I’m a bottle feeder.
I wasn’t always a bottle feeder. Both my children started out exclusively breastfed; I switched to bottles around the 10 month mark with G and at three months with Baby C.
When people ask, I always feel the need to add in one last thing…
“I really gave it a shot.”
“I tried everything.”
Just to make sure people know I’m a good mom. That I’m not “lazy” or “selfish” or any of the other lovely words associated with mothers of bottle fed babies.
I still have some anxiety and guilt over bottle feeding. I thought I was over it, but an advertising policy, of all things, sent me into a tailspin a few weeks ago.
Here’s an excerpt (I added the highlighting):
My heart sank.
I instantly felt like a loser.
I could feel those ‘defense mode’ hairs rising on the back of my neck.
That annoying little voice in my head started yattering.
Bottle feeding is so terrible that the World Health Organization has created a Code of Marketing to limit its advertising?!
So, what? Keep everything a secret? Create an underground bottle market?
My head was spinning.
Before I got too worked up I decided to actually READ the policy. No sense getting in a tizzy over something I hadn’t even read.
So I read it.
And you know what?
I completely agreed with their intentions.
The aim of the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes is as follows:
Makes sense, right?
I think most people would agree that as a society, we should promote breastfeeding and ensure the proper use of breast-milk substitutes when necessary.
So why was I still feeling bothered? Obviously this advertising policy stirred something deeper inside me.
I think it all comes back to the whole notion of “Breast is Best”.
This phrase really bothers me.
As in REALLY gets under my skin.
It’s kind of scary even admitting this, as we live in a society where breastfeeding is considered essential. As something that is absolutely imperative to the health and well-being of our babies.
That anything less is “risky” and “irresponsible”.
Now just to be clear – I am absolutely not some kind of anti-breastfeeding crusader.
I just feel like there needs to be a giant asterisk after “Breast is Best.”
Because sometimes it isn’t.
And in my experience, the general public’s understanding is that breastfeeding = good and bottle feeding = bad.
That “Breast is Best” applies in every situation, always.
It does not.
It’s just not that simple.
Yet, the perception is there.
And this is where the judgement starts to creep in.
I cannot even tell you the number of times I have been openly judged because I bottle feed my baby.
It got to the point where I was even HIDING formula in my grocery cart!
And the comments. Don’t even get me started on the comments.
- “Oh, he’s so sweet! How old is he? Oh! Only three months! And on formula already! My goodness…”
- “Oh, you’re not breastfeeding? I thought you were a nurse?”
- “You know, you’d save a ton of money if you breastfed.”
- “Don’t you want what’s best for your baby?”
I mean, honestly. I’m not sure when it became acceptable for complete strangers to comment on my feeding practices, but it got pretty tiring. I always felt like I needed to come up with an ‘acceptable’ reason to justify why I was formula feeding. That I needed to prove I wasn’t “lazy” or “selfish.”
I’m not sure when it happened, but I feel that somewhere along the way the promotion and protection of breastfeeding has morphed into a breast-feed at-all-costs movement.
And this scares me.
In order to make informed decisions parents need information and education. Not propaganda.
We need to get real when it comes to breastfeeding. About what it does and does not do.
And let’s support each other while we’re at it, no matter how we ultimately decide to feed our babies.
While this issue is far greater than any one blog post, I think it’s an important conversation worth having. Here are a few of my observations:
- Breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn’t always come naturally
We need to be more honest with each other about how HARD breastfeeding can be. And let me tell you – I found it hard. And awkward. And painful. I felt like a screw-up from the start because I wasn’t experiencing a zen-like state while breastfeeding. Isn’t that how you’re supposed to feel? Like everything in the world is stardust and fairies? When you’re expecting stardust and fairies but in reality experience chafed nipples and toe-curling pain it’s easy to get discouraged and want to throw in the towel.
So could we get some real education on breastfeeding? Not just the idealized images and oversimplified messaging? I feel like my prenatal breastfeeding instructor swept over my questions, downplaying their significance and my likelihood of experiencing difficulty. It was incredibly discouraging when my experience didn’t match the teaching I had received.
- Breast-milk is not a vaccine
Misinformation abounds regarding the benefits of breast-milk. Yes, it does offer many protective benefits. No, it is not a miracle cure-all. I can vividly remember the crushed look on one mother’s face after her three-month old had been admitted to the hospital for treatment of RSV (a commonly occurring respiratory virus in young children): “But I’m still breastfeeding! How could this happen?!” She was in disbelief, as she had been told that breastfeeding would keep her baby healthy through the cold and flu season.
The worst part? This misleading information wasn’t given by a well-meaning aunt or brother-in-law; it was delivered during a series of prenatal classes.
- Some women are not able to produce enough milk to support healthy growth and development
While I was breastfeeding I read article after article stating that if I just stuck with it, or just tried insert supplement name here I would be successful. This is naïve. Not everyone is capable of exclusive breastfeeding. Any information indicating otherwise is false and misleading.
I find that a lot of the messaging surrounding breastfeeding relates to overcoming obstacles. Implying that if the mother just tried a little harder she would be successful. Yes, mothers should have access to adequate support should they encounter difficulty breastfeeding. They should also have access to adequate support should they decide to transition to bottle feeding.
And what about the women who are not able to breastfeed in any capacity? Is breast really best for adoptive mothers? Mothers requiring medication contraindicated with breastfeeding? Or mothers having undergone breast surgery or a double mastectomy? Of course not! So why do I keep hearing stories of mothers being shamed for not breastfeeding when they are not even physically capable of doing so?!
- The concept of breast-milk as the only acceptable feeding option puts infants at risk
Countless times in my nursing career I met new mothers who were very reluctant to share that they had no intention of breastfeeding. Only once they confided their intention to bottle feed was I, in my capacity as a Registered Nurse, able to give them the necessary teaching associated with bottle feeding. I always wonder how many more parents, afraid of judgement, kept their intention to bottle feed a secret and were thus uninformed about the proper use and storage of formula.
- Breastfeeding is a major lifestyle change
Many women understand the benefits of breastfeeding and ultimately decide that bottle feeding is the best option for them. Shouldn’t they have the right to choose?
Am I way off base here?
I find the breast vs. bottle feeding debate quite disturbing. The idea of ‘versus’ in and of itself makes it seem like a battle; as if one side is the ‘winner’ and one side is the ‘loser’.
Yes, I believe in the protection and promotion of breastfeeding.
Yes, I believe that formula feeding is a safe and effective alternative to breastfeeding.
I don’t want to choose sides. Every situation is different. Every family. Every mother. Every baby.
We should all have the right to evaluate the information, explore the alternatives and make the best decision for our particular situation.
Like I’ve said before, this is an issue that can’t be solved in one blog post. I don’t have all the answers.
The only thing I know for certain?
Breast is best.
Except for when it isn’t.
As always, I am interested in your thoughts and welcome your comments. So tell me, what has your experience been? Did you enjoy breastfeeding? Was it what you expected? Did you feel supported in your feeding decision? How do we move towards accepting and supporting each other without placing judgement? Do you think I’m completely wrong or misguided? Let me know in the comments section.
Image Credit: Paul Kelly