The Big Question

P question

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Are you nursing?”

I’ve been asked that question more times and by more people than I can count. It usually comes right after, “How old is he?” and right before, “How does he sleep?” It’s not just people I’m acquainted with who want to know if I’m breastfeeding. Many random strangers also seem quite curious about how I’m feeding my baby. Here is a shortlist of people who have asked me if I nurse my son:

  • Most of my friends
  • Some of my coworkers
  • My son’s doctor
  • The cashier at the thrift store across the street from my house
  • Cashiers (plural) at the grocery store
  • The hairdresser that I went to one time
  • A staff member at my gym when I went in to cancel my membership
  • Strangers that we encounter on our walks

And this list is by no means exhaustive.

Some people have a legitimate reason to ask. For example, during my son’s two month checkup, the doctor noticed that his weight was a bit low. Naturally, she’d follow up by asking what he was eating. I get that. But when someone comes up to us on the street to comment on how cute he is, why do they need to know if he eats from a breast or a bottle?

When my son was very young and I was still struggling with the fact that I had to formula-feed him, I used to hate it when people asked. It came at me like an accusation and I felt like a little kid about to be punished as I stammered out a reply, “Uh, no..I mean, yeah, we did in the beginning. I guess he did for about three months, but it just didn’t work, so, uh, now I don’t…but he’s okay…” I tried so hard to justify how I fed him. Now, when people ask, I just offer a simple, “No.” I guess a more appropriate reply might be, “Why do you ask?” but I don’t want to make a big deal about it. I give them a quick answer and move on.

I find it kind of weird. It’s like when I was pregnant and people used to come up to me and touch my belly uninvited. Once you conceive a child, is your body now part of the common collective, free to touch and everyone’s business? Or maybe I’m just thinking about this too much.

Do people ask you how you feed your baby? Is it weird?

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It’s Time to Get Used to It

There is a video making its way around social media. It’s entitled Embarrassed and it’s a spoken word poem by a woman named Hollie McNish. In it, she expresses her frustration with the stigma surrounding breastfeeding in public and how she’s tired of having to feed her infant daughter in dirty bathrooms just so that she doesn’t offend anyone.

I know that I can get up on my soapbox about how formula-feeding moms can be treated, but I’m not blind to the fact that breastfeeding moms have their own challenges. I’ve never been asked to leave a restaurant for feeding my baby. I’ve never chosen to feed him in a stinky bathroom because I didn’t want anyone to see him eating. When people see him drinking from a bottle at 8 months old, they aren’t compelled to ask me if he’s too old for it. If he’s still drinking from a bottle at two years old, I won’t have to worry that people will call me a pedophile.

It’s really time that we end the double standard of being bombarded by advertising images of half-naked women, yet getting puritanical over the tiny bit of flesh exposed when a woman feeds her baby.

If this is okay:

Bra model

Image courtesy of victoriassecret.com

Then this is okay:

Breastfeeding mom

Image courtesy of acutezmedia.com

Check out the video and share it with your mom friends. Because no one should feel compelled to give their baby a meal in a stinky public bathroom sitting on a cold toilet seat lid.

 

5 Ways That I Feel Like Less of a Mom

I don’t know why, but eight months into this parenting adventure I still hesitate to call myself a mom. I clearly am one, but I feel like I haven’t earned the right to use that label yet. For some reason I have this idea in my head that our “momness” can be evaluated on a scale, and I just don’t measure up. It makes absolutely no sense, but here are some of the reasons why.

I feel like less of a mom…

London, England Caesearian Surgery, obstetrici...

London, England Caesearian Surgery, obstetricians at work. This is an edit of the original image, reducing colour and luminosity noise. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…because I had a c-section. It was an emergency section and probably saved my baby’s life, but I still feel like I cheated. I feel like moms who give birth vaginally, and especially naturally, really earn their stripes. I can’t even count the number of women who tell me that they wish they would have had a c-section, as if it were the easy way out. Maybe that’s why I feel this way. I know that undergoing major surgery wasn’t easy, physically or emotionally, but it still makes me feel like less of a mom.

…because I only have one baby. I know that most moms only start out with one, but I feel like I have no right to complain about being tired or busy with only one baby. My mom had twins when I was 18 months old. Now she can probably tell you about being tired and busy. I feel like an amateur compared to moms with two or three or more kids.

…because my baby is so young. I barely know anything about being a mom. My baby’s needs right now are fairly basic. He’s not even mobile. I haven’t yet entered the arenas of tantrums and schoolwork and adolescence. Moms who have been through all that can really see the big picture and know what it truly means to be a parent.

…because I’m going back to work. Out of financial necessity, when my baby is one year old I will be returning to work and he will be in daycare. I’ve heard people ask why someone would have kids if they’re just going to have someone else raise them. I hate to say it, but I don’t totally disagree with that statement. My son’s daycare provider is going to be there for his first steps, his first words, and all sorts of other firsts. I’m going to miss out on so much. It makes me feel like a crappy mom.

…because I’m not breast-feeding. I feel like I’ve beaten this subject to death, so I won’t get into great detail again, but I envy moms who can breast-feed their kids. I feel like they have a connection with their babies that I’ll never have. It makes me feel like less of a woman and definitely less of a mom.

I know that I’m new to motherhood and that obviously I don’t have the experience and perspective that seasoned moms have. I know that it’s not a competition and that I have no one that I need to measure up to, but sometimes it feels that way. I think that I just need to accept myself and my limitations, be thankful for what I do have, and not be afraid to call myself a mom.

Formula Feeding Myth #3 – We’re Stupid

In a blog post entitled “Is Pushing Formula Evil?“, Dr. Darcia Narvaez makes the following statement regarding formula-feeding moms:

Too many [moms] have fallen for the hype from the pharmaceutical companies (who make formula) telling them that formula is good enough for normal babies and best for digestive problems. These are ignorant mistruths.

Even if it’s not overtly stated, this is a common accusation made of formula-feeding moms. The assumption is that we’re misinformed and somehow didn’t get the message that breast-feeding is recommended for our babies. Take a read through the comments section of any formula-feeding support post on Facebook, and you’ll see countless people spouting, “Breast is best!” and detailing the benefits of breast milk over formula.

Of all of the misconceptions regarding moms who don’t breast-feed, this one is the least true, if only for the reason that in this day it is virtually impossible to not get the “breast is best” message. From the time that we find out that we’re pregnant, the advice that we should be breast-feeding is transmitted loud and clear: on parenting websites, in pregnancy books, in our prenatal classes, from our health-care providers, and from our friends and family. Hell, it’s even written on the side of the formula containers. When I sent away for my free diaper bag from Nestlé, they sent me a barrage of pamphlets, each of them prominently displaying the message that I should be breast-feeding. And if we somehow didn’t get the information before we started formula-feeding, there’s a lineup of people to tell us now.

I think I can speak for most formula-feeding moms when I say: we get it. We’ve heard the arguments for breast-feeding. When you lecture us that breast-feeding is best, or inform us of the supposed dangers of formula, it’s insulting. It implies that the decision on how we feed our babies was made out of ignorance rather than necessity or choice. We aren’t stupid. We made an informed decision that works for us and our families, and that’s the best that we can do for our babies.

This, along with being labelled as lazy and selfish, are the three most common misconceptions that I have heard about formula-feeding moms. Are there any others that you’ve encountered?

Formula Feeding Myth #2 – We’re Selfish

The following is an excerpt from a comment left on the Fearless Formula Feeder website:

“…It is a scientifically proven fact that breastmilk is hands down, better for babies than formula. Moms can come up with any excuse why they don’t or won’t nurse. But it all comes down to selfishness. Nipples bleeding, mastisitis, drying up, etc. It’s all excuses. Why would one promote formula feeding knowing it doesn’t compare to the nutrition in breastmilk? I don’t get it. It seems like this website is a bunch of moms trying to justify themselves for not nursing because they feel guilty, as they should. If a mom isn’t willing to do the best possible thing for her baby, then why even have a baby. It’s really sad because there are so many women who would love to have a baby that they could nurse and nourish, but its not possible for them to have children. Then there is women telling stories on here that won’t even give their newborn baby colostrum??? So selfish and sickening. Poor little babies.”

This is obviously the opinion of one person, whom I don’t even know, who decided to spout off a bunch of judgemental nonsense on a website. I get that. But this person is not alone. I’ve heard the word “selfish” tossed around often when it comes to describing moms who don’t breast-feed.

It’s confusing to me. Of all the moms that I know who formula-feed, and in the countless number of stories that I’ve read online and in books, no one chose formula without seriously considering what the consequences would be for their babies. In the end, the choice was either made for them (they were physically unable to breast-feed), or the ramifications of breast-feeding their infants were negative enough that it was prohibitive to try or keep trying.

How we feed our babies is just one of the thousands of decisions that we make as parents. Our babies need nutrition to thrive. They also need a caretaker that is happy, healthy, and able to engage. Putting aside our own egos and admitting that breast-feeding isn’t working, or doesn’t work in our situation, is not selfish. Ensuring that we, as mothers, are healthy and whole is for the benefit of our babies. Making the decision to feed our babies formula, in spite of the criticism and judgement that we receive, is a decision made out of love. And it’s just about the most selfless thing we can do.

Formula Feeding Myth #1 – We’re Lazy

breastfeeding memeLast week, the website Babble.com featured an article about the benefits of formula-feeding. Predictably, in the comments section were a number of judgemental responses that insulted moms who formula feed. For any new readers to this blog, I am a formula-feeding mom, although that was never my intention. You can read earlier posts on the subject of formula feeding here and here.

I think my earlier posts quite succinctly covered my opinion on the breast vs. bottle debate, but for the benefit of myself and the other formula-feeding moms out there, I would like to publicly refute some of the stereotypes of moms who don’t or can’t breast-feed their babies.

Something that I’ve heard over and over (and have even beaten myself up about) is that moms who weren’t able to breast-feed just didn’t try hard enough. We’ve been labelled as lazy quitters who are uncommitted to our babies’ best interests.

I can’t speak for other women, but I can tell you that I have never worked as hard at anything as I have at trying to breast-feed. I never, ever thought to myself that I wanted to quit because it was too much work. I saw countless lactation experts, read every resource that I could find on breast-feeding and latching, watched every video on the La Leche League website, and kept on trying until I literally could not stand the pain any longer.

When I made the decision to switch from breast-feeding to pumping and bottle-feeding, it was because breast-feeding wasn’t working. It was because I was miserable and my family was suffering for it. And pumping was no easy way out. First thing in the morning I would feed my baby a bottle as I leaked all over my shirt, then hook myself up to the pump and try to simultaneously comfort my baby (who was whining to be held) and pump enough milk for the next feeding. I would hook myself up to that pump every two hours, and my baby hated it. As soon as he heard the whir of the motor he would start crying. I felt so guilty as I tried to hold the pump and bottle with one hand and rock him with the other. When my milk supply dried up, I tried to double my pumping to every hour, while downing upwards of 12 pills a day.

Now that I am formula feeding, it is no easier. As soon as my baby lays down for a nap, I’m in the kitchen washing and sterilizing bottles and mixing up formula for the rest of the day. I always need to make sure that I have a full kettle of boiled water ready so that I can make a bottle if I need to. When my baby cries, instead of being able to put him to the breast, I have to grab a bottle, put it together, and warm it up while trying to comfort him and not feel guilty about making him wait so long to eat. If I’m leaving the house, I must gauge how much formula to bring with me. If I bring too much, it will spoil before I can use it. If I don’t bring enough, I’m making an emergency trip back home or finding a store to buy some ready-to-feed bottles.

I’ve heard many women chastise those of us who tried to breast-feed, citing themselves as an example. “It was hard in the beginning, but I stuck with it and I’m so glad I did, because it got better and now I’ve exclusively breast-fed my baby for a year. You shouldn’t give up just because it’s hard.” I think stories like that are great. I wish that I had a story like that. But the fact that it worked for one mom because she stuck with it doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone if they stick with it. Sometimes the negative side-effects of “sticking with it” aren’t worth it. Sometimes, physiologically, breast-feeding just isn’t possible for some women or babies. And sometimes women choose formula feeding for their own reasons, reasons that don’t include “I’m too lazy.”

Yes, breast-feeding is a lot of work. Yes, formula-feeding is a lot of work. Yes, pumping is a lot of work. Regardless of how we feed our babies, this is one area in which no mom is lazy.

Book Review: Bottled Up

English: WPA poster promoting breast feeding a...

English: WPA poster promoting breast feeding and proper child care, showing mother nursing baby. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before baby P. was born, I was positive that I was going to exclusively breast-feed him. I had heard rumours that it might be difficult, so I read everything on the subject that I could get my hands on. I silently judged mothers who gave up on breastfeeding, thinking them to be lazy or uncommitted. In my prenatal class, we devoted an entire evening to the subject of breast-feeding. The doula who taught the class told us that the culture of breast-feeding had been lost over the past couple of generations, but that almost every woman could breast-feed if she wanted. I left that class more determined and proud of myself than ever. I was going to be one of a new generation of women bringing natural feeding back into our culture.

I was so fanatic about it that we didn’t even have any bottles in the house when P. was born. I had given my information to Nestlé because they were giving away a free diaper bag and changing mat (along, of course, with a couple of cans of powdered formula). I almost threw the formula away, but decided to keep it in the extremely unlikely event that we would need it.

In my inaugural post on this blog, I detailed my struggle with breast-feeding and eventual transition to exclusively formula-feeding. The guilt and shame that came along with that process is something that is difficult for me to articulate, and painful to remember. I used to avoid feeding my baby in public at all costs. I would feed him immediately before we left the house, then frantically try to get all of my running around done within an hour so that I could get back home in time to feed him again. If I did have to feed him while we were out, I did so in my car. When I got together with other moms and they discussed their breast-feeding woes, I would nod along in agreement-partially because I understood, but also because I wanted them to think that I was breast-feeding too. I felt so ashamed, and so alone.

bookThank goodness we have Suzanne Barston and her book Bottled Up. She, too, is a mom who struggled with breast-feeding and the guilt that came with feeding her baby formula, and she decided to do something about it. Her book is a thorough examination of the current culture in North America that teaches moms that “breast is best” and anything else is at best sub par, and at worst dangerous. She argues that how we feed our babies has become more than just a matter of nutrition, but rather a moral compass and measure of our worth as mothers.

The book starts with a history of infant feeding including the evolution of formula, the sometimes shameful tactics of formula companies, and examples of over-zealous marketing of the pro-breast-feeding agenda. She moves into a discussion on the inability of some women to be able to breast-feed (for a variety of reasons), refuting the argument that “every woman can breast-feed”. There is a significant section of the book devoted to the heart-breaking dilemma faced by mothers with post-partum depression and other mood disorders who must choose between taking medication for their mental health and doing (what they’re told is) the best for their baby.

There is an entire chapter written on the challenge faced by working American mothers who must pump at work in order to meet the recommendation set out by the WHO to exclusively breast-feed for six months. This is obviously less of an issue here in Canada, where we receive one full year of maternity leave, but not all Canadian women are able or want to be out of the work force for a year.

Finally, she takes an in-depth look at the statistics that are commonly touted as proof that breast-feeding is nutritionally superior to formula-feeding. It would seem that in many cases the statistics are shaky or exaggerated, which can lead us to conclude that perhaps breast milk isn’t really the “liquid gold” cure-all that we’ve been lead to believe, or at the very least that more research is needed.

Her book is neither pro-formula nor anti-breast. It is simply an analysis of the messages that new mothers are receiving, at a time when they are at their most vulnerable, that overemphasize the notion that the manner in which we feed our babies is the foremost measure of how good we are as mothers. We’re left asking the same question that I asked myself as a new mom: is breast-feeding really so much better for our babies that it’s worth the stress and guilt and pain that some women put themselves through?

I would strongly recommend that mothers-to-be read this book, along with (obviously) women who hoped to breast-feed but were not able to. I also would like to see this as recommended reading for health-care providers like OB’s, midwives, and doulas.

If you are a woman who is struggling with any of the issues raised in this post, you might want to check out Barston’s website, Fearless Formula Feeder. If there was ever any doubt that a book or website like this is needed, it is put to rest once you see the overwhelming community of women coming together to support each other in their feeding choices.

Evolution of a Formula-Feeding Mom

Becoming a new parent is an adjustment (to say the least). If there is one thing that all new parents quickly learn to deal with, it’s judgement. Any decision that you make regarding your baby will be judged somewhere, by someone. Now that we have online parenting groups, we can be judged by people half way around the world whom we have never even met!

No single choice seems as polarizing, though, as the war between formula-feeding and breast-feeding. The opposing camps on this issue are so divided, and the labels so harsh: breast-feeding moms are self-righteous and smug; formula-feeding moms are uninformed and negligent.

I should preface this post by stating that I am very pro-breast feeding. In spite of the fact that some of the health benefits attributed to breast milk may be inflated, I think it truly is the best nutrition for our babies. I also think that there is a lot about the breast-feeding relationship that we don’t know yet. There may be benefits that we don’t even know exist and can’t measure.

That being said, my son is formula-fed. It was never my plan. Like all first-time expectant moms, I had a vision of how being a mom was going to be. I planned on an intervention-free, peaceful birth followed by a year of exclusive breastfeeding. And, like so many expectant moms, the reality was much different. I had a difficult labour that culminated in a c-section. Instead of getting to cuddle and feed my new son right away, I was whisked off to recovery and had to wait hours to hold him. When I finally got to try feeding him, the nurse helped me position him, and he latched on right away. He knew exactly what he was doing and I thought to myself, “Oh, thank God.” I wasn’t going to have to struggle with this like so many other moms that I knew.

Over the next few feedings, however, something seemed wrong. Even though he was feeding every two hours, he was always hungry. He was dropping weight. And he hadn’t had a wet diaper yet. We had a little diaper on him that had a yellow stripe on the front that would turn blue when the diaper was wet. I checked that diaper constantly, praying that it would be wet, only to see the yellow stripe. That damned yellow stripe. After two days, the nurses got concerned. One night, after weighing him again, one of the nurses gently suggested that we could offer him some formula. Out of exhaustion and worry, I reluctantly agreed.

After bottle feeding him, I looked at my new infant son. He was finally satisfied, his tiny stomach full for the first time. I should have taken comfort in that, but I didn’t. I felt disgusted and angry with myself, and guilty. It was supposed to be my body that fed my baby. Resolved that that would be the one and only time that my baby ate formula, I resumed breast-feeding. But still, my body wasn’t producing the milk that my baby needed. We gave him a few more bottles while he was in the hospital, and soon it became routine. I would breast feed him to try to encourage my supply, and then we would “top up” with formula.

When we got home, the routine continued. Only now it was really painful to breast-feed him as well. From everything that I read, it seemed like he probably wasn’t latched on properly. I had help from my midwife, countless nurses, and lactation experts. They all said that he was latched perfectly and that there shouldn’t be any pain. Only there was.

762147_dripping_milk_4

Image courtesy of amdavis http://www.sxc.hu/

Feeding time became so stressful. I dreaded the toe-curling pain of my baby latching on, and the inevitable frustration when he drank all of the milk that I had and was still hungry. I started to think, “If he’s just going to need formula anyway, why bother putting myself through this?” It got so bad, that I actually started to delay feeding times because it was so miserable. My poor partner tried to help as much as he could. I would get positioned to feed, with pillows propped up all around me, and he would hand me the baby and then stand by helplessly as I cried while I fed him.

I knew that something had to change. Yes, breast milk was best for my baby. But having a happy and loving mom was important for my baby, too. Being able to bond peacefully over mealtimes was important. So I started to pump.  Things immediately got better. I stopped dreading feeding my son, and started to enjoy cuddling him while giving him a bottle. My supply was never high enough that I could exclusively breast feed him, but the combination of breast milk and formula seemed to be working. Then, when he was about two months old, I got sick. Overnight, my supply completely dried up. I tried to get it back, taking pills and pumping religiously. It never came back. It was then that I had to give up on the idea that I would ever get to exclusively breast feed my baby.

Since then, I wonder if there is something else that I could have done. I look back at milestones along the way and think…if I had just not given him that bottle in the hospital. If I had just met with one more consultant who might have told me what was wrong. If I had just tried a little harder at feeding him. It’s something that I still struggle with day to day. When I see a woman breast-feeding, I feel a jealousy course through my body, the likes of which I have never felt before.  I want that relationship with my baby.

For some women, formula feeding is a choice.  For me and others, it’s a necessity. Regardless, formula-feeding moms love their babies just as much as breast-feeding moms. We are not all ignorant and uninformed. We are not lazy (spending nap times disassembling, washing, sterilizing, and reassembling those damn Dr. Brown’s bottles leaves no room for laziness). It’s not always a matter of us not trying hard enough. My baby is not doomed to a life of allergies, sickness, obesity, and eating processed food just because he got his start on formula. Thank goodness we live in a time where an alternative to breast milk exists.

In the end, I’m not writing this for the approval of all the other moms out there.  The only judgement that I have to live with day to day is what I tell myself.  And so I choose to tell myself that I am a loving and caring mom who is doing her best for her baby…and in a year I’ll have something completely different to obsess about.