Here is something that I would like breastfeeding advocates to stop saying about me, a formula-feeding mom:
That I formula feed only because a) I didn’t have the support I needed to be “successful” or b) I was misinformed by the nefarious, sinister formula companies to take the easy route and use formula.
Both are untrue and don’t apply to the formula feeding moms I’ve come across. So, kindly?
Stop saying it.
The truth is this: we had lots of information and support at our disposal. We went to breastfeeding classes where not a whisper of formula was heard. We delivered in hospitals where each nurse asked us if we were going to breastfeed and applauded us when we said yes. We went to lactation consultants who put us on pumping boot camps, advised us to drink dark beer and Mother’s Milk tea, eat lactation cookies, gave us lesson after lesson in latch and holds, and finally did a transfer test that showed baby was getting next to nothing. We didn’t give up: we fought hard and, in the end, we didn’t produce milk.
Or? We knew all the facts and we decided that formula feeding was best for our family – and that’s none of your business. Or we adopted. Whatever the case, we’ll still bond with our child and we’ll still give them all the opportunities in life that we can.
But please stop acting as if we were duped, as if we were robbed of something by an outside force. The language surrounding formula feeding is eerily reminiscent of pro-life rhetoric: women don’t KNOW any better, see, so we have to regulate this act in order to ensure that they give themselves and their baby the best. Lock up formula. Give it only by prescription.
That’s fucked up.
I still remember being in the hospital, post-C-section, with nurses flitting in and out of my recovery area. Each one asked me if I was breastfeeding: when I said yes, I got a hearty “Good for you!” in return. The woman next to me, however, was on kid #2. When asked if she was breastfeeding she said, despite the pain and effects of the drugs, that no, she was not. The nurses, all of them, admonished her. I heard her voice grow weary even as it retained its conviction each time she explained her reasoning: she had not been able to breastfeed her first and didn’t want that anxiety again. Still, the nurses pushed. By the end of the night, my heart was breaking for her. By the time our stay in the hospital was over, my husband and I asked for formula (Dubya had lost 11 percent of her birth weight at this point) only to have the nurse compare Similac and Enfamil to Coke and Pepsi.
While breast milk has some benefits (which are now appearing to be marginal, at best, when you control for parents’ level of education and economic situation), nothing beats a fed, happy baby and a mother who has met those needs without going through hell. I firmly believe it’s that you feed them, that you love them, that you be there for them, that makes up the majority of how baby will do in life.
If you can breastfeed, go for it. Go full force. Breastfeed in public and I will support you. Breastfeed for as long as the WHO recommends – get on with your bad self. But don’t look down on formula-feeding moms who have made informed choices while you do so. Breastfeeding advocacy has nothing to do with knocking the fully-aware woman who turned to another NUTRITIONAL source for their child. We know the choice we made. We are not feeding our children poison.
Finally, look at this child. Look at this child who smiled early, rolled early, vocalized early, crawled early, pulled to stand early, cruised early, is gearing to walk early. Look into her eyes and tell me that there is anything wrong with her, that I’ve shortchanged her in some way. Tell me that this child, who is loved, who loves to play and watch people and have fun, who is advanced in every way possible, is somehow less than your baby because she drinks formula – a source of food that helped her thrive when my breast milk could not.
I thought not.