A mum before any of my friends, I didn’t even know breastfeeding problems were a thing until right after my delivery, when a nurse ogled my breasts and pronounced them unfit for nursing. I had been a mum for less than 2 hours, and already I was (pardon the pun) sucking at it. We got lactation help in the hospital, and despite my less-than-perfect inverted nipples, and it seemed like my daughter was eating.
But when we got home, it all went to hell. She refused to latch, and cried every time I put her at my breast. I pumped and fed her via a finger feeder so she wouldn’t get used to a bottle. But the feeder tubes -- really hard for one person to operate -- kept breaking, the latch was still not happening, and my husband/feeding assistant was going back to work. I never knew if I should leave my breasts full, or if I would end up needing to pump as she screamed in hunger. I read everything I could, but I just couldn’t get nursing to work. More than $1000 in private lactation assistance help didn’t help either. I dreaded feeding time -- which happened every 2 hours -- so I spent the majority of my day in a dark cloud.
So I gave up. Sort of. I pumped exclusively and bottle-fed until soon after I went to work, announcing in preemptive defensiveness to anyone that would listen that it was breast milk, not formula, in the bottle. Then, sick of lugging the pump everywhere and trying to cram pumping between meetings, I switched to formula.
I had failed at nursing, and so that must mean I was failing at being a mum. I plodded along through the first year but doubted every decision, and began to view even my emergency C-section as a fail.
I took a job at a parenting publication just as social media was exploding, and saw all my private fears confirmed as breastfeeding zealots found a platform to crow that problems like low supply weren’t real, bad latch could be fixed, nursing shouldn’t hurt and formula was poison. What were they hoping to accomplish? Shame is not breastfeeding support. Often, the spewing was offered in the spirit of “education,” but sometimes the facts flew in the face of what I and other people I knew had experienced.
But slowly, the big picture started to emerge: My daughter was healthy, strong and amazing -- and not any different from the kids still nursing at 2. I wasn’t screwing it up. By the time I was pregnant with my son four years later, I had decided I would giving nursing my best try, but I wouldn’t beat myself up about it if I couldn’t.
But then, despite prematurity, a NICU stay, and those same cursed nipples, somehow my son’s teeny little mouth knew how to latch. We nursed, supplementing with a daily bottle of special preemie formula, as my pediatrician recommended. Feeding my baby with no dark cloud (and no damn finger feeders) was rapturous. I almost, but not quite, understood the evangelical zeal of those breastfeeding mean girls. But best of all -- and hopefully this would have happened even if I hadn’t been able to nurse -- I felt something inside me heal. I had two dramatically different nursing experiences, but the common thread in both is that both children were thriving. I felt only annoyance, not shame, when a well-meaning neighbour kept asking when I was going switch to exclusive breastfeeding. Experience had given me a forcefield of confidence even her subtle judgment couldn’t shake.
Now formula-feeders, breastfeeders and combo-feeders like me are coming together in a pledge to stop judging each other. #ISupportYou is a campaign to offer not assumptions, not preaching, not shame, but a pat on the back for any mum feeding her child with love, whether it’s with formula or breast milk.
Could the tide be turning? Could we be starting to trust that most mums are doing the best they can, and that real breastfeeding support isn’t strangers chiding each other on the internet, but widely available, non-judgmental lactation and formula-feeding information?
I sure hope so.
But sometimes I want to throw my hands up in despair. Like when I hear that Food Standards Australia New Zealand is considering whether baby formula tins should carry warnings of risks associated with their use.
Among the warnings being suggested are that there's an increased rate of infection associated with formula feeding, that there are links to obesity, and the risk that supplementing breastfeeding with formula can deplete a mother's milk supply.
Bottle Babies, a support organisation for parents who bottle feed, said any health warning would just add to the angst already being felt by mothers who use formula. In a statement the organisation said: ''The damage it could do to the mental wellbeing of formula feeding parents outweighs any good it could do for breastfeeding rates and supporting breastfeeding families.''
And baby formula isn't cigarettes. Does it really need a health warning on the can? As Nestle said in its submission against the move: ''We believe that health care professionals are the most appropriate source of information with regards to the risks of not breastfeeding.''
Where do you stand? Do you agree with the Food Standards Australia New Zealand proposal? Or is it shaming formula users?
PHOTO CREDIT: FABRICE TROMBERT PHOTOGRAPHY INC./THE IMAGE BANK/GETTY IMAGES