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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.

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