real life

Is breast best or is the tit s%*#?

Breastfeeding. What a shocker. My boobs had one job, and they really screwed it up. Thanks for nothing, funbags.

I’ve just emerged from a physical and emotional torture chamber of disappointment, judgment and desperation, so forgive me if I’m being a little harsh on boobies. I blame the breastfeeding mafia for building my faith in my tits up so high that when they let me down it made me want to use swear words.

As a first time mum, I’ve recently had the opportunity to experience the transformation of my breasts from lovely lady bits to twenty-four hour feeding stations. I went into the experience equipped with a plethora of empowering information and a passion for doing things naturally because, informed hippie. But from the other side, I can’t help but think the ‘Breast is Best’ movement has gone way too far with it’s propaganda machine. We all know the benefits of breast milk and that it’s superior nutritionally (and in terms of immunity and digestion) to formula. So is it really necessary to demonise formula as though its potential for harm is on par with nicotine? Are the warnings on the formula cans and the pop-ups with disclaimers and agreement buttons on any Internet page selling formula really necessary? The posters in every hospital maternity ward? We know!

'Is it really necessary to demonise formula as though its potential for harm is on par with nicotine?' Image via iStock.

Breastfeeding is not always possible. So what then? The current scenario places unnecessary stress and pressure on women at an already very vulnerable time of their lives. I also think it's regressive from a feminist perspective. Women are being dictated to and guilted about something they may not be able to control, and should quite frankly feel free to make choices about, regardless.

But breastfeeding is ‘free’ and ‘natural’, the Boobie Brigade tell you. Not always. This statement ignores the extremely high price many women pay to continue to breastfeed. We’re talking, round-the-clock expressing, repeated bouts of mastitis leading to hospitalisation, guilt and stress that interferes with mother-baby bonding and lets not forget the bleeding nipples. There’s also the very ‘unnatural’ situation women can find themselves in to attempt to sustain their milk supply (medication, herbs, boobie cookies… and again with the expressing).

Babies can survive and thrive on it! Image via iStock.

As for my own experience, I’m passionate about all things natural so when I fell pregnant I decided there would be no formula for my little cherub. I didn’t even buy bottles. However, I had been warned breastfeeding could be challenging, so I did my preparation. I joined the Australian Breastfeeding Association and went to their meetings and classes, I read copious amounts of breastfeeding literature and I trusted (like they told me) that despite the obstacles there is always a way for breastfeeding to work out. ‘Great!’, I thought because ‘Breast is Best’.

Perhaps not.

My breastfeeding experience was a trial I will not detail here but lets just say it involved blood, misinformation, mastitis, multiple lactation consultants, weeks of round the clock expressing, every herb, substance and medication known to man which could potentially increase milk supply (including beer!), a speech consultant to correct his latch, a supply line (a tube thingy you attach to your breast to supply formula and kind of ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ while bubs gets the hang of it) and multiple other avenues to get this very ‘natural’ process happening between baby and I.

And I managed (just!) to give my boy majority breast milk for his first three months. Until he started rejecting the breast altogether. It was stressful. It consumed most of my time and energy. I felt awful for having to give him formula top ups that whole time. Eventually, I realised I had to make the decision to wean him altogether and feed him exclusively on the “evil” formula!

The debate on formula vs breast shouldn't demonise each side. Image via iStock.

I started looking into what’s in formula versus breast milk and some of the research. As a vegan (I told you I was a hippie) I am already skewed towards thinking cow’s milk is best suited to baby cows rather than humans, so there’s that. But the formula we give babies is altered somewhat so that the proteins resemble human breast milk a little better. There are also a plethora of vitamins included that resemble many of those found in breast milk. Babies can survive and thrive on it.

It’s also worth noting that much of the research that validates the pros of breastfeeding and the cons of formula isn’t based on controlled randomised studies, which are the benchmark of scientific validity. It would be unethical to assign women to groups that dictate they either breastfeed or formula feed their baby. This scenario makes it impossible to control for variables like when the mother returns to work and whether and when the baby goes to daycare making it near impossible to obtain reliable data. So next time you hear formula feeding linked with such delightful things as cot death, obesity and cancer, I’d hold that information pretty lightly.

I’m over the guilt trips. It would be nice if women weren’t made to feel like introducing formula is pretty much the equivalent of giving bubs his first ciggy when that is far from the truth.

I am happy to say my story so far ends well. I am now 100% formula feeding and guilt free! My little man is thriving and there are even some cheeky side benefits like my partner being able to share the feeding responsibilities. I don’t feel guilty about that either. Mother’s guilt is lurking at every corner of the journey and I think we’d all benefit if it was lifted from such a fundamental issue as being able to care for our babies basic survival needs. Sometimes breast just isn’t best!

Do you agree? Is the breast best?

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