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Breast is Not Best

I have pretty much never written about breastfeeding because it’s a subject that brings out the hate words.  People drop by your blog who don’t even read the post — they simply skim to get a sense of where you fall on the breastfeeding/formula debate, and then unleash their rage in your comment section.  And personally, I never like my blog being used as another person’s soapbox — especially since blogs are free, and people can start their own sites to discuss their ideas rather than use mine.

And that is the first key point to make — if you have the term “breastfeeding” on a Google alert and are coming here for the first time because my blog popped into your inbox, there is a terrible problem with the way you are communicating, which isn’t educating insomuch as it is berating.  I am all for friendly debate backed by sound research, but I’m not for name-calling.  And using Google alerts in that manner seems predatory rather than illuminating.

After all, this is my blog and I am entitled to express my own opinion.  And just as I wouldn’t enter your house and tell you how you are living your life is wrong wrong wrong if you were kind enough to invite me in, I expect that people who visit my comment box politely disagree and not hatefully disagree — and I think we’re all adults here and know the difference.  If you want to write your own blog post about your own feelings in your own space, I support that fully and will probably pop over to read it and comment nicely over there (though “nicely” does not equal “agree.”  It simply means comporting myself politely.)

Is my title inflammatory?  Yes.  But so is the “breast is best” campaign.  Any time we name something “best” and ignore all other possibilities, we are being inflammatory.  The way we feed someone isn’t a car or a computer or a dishwasher — it isn’t something quantifiable that lends itself to a ranking system.  It is a product of circumstance and ability just as much as it is a product of choice.

This is my story:

I wanted to breastfeed, very badly.  I heard “breast is best” and I wanted to give the twins the best.  I took a breastfeeding class with Josh so he could even help me when the time came.  I practiced holds with dolls.

My breasts never changed with pregnancy — they didn’t grow larger, the nipples didn’t get darker.  Though I was concerned, my OB wasn’t worried because not everyone experiences breast changes and it was more likely than not that I would be able to breastfeed.

The twins were born and my milk didn’t come in.  I never became engorged or felt my “milk come down.”  There was no colostrum.  But rather than have people treat this as a problem, the breastfeeding specialists at the hospital simply told me that I needed to pump more, eat more, and rest more.

The twins were premature and needed to be fed at first by IV.  I still tried to breastfeed them, and we have many pictures of me sitting with my boob in their mouths while they starved.  I pumped 8 times a day.  With 8 pumpings combined, I could sometimes get 30 ccs of fluid — which is one ounce.  The fluid looked vaguely like sweat or water.  It certainly did not look like the breast milk stored in the refrigerator by the other mothers.

The doctor wanted to switch the twins to an ng-tube, which meant that they would be fed formula and my sweat-milk via a tube in their nose.  A nurse pulled me aside and told me that if I loved my children, I would continue to feed them via IV and not allow them to take formula.  She promised that it was healthier to never give the twins formula, healthier to replace an IV several times a day — an IV that carried with it a higher chance for infection. The lactation consultant backed her up and encouraged us to tell the neonatologist that we wanted the twins exclusively breastfed — no formula allowed.

I was a hormonal, terrified mother who had finally given birth to live children and what do you think happened to me when I looked up at the wall where the “breast is best” posters were hung (they were every few feet on the walls in the maternity ward and NICU), and was told by a medical care professional that it was better to continue with the IVs rather than start formula?

We luckily had an excellent neonatologist who knew what was best for our twins, and she stepped in and not only had the nurse reprimanded and removed from the twins’ care, but she explained that while breastfeeding is wonderful, it does not trump getting our twins off IVs so they could learn how to swallow and put on weight.  That to keep to a mantra that does not take into account specific situations is to cause damage.

The twins thrived on formula and put on weight and learned how to regulate their body temperature so we could hold them for longer than 20 minutes.  But I always felt guilty because I had been told that breast was best (and I was reminded daily by the posters), and here were my children in the hospital with compromised immune systems, and I was not giving them the best.  If something was “the best” it meant that everything else was sub-par.

Our story continues with pumping and a medication to increase supply (Reglan) that gave me a horrible reaction that almost killed me and severe depression because I was spending every second I wasn’t with the twins hooked up to a pump and never seeing any progress.  I saw a slew of breastfeeding specialists who all let me know that my problem was that I wasn’t eating/drinking/pumping/sleeping enough.

And then finally, someone did a blood draw.  And it turned out that I produced no prolactin.

And still, deciding to stop pumping was one of the most painful decisions I’ve made as a parent.  It wasn’t even really a decision — no prolactin = no breastmilk no matter how much I ate, slept, or pumped.  But still, everyone had said along the way that I just needed to try harder, therefore, it was difficult to step back and see that there was a clear-cut problem that no amount of work was going to circumvent.  I still tried to get the twins to take my breast, even after Josh returned the pump to the hospital.  Because the psychological scars ran that deep.

Do I think breast is best?  Well … no.  I don’t.  The research is conducted in a vacuum, without actual regard to the people who read and internalize the studies.  Is breast best for the average child who is born healthy to a mother who produces an ample supply of breastmilk?  Sure, I can believe that is the case.

But there are too many of us who can’t breastfeed because our bodies don’t produce breast milk, or we adopted without time or inclination to prepare our body for breastfeeding, or we simply have a personal reason for why we don’t want or can’t breastfeed.  And in those cases, formula is not the enemy.  It is the saviour.  Without formula, my children would not be alive today.

And I say that utilizing the same research that people hold up to claim breast is best.  Breast milk is specially designed by the woman’s body to feed her particular child and it is formulated with a nutritional ratio that

… Changes it’s composition throughout the feedings, as well as throughout the day. As baby grows, breastmilk continues to change to meet the needs for optimal growth, at each stage of baby’s development . This means that mom’s breastmilk at four months is perfectly suited to the needs of her four month old baby, and at six months, perfectly suited for her six month old.

Therefore, I cannot believe that the random milk contained in a milk bank could ever deliver what my child needs at that particular time better than formula.  It’s why we didn’t choose banked milk over formula, since our specific problem was weight gain and studies have shown that formula exceeds donor milk in terms of helping preemies put on weight.

See, another case of where breast is not best.  It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not best.

I cannot believe anything is best in terms of body functions that has limited accessibility.  Where would we start a campaign called “sight is best” in order to get kids to stop using circle lens?  We wouldn’t, because it would be rude and reductive to people who are blind.  Where would we start a campaign called “hearing is best” in order to get kids to turn down the volume on their iPods?  We wouldn’t, because it would be rude and reductive to people who are deaf.

And frankly, if you’ve ever spent time within Deaf culture, you would realize that hearing is not necessarily “best.”  Is it preferable in certain situations — of course.  But can it also be a drawback in others?  Yes, this is true too.  And therefore, rather than spending time arguing which is best — hearing or deafness — we agree that whatever works personally is best for that person.  We don’t always have a choice, and best should be used as a measurement for places where everyone has a choice to make.

And that is how I wish we’d approach breastfeeding.  There are those who argue that they still need to fight in order to combat the formula industry, but my question is why we need a war?  Why it can’t be a personal choice; one that we believe women are intelligent enough to make on their own?  In all facets of life, we receive what amounts to advertisements for choices whether it’s a peanut butter brand or having a water birth.  And I believe that we’re all intelligent enough to make a choice that works for our particular situation.

If we ever get lucky enough to have another child, I will probably try breastfeeding again, even though there hasn’t been a clear-cut method found to combat a lack of prolactin.  I will pump and give it a go for a few weeks; not because I believe breast is best, but simply because I want to have the experience of breastfeeding.  And it will hurt a lot again if I have to stop, but I also believe that something that causes mental distress can never be best.  A woman’s emotional health is just as important as a child’s physical health.  One does not trump the other.

And if it turns out that I still don’t produce prolactin, I will do what I did for the twins to balance out using formula.  My children have never had jarred food.  I made everything from scratch.  The steaming and peeling and mashing and freezing — these were the physical ways I fed my children.  Do I believe my food trumped jarred food?  No — I’m sure the nutritional difference was negligible.  But I needed a way to be physically involved in their feeding that went beyond the twisting off of a jar top.  It was the leveled playing field to breastfeeding — of utilizing my strengths (cooking) rather than mourning my foibles (my body).

My thesis: breast milk is great for some kids and parents.  Formula is great for some kids and parents.  The decision about which one to use needs to be weighed in each individual case rather than creating blanket slogans.  And that decision needs to rest with the people directly affected by the decision.  We do more damage than good when we believe we know what works best for another person when we don’t have all the information of their specific situation.

And my lord, anyone who actually reads this blog (rather than swinging by here due to a Google alert) knows that I am a kumbaya-loving hippie freak who obviously would support another woman’s decision to breastfeed.  But I’d also support a woman’s decision not to breastfeed.  Because I’m an open-minded kumbaya-loving hippie freak who would really like to preserve individual’s self-esteem rather than question their choices.

* If you’re here for the first time on my blog, I apologize for this rant.  I just read yet another blog post that touts “breast is best” which demonizing formula.  And for those of us who didn’t have a choice, who are being told that we gave our kids second-rate nutrition and missed out on the bonding experience of a lifetime (which, apparently, men or non-breastfeeding women never get to have), it’s incredibly hurtful.  While I tend to shy away from hot-button topics, I realized I’d get nothing else accomplished today if I didn’t release this.

130 comments

1 N { 09.20.10 at 12:08 pm }

Amen.

2 Erin { 09.20.10 at 12:14 pm }

I also couldn’t breastfeed and ended up going through hell for 2 months before I decided to give formula exclusively. I have been through that twice and was never successful. I will never try it again. I just fall into the category of “not able to breastfeed.”

3 The Casual Perfectionist { 09.20.10 at 12:19 pm }

Here’s to feeding babies! Period.

I’ve had tons of friends ask where I stand on this issue, and I always tell them the same thing: I breastfed for a year, because I could and I wanted to, but I was very thankful to know that I had access to formula and clean water sources if that wouldn’t have worked for me. Anything that nourishes a baby can’t be THAT bad. ;)

4 Al { 09.20.10 at 12:26 pm }

Couldn’t agree more. Very well said Mel!

5 A.M.S. { 09.20.10 at 12:26 pm }

Having dealt with my own issues with the breastfeeding zealots this past week, I’m standing right there with you! I just don’t get why it is so hard for some to be strongly supportive of an issue and still be strongly supportive of the individuals at the same time.

{{hugs}}

Oh, and I have new rocks for our collections. Wanna guess where they came from?

6 Sharon { 09.20.10 at 12:29 pm }

I do agree that breast milk is generally more beneficial for babies than formula. . . . but that assumes that abundant breast milk is available for baby and that it doesn’t raise other issues for… the mother, like preventing her from taking necessary medications, etc.

What is right for one family may not be right for another, for various reasons. I think parents need to look at the whole picture and make the best choice for them and for their child(ren) based on all the relevant considerations.

And I agree that women who cannot breastfeed, for whatever reason, should not be demonized.

7 Rachel { 09.20.10 at 12:33 pm }

I fully understand and sympathize with your anger towards “breast is best” campaigns given that some women simply cannot breastfeed. However, I do think that those campaigns are necessary and good. When my healthy, full-term baby refused to eat and kept losing weight, I was surrounded by friends, family and medical professionals who urged me to “give up my breastfeeding fantasy” and turn to formula despite the fact that my pumping every 2 hours had by that point filled the freezer and it was quite simply a problem with my daughter being too low energy to eat, not a problem with my milk supply (although with some nipple problems throw in). I think that public campaigns like “breast is best” are necessary when women are so strongly urged to move to formula. Every time I had mastitis, I was told by my work colleagues to stop breastfeeding rather than call in sick (and did twice lecture a full hall with a 105 fever). Every time I complained of being tired I was told to stop breastfeeding by my mother-in-law. Every time I was glowered at in public for flashing someone (my daughter is -not- into nursing covers, and neither am I by this point), I considered stopping. So yes, these campaigns are hard for those who cannot do so (for whatever the reason, including work commitments, etc.) but I think they are necessary to counter the overhwhelming pressure to stop breastfeeding. Pressure that surrounds me from practically everyone I know except 2 close friends and my internet friends. The other thing is that breastfeeding is really hard, and we completely and totally fail to support women who are doing something physically hard, time consuming, and unrewarded in the short term. The one week that a pro-breastfeeding ad ran on our bus stop made me smile every time we were waiting for the bus, compared to the thousands of formula ads I have tossed over the years. It’s hard to come up with a universal public health campaign, but this one seems worth it.

8 TexasRed { 09.20.10 at 12:41 pm }

I’m hoping to be able to breastfeed our twins when they get here, but I know each baby and situation is different and that plan may or may not work.

Same thing with cloth diapers. I’d like to use them. Hopefully we can. It may be that we can’t — or at least not all the time or right away, or whatever other shades of grey will come into play in that decision.

I think people in general are not so comfortable with shades of grey. We like black and white decision-making and if something was the best choice for one, it must be the best for everyone. The idea that something might be a great solution for some but not available or not optimal for others is more complicated (and less likely to make it to a poster).

9 amanda { 09.20.10 at 12:47 pm }

Mel, I want to give you a big, warm, virtual hug for all you when though trying to feed your twins. The emotional side of things would be difficult enough, but spending hours hooked to a pump and not producing must have been torture! I wouldn’t have been able to hang with that for so long, if shows how dedicated you were. I really hope that you able to have another child someday (soon) and that you are able to feed that child successfully in the way that you want to.

Even as someone that has been able to breastfeed, it wasn’t easy for me and I shudder to think of how difficult it would have been for me to deal with breast-is-best propaganda if I hadn’t have gotten the support I needed (which I feel I was very lucky to get) and had to quit. There are a lot of people out there that need to be kinder… we are all fighting our own battles as best we can.

10 Cathy { 09.20.10 at 12:47 pm }

Feeding babies is a topic near and dear to my heart.

I could not breastfeed my twins – I tried, produced barely any milk, got no sleep, and I decided that being physically and mentally present to make medical decisions for them – and bond with them – trumped being a very tired cow hooked up to a pump for them. And then entered the endocrinologist who demanded samples of my milk because they were pretty sure it was not adequate to feed my son, even if we fortified it for calories. I put the pump down and never looked back, despite the lactation consultant waving a breastfeeding “contract” in my face and berating me.

And then we formula fed them – only to find out 2 1/2 years, 6 months of g-tube feeding and 9 months of j-tube feeding later that that same son is violently intolerant to formula, and that is why he spent 2 1/2 years not growing and vomiting every meal, every day.

Breast is not best. Formula is not best. What’s BEST is what works for THAT child and THAT parent. In our case, that means painstakingly pureeing whole foods to put through his feeding tube for the one, and formula feeding followed by a normal transition to solids for the other.

If we ever have another? I have no idea what I’d do. But God help anyone who tries to tell me what’s “best” or make me feel bad about my decision, no matter what that may be.

11 Foxy Popcorn { 09.20.10 at 12:56 pm }

I really appreciate this post, and that you shared an experience that was so difficult. Your story needs to be shared with the public health folks who are championing the campaigns to increase breastfeeding rates – they are working hard to find the right messaging, and in this case really missed the mark.

I work in public health policy on a local level where 2/3 of all new mothers who give birth are on medicaid and subsequently enrolled in WIC. The breast-feeing rates are dismal, in large part due to a culture that has no generational memory of how to support breastfeeding, public hospitals that do not have adequate lactation support, and WIC food packages that by default include formula. While nearly all new mothers leave the hospital breastfeeding (in my county), less than a quarter are still breastfeeding after 3 months.

The question that we struggle with is exactly what you described – Without alienating women who formula feed, how can we better support a culture that supports and promotes breast feeding? The issue gets bigger than feeding very quickly when you consider that many states don’t provide for any paid maternity leave and many employers don’t provide flexibility to support new families. I think that the discussion we really need to be having is about how our society (at all socio-economic levels) values families, parents, and children.

Great topic and great discussion Mel!
-Foxy

12 Tara { 09.20.10 at 12:57 pm }

Thank you…oh my gosh, thank you so much for presenting your view in such an intelligently articulate way. I hope more people will listen…

13 Mic @ IF Crossroads { 09.20.10 at 12:58 pm }

Mel ~
Two words: Thank you.

This: “but I also believe that something that causes mental distress can never be best. A woman’s emotional health is just as important as a child’s physical health. One does not trump the other.” and this “or we simply have a personal reason for why we don’t want or can’t breastfeed ” are my favorite two quotes.
I wish that you had written this about 7 weeks ago on the eve of Kaitlin’s birth so that I could have printed it out to take to the hospital.

I spent a lot of hours deciding how I was going to feed my child. And I made the best decision for she and I and our family by choosing formula. I was constantly berated by people and the hospital lactation consultants for my educated and well thought out decision. It was miserable.
Everyone has so much assvice to give – and they can be downright belligerent when people disagree.

What I choose to feed my daughter should not be a g-d damn public health issue. The fact is, my daughter is well cared for, loved immensely and beyond belief and is thriving … and THAT is what is most important.

14 jodifur { 09.20.10 at 12:59 pm }

I couldn’t nurse either, because Michael never latched and then my milk never came in and it just didn’t work. but I had a really hard time letting go of the guilt. And in the end you are right, kids need to be fed.

Also, the other thing I wish someone would have told me, is that sometimes it doesn’t work. No one said that to me.

15 Geochick { 09.20.10 at 1:00 pm }

I looooove this post. Thank you. While the recent campaign for breastfeeding is probably backlash due to the not-s0-distant school of thought that formula is best it’s so freaking annoying that others have opinions they shove onto you and try to make you feel guilty. I read an adoption book that told me I should bf my baby. That might be good for a select few (only 1 woman in our education classes said she was going to try) but like I need the headache and frustration of going through that when a) my milk isn’t really what the baby needs, the baby would need his/her mother’s milk and b) BF’ing when you haven’t been pregnant requires tons of pumping and drugs to trick your body. No thanks.

16 Amy { 09.20.10 at 1:01 pm }

I couldn’t breastfeed either and I had the guilt too because I was told I just “didn’t try hard enough.” Know what I eventually realized? Breastfeeding is like trying to conceive: “Trying harder” isn’t going to make it work any more than “just relaxing” will get you pregnant if there is something physically wrong!! But then again, it’s probably the fertiles who tell us we’re just not trying hard enough. *sigh*

(For the record, I had a similar experience to you in that the nurse kept telling me not to feed him formula, even though my baby was starving . I finally had a great LC who came in and said, “Honey, the goal is to feed your baby. Whatever that means, feed your child. I will help you with the nursing, but you must give him something in the meantime!” After a couple weeks, we hung up the breastfeeding attemtps and my son is now a healthy, well-adjusted, happy 3-year old who was exclusively formula fed.

17 Carlita { 09.20.10 at 1:07 pm }

I don’t really understand why nearly everything revolving around reproduction and child-rearing kicks up so much emotional dust. The “wars” that result from this are really upsetting to me. My personal campaign is that it we need to demand one thing from the medical community, society, our families, each other, ourselves: support!!! Let’s focus on supporting those women and babies for whom breastfeeding is possible (it’s hardly ever possible without support) and let’s support the women and babies whose best option is formula and let’s support all new mothers and new babies, period.

BTW, Mel, as possibly one of the major sources out there of the support I’m referring to I’m pretty sure you get it.

18 Erica { 09.20.10 at 1:11 pm }

I feel lucky to be able to breastfeed, and nursing my baby is, usually, a pretty wonderful time for both of us. Having said that, breastfeeding and pumping have caused me more anxiety and stress than is usually talked about. Since going back to work, I pump 2 and sometimes 3 times a day and still worry, every day, over whether I’ll be able to pump enough. I’m jealous of a colleague’s plentiful supply, I schedule work meetings around pumping sessions, I sacrifice precious time when I could be snuggling with my husband to hitch myself up to the pump in the evenings, and I’ve reached new heights of resentment when my husband has given my daughter big bottles she hasn’t finished, resulting in wasted milk.

I’m trying very hard not to develop a martyred attitude, and sometimes succeed, but I wonder if my child might be a little better off with some formula and a mom who is more relaxed and less tied to the pump. And knowing I have it comparatively easy (my office door locks, my coworkers are understanding, my body responds to baby and pump, etc.) makes me laugh with embarrassment at the more judgmental self I used to be before I breastfed.

19 Katie { 09.20.10 at 1:14 pm }

Well said, Mel. My brother and I were not breastfed. Both of us were highly allergic to breast milk and had to be formula fed. I’d venture to say that both of us turned out just fine. Here’s to babies being fed!

20 Anjali { 09.20.10 at 1:25 pm }

You bring to mind an article I loved by Hanna Rosin, “The Case Against Breastfeeding.” Despite the fact that I’ve been nursing for over 7 years now of my life (and am still going strong), I couldn’t agree with you more.

There has to be a way to campaign for breastfeeding, without making mothers feel like crap. “Breast is best” just doesn’t cut it.

21 reba { 09.20.10 at 1:27 pm }

THANK YOU for giving those of us who wanted to nourish our babies, by whatever means were necessary, a voice!!!

Like yourself and many women, I tried to breastfeed. I pumped when nursing didn’t work. I too never saw anything much more than a few tiny drops of colostrum and a total of half an ounce of milk (which yes, I did feed to my daughter).

It is hard to constantly hear that you are doing something that is not as good for your much loved, much longed-for baby. You have spent years begging the universe to give you the chance to be a mother. You’ve gone through treatments and losses and you will never be the same person as you were before infertility and miscarriage. And now you can’t do this one more thing, this supposedly natural thing that all true mothers can do.

I have never felt stronger, more like a superhero mama, than I did that day when I flew to the drugstore in the dead of night and purchased a container of infant formula. I have never felt such an amazing, wonderful connection with anyone as I felt with my daughter as I finally, FINALLY provided her with much-needed nutrients through that bottle of formula. That was the moment I became a mother–when I was strong enough to give up those stereotypes and be the kind of mama I knew all along I could be–the mama who does what is best for her baby and doesn’t listen to all the rest!

Good for you!! I wish more women would write things like this. We need a voice!

22 Justine { 09.20.10 at 1:36 pm }

I breastfed my first, but I say this to the women I know who are obsessive about “breast is best” … they simply don’t acknowledge that the messages we send women do psychological damage!

23 Emily { 09.20.10 at 1:36 pm }

Breast is not “best” it is normal. It is expected. It is how we are supposed to feed our babies. BUT, sometimes we CAN’T. And it would be great if wet nursing came back into style. I would have gladly fed someone else’s newborn after my son was stillborn at 39 weeks, 4 days.
The “breast is best” slogan won’t register with those who can’t be bothered, or are willing to settle for “good enough.” Therein lies the crux of the war on this issue.
And it is a public health issue in a lot of ways because here in the States our money goes towards supplying this artificial food to people who don’t NEED it (WIC), but just want it; often because they don’t know any better. And it also goes towards health care costs when those babies and children suffer the ill effects of commercial formulas.
As a society we in the “western world” have largely forgotten HOW to breastfeed. In just a few generations we have handed over what was partly a primal instinct and partly learned skill passed from mother to daughter, to the corporations.

24 LJ { 09.20.10 at 1:37 pm }

Imagine a world where we all tried the best to make sure all children were nourished and cared for to the best of our society’s ability, regardless of where that nourishment came from. As someone who adopted, I was always laying in wait for someone to rail at me if I was giving my son a bottle. Thankfully, it never came, but we should never feel that need to be on the defense or offense, no matter where we lie on the breastfeeding spectrum.

25 Jendeis { 09.20.10 at 1:49 pm }

Thank you for this.

26 Barb { 09.20.10 at 1:51 pm }

Bravo! I struggled a LOT with breast feeding, though we did have a period of maybe 2-3 mos where it went well. That was lovely. The other 5 mos? Not so much. I struggled to produce enough every single day for most of the time. And many people just kept beating me over the head with “stick with it! Your body will compensate, we promise!” Except that it didn’t for most of the time. I know my baby was hungry, but people told me he was just thinking he was hungry, and that it couldn’t possibly be that bad. It turned out when I started pumping regularly that I really didn’t seem to produce as much as other women did at that stage. Peoples’ well meaning advice gave me a lot of angst… as did the hospital’s pushing.

27 Rachel { 09.20.10 at 1:56 pm }

In one of those ironic twists, my prolactin levels went through the roof during recovery from each of my surgeries in December and April. Imagine that, knowing what I know now, and producing the stuff in small amounts.

I used to be rather judgmental about “breast is best” (and other parenthood decisions) based on family and friends influencing me. But now that I am not going to have children, absolutely for sure not going to have children, I have backed off.

Whatever works for the family in question – it isn’t for me to judge what is right and what is wrong – if it works and everybody is happy and healthy (not only baby!) – that’s what matters. Just like I expect anyone to refrain from judging my health and family decisions.

28 Oak { 09.20.10 at 2:00 pm }

Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been struggling with the issue for a while and I have received so much flack and disdain for even daring to consider NOT breastfeeding that I feel forced into it by society. My decision is still not made, there are factors that make breastfeeding very difficult for me (in life, not in health at this point) so I appreciate an open minded post about allowing every mother the right to choose the way they feed their child.

29 Chickenpig { 09.20.10 at 2:08 pm }

WOW, Mel! I love it when you let it all hang out :)

I loved breastfeeding my twins…to a point. It was also very, very hard. I ended up battling depression and I feel deeply that concerns over breastfeeding and basically being tied down to a chair with my boobs exposed all day for months was a key factor. Now I can barely remember the first four months of N and D’s lives. On the one hand there were many times later on where feeding them was enjoyable, and quite possibly they may be healthier from the year they spent on the boob, but on the other….I would like to have enjoyed my babies more since I worked so hard for so long to have them.

30 a { 09.20.10 at 2:17 pm }

I have all kinds of responses to this issue, but I will limit myself to:

Thank you, Mel. Once again, you have addressed a controversial issue (and why is it controversial anyway???) with a balanced viewpoint.

31 Emily { 09.20.10 at 2:22 pm }

OMG. I am so glad you posted this. I just had my twin girls 3 weeks ago and am having the same problem and I keep getting the same “solutions”…”just pump more often, sleep more, and eat well.” After all of that I am still only making maybe 3oz of breast milk a day. The toll it has taken on me has been brutal because I feel like I am not doing what is “best” for my girls. I really appreciate this post because I was feeling like I was the only one that had this problem!

32 KLTTX { 09.20.10 at 2:28 pm }

Awesome! I also never produced milk after my DS was born prematurely. I beat myself up over it for 12 weeks. I felt that since I failed him by delivering early, the least I could do is feed him the “best”. When that was not possible, I went into a major funk (more than a normal mom with a kid in the NICU). I was so busy pumping that I got zero sleep. Once I finally gave up the idea of breastfeeding, I became a better mother and wife. While I wish I could have breast fed, I now know that I did was was best for my son and my family.

33 Noelle { 09.20.10 at 2:48 pm }

I wanted to thank you so much for writing this. I have a blog post currently up about this same issue. My daughter was born two months ago at 1 pound, 11 ounces, and I have not been successful with breastfeeding her. She is too small and weak right now. I am hooked up to my pump all day it seems, and it is getting exhausting. While I am not ready to throw in the towel yet, it will happen sometime if we are not successful. I desperately want to breastfeed, but I won’t do it at the expense of my mental health, and I have had to come to that realization. I have had many lovely women comment on this on my blog post, and they have been extremely helpful. Again, thank you for writing this, as it was EXTREMELY helpful to me.

34 HereWeGoAJen { 09.20.10 at 2:56 pm }

Lovely, Mel. I breastfed (still do actually) but even I feel guilty when I hear all the “breast is best” campaigns. People need to be more understanding.

35 one-hit_wonder { 09.20.10 at 3:15 pm }

i’m one of those ‘breast is best’ people but i do feel VERY strongly that women who can’t breastfeed should NOT be made to feel guilty about it. that is exactly what formula is for: helping moms and babies in that situation. oh my goodness, you did your very best and with twins, too!

i am shocked that your prolactin levels weren’t checked ASAP – even ‘lactivists’ such as myself should never, ever condone choosing repeated unsuccessful breastfeeding attempts over actually FEEDING babies who are starving. i feel so sad that this is what happened to you.

i wish there were a way to amend the ‘breast is best’ advertising so that women who are unable to bf can know with certainty that they are doing what is best for their babies. no guilt attached. is such a thing possible?

36 Melody { 09.20.10 at 3:20 pm }

I made plenty of breastmilk– tons. I could have filled a bank vault. The problem was that my preemie daughter never latched (spent 9 hellish weeks trying though– with every LC in town), and she had heart defects that fatigued her too much to feed for longer than a few minutes. I spent hours keeping her awake, torturing her and myself to get her to feed from my breast. I spent other hours on that damn pump. The few precious hours that weren’t committed to feeding were committed to taking her to a zillion different specialists and trying to figure out how to feed her between doctors’ visits. PPD set in, and the pressure of breastfeeding played no small part in that. In the end, it was the best thing for my daughter’s well-being for me to take care of my own mental health so that I could take care of her. I stopped breastfeeding. I started taking the meds that made it possible for me to function, to open myself up to love her, and to devote myself to the many different battles we had to win to keep her alive.

Support. That’s what’s best. That’s what parents need. Support, not guilt trips.

37 aisha { 09.20.10 at 3:21 pm }

I hated breastfeeding. I had no issues with supply, latch, etc. I simply hated it. Hated hated hated it. But because of those campaigns I kept on keeping on. . . but the first few weeks are dark weeks. I remember the pressure BOTH WAYS to stick with it, and to switch to formula. I wish feeding your baby could be about food. Its not. Its judgement calls about what kind of parent you are, etc etc. and it shouldn’t be. I was formula fed and I’m fine. My son is breastfed and so far he is fine. Why does it have to be an emotionally loaded issue? If you do it and it works for you GREAT. WHY on earth are you upset at a woman who doesn’t? Its her body. It’s her child. It’s her choice.

38 TheIdleMindOfBeth { 09.20.10 at 3:33 pm }

Thank You.

Seriously, Thank You for writing this.

I still struggle with the guilt of not being able to breastfeed Lil H. I tried, REALLY tried, EBF for the first week, pumping for 6 weeks after that, but the truth of our situation is that my body could not keep up with what my 9lb+ boy needed. And in the process, I was giving over 3 hours a day (that could have been spent sleeping, or showering, or cuddling with my boy) to a machine that I learned to HATE – and RESENT.

Packing up that pump was my first really hard parenting decision. But it was also the right decision for me, and for my son. Sleep and sanity make for a better mommy, which I firmly believe is WAY better for baby.

But I still cringe when I see the “Breast is Best” or “Every Ounce Counts” campaigns.

39 Lut C. { 09.20.10 at 3:39 pm }

My BF experience was also fraught. My choice was very simple, supplement at least 50% with formula or watch the baby I had gone through so much to see born healthy starve. My body failed me again, and we didn’t find a cause, so nothing could be done. 2 LCs agreed that I had tried everything I could, without succes.
I didn’t come across BF hardliners, fortunately. It makes me so angry to see other people be treated so badly. How is this helping their cause, I wonder?

40 Tonggu Momma { 09.20.10 at 3:43 pm }

I once had a fanatic tell me I HAD to breastfeed my daughter because “breast is best.” (She told me that, as an adoptive mom, I could begin injecting myself with hormones a few months before the adoption in order to make breastfeeding possible.) I almost laughed in her face thinking about breastfeeding my daughter… my daughter, who was adopted at nearly 12 months of age and had not been breastfed since the first week of her life, and possibly not even then. My daughter, who had never even seen a white person, much less a white person’s breast, until she met me. My daughter, who was traumatized enough with learning a new language, new culture, new FAMILY… and hey!, let’s also add learning to breastfeed instead of bottle feed on top of all of that. Oh, sorry – is the sarcasm too thick? Some people are complete fanatics. Enough said.

41 sunflowerchilde { 09.20.10 at 4:02 pm }

Thanks for this! I didn’t have time to read all the comments, but my situation was VERY similar to yours (I do have prolactin, but I didn’t produce quite enough milk, and switching between formula and breastmilk was wreaking havoc on my babies’ digestive systems – also, the time i was using to pump was taking a lot away from my babies). Anyway, I still feel a lot of sadness and guilt over giving up on breastfeeding, and I wish people could understand that more.

42 Blanche { 09.20.10 at 4:31 pm }

Oh so timely, Mel. When I was pregnant I was very blase about breastfeeding, I always said, I want to give it a try and if I’m not successful, that’s okay. Now that I’m in the thick of it, I find myself putting more pressure on myself to be successful than I had anticipated. But between a premature baby with a now corrected tongue tie who took forever to get a big enough mouth and suction, supply issues, and the possibility that my milk and my baby are not compatible without serious food restrictions on my part, I’m starting to feel like a failure at yet one more thing which “should come naturally and easily.” But that pressure is coming entirely from me, the lactation consultants at the local hospital, while promoting breastfeeding, also recognize a happy mother / child relationship might need to include formula for many reasons.

43 Kiki { 09.20.10 at 4:38 pm }

Thank you so much for this post, it doesn’t make me feel so alone…. and guilty. … There is nothing else I can say, you said it all… soo.. thank you!

44 Kami { 09.20.10 at 4:42 pm }

It heartbreaking to hear what you went through to breastfeed and still not be able to. I had tears in my eyes.

To me ‘the fight’ is about education because the formula companies have lots of money dedicated to swaying the public. I’m not saying it is the best way to fight it but I think some contrary action should be taken.

I am very much biased towards breastfeeding and I think there is ample research to show statistically (of course, we know what they say about statistics) that it is a healthier alternative to formula. But if you aren’t producing then it is sure a good thing there are alternatives out there.

I am actually a little shocked that a nurse would think IV would be better than formula. Hmmm . . . breastmilk doesn’t seem to be working . . . something close or something totally different? I know! Something totally different. That way the baby won’t get milk-confusion. Ok, I am having a hard time coming up with an argument for that one.

Mostly, I am just sad for those ladies who really want to BF and for one reason or another, couldn’t make it work out. May you get the chance to try again.

45 Heather { 09.20.10 at 4:54 pm }

I do believe that the breast was best for Katherine. She was able to latch, I produced, it worked for us and I think it was the right thing for us. If I have another child, we will have to see…

Every child and every circumstance is so different that you just can’t make grandiose blanket statements that one particular thing is the BEST hands-down. Just doesn’t work. I think it makes the person look silly.

46 Erica { 09.20.10 at 5:01 pm }

Wow! Thank you so much for that post. I am another mom who could not physically breastfeed (I developed a severe case of PUPPS after my milk came in, the OB decided it was from my milk and hormones) and I had to go on many diffrent drugs to combat the hives that had taken over my body. My milk dried up from all the drugs even though I pumped 8 times a day, but the nurses still made me feel like a failure. I pointed out that I was physically unable to breastfeed and if I heard one more complaint that I wasn’t doing the best for my baby I would need to speak to their boss. That worked, my baby thrived on formula and life went on…;)

47 Rebecca { 09.20.10 at 5:14 pm }

This is an excellent post, and you should be proud of yourself for writing it.

48 MeAndBaby { 09.20.10 at 5:25 pm }

Thanks for this post. As I sit here pumping (kid you not), I’m in a similar position with my twins as I’ve been supplementing with formula so they can put on weight. Pumping for nearly an hour on each side yields maybe two ounces. I drafted a post this morning about this very thing before reading yours. Your post helps ease my guilt a little as I did not keep up with the nursing/pumping after my twins were released from the Special Care Nursery 48 hours after they were born. My doctor told me the priority is to get them fed be it from breast or bottle.

49 Michele { 09.20.10 at 5:43 pm }

Like you, I wanted to breastfeed exclusively and, after having 3 miscarriages and then 3 babies that were too preterm to survive, I honestly felt entitled to be able to breastfeed our twins when they were born. Our little 27 weekers never really took the breast although every now and again they’d get their entire feed that way and I’d be over the moon, but usually they took my expressed milk in a bottle (after they graduated from tube feeds). It was heartbreaking to me that a case of mastitis destroyed my supply and nothing I tried brought it back. Bobby and Maya were given breast milk until they were three months old and had been home for almost a month, and then, we went to preemie formula. They are happy and healthy, and I am thrilled. Do I think breastmilk is better than formula? Yes, I do. I also think natural labor is better than a c/section (which I also had). But more than that, the safety and health of our babies is paramount. And sometimes, that means c-sections and formula. And I’m okay with that.

50 Barely Sane { 09.20.10 at 5:47 pm }

Great post Mel!
After our rather quick match & subsequent adoption all taking place within a mere 2 weeks of finishing our home study, I obviously found myself formula feeding my daughter. While there were times I regretted not having the prep-time/knowledge to make an informed decision on the matter, and I felt tremendous guilt for not giving it a go, I also look back on that time as a gift. DH got to experience something he may not have otherwise and he got a chance to bond with his daughter in a very special way. My daughter is happy & healthy and really, that is what’s most important in the end?
I agree that it’s tough, regardless of what the particular mantra may be, when we have to go against what seems to be the status quo. Most of us had to struggle to create our families in the first place and we know a thing or two about public opinion and having to defend our decisions. It’s just a shame that support can’t just be universal in this instance, regardless of what the situation is.

51 Meghan { 09.20.10 at 5:48 pm }

Love you for this Mel. I think 90% of eveything a new mom hears or reads about is designed to make her second guess her decisions, doubt her ability to be a mom, and just plain old feel guilty. It amazed me that even while breastfeedinv Sweetness as a newborn, people online were telling me I was committing a cardinal si. Of breastfeeding by having formula in the house when all I wanted to do was make sure she got fed. And then when I switched to part formula/part breastmilk, both camps hated me.

It really should be about supporting each other and letting people make the decision that is right for them and their family. That is the other part of the debate that kills me….that the needs of the baby are the only one that count. To me that is not how a family works. I already plan on giving this new little one formula at night so I can still be a functioning mom for Sweetness. I’m almost afraid to start it at the hospital because i don’t want some LC who doesn’t know me at all telling me i’m selfish or making me doubt myself

52 Another Dreamer { 09.20.10 at 6:01 pm }

Great post. And I totally agree.

I have never understood why people get so heated in the decision… and turn it into a debate, let alone attack someones choices. It seems pretty ridiculous to me.

53 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.20.10 at 6:20 pm }

Thank you for taking this issue deeper than either/or.

Brilliant, especially the analogy of “Sight is best!”

Getting over not being able to breastfeed my children was almost as hard as going through IF. The message “Breast is best!” is that powerful.

54 Ceejay { 09.20.10 at 6:32 pm }

Thanks so much for sharing your story. There is so much pressure put on us these days to breastfeed 100%, and I’ve seen several friends (who were absolutely capable of doing it) almost collapse under the pressure to try to figure it out in the first few days. As humans, we just love to get uber-passionate about causes that, while good, are in fact peripheral to what really matters in life (loving your kids and putting effort into raising them matters, but the particulars of that simply aren’t worth dying over).

55 May { 09.20.10 at 6:34 pm }

Amen, sister!!

I breastfed my first (mostly) after six weeks of utter hell trying to work out her latch and my PCOS-related supply issues.

My second put me into renal failure. My OB practically had to pry the pump out of my hands and point out that my body was no longer cleaning toxins out of my blood, and that producing milk was not on its list of priorities just then.

So number 2 was formula fed from day 1. I see no difference in my bonding with each child, though I certainly got my share of dirty looks when pulling out the formula in public instead of the breast.

Can’t we all just get along?!?

56 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 09.20.10 at 6:37 pm }

Ooh, I have to admit that I almost held my breath as I read this post, wondering what sort of inflammatory responses I might find in the comments…

I went in to my birth thinking that if BFing works afterwards, then great, and if not, meh, feh, who cares? Fortunately for me, breast feeding worked. And somehow, in these months now of breastfeeding the boys, I have become exceptionally defensive of my decision to breast feed them. And that (I think similarly to how Rachel explained herself) has bled over into me feeling like the Breast Is Best campaign is virtually necessary at this point.

I am *so sick* of being told that things would be better/easier/super-fun-awesome-time if only I would switch to formula. Counter to that, I’m also sick of being told that the 4 oz of formula that each boy gets in the evening is tantamount to poison, and is ultimately greasing the path toward exclusive formula feeding, and messing up my supply and blablahblah…

Plain and simple, I feel about this issue how I feel about all parenting issues:
1)Do what works for you.
2)Do not judge the path of others until you’ve walked the proverbial mile in the proverbial shoes.

I liked the analogy of the “Hearing Is Best” campaign, but I have to wonder if there were a massive campaign in the 50s by “scientists” who claimed that deafening oneself and then using hearing aids was the best for one’s child, and then hearing aid companies were giving away free hearing aids and Duracell was giving away free diaper bags at hospitals with free samples of their hearing aid batteries, and it had gotten to the point where artificial deafness was the norm and the WHOLE WORLD was criticizing your decision to leave your child’s hearing intact– would we still find it as appallingly insulting to the deaf community to see Hearing Is Best campaign posters? We might, but we might also understand that the posters were targeting people who were choosing to deafen their children and to provide a counter to that atmosphere of fear that had been cultivated by “science” of the 1950s.

I completely agree that as with any “product”, we have the responsibilty as adults to take in whatever advertizing we see and filter it and make our own decisions, but in this case, until recently, there simply was no media representation for The Boob.

And I wholeheartedly agree that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction now (as in the pressure for all women to attempt vaginal birth when in many cases, it’s not what is in the best interests of the woman), and I totally understand feeling crappy about not being able to toe the hippie-party line (as in my case with the c-birth… I am ridiculously sick of people asking “WHY, oh, WHY!!!” when I explain that I had a scheduled c-birth), but somehow, in becoming a nursing mother of twins, I find myself falling squarely on the side of encouraging breast feeding as much as possible, yet understanding that ultimately, it won’t work for some.

57 luna { 09.20.10 at 6:37 pm }

yes yes yes.
such an important message.

you know I had both the time and the inclination to try to induce lactation before our potential child was born. and still, I was unable to produce enough to have the experience (and milk) I wanted her to have. yet another way my body failed me (and my baby).

it was astounding and maddening how many times I felt subject to judgment and scorn when I would break out a bottle for my newborn in public. as if anyone had any idea about our story. as if it mattered. choice or not. it’s no one else’s business.

58 SMK { 09.20.10 at 7:13 pm }

I hate that people make women feel like they are terrible moms because of something they have no control over!! I always thought the point of being a MOM was having the right to being able to make the right decisions for your children… How horrible that you feel like you cannot even express your feelings without being FLAMED! Those people need to walk in your shoes then they will understand. The way I see it as long as you can feed the baby/babies by any means necessary that is what is important!

59 Deathstar { 09.20.10 at 7:29 pm }

I wrote a post where I told of getting “the look” when asked (and I was asked often) if I breastfed and I said no, formula. And I even received unsolicited advice about inducing lactation (in the case of adoptive mothers) from a complete stranger. Considering some of the comments above, I feel I escaped relatively unscathed.

60 Bleu { 09.20.10 at 8:10 pm }

I love you Mel, however you know that my strawberry friend.
I had a rough start to BF’ing Bliss. Had to use a nipple shield for 3.5 months and pre-pump every time to give him milk before mine came down. I did, however get to breastfeed him for 5 years. I hope to do the same for Soul.
From a science/biology point of view I believe breast IS best. Science simply cannot replicate nature in it’s entirety. Cow’s milk is best for calves, dogs milk for dogs etc.

Maybe a gentler way to say it would have been “Breast Is Best, If You Can”.

That said I do also know how hard it can be and what a powder keg of emotions it can cause. But here are some thoughts that I feelare so important and not discussed.

The formula companies are larger than big pharma, larger than many PAC’s and lobby groups. They have been pushing their agendas in US hospitals for decades. I know, I went through it. I had nurses telling me I was starving my baby because my milk wasn’t in during his first 24 hours.

I HEAR IT ALL THE TIME. I know over 10 women who were told the same thing, many of whom were first time mother’s who were worried and followed what they were told and gave formula right from the start and then has all sorts of issues come up.

Please understand, it CAN be VERY hard. Women do have supply issues, and latch issues, and nipple issues and duct issues. But many more just have had pushy scare tactics get them off to an impossible start that messes with production during the most crucial time.

Biology is biology,milk takes up to 72 hours or more to come in, it is how we are designed but you tell a first time mama she is starving her baby during her 3 day stay at the hospital and she will worry and listen. This is horrid misinformation.

I got my formula company diaper bag just like every other woman in the US who has a baby in a hospital. I got my TONS of free formula and coupons.

A huge difference I have noticed here in Canada is that there is not the huge push from the companies at the hospitals here. Every woman gets a lactation consultant visit after birth and we go home with a cloth bag full of board books for our baby, not formula ads and gifts.

I also see way more women here breastfeed with much less stress. And I also, maybe more importantly for this post, see way less stress for those who do not or cannot.

But so many young mothers are out there thinking formula is exactly the same, just as nutritious, and allergies are way up, add adhd is way up, early puberty is way way up, childhood obesity is hugely up and there are links to many of these to formula or some component (soy etc.) of formula.

So when the breast is best campaign is fighting against big business trying to shout “really it is, healthiest” I truly believe they mean it to be targeted at those who could, or who want to, who may not realize it is.

What I think also needs to be discussed more is that if you cannot or truly just do not want to, that is ok too. But then that just follows the same pattern for so much in parenting. People make their choices of how they want to parent. I disagree with may of them but I am not those children’s parents. I support my friends choices, I support their struggles. I think that needs to be spoken of way more than just taking the opposite stance of anything because ultimately just stating the opposite is more of the same us vs. them .

61 Rose's Daughter { 09.20.10 at 8:34 pm }

Well said!

62 Rose's Daughter { 09.20.10 at 8:40 pm }

Well said! As a L&D nurse, I watch Mom’s beat themselves up over breastfeeding. I always say, do what’s best for you and your baby. And then move on.

63 Laura { 09.20.10 at 9:07 pm }

Amen to that! I had the same experience you did (well, minus the reactions to Reglan) and I felt guilty. But realized that spending time with my baby rather than with the pump was better for me. So, yay for you for feeding your babies!!!!!!

64 JJ { 09.20.10 at 10:14 pm }

Thank you SO MUCH for posting this–and I will never forget your reassuring words to me when I was grappling with breastfeeding–your words of comfort meant a lot to me. I was sooooo much healthier mentally when I realized that I would be OK–and more importantly, so would Oman.

65 Emmy { 09.20.10 at 10:18 pm }

As I started reading your post, one of my favorite sayings popped into my head, and you pretty much said it too. Whatever works best for you is what’s best. Thanks!

66 Bea { 09.20.10 at 10:33 pm }

What you say is true: basically, context is everything. “Breast is best” is a soundbite utterly devoid of context. Let’s use vaginal vs caesarian birth as an example (because that won’t open a can of worms…) Studies do tend to support vaginal birth as being safer for mother and child if all is going ok. But who would deny the opportunity for a caesarian if need be? Caesarians are definitely best in some cases, and have saved many lives.

I’ll stick by what I’ve said before: my only real issue in the debate is that there seem to be an awful lot of women who can’t breastfeed, and certain cultures/demographics seem to be a little over-represented. I worry that there are factors such as access to good quality help etc at play and that these (rather than choice or medical circumstance) are prohibiting some women from breastfeeding when they really should be able to. (Yours certainly doesn’t sound like one of those cases.) I would be interested to see if this is happening through a proper study, however, as at the moment I have only a few worrisome anecdotes to go by.

Bea

67 Mindy { 09.20.10 at 10:39 pm }

I’m sorry to hear breastfeeding didn’t work out for you, and that doctors were not willing to listen to your struggles and investigate rather than offer solutions that weren’t helping. I am a strong breastfeeding advocate, but I am also supportive of women making their own informed decision. From my standpoint (and only that), I think the U.S. has moved towards detrimental practices in food industrialization and formula in general. I believe breastfeeding campaigns only intend to encourage women to consider breastfeeding since it is not ‘the norm’ as it once was. I don’t see it as intending the chastise women who chose not to or cannot breastfeed, though I can see how it may feel that way. I think in general, we need to move towards most using breastfeeding, with some formula-feeding, rather than other-way-around. Your mental health and babies’ health is very important, so the decision you made was the best you could have made, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Just thought I’d bring another perspective in respectfully.

68 Flucky Mom { 09.20.10 at 10:40 pm }

Looks like you did still manage to get quite a bit of reactions ;)

I completely agree with you. As mothers, we do the best we can to raise our kids and from the mom they are born we want the best for them. But “best” can only be defined by us (and eventually our kids) and not by slogans or militant mothers.

I did have the privilege of breastfeeding my son until he was 14 months old. But it was tough. I struggled with supply issues after the first 6 months. I drove myself crazy but ultimately decided that what was “best” for my son was to have a happy mother.

We are quick to judge one another. I’m sorry you had to deal with hurtful comments.

69 jrs { 09.20.10 at 10:50 pm }

Well said. Thank you for writing a wonderful post. I am sure I will echo what many have said. As an infertile nurse who knows the benefits of breastfeeding, it is hard to not be able to br feed. I feel paralyzed in just trying to decide what formula to give my child and feel like I will be dooming him to a life of stupidity. Which is completely ridiculous I know. Thanks for helping me let go even more to this ridiculous notion.

As I have been thinking about this a lot lately, if I write about some of this stuff I will put a link of your post on it. I hope that will be alright with you.

70 genkicat { 09.20.10 at 11:32 pm }

Thank you for such a well written post. I wish it was here when I gave up trying to breast feed my now 7 month old.

It is interesting to me that in person, I received nothing but support (except from lactation consultants and post partum nurses) – but on-line was a different story.

71 Kristin { 09.21.10 at 12:07 am }

Oh Mel, this is so FAR from a rant it isn’t even funny. You do what everyone should do, look at it from all sides and explain that what is good for one might nit be good for another. YOU are doing what feminists claim to do…you are supporting a woman’s right to CHOSE what is best for her. You my friend rock!

72 luna { 09.21.10 at 1:57 am }

so this one has stayed with me today, mostly because it brought back those memories of nonstop pumping for so little output and trying to satisfy a very hungry and frustrated baby. when I accepted that she needed formula, she was much happier and thrived.

I also felt the same way about making her food when she could eat solids. it was such a pleasure to create her sustenance — to steam, puree and freeze all of her delicious concoctions with love. I loved the ritual of it, the nurturing aspect of it, I loved watching her explore new tastes and sensations that I had created with love just for her.

we do what we can. and that should be enough for everyone.

73 S.I.F. { 09.21.10 at 4:15 am }

For the record; I love your disclaimer! I wrote a very tongue in cheek post about circumcision a few months ago and was SHOCKED at the crazies who came out of the woodwork via Google (thanks to my stat counter, I realize done of them found my page by googling “little boy smegma” – seriously! Not an opinion I’m going to value too much!) Still being fairly new to blogging, and honestly having no clue at all how controversial circumcision was (for real – what happened to people making the best decisions for THEIR OWN families, and letting other families do the same?); I was honestly blown away by the reaction.

So yeah; love your disclaimer and couldn’t agree more!

As for the breast is best thing… I have dreams of breastfeeding. I honestly want it in a big bad way. It has been one of my concerns with implanting two embryos; what if I have twins and I can’t keep up with the breastfeeding demands (although – clearly after a failed cycle this is not enough of a fear of mine anymore and I will be transferring two embryos for my frozen cycle).

However that said; I have known too many women who weren’t able to breastfeed for any number of reasons, and I know that hurts them enough. They don’t also need to be chastised by society as well. Again, I strongly feel that this is one of those scenarios where people should be able to make the best decisions for THEIR families, without having to worry about input from the peanut gallery. It just doesn’t make sense to me how invested people become in deciding what is best for anyone else. Most parents do the best they can, and make the decisions that only they can make for their children; breast clearly isn’t best for every child, especially when the breast simply isn’t producing.

74 Guera! { 09.21.10 at 7:16 am }

I am officially, on the record, a card-carrying member of the “Pro-Feed Your Babies” Group. I work with and hear about too many children and babies who aren’t fed at all by neglectful, drug addicted parents. Just feed them! Be it formula or breast milk I don’t care.

75 Project Baby { 09.21.10 at 7:52 am }

Great post. I love your points of view on this subject. I also wish people would approach breastfeeding this way. :-)

76 myinfertilitywoes { 09.21.10 at 8:22 am }

Wow. Very enlightening. I’m so sorry you had all that (unnecessary) anxiety surrounding your childrens’ births… that isn’t fair. Thanks for speaking up!

77 Ellen K. { 09.21.10 at 8:52 am }

I tried to nurse, but couldn’t really get it going (shocker: preterm, LBW twins + preeclampsia + unscheduled C-section + bedrest on magnesium sulfate = delayed milk) and thus gave it up after a couple of weeks, and honestly I have never regretted it. I fucking hated it. It made me feel positively or negatively about my twins based on their nursing abilities. The pump was a time-suck and energy-suck. (My mom, who did successfully nurse twins, does not understand the modern “mandatory” pumping.) And breastfeeding didn’t show up on my “Reasons to Try IVF” list that remains in my journal drawer, so it wasn’t an agonizing decision to stop… far from it. Most of my friends stopped breastfeeding after a few weeks, too.

To date: zero ear infections, no bouts of flu, and three sick-baby visits for 2 babies in almost 24 months.

78 Stimey { 09.21.10 at 9:15 am }

Thank you for this. I have three kids. Two of them I breastfed almost exclusively. I breastfed my middle guy for six months and at his six-month pediatrician appointment, he’d lost a substantial amount of weight. I had stopped producing milk. There was really not another choice than to give him formula, which he devoured, obviously very, very hungry.

I read these posts about evil formula companies and, yes, I get that some of their practices aren’t the most ethical, but I can’t call a food that kept my child full and healthy evil.

Can’t we just live and let live and judge a little bit less? Great post.

79 Delenn { 09.21.10 at 9:37 am }

As usual a thought provoking post, Mel. I often find it interesting in life that while people may say they are “independant” or “moderate” they often choose extremes..and then prostolatize on their choices. Working vs. Stay At Home Moms; Family DayCare vs. DayCare Centers; Home School vs. Public Schools.

Breast feeding is another one. To me, I found it amusing when I went to a breastfeeding class for my first one, how often the exclusivity of Breastfeeding was brought up.

Me, I made up my own mind. I did breastfeed both kids. To start them off right, because it was economical, somewhat because of pressure, cuz I could. And.I.Did.No.Like.It. Most of the time. I did not “bond” with my children. I felt pinned down. I felt like I had to go “MOO”. And I had no problem whatsoever with supplementing with formula to give myself a break. I did not have good access to pumping during the days when I went back to work–so formula again came into play. And I had no problem whatever with that. A moderate course was fine and worked well. Afterall, within a year or so they are on cow’s milk anyways. So why all the fuss? Who knows.

80 April { 09.21.10 at 10:02 am }

Well said as always.

81 PaleMother { 09.21.10 at 10:29 am }

Really great post, Mel.

My experiences weren’t quite as extreme as yours (as in, no NICU, no prolactin issue, singletons), but they were really intense and in the same vein of negativity and undermining. Especially the first time. Your post brought a lot of things back . I couldn’t even read it all at one go; I could relate so well to your points and your emotions that I had to step back from from it a few times in order to continue to focus on your good words. It was that hot.

If only I can find the time, I should probably write a post about my experiences and link back to you. Although, writing that is hard for the same reasons your post was hard (not in a bad way) to read. It’s like channeling a blow torch … it requires a lot of effort to do it productively.

I was wondering what your experience with Reglan was after you mentioned it recently in my comments. I never did fill my scrip for it. I decided there was no way in hell the potential (?) benefit outweighed the risks. Or the risk of depression. The sheer effort and endurance required to continue (which I ultimately have done, mostly by luck) is enough to plunge one into bad places. I didn’t need extra help going there and my family needs me. So the hell with that. Mike and I reflected a lot in the last couple of months that our experience has been that breastfeeding … the nature of it and the challenges of it … can really put you at risk for depression. No one ever warns you about that. In fact, the reality is actively repressed. JMO, that’s ultimately counterproductive (putting it mildly).

I also find that … not unlike the ****storm that surrounds breastfeeding … the whole delivery/c-section/VBAC culture can be dangerously charged and irrational. Major communication/perspective challenges abound.

Unless you have a very smooth ride with all of these things (thanks to some lucky stars), it’s like stepping into a tornado. Help and wisdom ~should~ be abundant, but for some reason it’s not. And we end up just having to do the best we can being tossed about, trying to live to tell the tale.

I wish there was some way to apply my experiences to help others, but for some reason the knowledge doesn’t seem to transfer easily enough. WTH?

XXOO

82 OneFifthFox { 09.21.10 at 10:43 am }

For many thousands of years babies died when mothers were unable to give them an alternative. You (and me, and many other mothers) are now able to offer something that is almost as perfect as breastmilk. That allows them to survive and, yes, thrive. Not one of us should be made to feel guilty for making the wrong choice, even when it is a choice, which in your case it was not. I just feel so upset that you still felt/feel guilty for not being able to do it, because you don’t deserve to hang on to that guilt at all. Breast is not best, it’s just different. Each to their own.

83 serenity { 09.21.10 at 10:59 am }

Yes. Well put, Mel.

84 Cathy Donoghue { 09.21.10 at 11:03 am }

I tried to breastfeed my first child. I had milk tonnes of it and she screamed whenever my breast was put near her, went completely rigid. I pumped and she still wasnt happy. In the end I gave her formula milk and she loved it.
I carried on pumping driven by the wonderful motherly guilt we all live with until my wonderful husband took the pump away and gave me permission to stop.
No one had ever warned me I may not be able to breastfeed and the guilt was awful.
With my second child I got an infection in the hospital and was told it was antibiotics and not breastfeeding or death. Obvious choice take the pills but mad as it may sound I still felt guilt and really struggled.
I just wish someone had warned me that it may be a problem before the birth and perhaps the guilt wouldnt have kicked in.

85 Sarah { 09.21.10 at 11:20 am }

Very well written!!

Thanks for sharing your views!!!

86 Funny about Money { 09.21.10 at 11:24 am }

What a terrible experience! And so infuriating…a lot of this stuff women (and anyone who wanders into the medical setting) are fed with is at best faddish, at worst, politicized. To make you feel you had to go through all that to breast-feed your babies (two of them) is really inexcusable.

I was lucky that my boobs produced plenty of milk, and so I breast-fed my son until he was about six months old. Very nice, but it did NOT prevent him from getting colds (as billed), it didn’t appear to make him any happier than any of my friends’ babies, and I defy anyone to say whether he grew up any more or less healthy than he would’ve had he been on formula.

My entire generation was raised on formula; when we were born, breastfeeding was radically unstylish. Formula was thought to be healthier, and breastfeeding was thought to be bad for a woman’s figure, to say nothing of backward, rural, and declasse. Most of us survived…in fact, we’re the longest-lived generation in history.

Whatever works for you works. Each to her own, and honi soit qui mal y pense!

87 Sarah { 09.21.10 at 11:27 am }

You are so so right. My cousin had her son at 30 weeks and he was in the NICU for 8 weeks. She pumped, but when it was time to transition him to the actual breast he wouldn’t take it. Finally she gave up and started with formula, which worked wonderful with him and he is now a perfect caught up happy and healthy four year old. And yet my cousin feels guilty for not breastfeeding. When I struggled with BFing Henry and then got it worked out she told me it was her greatest regret that she didn’t get to do that with her son, and it broke my heart for her. I told her how wonderful she did with him, how amazing of a mother she is, but all the “breast is best” ads have her convinced, even with seeing him now as this strong amazing child, that she didn’t do everything she could for him.

Actually commenting rather than lurking because of IComLeavWe!

88 shasta { 09.21.10 at 12:34 pm }

Followed you here from a specific aforementioned post. Thank you for concisely and politely saying what many of us are thinking!

89 Ezra's mommy { 09.21.10 at 1:40 pm }

The world of lactation consultants have truly done a number on us highly educated women…well said Mel.

90 Mommy of 3 { 09.21.10 at 1:53 pm }

This is probably the first time I’ve visited your blog, and I’m pretty much in love with you.

No, really.

This blog is perfectly perfect. As the bio mom to one and the adoptive mom to two, I so relate to all that you’ve written. Fantastically stated. I’ll definitely be a regular reader from this point on. :)

91 Dawn { 09.21.10 at 2:47 pm }

Well put! I remember when a good friend of mine chose not to BF before her child was even born. From hearing about many lactation consultants from other friends, I warned her to prepare herself for the “boob pushers” after delivery. Thankfully for her, her nurses respected her right to choose how to feed her child. (de-lurking from ICLW)

92 Shana { 09.21.10 at 3:14 pm }

First off, I’m sorry that you didn’t have the positive experience with breastfeeding that you were hoping for. It is such an unfortunate and complicated issue. On one hand, I do believe that campaigns that support and encourage breastfeeding are necessary because we live in a society where women’s attempts and intentions to breastfeed are undermined and sabotaged so severely. On the other hand, there’s got to be a better way of doing so without making women feel guilty if they cannot do so. I just can’t stand how zealots on either side contribute to the “Mommy Wars.” Come on ladies, we’re in this motherhood thing together, we have to support one another with empathy if we want to teach our children how to coexist peacefully with one another.

Although I am another kumbaya-loving, cloth-diapering, extended-breastfeeding hippie-mama I only blogged about breastfeeding once. For what it’s worth, here’s the link: http://schmoopybaby.blogspot.com/2010/08/for-my-formula-feeding-friends-and.html

93 Deanna { 09.21.10 at 4:40 pm }

Great personal story regarding breastfeeding. I completely agree with you – it is a case by case decision. I believe that is true with most things in life – especially when it comes to parenting. There area all kinds of specialists out there, but they are there to advise us, not tell us what to do. That is ultimately our own decision. I’ve learned that the hard way with my own daughter. Just because a physician tells you what they think, doesn’t mean his/her advice is best for my child.
Happy ICLW!

94 Dora { 09.21.10 at 5:02 pm }

Mel, I’m so sorry for what you went through. I haven’t read any of the other comments, but wanted to write this quickly before I leave work. My sister is an obnoxious lactavist, and my mother doesn’t believe me when I talk about the harm that attitude causes women. I consider myself lucky that, in the face of their attitudes, I decided on a moderate approach. We are a happy combo feeding family. Very early on, my daughter was not satisfied with my evening supply. So I supplemented a little. When I went back to work I pumped for a while. I don’t have a private office, and the space I was given to pump was not pleasant. It was very stressful, so I didn’t produce much. So I stopped pumping. My VERY healthy child still gets breast milk, but she gets formula as well. She has never had the tiniest bit of nipple confusion. She just likes a full belly.

I really wish there was more support for a more moderate approach. And that situations were evaluated on a case by case basis. The way that nurse treated you was atrocious. I can only imagine how horrible that must have felt.

95 Jude { 09.21.10 at 5:06 pm }

Add me to the “made no milk” club. Nothing like pumping 8-10 times around the clock to put a couple of drops of milk in the fridge. My issue was hypoplasia (lack of mammary tissue). I’m due with #2 in about 7 weeks and you’d be amazed at the number of people who tell me, “Don’t worry, this time will be different.” Because I’ve suddenly developed mammary tissue?

I wish there were a million blog posts like this, and I wish they’d existed 3 years ago when I wanted to kill myself for nearly starving my newborn to death on my glandless breasts.

96 Kristen { 09.21.10 at 5:37 pm }

I find it sickening how judgemental parents are of each other. Bottle v. Breast, SAHM v. Work, Cloth v. Disposable, blah, blah, blah…seriously, raising kids is hard enough w/o all the judgemental b.s. from other parents. i don’t understand the need to condemn anyone who dare make choices different than your own. the only explanation i can come up w/is that some people are so insecure in their own abilities that they have to make everyone else doing something else “wrong” in order to prove they in fact are doing it “right”.

very brave of you to add your reasonable voice to such a hot-button topic.

97 Lacie { 09.21.10 at 5:48 pm }

Well-written and insightful (I feel like I just put a comment on a students’ paper!).

But really, thank you for sharing your experience. There are a lot of judgmental mothers out there and I am sorry that you were made to feel inadequate. Clearly, you knew what was breast for your babies. You tried your breast, I mean best, did you not?!

With your permission, I might link to the post in the future. That’s how much I liked it. Good stuff.

98 Jill { 09.21.10 at 6:44 pm }

Oh my. May I just say, “Amen, Sister!” I am an adoptive mother that pumped and took supplements to induce lactation but as it was my first time and I had none of the pregnancy hormones to help me along I was able to produce only 2 oz a day. Certainly not enough to sustain my son. I WANTED to breastfeed. I did more to try to make it work than most nazi women who push it as the only option. And it didn’t help when not only bio moms but other adoptive moms made me feel guilty because I wasn’t at least opting to use a milk bank. Sorry, I wasn’t in the mood to put a second mortgage on my house because it is freakin’ expensive! My son, now 2, is healthy, balanced and honestly no worse off than his breastfed peers, IMHO.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this post and for articulating so perfectly the plight of moms who can’t produce milk in a world that wants to vilify them for it!

99 Trish { 09.21.10 at 7:15 pm }

I guess I fall somewhere in the middle. I really liked Kate (#56) comment the best.
I think the main problem is that so many people see it completely black and white.
The hippies think formula is poison, and the [whatever the opposite of hippes are] think boobs are shameful.
I initially had a great supply (unexpectedly. Hellp syndrome @ 26w, mag, the whole shebang, but my milk came in on day 2) that tanked later. I wanted to quit probably 800 times. But Robbie had insane stomach issues that formula really aggravated (to the point of being in the hospital with dehydration because he was puking it up so much) so for us formula kind of WAS poison and I felt like I couldn’t give up.
In the end, I pumped for 15 months and I feel really good about that. But should we have another baby and that baby can’t/won’t nurse and can tolerate formula, I swear I’m not doing it again.
I loved nursing during the brief time it worked, but pumping?
Well.. pardon the pun, but it sucks.

As for people and their godforsaken judginess.. my experience was that I got a LOT of judgement for focusing on breastmilk. My boss was basically a complete bitch about it, coworkers made snide comments EVERY DAY, people rolled their eyes at me, any mention of my needing to pump would make some people physically recoil.
But I didn’t get any flack about formula (which we eventually added to my breastmilk for calories, once we found one that he could keep down) which kind of surprised me. Of course, we didn’t leave the house for 11 months, so I was a bit insulated. My perspective is certainly not typical.

Sometimes I think it’s the circles you run in. If most of your friends/family BF, they’ll expect you to do the same, if they didn’t, they’ll expect that, too.

In the end, I think the BF/FF debate is a good lesson for the rest of parenting. Learn to listen to other people’s opinions politely and then do what you were going to do anyway.

100 Rachell (Barrenista) { 09.21.10 at 7:48 pm }

Completely agree!!! Well said!

101 Roccie { 09.21.10 at 9:16 pm }

I see your effort to compose this post and I honor it. Beautifully delivered.

I managed to scrimp out some milk as a working mother by setting my alarm at 3am and pumping 4 times at work. I got shingles and was filled with hate for boss. Really. Was that all necessary?

Thank you for arming us with fantastic words to fight the ugly and uneducated.

102 Laura { 09.21.10 at 11:25 pm }

Excellent post!

You actually changed my perception. I found your blog through a link on another blog I was reading.

When I first read your title, I was skeptical about why on Earth someone would say that breast is not best!! But you quite eloquently and logical made your argument & I found myself thinking…”I never thought of it that way before.”

The most astute analogy you made was about “hearing is best” and etc. I really had never though of it in this way before. So, thank you for enlightening me and making me more sensitive to the breastfeeding decisions of others.

As a side note, I am from Austin, Texas, and our breastfeeding campaign is “Breastfeeding Awareness.” These are the signs you see, and they support being informed about breastfeeding & its benefits, so that mother’s can make an educated and informed decision prior to choosing either one over the other.

Thanks again!

103 Sarang { 09.22.10 at 1:45 am }

AMEN SISTA!

Thank you for being a voice, make that The Voice.

I try my “best” to live my life like this (don’t always succeed, but try)…to not judge others for their actions and 100% knowing that there is no one single solution/way of thinking/way of doing that is right for everyone. And, you know? Thank god for that. Otherwise, we’d be bland robots who all ate the same things/wore the same clothes/did what everyone else is doing. Thank goodness for differing (but polite) opinions.

104 Joy { 09.22.10 at 8:53 am }

I grieved so, so much when breastfeeding didn’t work. I did not make enough milk. Like many breastfeeding “failures,” I can look back at little mistakes I may have made in the first hours of my son’s birth and say that it was this or that little thing that put the whammy on my breastfeeding. I could have “tried harder,” just as we can all be more perfect in our parenting, except for being human and all. I took domperidone to increase my milk supply, which it marginally did. But I”m not sure anything would have made the difference. The domperidone increased my appetite and I gained 40 pounds in 3 months. Never again. I was so brainwashed, so fervent about it all, and shed many tears when I was hit with the realization that life does not always line up with our plans. And BTW, my lactation consultant was a beautifully kind person, who never pressured me, and was a sane voice in the midst of a chaotic and sad time.

105 Such A Good Egg { 09.22.10 at 11:57 am }

Hey Mel, this post was awesome and I really appreciate your perspective and thoughtful reflections. I am currently 10 weeks along with twins and my breasts haven’t changed AT ALL. It’s been worrying me that I won’t be able to breast feed (please let us make it to that pt!). Like, always whirring in the back of my mind. Just wanted to say that thinking about it early on and reading your thoughts on the experience is soothing and helpful. It reminds me it’s of course not the end of the world if I can’t BF.

Also, sidenote: my Mom did produce milk but opted not to BF any of her four kids (me included). We all turned out fine. So that’s not what I worry about. I worry about missing out on the whole experience of it.

PS Also, that nurse who gave you a hard time and didn’t want to remove the IVs to begin bottles is an OUTRAGE! Again, good to think about stuff like that BEFORE you get to the hospital and I’m glad you shared your experience so I can be more educated if/when I make it to that pt. xo

106 Somewhat Ordinary { 09.22.10 at 12:30 pm }

My mom breastfed my brother and I until we were over a year. It was never a doubt in my mind that I would breastfeed. I also never imagined I wouldn’t be able to. I left the hospital with my supply coming in nicely and a 9 pound baby that seemed to be latching great. Just to get out of the house I went to a breastfeeding support group 5 days after he was born. They weighed him before I fed him and he was 2.5 ounces heavier after he ate. I went back again and again for the next couple of weeks and he was always getting exactly what he needed, but was not gaining much weight at all. The LCs in the group were miffed. The ped was miffed. I started to pump and feed from the bottle a few times a day to measure what he was getting. He would consistantly eat more than your average baby his age. A couple more weeks went by and we were sent to an occupational therapist who watched him for one minute and determined he had no suck, slide, swallow reflex. So he was actually buring more calories trying to eat than he was actually taking in. He went from like the 90th percentile at birth to 15th at his 6 week appointment. The professionals said that it would be easier to teach him from the bottle so I was directed to put him on my breast to stimulate production, pump, feed, repeat. It was an all day thing and I began to notice my supply wasn’t as good as it had been. So I took Mother’s Milk, drank some dark beer, and eventually moved on the Reglan because the more this went on the less milk I was producing. I was devastated because I was producing enough in the beginning and I think the stress of the situation was taking a toll on my body. Even after all these things that were suppose to improve supply I still was only getting a couple ounces at a time. Finally after days of vertigo (which is a side effect of Reglan) I decided my baby needed a mom that could take care of him rather than a mom that was likely to drop him at any moment if the vertigo got worse and who wasn’t stressed out all day over if he was eating. I struggled with quitting quite a bit especially with how my mom would react, but in the end I told myself that having a less stressed and sick mom would be better for my child than the breast milk. From that day on when he was about 9 weeks ole we were both a lot happier because I was present in my life and his life again.

I do believe that there needs to be education, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of making women feel like they aren’t doing their best because they use formula.

Thanks for posting your story and your feelings!

107 Esperanza { 09.22.10 at 12:38 pm }

I just want you to know, that breastfeeding is not (for everyone) that amazing bonding experience that people claim it to be. Do I like breastfeeding my daughter? Sure. Did I like it when I had thrush for two months? Absolutely not. Do I like that it STILL hurts and that my nipples are always sore? No. Do I like my boobs leaking all over the place and having to remember to wear nursing pads lest dark rings of stickiness appear on my shirt? Hell no. Do I feel close to my daughter when we breastfeed? Yes. Closer than I’d feel if I were bottle feeding her? Probably not. Do I like pumping to keep up my supply? Nope. Will I like pumping at work? I will LOATHE it. Seriously, I think the best thing about breastfeeding is the simplicity, not having to remember to buy formula and not having to do all those dishes (though I do have to wash pump parts every night). So I just wanted to say, I bet a lot of moms who do breastfeed don’t think it’s the bonding experience of a lifetime. They’re not shouting it from the roof tops because they, like you, don’t want to be told they need to try harder or are defective, but they still feel that way, all the same. Thanks for writing this post. It is very much appreciated.

108 Cece { 09.23.10 at 10:03 am }

I always wonder what the heck went on with my son and breastfeeding. I tried and pumped and got nothing and was SO determined that I beat myself up for 3 weeks trying to breastfeed. Thankfully I have a great support network that early on told me that the inportant thing is to FEED the baby. Not beat yourself up about it. I was either pumping or trying to breastfeed or SOMETHING releated to breastfeeding about 20 hours a day for 3 weeks. And I felt bitter and guilty when I decided to stop. But also like a weight was lifted off me when he was happily drinking a bottle in my lap instead of crying as I tried to get him to latch on.

With my twins, I was actaully making a decent go at breatfeeding, and then Nora died and Maggie got taken to the hospital for 3 days and I couldn’t deal. That time, my milk did come in – I just couldn’t empotionally deal with it. I reget it, but not even as much as I did at the time with my son – because I needed to do what I could for my sanity. The best thing I could do at that point in my life was to keep myself somewhat mentally healthy for my 2 living children and my husband.

Then we found out that Maggie had all these food sensitivities, and using formula made it quick and easy to cure her discomfort – so I knew I did the right thing.

109 mrs spock { 09.23.10 at 10:25 pm }

The “breast is best” campaign wouldn’t seem so chastizing if the women who tout it weren’t so godawful terrible to other women.

I have never received more horrible comments on my blog, or more links to my blog in my statcounter berating me and gloating over the idea that my child would die from drinking formula, than when I was devastated over the un-fixable pain BF caused me. I so, so wanted to nurse, for many reasons. However, women with fibromyalgia have very low success rates and very high pain rates- something the LLL, my OB, midwives, doula, and pediatrician weren’t aware of. If you’ve ever had a burn, you know what a vasospasm feels like, and I had it in my nipples almost 24 hours a day. I didn’t want to touch my own child, and did not bond with him until after I started formula.

This go round, I don’t even have a choice really. The meds I will need to take to ensure I maintain my ability to walk would be absolutely contraindicated. What am I supposed to do?

My mother, aunts, grandmother, and great-grandmother, like you, never made milk. My mother still grieves for it. They all had hypoplastic breasts. My great-grandmother had two stillborn children, and the third child survived- but died within days of birth, likely from lack of nutrition. Her fourth child lived- nursed by a wetnurse. What a shame there was no formula available then ( or hospitals, for that matter!) to ensure she didn’t have to lose yet another child.

110 Alexicographer { 09.23.10 at 11:10 pm }

I haven’t read all the comments.

Before I was a mom, or even infertile, I read Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s book Mother Nature. It’s a doozy of a recommendation for the infertile community as it examines such practices as infanticide (basically it looks at how selective investment in children — care for some, not others, depending on the circumstances of their birth — can evolutionarily advantageous for women, as in resource-poor environments providing for a baby can be both costly for mom and futile for baby), but one of its many wonderful points is how finally, and only, in the 20th century and the developed world, did it become possible to nourish an infant even when breastmilk is unavailable. Formula may not be perfect (it’s not), but it’s amazing stuff and something I think we should all be grateful for the existence of every single day; at any other point in history and in much of the world even today, an infant’s survival depended on having a lactating woman available to feed him or her. Today in the developed world, infants can survive and thrive even absent a lactating woman willing to nurse them. That is an amazing and wonderful thing.

111 loribeth { 09.27.10 at 10:32 am }

Catching up on my blog reading, post-vacation. Never had the opportunity to breastfeed. My intention was always to give it a go, but I wasn’t going to knock myself out over it. (That was the plan, anyway…!) Breastfeeding is the ideal, of course, but we all know the gaps that exist between the ideal & real life. Like so many things, we like to talk about “breast is best,” but when push comes to shove, there is not a lot in the way of practical or even moral support for mothers who are struggling with this issue.

I watched one girlfriend struggle mightily with breastfeeding issues for months, including endless pumping, latching issues, multiple trips to clinics & hiring a private lactation consultant at some considerable cost. She eventually gave up & switched to formula, & said it was amazing what a difference it made for both her & the baby.

Great post, Mel. I love how you always manage to come down on the side of reason, with a well-explained rationale for your point of view.

112 J { 09.27.10 at 11:55 am }

“The steaming and peeling and mashing and freezing — these were the physical ways I fed my children. Do I believe my food trumped jarred food? No — I’m sure the nutritional difference was negligible. But I needed a way to be physically involved in their feeding that went beyond the twisting off of a jar top. It was the leveled playing field to breastfeeding — of utilizing my strengths (cooking) rather than mourning my foibles (my body).”

Thank you for saying this. It means a lot to me. I’m rarely even-tempered enough to think through the feelings in such a cogent mannet, but you managed to capture the healing part of my relationship to my daughter’s relationship to food. I don’t know if I’ll ever “get over” being too much of a medical failboat to co-lactate, but N and I have gotten to a great place with the way we feed NJ. And NJ tries everything (within allergen safety) and I cook new things for her and we are a much happier family than I think we would be if we’d been plugging along with one (sad) boob and a pump this whole time.

113 Erin { 09.27.10 at 12:05 pm }

Great post! I had a very hard time producing milk in the beginning and could not, for the life of me, get my daughter to latch successfully and consistently. Lots of crying and frustration on both ends, even after working with LCs. Felt way too much guilt about even supplementing with formula and giving up on “finger feeding” her the breastmilk that I did manage to pump out. Breastfeeding is supposed to encourage bonding, and I was not bonding with a child who was hungry, angry, and frustrated every time I tried to put my boob in her mouth.
She’s almost four months old now, extremely healthy and happy, and lives off a combination of pumped milk and formula. My supply went up for a short time, and now it’s decreasing again. The plan is to keep pumping until I eventually run out (my guess is that I have another month or two left until I’m dry), and then go to formula-only, knowing that I did what was best for myself and my daughter.

114 Kir { 09.27.10 at 1:31 pm }

I would write exactly what I wrote 10 minutes ago..it’s good if you can do it…and want to.
i think that if someone had told me that I had no choice but to breastfeed, i would had a worse case of the PPD I already had.
I wanted a c-section, I wanted to formula feed, I wanted to just have my ALIVE babies stay that way and I wanted to relax and see them out of the NICU and into my home and life.

I never tried to BF, I never gave it a thought after they told us that we were having twins, in fact along with really wishing that both of our embies took, was my fear that if they didn’t…and only one did, how could I explain the fact that even talking about BF ing wasn’t an option for me. See I’m not a good person inside. But that’s the truth..plain and simple. My boobs have been a part of me that has always defined me…when people who have known me all my life talk about me, my boobs always come up, I was big early and they were always the reason most boys liked me.SO for me to think about them as a place to feed my boys…ummm, no. Just wasn’t comfortable for me…and maybe it was always self esteem and body issues all rolled into that too…but we bought formula and my children are healthy, smart and here….that’s all I can ask for.

115 Deanna { 09.27.10 at 4:17 pm }

I think breast is best. Not to argue with what you wrote, but I really do think it’s best. However, we don’t live in an ideal world. I think it’s best in a “if conditions allow and there are no other factors” type of way.

A lot of things are best – never getting sick would be “best.” But people get sick so we have medicine. Everyone I know who is infertile being able to get pregnant naturally is “best.” But it doesn’t always work that way so there are drugs and procedures. So basically, I think there is a “best” in an ideal world, and if only our world was ideal….

I do think signs, etc. encouraging breastfeeding are good, because I do think it’s important and would encourage people to try it even when it’s hard. But for those who can’t for whatever reason, I hate that those signs make them feel bad.

116 Kate { 09.28.10 at 7:59 pm }

As a mother of a 1-year-old, this is a subject that really hits home. I badly wanted to breastfeed, it didn’t work out. Maybe if I had persevered, it might have, but emotionally I just couldn’t do it. I hated pumping. I was in a dark place and as soon as I just let the breastfeeding go and decided to go forward with formula – motherhood became a much freer and happier experience.

The research behind the breast is best is totally skewed anyway. Women who are more highly educated tend to breastfeed. Women who are more educated are also more likely to follow the instructions on to how to prepare and store formula.

My daughter at one year old has never had anything worse than a cold. Never had a fever. No diarrhea or gastro problems. Something tells me that it makes no difference whether I breastfed or not.

117 Shelby { 09.30.10 at 4:50 pm }

I’m obviously late for the party here, but in my much belated perusings of the blogs I love the most I felt compelled to respond.

Like you, I wanted so, so badly to breatfeed and it didn’t work out. My kid never latched and I just could not and would not sit there idle while my jaundiced newborn screamed in hunger without doing something about it. So he got the bottle from day one. I pumped, but didn’t produce nearly enough. I visited nurses and lactation consultants by the dozens, but he was never interested in breastfeeding. So when I realized that I was spending all of my free time pumping (and not sleeping or eating or showering or doing anything to restore my sanity) and I was miserable, I decided to stop and turn the pump back in. It was, by far, one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made and still brings tears to my eyes. I can still remember my steps back into the hospital so well, pump in one hand, carseat in the other, tears in my eyes.

The pain of not being able to breastfeed is right up there with the pain of infertility and parallel to it as it was once again a testament of what my body did not do.

But now (my DS is 10 months old), I see a happy, healthy, thriving baby and a mother who spent that new found time away from the pump and holding that gorgeous little guy. If that’s what ‘evil’ formula helps produce, than I’d make the same hard decision all over again.

118 Julie { 10.01.10 at 12:19 am }

I am nursing twins, and thank goodness some propaganda talked me into it. I’m sorry you didn’t have that choice. You shouldn’t feel bad; those posters were meant for me.

119 Tamara { 10.01.10 at 12:56 pm }

I had the exact problem with my first child. I took Reglan and fenugreek in an attempt to bring in my milk at the urging of the lactation consultant. At the end of 2 months of meds and pumping and stress, I was producing a total of 2 ounces of milk a day. I quit and went solely to formula. With my second child I again gave breastfeeding a go, but it took my milk 5 days to come in, and it never came in any great amounts, so formula again. This time the lactation consultant was supportive of my decision to go with formula and I felt no pressure to continue breastfeeding that wasn’t working. I wish the “breast is best” campaign would stop because all it does is make new, hormonally imbalenced mothers stress out more and feel worse about themselves if they are unable to breastfeed. Formula is fine. What is important is that the child is getting nutrition, not the source of that nutrition.

120 Sue { 10.01.10 at 4:22 pm }

Very thought provoking. You’ve provided information that I’ve never heard before. I think that the main lesson here is that people should not be so judgmental when they know nothing about an individual’s circumstances. BTW, I was breastfed and I’m still alive and quite happy with my life. ;)

121 pri { 10.01.10 at 11:52 pm }

I assumed that I would breastfed my son. I actually scoffed at my sister when she shared stories of friends that struggled with bf-ing and gave up around 4-6 weeks and said “that will NEVER be me.”

I didn’t anticipate the early arrival of my son at 37 weeks, nor did think he’d be whisked away to the NICU 20 minutes after his birth. I put him to the breast (successfully) for a few minutes before they took him. Before I could make my way down to see him a few hours later, he’d already been given a bottle of formula (without my permission). After that, it was damn near impossible to get him to latch. I consulted the hospital’s one LC and her advice was useless. The NICU nurses were amazing, but because my son only there because of a fever at birth and was doing well, I didn’t get much support from them. After a week of trying, pumping, and feeding him formula, I contacted an indy LC. Her plan overwhelmed me. I gave up to maintain my sanity. I simply couldn’t feed my baby 8 times days, along with pumping 8 times daily while also putting him to the breast.

Not a day passes that I don’t feel like “less” of a mother for not breastfeeding. I don’t appreciate the judgmental comments. I don’t need them because I’ve already spent hours judging myself.

I had a dream last night where I was breastfeeding a baby girl. My son (he’s 6 months old now, but was 3 or 4 in my dream) walks in and asks what I’m doing. I lovingly tell him I’m feeding his baby sister. I hope I get the chance to experience breastfeeding but will NEVER judge another mom’s decision on how to feed their child.

122 becky { 10.04.10 at 1:14 pm }

The Nestle boycotts and such make me uncomfortable. When I had my son almost 3 years ago, I had pre-eclampsia and an emergency c-section. With all of the drugs I was on, my milk didn’t come in right away. I don’t think I ever produced much colostrum at all. My son was rapidly losing weight (he lost over a pound).

With the hospital’s help, I supplemented with formula from Nestle (Good Start, or something like that). We set up a tube where it made the baby think he was getting the nourishment from me (I can’t remember what that setup is called). But without that formula, my son would not have made it out of the hospital. My milk did eventually come in and we went on to have a successful breastfeeding experience. But it would not have happened without the help of formula.

123 Lawyer Mama { 10.08.10 at 12:00 am }

I just saw this but had to say “Amen, sister!”
My first had all sorts of problems, some of which developed in utero. As a result, he had horrible, horrific, volcanic puking reflux. And he very quickly developed a feeding aversion. So you can imagine how it felt when he started screaming whenever he saw my boob coming at him. Yeah, that was awesome. And the GUILT that people piled on was, in hindsight, simply stunning coming from health care professionals.
Luckily, his pediatric GI figured out what was going on before Death by Mommy Guilt occurred.
Hollis went on to develop a feeding aversion to formula as well, and even spent some time in the hospital, so I *know* there was nothing I could have done. But still. The guilt. Oy.
My second was born healthy and I breastfed him for a year, but still, even knowing I did what was my best for my first child, I still flinch when I remember some of the comments and “helpful” advice.

124 Battynurse { 10.17.10 at 3:55 pm }

So very well said.
I have to admit also that I’m absolutely appalled at the nurses who told you it was better to keep your infants on IV feeding rather than give formula. One aspect of being a nurse is having to leave your own personal beliefs at home and support your patients first and foremost regardless of whether their beliefs or choices agree with yours.

125 Anon { 10.19.10 at 1:17 am }

This is going to sound heretical to some people (maybe most people?) but the government and other organizations need to stop promoting breastfeeding.

I was firmly in the “breast is best” camp until I had my twins and experienced almost exactly what you experienced. (Didn’t have anything – NARY A DROP – come out until 5 days post-partum and even after weeks of pumping didn’t ever produce more than an 1.5 ounces per day). I can’t tell you how emotionally painful it was to be bombarded everywhere I looked about how important breast feeding is when I was unable to do so. Add in post-partum hormones and depression inducing drugs (Reglan) and my breastfeeding failure was probably was the most painful thing I’ve had to go through in my life thus far. Reading the comments here and in other places on the Internet, I know now that I’m not alone both in the inability to breastfeed and in the emotional devastation it caused. After a year of feeling like the biggest failure in the history of mammals every time I pulled out my formula and bottles, I finally realized that I did the best for my babies and for myself. They are now are thriving, happy and fully caught up developmentally and physically to their full-term counterparts. Oh, and they had nary a cold or gastrointestinal ailment the first year of their lives.

Because of my experience, I’ve been questioning whether breast REALLY is best? Or, at least, is so much better than formula that such a large scale campaign to promote it is necessary? Is breastfeeding really so much better than formula that it’s worth promoting a message that creates such emotional heartache and guilt for the many women who can’t or choose not to breastfeed? Yes, I know there are many, many studies that show benefits from breastfeeding but if you look at these studies closely you’ll see they just show a correlation between good outcomes and breastfeeding and not causation. The actual proven benefits of breastfeeding in a first world country are pretty scant – possibly a breastfed baby will get one or two fewer colds in the first year. The rest of the research seems like conjecture at best and political at worst.

So, In my very humble opinion, instead of plastering the walls of hospitals and pediatrician offices with “Breast is Best” maybe they should plaster the walls with a more nuanced message – like “We’ll fully support you however you choose to feed your baby”. Wouldn’t this be kinder and gentler to everyone?

126 Angel { 11.26.10 at 11:01 pm }

This article was very touching to me as a breastfeeding advocate and a mother of two breastfed babies. I understand the struggles of breastfeeding believe me but I do want to encourage all women to do there research on formula before thinking that it is the second alternative to breastfeeding or even a safe alternative to breastfeeding. Because what you find may be shocking, formula recalls are just scratching the surface. The FDA has ridiculously low standards for the production of powerded milk and that includes infant formula. The FDA also stated in 2008 that melamine in trace amounts were allowed in infant formula in larger amounts leds to kidney failure, cancer and even death, e.i the contamined infant formula in china that resulted in the death of six babies and caused hundred of ck infants. Also they allow a certain amount of insects, feces and rat hairs in formula. Bottles also cause a deformation of the developing oral cavity due to the unnatural way an infant has to suck in order to feed resulting in numerous dental problems in adulthood. Breastfed babies are also less likely to be to get respitory illnesses, cancer and many many more illnesses. It is also reduces risk for breast cancer for the mother. In my home state of ohio sceincest have came up with a vaccine to prevent breast cancer made out of breastmilk. I would also research formula companies themselvess there greed has led to shady pratices, infant testing and promotion in third world countries that led to the death of millions of infants,e.i Nestle… So ladies I really feel your pain I struggled with a nb with gerd and a colic I suffered from badly lack of sleep and the constant crying but I made it thru stronger than ever in my conviction. To me the risks of formula outwayed any struggled I faced and was worth it to not give my kids an ounce of formula and I strongerly urge anyone wanting to try it out to do the research for themselves. I am not out to make anyone feel bad about their choices I just feel like they should be educated choices and not blindly trusted choices. I think every mother on here is a very caring and loving women to try to do whats best for there little ones. But I cant help but think some of the guilt that u feel stems from a thought that maybe u could have done it. Nothing is impossible even the improbable and if u dont feel guilt than u shouldnt you cant live life in regret. You can only move forward, learn from experiences and do your best as a parent now~

127 Jennei { 12.22.11 at 12:47 pm }

I am so thankful for this post! Thank you for writing it. I struggled greatly with breast feeding, had absolutely no support, and just gave it up. I was dealing with depression and was scared to death about not getting any sleep. I beat myself up emotionally for it for months and months and months. Anyway, thanks for the post :)

128 Spencer's Mom { 03.05.12 at 12:06 am }

Great post, thank you.

I pumped faithfully 8 times a day for 5 weeks while my son was in the nicu, I breastfed him every chance I got. When he came home, though, his frustration at the breast & my own ppd brought me to the decision to exclusively pump & bottle feed him expressed breast milk. I pumped every day, every 3-4 hours, for 4 months.

It began to feel like my soul was being sucked out through my breasts by that machine. I felt like a dairy cow, completely detached from the emotional side of feeding one’s child.

My supply began to drop and my son kept growing, we began supplementing with formula. My sanity waned and my marriage was strained, so on valentines day this year I stopped pumping.

I have not been this happy or healthy since before my baby’s birth, and you can see it reflected in his smiling face. I take such care & pleasure in measuring out his formula, making large 24-hour batches, dividing
it into individual portions, making each bottle, and feeding Spencer.

129 A Creative Mommy { 04.16.12 at 7:15 pm }

I realize this is an older post but I just wanted to say THANK YOU!!!!

As someone is completely against breast-feeding the nazi like culture that says you are a horrible failure of a mother if you do not do it, I know that a lot of people agree with you but few are brave enough to tell their own stories and express that opinion, so thank you for being brave enough to do so, bravo!

130 Candice { 11.21.12 at 5:11 am }

I think this article is great ! I breastfeed for about 5 months & it was good for me at the time. I stopped because it became to demanding on me. despite that fact I agree Breast is not always best. People rant & rave about that but it is only best if the mother is eating properly and that’s very hard to do. If you cant sue to work or lack of milk than using formula makes you no less of an awesome mother. I feel no better than another mother because i breastfeed for 5 months . I know women who choose not to breastfeed and are actually are some of the best mother’s I know. Its a personal choice & it should stay that way because it is personal….it seems to me nothing is personal or private anymore.

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