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Much Ado about Breasts

I am not sure how I came to speak so much about my breasts in a 7-day period (and I am sad to say that my breasts kicked off another post that I’ll write once I can organize my thoughts.  So that’s four posts about these luscious mammary glands in quick succession, though the last is more about how we comport ourselves on the Web.  Think of it has more of me flashing my tits rather than letting you take a long gaze).  I wrote the first post as a response to a “breast is best” post, I wrote a second as a response to the emails I received, and now, I wrote the third for BlogHer because they asked me to do it.

When they asked, my first reaction was no.  My sole desire this week was to write my damn sci fi book, and talking about breasts has gotten in the way of that.  I have received some fairly crappy emails, and I didn’t want to extend and expand the crappy email-getting.  But when I told Josh that I wasn’t going to do it, he pointed out that if I didn’t write about the Similac recall, someone else would.  And I would have to read THAT post.  And possibly have my head explode.  So writing this would actually be insurance against head explosion.

So I did it.

Feel free to skip if you have read quite enough about breastfeeding and formula-feeding, though I hope you’ll read my final post because it is more about the responsibility to bloggers and commenters than it is about titties.

And this is the post that I put up on BlogHer:

I wrote two posts this week about breastfeeding in reaction to a post about the “breast is best” campaign: one titled, “Breast is Not Best” and the other titled “Breast Bitch.” It was a week that at first seemed fairly quiet on the parenting wars front — and then the Similac recall bomb was dropped. And on a week where my breastfeeding posts would have simply been my request to stop using supremacy language in regards to a bodily function that is outside a person’s control, it became a gathering spot to see, “see, see, breast is best!”

Though people who think that way have sort of missed the point.

If you have a healthy, full-term child with no known issues and the mother has an ample milk supply and a desire to breastfeed, breast probably is best. I can’t say that it is always best because I can think of women who are taking drugs that would cross into their breastmilk and look at the scenario I set up and say, “well, there’s an example where breast isn’t best.” I can think of other scenarios — such as the mother brings in the sole income and will miss out on pay even though her job itself is safeguarded — and that doesn’t even begin to touch on all the situations that don’t match the first part of that statement.

But like so many parenting things, the breast is best campaign comes from a place of privilege in so many ways. It’s not just the socio-economic privilege of people who are not paid by the hour asking those who are to forgo pay in order to pump. It’s the thousands of reasons why you might not be able to breastfeed in the first place — lack of supply, adoption, premature infant, lack of breasts — or why you simply might not want to and have that reason trump any benefits that breastmilk might bring.

And that is why the smug statements that followed the recall such as “breastmilk never gets recalled” are so damn hurtful. Because first and foremost, just because it’s not recalled, doesn’t make it safe. There are plenty of toxins that are passed from mother to child via breastmilk, plenty of viruses including HIV which are passed from mother to child via breastmilk, and medications that pass from mother to child.

Breastmilk is only as good as the health and nutrition of the mother.

Breastfeeding advocates claim that they have to fight like this because it’s a war, though like many other wars that shall not be named, it brings into question … why? Why does how I feed my children affect another person? We can make up reasons such as “better children’s health means lower health care costs” but that’s reductive — breastmilk isn’t a magic liquid that saves children from all other medical issues. Breastfed children — like formula-fed children — have the potential to develop the same health problems down the road, especially as other types of food are introduced. A reduction of occurrence doesn’t mean a prevention of occurrence.

I am all for people breastfeeding and I’m all for people formula-feeding — and I’m even for the people who go half-and-half with breastmilk and formula. I’m for co-sleeping if that’s what works for you, and I’m for children having their own room if that works for you. And if you have a half-and-half situation where they sleep in your room some times, I think that’s fine too. Do you see where this is heading?

The fact is that the choices you make to raise your child don’t affect me. If you breastfeed, it does nothing to change my life, and if you don’t breastfeed, it still does nothing to change my life. Which is why I don’t understand lactavists — those foot soldiers who see it their duty to burst into situations that don’t affect them and impose their will. A very different attitude of lactation consultants or doulas who offer support for people who choose breastfeeding. And before you start gasping and saying, “but women won’t choose breastfeeding if we don’t point out how evil formula is!” I’m asking you to pause.

Are you calling women stupid?

Are you saying that women can’t make an informed choice based on information presented to her by the medical establishment — who should be performing an impartial dissemination of the facts agreed upon by the medical establishment based on research? Do you believe women can tune out 30 peanut butter brands all working overtime to get them to buy their product, but they can’t tune out formula companies if the choice they made was to breastfeed? Those formula companies work hard to get women to use their products, just as all other for-profit businesses work hard to have your money flow in their direction. And we overcome those messages every single day. I believe women can overcome them from formula companies too.

What does affect me are hurtful campaigns from non-profits that use manipulation in the form of fear and guilt in order to do their work. I expect that from for-profit businesses and listen to (and mentally adjust) their statements accordingly. I don’t extend that same feeling to non-profits who are supposed to be passing along factual health information.

What does more damage than formula has ever done to a child is a campaign that uses supremacy language to quantify something that is unquantifiable since we can’t adjust for all other factors. To use fear in order to manipulate people. Or to use smugness to vilify women for their choices. We all know the saying that you catch more flies with honey, and certainly, I am much more willing to listen to someone who keeps an open-mind to my answer, but calmly lays out the facts than I am to listen to someone who tweets about how formula-using mothers are getting what they deserve with the Similac recall.

Because you’ve never stood in my exact shoes, because if you had, you’d understand why formula is far from the evil concoction you paint it to be. It’s the reason I have children instead of corpses.

I don’t feel strongly about breastfeeding or formula-feeding: I feel strongly about treating people well and respecting their choices.

44 comments

1 a { 09.26.10 at 9:20 am }

Fantastic. I’m glad that Josh talked you into writing this. That’s exactly why I’m confused by this issue – What difference does it make to anyone else how I feed my child? I can (just barely) accept that some of my other parenting choices might affect others (ie letting my child run around a restaurant – not that she gets to) and thus be subject to merited criticism. But how I feed my child?

Certainly there is a segment of the population who do not worry about obsessively researching the best way to raise their child. Getting the message to them is important. But I’m pretty sure that the majority of the population does try to learn about their choices. You want to target this message appropriately? Teach the medical establishment how to properly support new mothers. Whether the moms choose breastmilk or formula, the pediatricians and OBs and nursery nurses and lactation consultants should be helping the new mother get her child fed, not laying on guilt for “not giving the child the best” or for “starving her child.”

2 V { 09.26.10 at 9:43 am }

I can’t understand why women just don’t let each other be. I grew up in a culture where breastfeeding was done in the open, and knew that when I had a child I would do the same. My mother told me that I didn’t like to breast feed and in the end I got formula. I know she breastfed my sister, because I was there and I watched and learned. Then came my preemie who couldn’t nurse on my 42DDD boobs and said boobs couldn’t produce as much milk as she required ( I always knew they were useless). I pumped and she got breast milk for 3 months and then formula. She’s healthier than my niece who was breast fed for 13 months. Like everything else in life, ideally breast milk is best. In a perfect situation you won’t require meds that will affect your supply or get into your milk supply, and you’ll have a healthy full term baby that will eventually get the hang of it. However, lets face it, may of us haven’t had the ideal anything, and so we should be prepared that all might not be well in the breast feeding arena. Also, in a country where you get virtually no paid mat leave, how the hell does anyone expect mothers to breast feed. I had a year of paid mat leave, so if US women want to breast feed for any length of time, you need paid mat leave for longer than 10 minutes ( I know I exaggerate). Also stop treating breastfeeding like it’s dirty or obscene. If a woman wants to whip that booby out to feed her child anywhere, get over it. Guess what, your precious little one should have seen boobs already, and the only thing I’ve ever heard a kid ask when they see breastfeeding in the open, is “What are they doing?”. Reply, “The baby is eating”. As for formula feeding, anything manufactured is not always going to be 100 percent safe, but if it’s a choice between that and starving my kid trying to feed her with broken boobs, guess what, I’m chancing that formula. Any woman who feels superior in their mothering skills for breast feeding needs to get a life. Nurses, if the mother wants to formula feed, give her the bottle and accept that it’s her choice. You do what it takes to nourish your baby, end of story. Nothing to debate except maybe the campaign should be “Ideally, Breast is Best, But If It’s Not, That’s Okay Too”.

3 Calliope { 09.26.10 at 9:45 am }

Very well said. And I’m so glad you wrote it. Like you I don’t feel like it is my business or concern how other families are feeding their child. It comes down to choice- sometimes it’s made for us (& that can, understandably suck when you want to do one thing but your body or your finances point you in a different way), but we all want to be good parents. And no one wins when how you feed your child becomes an epic question- a statement even.

4 Furrow { 09.26.10 at 12:26 pm }

Amen. I also wonder why this issue is so damn important to people not attached to my boob or bottle.

5 Jen { 09.26.10 at 1:18 pm }

Amen.

6 HereWeGoAJen { 09.26.10 at 2:21 pm }

Very well put, Mel.

7 brid { 09.26.10 at 2:57 pm }

Good work, Mel. I’m with you on the issue; do what’s best at the time and situation. I once visited my doctor and asked why I wasn’t losing the pregnancy weight… my little one was a hearty breastfeeder. I told her that I had heard the weight would come off with breastfeeding (which I would have attempted regardless of the weight issue). She said simply, “we tell women that so they’ll breastfeed.”

Apparently we are idiots. What a tactic.

Also, to the Twitter… laps can’t be recalled, but we still put the babes in carseats and boosters.

8 Lut C. { 09.26.10 at 3:40 pm }

I wholeheartedly agree with your main point. BF is not always best.
Children, not corpses. Indeed, been there!

I disagree on a minor point, and that is that the choices of others don’t affect me in the least when it comes to feeding their child.
BF has a lower environmental footprint than formula. So, all in all, it is better that more people – who are able (taking into account ALL factors) – choose BF.
If all BF babies are less prone to disease, that affects public spending on healthcare. So again, all in all, it is better that more people – who are able (taking into account ALL factors) – choose BF.

That said, I agree, that these factors mean women should be given correct information and support when desired. Not manipulated, villified or all the other things you object to in the lactivist campaign.

9 Ana { 09.26.10 at 4:13 pm }

Nothing original to say but wanted to offer my support as a pediatrician & someone who admittedly judged healthy mothers of healthy babies who did not exclusively breastfeed (especially when let’s just be honest …”my tax dollars are buying that baby’s formula). It took A long hard painful experience for me to realize that while breast may be “best” for some, medical, social, financial, and emotional reasons may prevail. And we are damn damn lucky we have excellent companies making excellent formula that is actually pretty damn safe & effective at nourishing our babies. I’m glad I live in the 21st century. This and the whole “natural childbirth” natzis really makes my blood boil.

10 tara { 09.26.10 at 4:23 pm }

It’s not easy to breastfeed and it’s sad when we make decisions based on that alone but that doesn’t even begin to cover the reasons why some women really shouldn’t breastfeed let alone can’t. You are so very right that we just don’t need anyone else making us feel poorly for our decisions and stupid to boot. Sorry that you’ve gotten a ton of crappy email.

11 Clare { 09.26.10 at 4:37 pm }

Exactly.

12 LJ { 09.26.10 at 4:57 pm }

You’re amazing. Your passion, but ability to still be rational and logical is the stuff legends are made of.

13 Rachel { 09.26.10 at 4:58 pm }

I love to hear your perspective. We adopted and I considered breastfeeding, but since syntehtic estrogen drives up my blood pressure, we decided a formula-fed baby with a mommy was better than a breastfed baby whose mommy died or was incapacitated by a stroke in the first 9 months.

I want to ask these women…what do you feed your older children if you think formula (aka manufactured food) is so bad? Do you grow your own fruits and vegetables? Do you slaughter your own chickens and cows and pigs? Do you ever feed your children processed or fast food? Seriously! If we’re going to take away the formula option, let’s take away all the crap that is contributing to childhood obesity, right?

As for the recall…I have to be honest. The only reason I returned our half-used containers was because I was afraid of what other women would think of me if they knew I had continued to feed Little Man recalled formula. He had already eaten more than half of a container with no side effects. But can you imagine the judgment? Because I can…and I didn’t want to deal with it. And I have a slight disability when it comes to lying :)

Anyway…thanks for sharing your boobs :) … I mean, your thoughts on boobs :)

14 Chickenpig { 09.26.10 at 5:23 pm }

Everything that you said, and the comments too. Better living babies then corpses. Hands down. Live babies are best, feed those babies. :)

There was a case where a young woman was put on trial for murder because she was breastfeeding her infant and it died. She was unaware that it was starving. Do you remember hearing about that? So much for breast is best in that case.

We are indeed lucky to be in a country where formula is not only safe, but well researched to be close to breast as possible. Up until the 20th century the leading cause of death for women was childbirth. The surviving children of those women down through the centuries have survived on mare’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep milk,camel’s milk, yak’s milk, beef tea, sugar teat, blanc mange, and pap…just to name a few. Oh yeah, and evaporated milk, which was brought to market to use to feed the babies of mothers aboard ship who died of cholera. I guess “Breast is best unless the mother has died, or she can’t produce milk, or the milk is tainted, or….” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it? ;)

15 VA Blondie { 09.26.10 at 6:12 pm }

I think this is part of the problem with LLL. They are a great organization, with a lot of good info and support to give breastfeeding mommies. But they can be very self-righteous and almost militant about breastfeeding. It can run a lot off many women who may need their info and support. Lactation consultants are often not much better.

While I was lucky and had a fairly easy time breastfeeding my little one, there are many others who do not have an easy time. I think it should be up to the woman to determine how well it is working for her.

I am an RN, and the situation almost makes me want to get certified to be a lactation consultant. Maybe I could affect some change from the inside, or at least help people who might not otherwise get help.

16 Bea { 09.26.10 at 6:16 pm }

Josh is very wise. Your head exploding would have been messy. And less pleasant to read about.

That said, I have to say that if you are agreeing that breastfeeding reduces the incidence of certain diseases, you can’t also say that it has nothing whatsoever to do with anyone else. Lut also made a point above about environmental impact. The truth is, very few (if any) of our choices are devoid of effects on anyone else, and some of the time, our impact on others will be great enough that it legitimately becomes other people’s business. Sometimes, the effects of our actions on our *child* will become great enough that it becomes other people’s business (if someone was actually abusing their child I would hope we would agree that it was everyone’s business, no longer just a matter of parental choice).

So (like everything) this is about degrees. Now, in some cases formula is best – lack of supply, HIV, etc – so there should be no argument there. In other cases, I would argue that the difference between the two is slight enough that people should be free to make up their own minds. This doesn’t preclude honest persuasion based on the value-neutral laying out of established facts whilst remaining appropriately sympathetic to the individual’s circumstances.

The only other point I have with this post is that some women (some people, because why should women be singled out?) are, in fact, stupid. So if you were looking for someone willing to make that claim, I will step forwards. Those ads can be powerful, moreso, I think, misinformation coming from friends and relatives.

One of the unfortunate things about freedom is that stupid people (sometimes it’s just ignorance) get to make wrong decisions. I tend to think, however, that at the end of the day, when you step back to look at the bigger picture, the alternative is worse. As far as the breastfeeding debate goes, I suppose this is where I see lactation consultants and other health professionals as being in a legitimate position to guide each patient in the same way they might help people to make a good decision about chemotherapy or surgery, based on their knowledge of medicine and individual circumstance. I don’t see much wrong with having a health professional solicit a fair and balanced discussion on feeding choices prior to, or shortly after, birth, with the goal of promoting good choices in mind – similar to the way they might open a discussion about pain relief choices if you were undergoing surgery.

Bea

17 Lollipopgoldstein { 09.26.10 at 6:54 pm }

I think a conversation would be perfect — if the health care professional heard the answer and then nodded and went on their way or stayed and helped. Unfortunately, like telemarketers who are told to keep talking to keep the person on the line despite the fact that they have been given a clear “no,” lactation consultants in this country have a hard time stopping the conversation.

We can start down the road of the argument that everything everyone does affects everyone else (and while it does in an indirect way, it doesn’t in a direct way), we can’t use it in the breastfeeding argument and not make a similar everyone-should-be-a-vegetarian argument. If we’re going to talk about reducing our carbon footprint, let’s talk about the meat industry and how eating meat for 80+ years has much more of a negative impact on the environment (and therefore another person) than drinking formula for a year. Which is to say that I DON’T think we should do that. Because there are plenty of reasons why someone wouldn’t do well with a vegetarian diet. And while we could really stretch and say, “but it does affect me because of the impact on the environment and the tax on the health care system,” I think we all know that when people talk about impact, they’re talking about direct impact. If we start extending it to all indirect impact too, we’re going to lose the argument in the over-reaching quality of it all.

18 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 09.26.10 at 8:43 pm }

Mel, please keep talking about titties. I like reading your perspective on this, because to be honest, I think I got a little brainwashed by the angry lactation lady at the hospital (and other lactivist “friends”). I was feeding one of my sons a pediatrician-prescribed rice-thickened formula, because he had been born breech and had swallowed a shit-ton of fluid and mucous during birth, and was barfing it all out over the following days, to the point that he was suffocating himself, turning blue, etc. And in spite of the fact that I gave birth via caesarian, and BEGGED to have an LC come to my room asap, no one showed up until a day and a half after I’d given birth, which was a really, really long time. Anyhow, before I digress too far, when the LC finally did show up, it was to walk in and practically yell, “Wow. There’s a LOT of bottle feeding going on in here! I thought you were going to breast feed!!” as though the two were mutually exclusive. And that really pissed me off. She spent twenty minutes berating my husband, and pointing out to me all the things I was doing that were going to screw up my kids (pacifiers, the rice formula will constipate them, holding them wrong, etc.), and somewhere between being pissed as hell at being so criticized and my sheer exhaustion after 38 weeks of twin pregnancy capped off by major surgery, I just kind of shut down and let her do the talking, and by the end of my time there, I was tandem nursing twins while surfing the net.

As much of a bad taste as she left in my mouth (metallic, kinda like the blood-and-shock-of-searing-pain taste when you bite your tongue really hard), she set me straight from the beginning with tandem nursing my twins, which for me has allowed me to continue the breast feeding relationship far longer than most other mothers of multiples that I know. Was it worth it? Maybe, but sadly, I think in my fuddled head, I connected breast feeding superstardom with some sort of actual achievement. Which it’s not. I mean, it’s awesome for our strained pocketbook, but is otherwise not something about which I should feel that I deserve any sort of reward.

So, yeah. Thanks for continuing this conversation about breast feeding. It’s one that needs to keep happening, for people on both sides of this issue.

19 Quiet Dreams { 09.26.10 at 10:20 pm }

Brava, Mel. Brava.

20 Kristen { 09.26.10 at 11:01 pm }

“I don’t feel strongly about breastfeeding or formula-feeding: I feel strongly about treating people well and respecting their choices”

EXACTLY.

21 Pixie { 09.26.10 at 11:11 pm }

Good golly woman. You are a hell of a writer. I have no experience on breast feeding, but I do agree with you. Let women make their choices and respect them. Thanks for making such a powerful argument for mothers on both sides of the fence.

22 luna { 09.27.10 at 2:56 am }

what LJ said. go you.

and thanks for writing.
the pen is mightier than the sword, or, in this case, the keyboard mightier than a nipple shield?

23 Tara { 09.27.10 at 9:25 am }

Very well said & again, thank you.

24 Dora { 09.27.10 at 9:53 am }

Amen! Thank you for continuing to write these posts, Mel. Part of me want to have my sister and mother read them, but they are too entrenched in their beliefs for it to penetrate.

I am seeing RED after reading Kate’s comment! Horrible. Regardless of the good outcome. No one should be treated that way. I don’t care how well she knows her job, that lactation consultant should be fired for verbally abusing a patient.

As a combo feeder, I want to make a point, that while it may seem like a small one, was a big one for me. Could I have tried harder to exclusively breastfeed while on maternity leave? Could I have tried harder to pump at work? Probably. But as a sleep deprived single mom who waited a looooong time for motherhood, enjoying my daughter’s infancy was and is a priority. Supplementing with formula helped me do that. At ten months, she already doesn’t want to be held so much. She wants to MOVE! Soon I’ll be chasing a toddler, and before you know it, I’ll have a tween who tells me to “pretend you’re not with me, Mom.” Her squishy, snuggly, baby time is something I will always cherish, and popping a bottle in her mouth when I was sore and tired from cluster nursing saved my sanity and gave me the reprieve to enjoy her more.

25 knitlass { 09.27.10 at 11:40 am }

Amen sistah. You are doing us all a power of good sharing your good sense and your experiences. Bravo.

26 Frenchie { 09.27.10 at 12:04 pm }

Thank you for this and your previous posts on this topic. I can’t tell you how many times I felt guilty and sheepish pulling out a bottle in public for my son (whom we adopted), thinking I was being judged. When my daughter was born, I wanted to breastfeed very badly, but I had terrible supply issues, and she was losing, rather than gaining, weight. I HAD to supplement with formula. I am just happy that formula and access to clean water in ample supply are both part of my world, so that I can do what is BEST for my children. What’s BEST is BEST, period. Thank you for speaking up on this issue!!

27 Kir { 09.27.10 at 1:11 pm }

honestly, I am standing up in my office, clapping and hooting like I nut, because THIS is so right on, spot on…so HUMAN and Truthful..and in my own opinion the RIGHT way to talk about this.

I chose not to breast feed for LOTS and LOTS of reasons..I always chose to get PG a way that some people disagree with and find out the gender of my babies and push for a c-section, things I was “warned” about…but it was my body, my babies and the way I do it is RIGHT FOR ME….and the way you do it, is RIGHT for you…if we can’t agree to disagree about that stuff, then we as a community are in a more horrible place than I thought.

thank you, thank you…for writing this. It was PERFECT.

28 Lut C. { 09.27.10 at 2:18 pm }

I’m sorry, but ‘we’ don’t all know that you mean direct impact when you say impact. Perhaps only I don’t.
Didn’t you give the good advice to respond to the words you read in a post, not what you think they mean? I thought I was following that advice.

I don’t see how pointing to the bigger picture (health care, carbon impact) weakens your argument about respect for other people’s choices. Women should be given the facts, why not the bigger picture arguments as well?

I’m not suggesting that these indirect impact arguments justify the tactics that you criticize here. I’m not suggesting these arguments should be mentioned at the top of the list.
I think there are very few situations where my choices truly don’t affect other people.

And yes, I believe everyone should eat more vegetarian meals (not necessarily go all vegetarian). But that is off topic.

29 devon { 09.27.10 at 3:28 pm }

Thank you for being such a strong voice! I just don’t see why people care how I feed my child, as long as I feed my child! She gets as much love, care and nourishment as a breastfed baby, and as she grows I will continue to make choices for her that fit my family- Breastfeeding was hard, I was an anxious new mother and trying to recover from a c section-she was frustrated and I was frustrated, I tried everything to make breastfeeding work for us, and still am very sad that it didn’t. But that’s part of life, understanding that things don’t always go according to plan, and no one way works for everyone. She breastfed great in front of the lactation specialist and at the breastfeeding support groups, I could see that she was getting enough. But at home she wouldn’t latch on or she’d latch on and come off, and only feed on one side, and it kept happening time and time again. The best choice for us was formula, she is so much happier and satisfied and in the end im happier. I think that I will try to breastfeed again if I have a second child, but I know if it doesn’t work out I have another option.

30 shauna { 09.27.10 at 3:37 pm }

Unfortunatley, I think the last 3 posts have seriously disenfranchised a large part of your readership. While I understand the points you’re attempting to make, as a health care provider, I wholly disagree. Unfortunately, many, many women are not “smart enough” to make an informed decision on their own. Many of my patients see a formula hand-out as a blessing from me that formula is a good choice. They see a WIC coupon as a prescription.
If you want to make the assumption that all women are smart enough* to make the decision on their own, you are obligated to make the assumption that all women are smart enough not to nurse if they are taking drugs not compatible with breastfeeding or have +-HIV. Additionally, there is history here in the United States. Entire generations of women were taught by their health care providers that FORMULA was best. That breastfeeding was for women who couldn’t afford formula. We have some serious ground to make up, and if we irritate a few with the breast is best campaign – so be it. Consider it affirmative action.

Lastly, I sincerely feel that you have abused this space. I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for you and your work within our community. You’re a powerhouse. With that comes a tremendous, nearly overwhelming responsibility. You have fallen far short of your responsibilities with these posts.

31 Cibele { 09.27.10 at 4:49 pm }

All I have to say is that I am very very thankful that there is safe nutritious formula to feed my baby when I was not able to breastfeed… I tried hard , I gave my all with the fear of being judged. She is a healthy, happy, formula -fed child… it was my best option. I also used off brand formula. I did my research and realized that Cosco brand was just as good, FDA approved, same nutrients and Lyla thrived on it . I was judged by many mothers because I did not buy similac or enfamil. I made an educated decision, I knew I was giving her all that she needed and I felt very confident with my choice and I have no regrets. Why do people feel the need to judge? what is BEST for somebody , does not necessary makes the BEST for everybody. thanks for bravely writing about it Mel

32 Lisa Lurker { 09.27.10 at 5:03 pm }

No,she hasn’t,Shauna. She hasn’t abused HER space. She hasn’t fallen short of her responsibilities.
She has said, quite clearly in fact, that a mother’s breastmilk is best for her baby IF the mother can give it breastmilk.
If a mother cannot, for some reason, give her child breast milk, then it is OK to give the baby formula. The child needs to eat.
She said it is NOT ok for health professionals and society at large to berate, judge and alienate others into doing what “they” think is best, especially without knowing all of the circumstances and at the expense of the mother and possibly the life of the child. Sometimes even poor people’s glands don’t produce milk no matter how much you whack them over the head with “breast is best”. I don’t believe you did understand her “points”.

33 Kymberli { 09.27.10 at 5:05 pm }

Shauna, I fail to see how Mel has “abused” *her* space here, especially when the main idea of the entire piece was about respecting each other, even if the decisions they make (be they about breastfeeding or other various life choices) aren’t necessarily the same ones that you would make for yourself.

I agree that historically, there have been generations of women who were raised to believe that breastfeeding was inferior to formula feeding, etc. But, there have been other such inaccuracies that have been negatively applied to formula feeding, as well. You seem to disagree with the negative stereotyping tactics that have been used to discourage some women from breastfeeding. How is it, then, acceptable for you to similarly “irritate” moms who use formula with superiority speak “affirmative action”? Point missed, reiterated here again: respect the women behind the decisions they’ve made for themselves.
Another point missed, which I believe is inherent in Mel’s posts: healthcare professionals should be able to provide balanced information on both sides WITHOUT making the woman feel inferior because she’s made one choice or another. “Breast is best” automatically sets one set of parenting choices above another, and that type of division and belittling is the LAST thing we women need to be in support of each other.

34 Toni { 09.27.10 at 7:09 pm }

I haven’t weighed in before because I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I need to make a decision between breast feeding or formula but I wanted to comment on this because I totally agree with you.

I can understand, to a point, where breastfeeding would be become a public issue. I remember hearing a story about how breastfeeding is surprisingly low in some low-income urban areas and as a result babies are not getting proper nutrition because mothers struggle to feed them, when they could be using what’s essentially free food. In this instance, I see the value in an awareness campaign.

But when it gets to the point where people are demonizing formula and making women who willingly and knowingly choose not to breastfeed look like monsters, that’s not right. The point is, as you make it, to ensure that babies are being well fed, healthy and growing as they should. Whatever ability you possess to make that happen, should be your business and no one else’s.

35 Barb { 09.27.10 at 9:28 pm }

YES as always.

Now write that sci-fi book! I want to read it! :)
xo

36 Sara { 09.27.10 at 10:55 pm }

Mel, I love you. I do. You’re a marvelous mother, a tremendous writer, a powerful advocate, and a wonderful support system. You have taken a lot of knocks along the way (infertility, NICU, the experiences you described with your breastfeeding experience, etc.), and have somehow turned the bad into amazing.

Whenever I come here I expect to learn something, to be inspired, and to have a good time. And I invariably do. This series of posts was no exception. I have learned a lot about the importance of precise language, the insensitivity of medical and parental support personnel, and the myriad ways in which breastfeeding attempts can go badly awry. So I’m really glad that you wrote these posts, and I’m also glad that I read them.

I do still disagree with a couple of points that you’re making, though. I am in the biological sciences, and have been researching lactation and its implications for infants and mothers for a decade now, and just cannot agree with (or even let slide without comment) statements like: “What does more damage than formula has ever done to a child is a campaign that uses supremacy language to quantify something that is unquantifiable since we can’t adjust for all other factors.” While it is true that we can’t do the gold standard double-blind tests to examine the effects of mothers prioritizing breastfeeding their children when medically appropriate and feasible, there is an absolutely overwhelming body of evidence that the risks of breastfeeding for children and mothers are lower than the risks of formula feeding. In other words, for every X (very large number, in this case) of women that could breastfeed, but choose not to, Y (a very small number) of babies will die as a result of being formula fed. Yes, die. This is, of course, not the situation when the mother cannot breastfeed and banked milk is not available (whether because of cost or what-have-you) or acceptable to the parents, in which case formula saves lives. But in situations where there are actually choices to make (you had no choice, so I am not talking about your situation), it is a matter of weighing risks and benefits. Mothers do this every day, and are generally pretty good at finding good solutions, but many mothers are also woefully misinformed, which can make it harder to weigh those risks well. And since breastfeeding is so difficult to establish if you miss a critical period of time, I do think that some advocacy FOR breastfeeding if in cases where it is possible and appropriate (i.e., the mother has breasts, those breasts are producing milk, the mother does not need medications that are incompatible with safe breastfeeding, the mother does not have any medical, mental, or emotional issues that make breastfeeding unsafe, excessively stressful, or emotionally intolerable, etc., and the child is capable of breastfeeding. Why is it appropriate? Well, for the same reason that car seat use is advocated. Because in cases where it’s an option, it can save lives. Does that mean that mothers that breastfeed are better mothers? Of course not. Mothers have to make due with suboptimal circumstances all of the time: I cannot afford to feed my child only organic food, for example, so I don’t beat myself up for it and just feed her food, despite the fact that I believe that there may be real benefits to eating only organic food. We all sometimes accept risks on behalf of our children for various reasons, and that doesn’t make us inferior parents. Does breastfeeding make the babies better? Of course not. All babies are equally marvelous (with the exception of one’s own baby or babies, who are just slightly better ;-).) But is breastmilk a nutritionally superior food as compared with formula? For most babies, the answer is yes. That is what the slogan is trying, however, awkwardly, to say. I think that calling this “supremacy” language is a bit much.

And as for the twin arguments that “the breast is best campaign comes from a place of privilege in so many ways” and “Are you saying that women can’t make an informed choice based on information presented to her by the medical establishment,” well, I think about this a bit differently. First, I think that breastfeeding advocacy is particularly important in order to support mothers that are striving to breastfeed despite structural obstacles imposed by economic and work-related challenges. When a woman’s workplace is not set up to allow her to pump if she chooses to do so, then where is her choice? I think that she should have a right to that choice precisely because breastfeeding is generally the better option for the child. Offering formula as an equally good alternative lets the employer off of the hook. I think that every woman should have the RIGHT to pump at work if she chooses to do so, but this will not happen if we, as coworkers, employers, shareholders, citizens, etc., don’t accept that breastfeeding should have a special status that justifies other people beyond the mother putting up with inconveniences like providing space for nursing moms, having to see boobs in public, etc.. Why should am employer choose to or be forced to give an employee additional time of to pump and provide a place in which to do so if formula feeding is truly equally good for the child? Many breastfeeding women find that they cannot continue to breastfeed after returning to work, but why do we need longer maternity leaves if breastfeeding isn’t important? For these reasons, I take issue with the statement that breastfeeding is something that only privileged women care about.

But along those same lines, I teach university students, and about 99% of these young women are completely clueless about breastfeeding. They are not learning from their parents, from their friends, or from their previous schooling. They don’t know why it’s a good choice, how long breastfeeding typically lasts (or ideally lasts), how it works, why it sometimes doesn’t work, etc. Clearly osmotic learning isn’t occurring; so, how are women that don’t get to go to college supposed to magically learn all about breastfeeding without the benefit of public health campaigns to get the word out? (And I don’t mean that college women do learn these things, I just mean that even these supposedly well-educated women don’t seem to know much.) Maybe most wealthy, well-educated, privileged women DO spend a lot of time learning about breastfeeding during pregnancy, but does the average woman who doesn’t have the same kind of lifestyle, contacts, free time, habits, etc., always have the same access to information? I know several women that didn’t breastfeed because it never occurred to them, not because they were well-informed and made a choice. So, if nobody shows up at the hospital to provide this information, where is it supposed to come from? Not all women get prenatal care, and certainly not all women get good prenatal care. These things are tied up with privilege also.

Whew! That was long. Thanks for a really interesting discussion. I’m sorry that you had to go through so much pain to bring us all here to talk about this.

37 TheIdleMindOfBeth { 09.28.10 at 11:49 am }

Seems that “formula is best” generation has raised a whole lot of pretty intelligent people, no? Just like the “breast is best” generation will do.

Perhaps “we” should recognize that it’s less about WHAT you feed your child, and more about THAT you feed them, and nurture them, and play with them, and read to them, and help them do their homework, and and and and AND… you know – PARENT?

38 Kristin { 09.28.10 at 12:16 pm }

I hate that women reduce parenting to a competition and feel the need to be so judgmental. Love these posts Mel!

39 Kat Beyer { 09.29.10 at 12:29 am }

Thanks for this post! And what fascinating responses! I too wonder why so many of us are so willing to crap all over our sister’s choices…and then I am reminded that most of us are raising our kids away from our parents and grandparents (sometimes for very good reason). I feel proof against a lot of the judgments other folks make about parenting because I hear my mom’s calm voice in my head when I’m faced with tricky decisions about my kid. I heard her voice as I was reading all of this. “I loved breastfeeding! It just felt so good. And look at you guys! But your cousin, you know, she couldn’t get it going, and her kids are just fine.”

Maybe we’ll all become the calm, thoughtful, accepting voices of experience in our turn. Thanks Mom!

Uh, hope that wasn’t too off topic. It’s past my bedtime, but I got excited.

40 Chickenpig { 09.29.10 at 2:43 pm }

Yeah for our mother’s voices! Kat’s comment made me a little teary eyed thinking of mine. After all the poking and prodding of nurses and the constant “don’t even think of giving those babies a bottle or binkie, they’ll get NIPPLE CONFUSION!!!” It was my mom that showed me how to get the boys latched on properly, and it was my mom that told my husband to give the boys a bottle at night so that I could get some sleep. Support to learn how to feed, and perspective when it isn’t going as we planned…Thank God for that. If only everyone had that kind of support.

41 celia { 10.01.10 at 7:31 am }

I always tell people now that while I am breastfeeding Peter Pants, I DO NOT feel that breastfeeding is all magikal unicorns skipping through a field of posies. Breast feeding is a full time job. I do not believe I could have pumped at work successfully. And breastfeeding has almost completely destroyed our sex life. I just don’t feel sexy with a beverage leaking out of me. Frankly, I do not want to be a lactavist. I am not comfortable breastfeeding in front of my Dad because HE is uncomfortable with it. Which means that when Peter was young I would spend half our visit alone with my baby in a back bedroom instead of visiting with family. I feel that breastfeeding has been bad for my marriage, even if it is good for my baby. In fact I was up at 5 a.m. so I could pump enough milk for us to take Peter to dinner with his grandparents tonight without disrupting his breakfast.

Those lactavists can go jump in a lake full of milk…assuming they have time to pump it.

Breastmilk is a gift we are giving our baby, but it is damn costly.

42 Sharee { 10.02.10 at 8:27 pm }

42 comments later, I don’t know what fresh perspective I can bring to this discussion but one thing is important to note. Moms are constantly looking for reasons to feel guilty (and societal pressures definitely do not help), so when anyone says *breastmilk from a healthy mom is the best nourishment for a baby* … most start reading between the lines (often unconsciously) so as to point out just one more area where she is not good enough. Some moms react by viciously defending her decision to stop/never start breastfeeding, others feel depressed, and still others sit back smugly feeling they earned a boatload of cool mom points. I think this is why some moms feel judged when whipping out a bottle (they are) and why some moms feel analyzed when whipping out the hooter hider (they are). Breastie-Besties think the enemy camp is lazy, and the Bottle-Neckers think the enemy camp is smug and self-righteous.

We can regale the many reasons why people choose one over the other, but the hard truth is that most moms are busy and in our fast-paced, fast food culture, breastfeeding is pretty inconvenient. And I withhold judgment here, but want to make an observation that is easy to see. Most women simply do not think it is fair to have to sacrifice personal time, space, income, education, lifestyle, diet, or (fill in the blank) to feed “the best” … and this goes for women who actually breastfeed! There are dietary and lifestyle changes that are necessary to even call breastmilk “the best”!

*Sacrifice* is a rare gem and that discussion extends beyond breastfeeding to parenting choices in general. So, does your decision to be a Breastie-Bestie or Bottle-Necker impact me personally? Nope. But it is the heart behind the decision that sometimes gets me a little more inclined to share a tidbit – even when no one asked my opinion. I’m getting better at keeping my thoughts to myself though.

Sharee

As an aside …if breastfeeding weren’t an option for me, I’d seriously look into making my own formula …commercial formula is a lot like commercial bread. Google it.

43 Battynurse { 10.17.10 at 4:19 pm }

Again, so very well said.
I tend to look at many areas in much the same way. How you feed your child has no affect on how someone else feeds their child etc. Vilifying personal choices bothers me, no matter who or how it’s done.

44 thalia { 10.22.10 at 4:27 pm }

I’m really sorry that breastfeeding did not work for you. I am delighted that it did for me, after much trauma and drama and pumping round the clock and supplementing with pumped milk and sometimes formula, and taking domperidone, and, and. It was unbelievably hard and everyone (everyone) told me to stop and I didn’t. And I don’t regret those tough months.

What I wish is that everyone had the help from a decent lactation consultant, and access to domperidone and a pump and support so they can try as hard as they want to. And I wish everyone knew just how much better for them and their baby it would be. And I wish that nonetheless if it doesn’t work and it’s not possible for whatever reason (no glandular tissue, as opposed to just not enough as with me), they didn’t get made to feel like crap.

But the reality is that there is tremendous pressure not to breastfeed if you run into any issues at all, and the message that formula is just as good is part of that. It isn’t just as good. It’s a great substitute if you can’t breastfeed, and your child will be fine on it, but it’s not as good. So perhaps what mothers who can’t breastfeed for whatever reason need is permission to grieve, to feel bad, to rage and shout at the powers that took this away from them, so that they can move on and do what’s right for their babies, doing the best thing for their family. This is why I found MOBI such a lifesaver whenI was experiencing the loss of the breastfeeding experience I had hoped for. Denying it’s a loss is just not right, and leads to the lack of support that many breasfteeding mothers feel and that contributes to stupidly low rates of breastfeeding in the US, as well as in the UK.

Of course we don’t think women are stupid (well, some are, but I realise you were making a rhetorical point). But they are given a huge amount of misinformation and it’s worth working to correct that, as well as to make sure they have the support they need. Not sure about the US, but less than half UK hospitals have an IBCLC qualified lactation consultant on their staff.

Mel, I am really disappointed in this series of posts. You, I think, are usually better than this. I think in this instance the particular pain you suffered has coloured what you’ve said beyond giving an alternative point of view, your point of view, of a positive formula feeding experience, and into actually hurting those who disagree with you. I think there was a way to write these which would not have caused this much drama, but which still would have made your point of view clear.

Feels like a lot of healing needs to go on for many of us.

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