19 December 2013

The F Word

Tomorrow, my baby Jack will be seven months old.  Today, I gave him his very first bottle of formula.

I have spent this entire week feeling horrible, crying, torturing myself, and just generally being in a poor, stressed out mood.  I have tried so hard, for so long, to provide him milk for the twelve months pediatricians say to do.  I have tortured my breasts and myself trying to produce enough every week for while I am at work.  Trying to coerce him into latching when all he wants to do is scream.  Listening to the jokes about how he MUST be well-fed because my boobs are huge.  Skipping my xanax and ritalin since the positive pregnancy test and dealing with my OCD and panic attacks because not breastfeeding didn't feel like an option.  Seeing him lose weight when he got sick and feeling like I was slowly starving him to death.  Finally, researching every formula brand and its ingredients, trying to find the healthiest option to supplement with, because my pediatrician told me my only options if I wanted him to be healthy again were Enfamil or Similac.

See, there's a problem among women with infants, just like there is a problem among pregnant women.

Just as a pregnant woman can be told she's a bad person no matter what she does - having a glass of wine, smoking, eating processed foods, having a cat, lifting something she normally lifts, going to work, staying home from work, blah blah blah...

A woman with an infant is under equal pressures.  Except now, the focus is no longer on her lady bits, belly, or clothing.

Now, the focus is on her boobs.

Well...in a different way.

I just need to say this one thing for anyone who has ever been in my position, or in any position involving the Great Baby-Feeding Debate:


I mean it.

You think you're exempt?  You think, but I didn't try as hard as those other women?  I didn't suffer as much?  I had a cigarette, or three?  I didn't wait a full hour after that glass of wine?

You're not exempt.


Ok, now that we have that out of the way, let's take a closer look at this situation.

You have the breastfeeding advocates.

  • Some of them want to help you succeed - they will find you milk donors, walk you through latching and healthy diets, help you pump, and generally be as supportive as possible.
  • Some of them want to scare you away from formula, or shame you into never supplementing with anything except breast milk.  Some of them will actually tell you that it is your fault if you cannot keep up with your growing baby.
  • Some of them want you to tough it out and continue to offer breast milk in addition to anything else baby may eat or drink until that magical one year mark or longer, regardless of your personal health.
  • Some of them simply want you to remember that you have the RIGHT to breastfeed whenever and wherever you feel like it, and don't want you to be scared out of doing so.
  • Breastfeeding advocates are like shoes.  The right shoes can make your entire day easier.  The wrong ones, even if they are beautiful, can make you tired, sore, and too frustrated to keep on.
You have the formula advocates.
  • A few decades ago, a huge push by formula lobbies and advertising convinced us that breastfeeding was icky, and that the sophisticated thing to do (and the healthiest for baby) was to feed formula.
  • Some formula advocates just want the mom to have the option, some want that choice to be formula as often as possible, some truly feel breastfeeding is shameful.
  • Not all formula advocates are brainwashed by companies, some genuinely feel this is the smartest for growing babies.  There are several things I hear here:
    • In situations where mom cannot make enough milk, whether trying or not, needs to be on medications prohibitive to breastfeeding, or must return to work and cannot keep up, formula can help close the nutritional gap.
    • To help baby bond with other people, formula lets people besides the mother feed baby.
    • "If it is allowed on the shelf, it has to be safe." - in reality, formula companies are like teenagers. You can tell them what to do, but you can't force them to comply.
    • "All formulas at this point in time are basically the same." - This could not be further from the truth.  Do your research.
    • "Organic is about marketing." - Organic is about minimizing hazardous products that end up in food, but also about minimizing harmful production practices.  Even if it says organic, you still need to do your research, and you still need to watch your baby's body's response to what he or she is being fed.
    • "Babies have been fed formula for decades and turned out just fine." - Actually, compaints are turned in ALL THE TIME about bad reactions to formulas with this or that ingredient, dangerous effects, allergies, intestinal distress, blah blah blah.  It's not the company's job to advertise that, however.  It IS your job to make wise choices and watch your own baby's reaction to any foods you provide.
You have the pediatricians.
  • Pediatricians are also like shoes.  Choose wisely, and never be bullied.
  • Formula reps are like pharmaceutical reps.  They go to different pediatricians peddling formula - they leave behind a stinky trail of misleading advertising, cards and coupons, samples, and a promise from the pediatrician to recommend their brands at every turn.  I can't tell you if there are payoffs involved, but it sure feels like there are sometimes.  Have you ever been to your vet and seen a big binder of Science Diet propaganda on their counter?  This is the same thing.  But it's your baby's nutrition, not your pet's.
  • Some pediatricians look at caloric content alone, or select the "top" brands (look into formula lobbying for information on how they get there) to recommend.  A pediatrician rarely has the time or inclination to go look at an entire list of ingredients, their safety, and their benefits.  After all, that is what the FDA and the USDA are for...if only formula companies were actually required to obey FDA/NOSB rules!
  • Every now and then I am sure there is that odd pediatrician who legitimately cares about the wellbeing of their tiny patients.  To them I say thank you for working with your patients' parents in achieving the best diets and health.

Now, all three of these groups are pushing in on each and every new mom.  They are telling her that one way or another, she is screwing over her baby's health and wellbeing by providing whatever it is she is providing, or trying to.  Breastmilk is great!  Sometimes you cannot provide it.  No, even if you try REALLY REALLY HARD, you still might not be able to keep pace.  You should NOT feel like you have no option but to let the baby starve while you pump and feed a frustrated, hungry baby every two hours, stuffing your face with oatmeal and fenugreek in between feeds, just to build back up your milk supply.  You know what?  Sometimes that doesn't work!

You should not have to feel like for twelve months you must decide between your mental health and your baby's physical health.  No no no no NO!  Every single mother worth her salt is going to pick baby, if given this black and white decision.  You need to think about your family, and you ARE a part of that family.  If you feel you need to be back on your medications, go talk with YOUR doctor.  There should be zero guilt right now.  Zero.  Nada.  None.  If someone is telling you that you should just be trying harder, you put your hands over your ears and say it with me:


Whether you feed breastmilk from you, breastmilk from someone you know and trust, big name formula, organic formula, half milk and half formula, soy formula, if you started solids at four months or if you started them at 12...

If your baby is pooping normally, has a happy kitten-belly, burps when he or she is done, has a normal number of wet and dirty diapers, and is gaining weight more or less at a regular, predictable pace...


Anyone saying otherwise is tripping and can shove their smelly opinions up their smellier butts.  You are doing a great job.