Recently in the online world there has been a hell of a lot of talk of breastfeeding. The usual “breast is best” type messages and one particularly nasty blog about how the writer automatically judges those who bottle feed “by choice”. I’m not going to link to said piece because it doesn’t deserve the traffic quite frankly, but it was along the lines of “if you bottle feed, I am judging you.” It goes down the lines that any mother who didn’t try to breastfeed has failed as a mother, that every child deserves colostrum, that lactating is what we are made for.
There is of course a long list of “reasons why I won’t judge you”, but what I fail to see is how this author knows who fits into those categories. Does she ask everyone who she sees bottle feeding? Or does she just judge away from up on her high horse?
Here’s the thing. Eden has been bottle fed since day one. Her first meal in this world was given to her by her mama, while she was just an hour old and while mummy was being stitched up. Did I try to breastfeed? No, I didn’t. Do I care that anyone is judging? No, I don’t. Amy and I made the best decision for our daughter based on our circumstances. Not that reasons why matter, but we chose not to breastfeed for several reasons. One of the main ones being that as a sexual assault survivor, it has taken me a long time to be anything like comfortable with my body. With the remnants of PTSD, I know breastfeeding would set me back miles. I suffer dreadfully with anxiety, which is made worse when I don’t sleep. Being Eden’s sole food supply would have made me crazy. I admire women that can deal with that pressure – it’s not easy and pumping carries the same pressure to me because of having to establish supply. As a lesbian couple, we wanted to have equal responsibility for our baby. I know many lesbian couples choose for either the birth mum to nurse or to induce lactation in the non birth mother – great choices. But it wasn’t for us. Plus, as above, bottle feeding meant that Amy could take some of the night feeds and help me keep my brain in check.
However, these things aren’t my point. My point is, who cares? Honestly. Who cares how other people choose to feed their children? Who cares what their reasons are? Why does it make a difference to your life how the lady on the next table in Starbucks is feeding? Unless their three week old is being fed a cappuccino, what difference does it really make? I’m all for people making informed choices for their family and those are their decisions to make and no one else’s. That goes for how to feed, sleep arrangements, weaning, circumcision and whatever other “issue of the day” you want to throw in.
I was sitting in a cafe the other day with Eden waiting for a friend and it came around time for a feed. So, I popped out a bottle and some formula powder and made up Eden’s bottle. This had never actually happened to me before, but a lady opposite started tutting and was clearly talking to her companion about the fact that I was bottle feeding about how “disgusting” it was. I chose to ignore her (except for a small twitter rant) and she was lucky that I am the kind of person who, like I said above, does not care about the opinions of people I have never met and am never likely to come across again. But I did think about several scenarios.
Imagine this happened to a lady who had tried so so hard to breastfeed and had to stop because their body just couldn’t keep up? Or because their baby was tongue tied? Or because they just didn’t have any milk? Imagine that “tut” and rant was directed at a lady who had already been made to feel like crap for not being able to breastfeed and was having a bad day? Imagine it was directed at a lady who had had a double mastectomy? Imagine it was directed at a lady whose baby had been in NICU for the first few weeks of their life? A lot of people say it’s “fair” to judge those who chose not to breastfeed, but really did this lady know my situation? How does one identify those who “choose” to formula feed?
I have a friend who tried to breastfeed when her daughter was born and just couldn’t. She jokes now that she didn’t even have enough milk to nourish a squirrel, but at the time she went through hell. Her daughter lost weight and the doctors pushed and pushed for her to carry on breastfeeding even though it was clearly not working out. Nights spent in hospital with a screaming infant and a mum who felt absolutely awful and riddled with guilt. A mum who, for the first few months of her daughter’s life, cried every time she had to buy formula. Why? Because she had been made to feel like a failure because her body couldn’t do what it is “made” to do. Imagine that “tut” and rant would have been directed at her. And where is the common sense point where a medical professional should have said “look. It’s ok. Here’s how we can help.” rather than pushing and pushing and pushing for breast milk that she didn’t have?
As I discussed in my recent post about our admission with jaundice, even as someone who is confident in their decision not to breastfeed, I was left in tears more than once by the disdain of people around me whilst in hospital with a sick baby. I can’t imagine how that would have felt had I actually wanted to breastfeed and been unable to. At the end of the day all I need to do is look at our daughter to know that we are doing the right thing – I have a wonderful, bubbly, smart eight week old who is hitting all her milestones ahead of schedule. That’s because of the whole package. Love, attention, a roof over her head, clothes on her back and food in her belly. The type of food hasn’t made a difference thus far.
Line up some kids at school. Maybe thirty or forty ten year olds. Then tell me who was breast fed and who was formula fed. You can’t? Didn’t think so. I was mostly formula fed and I got some of the top marks in my school year at GCSE. I’m sure some of those at my level were breast fed, but did it matter to us? Did it even come up? Nope.
Isn’t it time that everyone supported one another? We all know that in ideal circumstances, breast is best. Breastmilk is made for your baby. That’s the point of it. HOWEVER, can we not look at the bigger picture? Breast is not best for everyone and in every situation. Sometimes breastfeeding would actually harm the relationship of the mother and child and would probably contribute to postnatal depression – I know it would have for me. Parents need to be there for one another. We need to stop judging and start supporting. Stop picking what is wrong with people. Stop imposing our parenting ideals on other people. Stop giving unsolicited advice or telling people they are wrong. Start respecting the choices that parents make for their children – obviously as long as no one is being harmed. A lady told me the other day that she had been told that formula feeding increases the risk of SIDS by up to 80% and “if she wants to kill her child, that’s her problem”. Not only is that statistic not true, but it’s also totally unfair. No mother wants to do anything that would contribute to the death of their child. Whilst it is thought that breastfeeding does help protect against SIDS, no one really knows why SIDS occurs and what we can do to prevent it, otherwise it wouldn’t happen at all. Formula isn’t poison. No, it doesn’t have the same level of nutrients or antibodies as breast milk, but it doesn’t harm children. It’s a pretty damn good substitute. And in a lot of cases, it saves lives.
At the end of the day, no matter how you choose to feed your child, fed is best. Let’s aim the hate at those few who choose to not feed their child. That’s neglect. Not a bottle. Not formula. Not breast milk. We’re all doing a great job with something that is very difficult – let’s build each other up rather than tearing one another down. Be proud of your choices, because only you can make the right choices for your family.
We’re all doing a great job.