Sometimes breastfeeding is not best. Even for the baby. Author, Emma Grey writes:
My ten-week old baby is being fed formula instead of breast milk.
For six weeks, I spent several hours a day expressing breast milk for him. After several trips to the lactation consultant, several hundred dollars in hired equipment and much thought, I decided not to.
End of story.
Except that, if this forum reflects my experience offline, it won’t be. A few strangers – who know nothing of our circumstances other than what they see at face value in the paragraph above – will find themselves so rattled by my choice to bottle feed that they may not even read the rest of this article before posting a pro-breast feeding comment that will make a lot of good mothers feel awful.
Their prejudice might masquerade as helpfulness, the way it often does when we stampede, uninvited, into another person’s reality. They might share success stories and compare sacrifices.
They would impart a lot of advice – explaining why breast is best, and how breast-feeding problems can be fixed. They might point out that it’s not too late to re-lactate if I want to change my mind, and why wouldn’t I want to? Don’t I want what is best for my child?
I do. That’s why he’s being bottle fed.
As with many aspects of parenting, the breast versus bottle debate is a hornet’s nest. Some people are tempted to assist mums like me to pull our socks up, not knowing how hard it really is, or anything about the larger picture in which our feeding is one part.
Perhaps reading this article might save someone the trouble of approaching my family in shopping centres and asking me why I’m not breast feeding, as happened several times to a friend of mine who has a rare medical condition that meant her milk never came in – not with any of her five children, despite her dearly wanting to breast feed.
It might provide an alternative outlet for telling a family member that breast-fed babies develop better eyesight than bottle-fed babies, as another friend was informed while formula-feeding the baby she adores in front of a large gathering of people whose opinions she values.
I know a woman who was told by her sister-in-law, after her milk dried up due to a course of antibiotics, that only ‘real mothers’ breast feed.
If there is anything any dyed-in-the-wool breast feeders would like to get off their fully-functioning chests, I can take it! I had post-natal depression after my second child, but I’m fairly sure I haven’t got it this time, so comments about my choice to formula feed probably won’t do as much damage to my emotional wellbeing as they might to a mother in more fragile circumstances.
For the record, I think that breast feeding is an ideal. In many, many cases, the ideal is reached and babies receive wonderful benefits. In many other cases, for myriad reasons, breast is second best to a method that sustains a baby and supports a mother’s mental and physical health.
Sometimes ‘those who can’ cling to the ideal at all costs. They offer their views using much the same technique as some of the more ‘hands-on’ lactation consultants use to offer our nipples to our screaming newborns, while we look on in horror and lose confidence in our ability to raise the baby we love more than life itself.
The president of my local breast feeding association was one such person. She successfully breast-fed three of her children for the World Health Organisation’s recommended two years each, claiming there wasn’t one challenge that couldn’t be rectified in the breast feeding department, only to prove herself wrong fourth time around.
When I was in the labour ward recently, the mother in the next delivery suite was breast feeding her three-year-old between contractions. She wasn’t able to breast feed her new baby as a result. Where does this motivation come from?
I hope the clinic nurse I saw a month ago will read this. She told me I had done the wrong thing. I should have persisted with breast feeding, when my child was not only failing to thrive, but losing weight at every weekly weigh-in, and when the paediatrician warned that continued attempts at breast feeding must stop as internal organs were at risk due to lack of sustenance. The nurse passed it off as a growth spurt. My milk supply would have picked up if I’d tried longer, she said.
Ironically, she wasn’t talking about the thriving, happy, contented baby that I was bottle feeding right in front of her. She was talking about his ten-year-old sister, who she’s never met.
She didn’t know that I’d tearfully given up breast feeding on that occasion, seven months in, on specialist advice, or that I’d spent four days in a specialist medical centre, desperately trying to increase supply under the guidance of health experts, drinking a ghastly concoction of fenugreek and other lactation stimulants and trying everything I could to continue, before reluctantly admitting, along with an entire medical team, that I would move to formula. Why she thought I needed to justify this turn of events a decade later is anyone’s guess.
Which brings me to my eldest child. I had it all: cracked and bleeding nipples, thrush, several debilitating bouts of mastitis and a baby who was born a little early, before the sucking reflex kicked in. Nevertheless, she was fully breast-fed for the first twelve months of her life and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.
Good for me! Wasn’t I clever and dedicated? Ah, those were the days, when I was a ‘real mother’… Breast is best, you know.
Except when bottle feeding is best. As it is now for my son. End of story.