others for their choices. I would love to see that! I make the choices that are best for my family just like other moms. We shouldn’t judge each other for that.

    • Thanks for the comment Melanie. I’m truly sorry to hear about your condition and your resulting inability to follow your choice to breastfeed. But, yours is the exact type of story that makes my point. This type of unexpected development can happen to any woman – which is why none of us should be condemning formula or people who choose to use it instead of breastfeeding. I hope you have made a full recovery. Take care.

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