Motherhood comes with a host of choices to make about what is best for you, your family, and your child. We at Alamo City Moms Blog have a variety of moms who want to embrace these choices instead of feeling guilty or judged for them! We are continuing our series, Perspectives on Parenting, and this month we are tackling the highly debated topic of feeding your baby. To breastfeed or to formula feed?
To read the other side of this perspective, breastfeeding, you can find Katy’s post here.
I’m coming out of the closet, y’all. It’s a decision I don’t take lightly, and I know that it may be met with figurative head-shakes and disapproving sighs—perhaps even a little bit of hate mail?—but I am stepping out of the shadows of shame today to confess my sins to the world: Hi, my name is Taylor, and I…I…I didn’t breastfeed.
Wait! Before you back away as though I’m a creature from The Walking Dead, hear me out—because even though I may have chosen a different path than most of you, I’d be willing to bet that we have a lot in common. For example, I’ll bet we love our children fiercely, worry about them constantly, and strive to be the best mothers we know how to be. Am I right? Then let’s not let a little thing like bottles or breasts come between us. (There’s a pun in there somewhere!)
A bit of background on my feeding journey: After developing preeclampsia in my third trimester, I delivered my now five-year-old daughter on the first day of my 32nd week. Harper was 3 lbs. 10 oz. at birth, and after delivery she was immediately whisked off to the NICU, which would serve as her “home away from home” for the next 45 days. I remember all too well lying in that hospital bed, reeling from both the physical pain of my C-section and the emotional torment of having a preemie: Incessant worry over my daughter’s health, accompanied by frustration with my body for “failing” us both, and resolve to do anything within my power to help my child thrive. Harper was small enough that we couldn’t even hold her during her first few days of life, and even later on for only a few minutes at a time, so I guess it’s easy to say that our choices for feeding were somewhat made for us in the beginning. While nursing was out of the question, numerous lactation consultants urged me to consider pumping—that breast milk might give my daughter the extra edge she needed as a preemie—so, of course, desperate to do anything to help my daughter’s growth, I pumped.
For four weeks, I strapped on suction cups that literally extracted the milk out-of-body like a dairy cow and delivered my meager supply to the NICU, each time producing less and less and each time feeling increasingly ashamed. My darling husband, God bless him, did everything he could to make the experience less traumatic—going so far as to create a “game” out of it in which the two of us would make bets as to which breast would produce the most during a single session (e.g., “Who’s your money on today? Righty or lefty?”), but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was yet another aspect of motherhood at which I was failing. I eventually stopped producing enough milk to make any significant impact, so Harper switched to formula during her last week in the NICU, and we never looked back.
For years, I had my patented response to those who asked why I didn’t breastfeed: That I struggled with milk production and eventually couldn’t keep up with my daughter’s demand. And while this is true, sometime later it occurred to me that, you know what? Mentioning my boobs’ lack of supply is merely an attempt at justifying something I shouldn’t have to justify, nor should anyone else. After all, here’s another confession: I never intended to breastfeed or pump; and if Harper hadn’t been born premature, she would’ve been formula-fed from the start.
Does that make me less of a mother? Less of a woman? Selfish, uncaring, and uninterested in bonding with my newborn daughter—even though I’d always envisioned myself cradling my unborn children with a bottle in hand instead of nuzzling them to my bosom? What about the mother who works full-time, whose schedule doesn’t allow her to take 15-minute pumping breaks throughout the day? Or the mom who’s recently adopted a child and doesn’t physically have a supply of breast milk to offer her new infant? Do they—or any of us—need an excuse not to nurse?
Society seems to think so. “Aren’t you worried about bonding with your baby?” a few daring souls inquired when Harper was an infant. I always resented the “dooms day” undertone of this question, as though my relationship with my daughter would be forever plagued if I didn’t nurse. I’m just guessing here, but by the time you’ve grown a live human within your womb and expelled him/her from your body, I think it’s safe to say your bond is already fairly unique. Add to that a dash of caring for, raising, and cleaning up after your offspring for the duration of their stay under your roof, and a sprinkle of motherhood’s way of affecting every facet of your entire life until the end of time, and—spoiler alert—it’s pretty obvious that in the recipe for closeness between mother and child, breastfeeding is but a pinch of salt.
“But formula is not natural,” others scoff. I’ve heard this too many times to count. Yes, it’s true that the body creates breast milk while formula is a product of man-made technology. But when exactly did our reliance on technological advancement become such a problem? Newsflash: C-sections, epidural, in vitro fertilization…all of these innovations in medical science we embrace without a second thought. Yet admit that you formula-feed your child, and it’s as though a Scarlet Letter suddenly appears on your spit-up-stained shirt.
However, today I embrace my capital “FF” badge and stand in support of the choice to formula-feed—and in the middle of World Breastfeeding Awareness Week, no less. In fact, in some ways I personally feel that my family is stronger because of our choice to formula-feed our daughter. Here are a few reasons why…
Many people argue that breastfeeding creates an irreplaceable link between mother/child, and while no one can deny the validity of the emotional connection associated with breastfeeding, I can’t help but wonder about the value of bonds with other family members. Our household is traditional in the sense that I stay at home while my husband works, but it’s always been extremely important to my husband and me that we co-parent as partners despite our division of labor. Formula-feeding served as one of the main ways that Jeff was able to start playing the role of the hands-on dad right from the start. Not only did it give me a chance to squeeze in a nap, a few loads of laundry, or—gasp!—maybe even a shower, it also provided my husband the unique opportunity to bond with our daughter during a time when she was still too little to do much besides eat, sleep, and poop. Because he prepared bottles, he held, fed, and burped our daughter himself, he felt more confident in his abilities as a first-time dad. It also gave my husband the chance to feel very involved at a time when many fathers can find themselves somewhat isolated, perhaps even a bit jealous of the mother/baby relationship.
And because feeding was one responsibility I didn’t have to shoulder alone, there was no resentment of my spouse on my part. Ours was a team effort, one that required collaboration from both of us, and ultimately, I didn’t have to feel like I was the one doing all the work while my husband stretched out on the couch watching football.
Without getting too graphic, formula-feeding our daughter also helped my husband and me to get back on track in the bedroom sooner than later. Because breastfeeding inhibits ovulation and increases production of the hormone prolactin, some women experience lowered libido while nursing, and many report symptoms such as vaginal dryness, etc. that can make intimacy difficult, sometimes even painful, for couples. I didn’t breastfeed, so I didn’t have to deal with any of these issues—and while admittedly s-e-x was the last thing on my mind after giving birth, within a few months I was eager to resume intimacy with my husband, and I appreciated not having any additional roadblocks such as sore nipples or breast milk leakage in our way.
While formula-feeding may be the road less traveled, it is certainly the road more convenient, and I have to admit that I relished any advantages that simplified my life postpartum. Because formula is harder for babies to digest, formula-fed infants tend to sleep in longer stretches. As a result, Harper didn’t wake up as often at night during her first few months; and as any sleep-deprived new mom knows—particularly one with other children—even the smallest doses of extra shut-eye can make a world of difference. Another perk? Not having to subscribe to dietary restrictions as a non-nursing mom. After a 32-week vacation from spicy foods, fish, alcohol, etc., I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t absolutely elated to finally enjoy a dinner of fajitas and ‘ritas once my daughter was born. Additionally, formula-feeding gave me the ability to always know exactly how much my child was consuming, and as the mother of a preemie, this was especially important. Harper required a certain number of calories per day, and everything had to be measured precisely. Formula-feeding allowed me to keep immaculate records of her intake, and it made it easy for my husband & me to add supplements prescribed by our pediatrician to her diet.
That said, does any of this mean that I think formula is the “better” option? Absolutely not. It was simply the better option for me.
No one, myself included, can dispute that breast milk contains the ideal combination of nutritional ingredients and equips infants with antibodies to help their tiny immune systems fight off viruses and bacteria more easily. But I think it’s important for us to ask: at what cost? A mom’s sense that she is “failing” her child if her infant refuses to latch or she herself suffers from health problems that render her unable to nurse? A super stressed-out mama’s sanity when the commitments of breastfeeding prove to be too much? An adoptive mother’s shame that she is “less” of a mom because her body cannot physically produce breast milk? After all, confidence, unlike formula, is not something you can pick up in a can at HEB, and when it comes to what shapes growth and development, what and how we feed our children is only part of the equation.
To set the record straight, I’m not anti-breastfeeding. I would never suggest that a mom who wishes to breastfeed not do so. But what I strongly, passionately oppose is the “breast is best” culture we’ve created in which anything other than breastfeeding is not a valid option. Honestly, y’all, this insanity has to stop. To blanketly say that ANYTHING is “best” for all moms is not only insensitive but illogical.
It’s parenting 101, you guys: No matter the topic—be it disciplinary methods, sleep training, working outside the home, feeding options, etc.—there is no universal “right” answer, and what’s ideal for me may prove less than stellar for you. We’ve all been standing in line at HEB, minding our own business, when a well-meaning stranger randomly decided to start in with the unsolicited parenting advice: “Do it this way, honey—not that way—because my way is right.” I don’t know about y’all, but while I may have smiled, bit my lip, and maybe even mustered up a “thank you,” my insides surely screamed: Back off! This is my child, not yours, and I’ll parent her how I see fit, thankyouverymuch. We need to recognize that when we judge other moms for not breastfeeding—when we openly deem their choice as less than the other, “best” option—we are no different from that stranger in line at the grocery store, chipping away at a mom’s self-esteem, inserting our own opinions where they don’t belong under the guise that we’re “helping” her.
Breast isn’t “best.” What’s best is that you make the right choice for your family—the decision that you, Mama, are most comfortable with—which may or may not include the decision to breastfeed.
So, here’s what I propose: Instead of splintering off into separate camps, let’s unite under the principle that breast and bottle are both valid choices, and regardless of which method we select, it’s no one’s business but ours. Let’s embrace the ideology behind our “Perspectives in Parenting” series here at ACMB: that two moms can approach the same issue in two completely different ways, without either emerging as “better” or “worse” than the other. Let’s accept more and judge less. Let’s cleanse ourselves of the “my way is the only way” mentality. Together we can stop the Mommy Wars, y’all—or at the very least, we can vow to not fuel them.
To all of the breastfeeding moms out there: Be proud. You’re a great mom, and you’re doing an awesome job. To all of the mamas who’d hoped to breastfeed but couldn’t: Hold your head high. You’re a great mom, and you’re doing an awesome job. And likewise to all of the mothers who, for whatever reason, chose to formula-feed: Do not be ashamed. You’re a great mom, and you’re doing an awesome job.
I can only hope that someday we’ll live in a world where we all feel this way.