Thursday, June 30, 2011

We Wouldn't Be Mommies if We Didn't Have Guilt

Did you happen to read this article from Peaceful Parenting that Mama Christa posted? I have a few things to blog about on this post, but today I want to talk about the guilt topic. 

I have a lot of friends who formula feed. I don't think formula is poison, or that women who formula feed are bad mothers. Of course you know our mission here at The Good Letdown ISN'T about making moms feel bad for formula feeding, afterall...feeding your baby can never be "wrong," no matter how you choose to do it. However, the relationship between breastfeeding mothers and formula feeding mothers is strained, either openly or secretly, usually there is some tension. 

Take for instance this new mom I met who lives down the street from me. Her husband works and goes to school with my husband and they have the most beautiful little baby girl you have ever seen (other than any baby girl who may have come out of YOUR body, of course). She's got the thickest, darkest hair you've ever seen and the most gorgeous eyes. Her mother is smart and kind, her father, well educated and fun. We really like them both. However, both times we have hung out with them, the mother has brought up breastfeeding/formula feeding. She mostly formula feeds her baby (who is about 5 months old), but does nurse "a little," as she puts it. I don't know why the feeding issue comes up, but I do know that when it comes up she seems nervous and strained. I get the impression that she feels bad that she is not breastfeeding her baby completely. From what she has said it sounds like pumping did not go well for her, and when she returned to work when the baby was 3 months old her supply tanked. I don't know the details, and I've casually mentioned that I know a lot about pumping and breastfeeding, tried to casually discuss it when she brings it up so that she knows she can ask me without judgement. This last time we hung out she went out of her way to tell me what a relief it was when she started formula feeding because she wasn't so stressed about getting the baby enough breastmilk. She mentioned that her pediatrician told her "any amount of breastmilk baby gets is good, don't feel bad about her getting formula!" OK, yea, sure it's true that some is better than none...and I don't know the whole story here...but what the hell is wrong with this pediatrician that she isn't telling mom to seek help and support if she herself can not give it to her?! 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want moms who have some struggles to feel guilty about formula feeding their babies. They are doing the best they know how to do in their circumstances, and if there is one thing I understand, it’s doinig what you can with the knowledge and resources you have at the time. What gets me is…

  1. This mom is going around telling people she didn’t have enough milk, that her baby was starving at 9 weeks so she gave her formula because there wasn’t enough milk, that she was stressed out about breastfeeding and she’s happier now that she isn’t really breastfeeding anymore.  Really? Because the fact of the matter is you didn’t seek support, and I get that. This community has a La Leche League group AND a breastfeeding commission, but the stories I’m hearing coming out of the hospital are abysmal, and the doctors I have encountered thus far are subpar. I get that this is a rural, southern Indiana farm community and that, by and large, breastfeeding here is so far from the norm that it makes it hard to advocate for yourself. But please, can we stop with the horror stories? I hate the “I wanted to breastfeed, but I just couldn’t” excuse from formula feeders. I admit it. I think it’s BS 90% of the time. Why? Because the VAST (and by vast I mean, over 95% of women) have  NO medical reason not to be able to breastfeed their babies. They have low supplies because they are given BAD advice and don’t seek out the proper information. It’s NOT really that hard to find. What I want to hear is “I chose to bottle feed my baby, it’s just what works for me,” and stop at that. Really. I have a friend who is like this and I love her to pieces because she isn’t off telling stories and blaming her body or breastfeeding for her formula choice.
  2. This stupid pediatrician didn’t refer this mom to LLL or the breastfeeding coalition, or a lactation consultant…SERIOUSLY?! If mom needed to supplement with formula because she had exhausted all breastfeeding routes, OK, that’s one thing. Then that IS what is best for that mom and baby. What should have happened is this pediatrician should have encouraged mom, educated her about cluster-feeding and growth spurts, and if she didn’t have the knowledge to do this, she should have referred her patient to the experts…La Leche League, Lactation Consultants, and the Breastfeeding Coalition.
  3. Every time I’m around this woman I feel guilty and self-conscious about breastfeeding my baby because she “couldn’t” and she seems to feel so badly about it! Now here I am, doing what I do and I worry that the very act of breastfeeding my baby is making her feel bad and that’s NOT what I want to do. In fact, I feel this way frequently when I’m around formula feeding moms. That even if I say or do nothing, that they will feel I am attacking or judging them simply by nursing my baby! I want all moms to breastfeed, I won’t lie. Breastfeeding is BEST for babies AND mommies. On the same hand I really respect a mother’s right to freely choose how she raises her child, and this includes her feeding choices. I want to be able to talk with a formula feeding mom openly about her decision, without feeling like she’s being attacked…I want to do this, to be able to offer advice and perspective on struggles (I could probably help this mom save her supply and get baby back to 100% breastfeeding) without that mom feeling like I’m second guessing her when all I’m doing is trying to educate so that either now, or in the future, she can be more successful. It’s not out of malice or judgement, simply out of a place of caring for her well-being, her baby’s well-being, and the well-being of the community at large…because each myth I dispel with one mom gets passed on to another mom, and maybe I can save a breastfeeding relationship or two in the process.

I took Chase to see a pediatrician last week and the pediatrician was totally befuddled about “on-demand” nursing…that I didn’t know how many minutes per side my baby nursed, that I allow him to nurse at will during the day and night. The pediatricians are clearly just NOT informed…how can we improve health outcomes for our babies and mothers if the care providers aren’t even up to date on the research?! Many people I know just said “I just give the pediatrician a number I know will satisfy them and go about my business.” This isn’t what I want to do…because that doesn’t change anything. I should tell that pediatrician, “I nurse my baby on demand, he nurses as little or as much as he likes because that’s how it should be. I do it because my baby knows when he is hungry or thirsty and when he is not and I want to foster positive eating habits by following his lead.” Why shouldn’t I go on about my business? Because this kind of crap SHOULD bother mothers…the fact that their pediatricians aren’t educated about breastfeeding should PISS US OFF. If I educate the pediatrician by providing information about normal breastfeeding behavior it won’t benefit me…but it WILL benefit mothers like the mom down the road who’s pediatrician OBVIOUSLY is not saavy about breastfeeding…and mothers like her. There’s no reason to NOT tell any nurse or doctor who works with mothers and babies that there is NEW and BETTER information out there…they are on the front lines, like Dr. Newman states in his article…no matter how much or how little a provider knows about breastfeeding, they have a very strong influence on the success or failure of breastfeeding mothers’!

I guess my point is that I wish all women breastfed, that they had the support they needed to succeed, to overcome, and to feel strongly about their choice…(but then, we here at The Good Letdown wouldn’t have anything to talk about because we would finally be in the majority…and wouldn’t that be wonderful?) but also that I don’t want any mother to feel guilty about her choices, no matter what they are, and I don’t know how to reach out to women like this mother down the street without them feeling guilty. I wish physicians all were educated and up to date on supporting breastfeeding mothers and educating them. I wish all hospitals were baby friendly, wonderful places to learn breastfeeding in those first days. I wish as mothers we could be guilt free…that I didn’t feel guilty breastfeeding my baby in front of a formula feeding mom and that she didn’t feel guilty giving her baby a bottle in front of me. Sadly, I don’t know how to reach this place, because the fact remains:

Breast IS Best…and next to that…formula REALLY isn’t just as good or even close. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree! I will be the first to admit I was SOOO uneducated when I had my first. I had no idea how much a baby needed day 1, 2, 3, etc. I thought my baby was "starving" like so many other moms that go into having a child that are uneducated. I had no support, nor did I seek support. I wanted to breastfeed, but I wasn't totally dedicated to the idea. I blamed my body at first, blamed the formula, the binkies, etc. Then when I got pregnant with my baby girl, I finally read & read about breastfeeding. I made friends who nursed their babies, have good supportive neighbors, etc. My baby is almost 3 weeks old, & she has had NOTHING, but breastmilk! I so wish I had educated myself sooner. I am so grateful for the benefits of breastfeeding for me & my baby girl. I am glad I am WILLING (& completely able) to do that for her! All I want to do now is shout to my friends how important & wonderful it is. Even through the engorgement, clogged milk ducts, cracked nipples, does get better & if you have the support & knowledge to make it through, it is amazing to know that your body was made for this & your baby loves you in a special way for nourishing them :)