Welcome back to my Q&A with Suzanne Barston, The Fearless Formula Feeder. Let’s dive right in because she has some very wise words to share about how moms choose to feed their babies.
The Pressure to Breastfeed
Because they are told that it’s the most important thing they can do for their babies; that it’s the healthy thing; the RIGHT thing. They see celebrities and role models and their peers celebrating their breastfeeding success, which they have every right to be doing – but we hear more about breastfeeding than any other aspect of new motherhood, so it becomes this measuring stick, this way to compare yourself to others and gauge how you’re doing at this scary new job. Plus, there are some overzealous physicians and lactation professionals out there who really do make it seem like life or death.
The Problem with “Breast is Best”
It’s problematic, because it’s NOT. Breast is the biological way to feed a baby. It is normal, and healthy, and every woman’s right. And yes, breastmilk is a biologically phenomenal substance. But that does not make it best – it makes it great. Best is a subjective term – because what does that even mean? Best nutritionally? Sure, unless your baby is reacting to something in your milk, or you don’t have enough to feed him. Best emotionally? No, not unless it’s what makes you happy and helps you bond, because for some women, the opposite is true.
What About “Fed is Best?”
I know the term “fed is best” is popular now, and I think I used this myself many years back, but I’m not sure using that phrase helps, either. The point is, we shouldn’t be using absolutes or superlatives to describe the very basic act of feeding a baby. Breastfeeding is not a super power. Formula feeding isn’t either. We all need to feed our babies – can’t we just shut up about what is best and focus on the important work of making sure every baby – and every mother – has the nutrition, love, and resources she needs?
Changing the Conversation
We can start by ending the fear tactics. Your baby is not going to be stupid, sick or obese if you formula feed. Likewise, your baby is not going to be brain damaged or starving if you breastfeed. There are always going to be horror stories, and downsides to every feeding method. Babies die while nursing. Babies die from contaminated formula. Those are freak incidents, not the norm.
Let’s Start Over
I think we need to start from the beginning. Give parents neutral information from a neutral source – not breastfeeding advocates, and not formula companies – long before the emotional landmine of the delivery room. Let them know they will be supported and given evidence-based information for any safe feeding method. Stop making it all or nothing, so that moms can combo feed if they want and not feel like they are torn between two dueling sides. Let parents change their minds, and adapt, and not feel as if the way they feed has anything to do with how they will love and nurture this child.
What I Wish Someone Had Told Me
That the first few years are hard because of how YOU are growing up, and the rest is hard because of how THEY are growing up. What I mean is that while I find parenting harder the older my kids get, the roughest part for me was transitioning from “me” to “mother”. That identity shift can be so hard- and since babies don’t do much except eat, sleep, and poop, it’s easy to fixate on these things as the litmus test of your ability to parent. I promise you, it isn’t.
The Future of The Fearless Formula Feeder
That’s a tough question for me because in many ways, I’ve been slowly weaning (ha) myself from this world. I still feel a responsibility to be on the periphery of the conversation, because I have the advantage of a long-term perspective that most of the people arguing about these issues don’t have. On the other hand, I don’t have the energy or passion for the cause that I used to, because my kids are older, and I’ve moved on to another stage in life and in my career. But I’d like to think I’ll always be here as a resource for new champions of choice – there are great groups like Fed is Best and the I Support You Movement (which I started with Kim Simon five years ago, and has been resurrected by an incredible group of women in the UK), that are doing stellar work in this area. I will always be there to support them as needed. And who knows – maybe I’ll write a sequel to Bottled Up. It can be called Bottled Down: Why the Way We Feed Babies Means Nothing Once They are Ornery Teenagers. Or something like that. 🙂
More From The Fearless Formula Feeder
My book, Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t (University of California Press, 2012) is available on Amazon. You can also visit the archived website, which has a ton of resources for formula feeding and stories from fellow FFFs at FearlessFormulaFeeder.com, or follow me at Facebook.com/TheFearlessFormulaFeeder.
In case you missed it, you can find Part One here.
BIO: Suzanne Barston is the author of Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t and the creator of the “Fearless Formula Feeder” website and community. Barston was raised just outside of Boston and earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Northwestern University. A former freelance writer, she now lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with her husband and children, and works as a corporate content producer. Her writing and work with FFF has been featured in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, SheKnows, Babble, Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine, Parenting, Babytalk, OhBaby!, Fit Pregnancy, The Observer, Yahoo Shine!, Australia’s Good Weekend magazine, and on a variety of radio programs including KPCC’s “Take Two”, numerous NPR affiliates, “Parenting Unplugged”, “Positive Parenting”, “Mom Enough”, “For Crying Out Loud”, “Voice of Russia”, and more.