Monday, June 28, 2010

Facts versus Feelings

I have been reading articles lately, such as I Formula Fed, So What? Breastfeeding Sucks, and The Case Against Breastfeeding, since Annie over at PhD in Parenting drew attention to them with her thought provoking response to the most recent, (I Formula Fed, So What?) Society is Creepy (Not Breastfeeding).

I'm a touch conflicted on this one.
I did. It hurt. I was engorged. I was bleeding. I was tired.  I didn't have a strong support network.  I soldiered through two weeks of a breastfeeding nightmare and then she became another bottle-baby.
Some misguided lactivists *did* say things specifically designed to shame me after the fact, as opposed to offering early help when it might have been useful.  No, instead they made a point of sneering and making hurtful comments every time I went to feed my child, on demand, just like the nursing mother across the room.  Somehow my child's needs being met was some sort of crime because I wasn't doing it the way they thought was best.
You know what? It would have been better, but it wasn't something I was up to.  Does that make me selfish? I don't think so. I don't think so because I was able to hold her and smile at her and sing to her and enjoy her after my milk dried up and every shift of the wind was no longer excruciating.  It was good for our relationship when I no longer cringed when I saw her looking hungry because I knew that it would be all I could do not to scream in pain as we struggled to get a good latch with my engorged breasts.  In that circumstance I made the best choice I could with the resources I had at hand.  I have some anger about the issue and feel that the personal sentiments expressed in those articles are legitimate and that each woman has the right to tell their story and be honest about how they feel, even if they feel formula was "good enough."

On the other hand...
Was formula good enough or just as good? No. It absolutely wasn't, and it absolutely isn't.
No matter how we feel about it, we mustn't confuse facts with feelings.
Formula is NOT as good as breast milk.  And since when do we want "good enough" for our children?

Fast forward ten years to when I was pregnant with my son.  If I remember correctly, I broke the news to my spouse by saying "I'm pregnant, and I'm not breastfeeding."   There might have been a pause. Nonetheless, the reaction in my gut was immediate. The pain associated with it had been worse than the labor and more lingering, and I had no interest in a repeat, and the lactivists of an earlier decade had emotionally scarred me pretty deeply.  I was even becoming something of a formulactivist.
But then I started reading, and the more I read, the more I researched, the more I realized all of the science proves conclusively what I already knew but didn't want to admit.  Breast milk is the perfect food for infant nutrition and formula is simply chemists' failed attempt/s to imitate it.  There is NO comparison.  Formula needs to exist as an intervention but it needs to be just that, an intervention for cases in which breastfeeding, expressed milk, and donor milk are not options.
No, mothers shouldn't be made to feel guilty for having chosen to formula feed, however, I do strongly feel that up until the decision has been made, the baby born and the milk dried up, if we don't attempt to educate mothers as to the benefits of breastfeeding and dispel myths which make breastfeeding look like too hard of a choice, then we are doing a disservice to those women and their offspring. Women need honesty, they need support, and they need to see it.
Women need to know that breastfeeding doesn't mean you can never taste a drop of alcohol until the baby's weaned. They need to know that alcohol works its way out of milk at the same rate it works its way out of one's blood and that so long as they don't nurse the baby when they're drunk, there is no need to wean to occasionally indulge.  (Of course, impaired parenting presents a whole host of it's own problems, so I'll follow the lead of other women whose judgement I trust and suggest getting a sitter if you're planning on getting drunk.)
Women need to know that they can leave the house with a nursling, because breastfeeding is a protected right in most states.  They need to know that it is legal to nurse their babies.  (How can we live in a world where there would even be a question about that?)  Women need to be empowered in knowing that it is okay to nurse a baby wherever that baby is hungry (other than a moving car, there are child seat laws, you know.)  This means a woman can nurse her baby at the library, the doctor's office, the post office, the DMV, the grocery store, the playground, the museum, the mill, the forest preserve, and the bakery.  It's perfectly fine and good to nurse in public.

Women need to know that their boobs won't sag because they nursed their babies.  They need to know that the changes which lead to sagging breasts are a function of pregnancy and not of breastfeeding, and that some women are more disposed to sagging than others.  Breastfeeding will not make your boobs sag.
Women need honesty. They need to know that yes it can be painful to learn to breastfeed.  Not every baby is born with a good latch in mind.  However, the problems of the early weeks can be corrected with a good support system and perseverance.
Women need to be aware that some women find the whole ordeal of breastfeeding unpleasant. Not just the pain but the weird mixed messages that can be sent to your brain when a part of your body which may be one heavily associated with sexuality starts being used for another purpose.  Some women never experience any conflict between the sexualized breast and the functional breast, but some do, and women need to know that if they do have that uncomfortable sensation and have to grit their teeth at the mixed messages going on in their brain, that it doesn't mean there's something wrong with them, but rather that their brain is wired to receive one type of message from that area.  This doesn't mean one can't breastfeed, it simply means that there might be additional complications.*
Women need honesty.
Women need to see it.
I really think there is nothing more beneficial to supporting the healthy development of more and more nursing dyads than getting out with your baby and nursing that baby on demand, in public, without running to the bathroom, dressing room, car, or hiding under a blanket, unless your nursing cover makes you more comfortable.  The more people witness the seemingly rare occurrence of a mother nursing her baby, the more and more women will begin to accept the biological norm as the social norm.

So I'm begging you, when you read an article claiming formula is just as good as breast milk, make sure you do a fact check as well as a gut check, then take a moment to be the good kind of lactivist who offers information and support, and not the kind who inspires the types of articles to which the rest of the lactivist community must respond.

*I am including this because I have read more than one woman say that no one talks about this, that the lactivist community likes to sweep it under the rug because the people who find breastfeeding creepy might use it as an argument that breastfeeding is creepy.  But breastfeeding is feeding a baby. That's not creepy.  What's creepy is shaming a woman for feeding her baby while having to deal with the difficulty of not only a biological response different than the one she'd like, but also the narrow minded views of people who ultimately care more about their sense of having controlled others than the health and wellbeing of women and children.

6 reflections:

Pamela said...

And brava to you for overcoming the difficult time you had with your girly.

Slee said...

Thanks, Pamela. I'm really glad to be having a good healthy nursing relationship this time around, and thankful for the great support I've received.

Dou-la-la said...

BRAVA. Seriously awesome. Your honesty and introspection is much appreciated.

The Fearless Formula Feeder said...

I appreciate your honesty in this post.

As a choice-avist (I used to say factivist, but that pissed people off, as some "facts" seem to be subjective, depending on how much validity you give certain study methodology), I agree that we need to educate women and I love every point that you made.

I would never say that formula is equivalent to breastmilk, because of course it's not. Just like conceiving a child the way I had to do it - with medical intervention - is not as natural, and nowhere near as pleasant, as doing it the old-fashioned way. But the end result was the same. I have a child, and another on the way, because of synthetic hormones.
And my first survived thanks to formula. Would I have liked breastfeeding to have worked out? You bet. But it didn't.

Now, as I face the decision once again, I'm honestly not sure what I will do. I know I *should* breastfeed, and I should want to. But those bad memories haunt me. Nursing, or the failure to do so successfully, ruined my first months as a mom. The risk of doing harm to that essential bond between me and the next child seems to great a risk to take, for the sake of a few less ear infections. And of course I am stupidly, selfishly biased, b/c my son is as healthy as an ox, and smart as can be... I think if I had seen him suffer from any illness in 19 months, I might have more impetus to nurse, but it's hard to believe that breastfeeding could have made him any more immune than he is, which is basically immune to EVERYTHING his breastfed buddies contract.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the studies, but it is my personal experience. It's like this: breastfeeding, for me, = pain, guilt, fear, misery. I know that is not true for everyone. But it was for me.

This is rambling and has no point, sorry... I guess I just want to say that yes, I agree that we need to educate women, and encourage them, and everything you expressed so well in this - but that we also need to let women know that if and when it does not work out, while formula may not be the IDEAL choice, it is certainly a choice, and one that needs to be made in the context of many other factors.

Slee said...

@Fearless Formula Feeder
I felt very similarly when I was having to make the choice of whether or not to breastfeed Snapdragon. To be entirely honest, after reading a lot of the research, when he was born, I set my goals to "colostrum" and then out. But by the time I'd soldiered on through those first two weeks, I wanted to try to hold out longer, and I kept pushing myself until suddenly one day we were at that crucial point where it was working, and working well for the both of us, and it didn't hurt, and it was a very good scenario.
That said, breastfeeding isn't always easy, it isn't always 100% perfect for reasons which differ from woman to woman, but I think we can all agree that if more women had better support and education, more babies would be nursed, which would serve them better.
On a side note, my formula fed daughter is healthy as a horse, but I did nurse her through that critical-to-the-development-of-the-immune system colostrum phase. On the other hand, my immune system sucks and I wasn't nursed a day in my life.
Who knows, maybe there's a connection, maybe not.
Good luck with your pregnancy, delivery, and making the choices which are the best for your family.

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