Today wraps up National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. I hope your social media feeds weren’t over-flooded with articles and photos about the joy and benefits of breastfeeding. Lactivists telling you why breastmilk is the only way to ensure a healthy, happy baby. Studies claiming that breastmilk will make your baby more intelligent and have less ear infections and allergies. Then there’s my all-time favorite claim: Breastfeeding can reduce a mom’s stress level and risk for postpartum depression. Um, yeah, not so much…have they met me? And let us not forget about the infamous mom-shamers criticizing anyone who chooses the alternative or not to breastfeed for as long as they have ruled acceptable. I mean, can’t we all just get along.
I’m here to tell you, breast is not always best. Also, formula is not always best. You know what’s best? What works for you, makes you happy and keeps your baby’s belly full. Moms have all different reasons for how they choose to feed their babies and they are none of your business.
When I had my son, I thought I would be a breastfeeding master. He would latch easily and we would be unbreakably bonded. I would breastfeed at least until the baby weight melted off. (Why shouldn’t I reap the benefits too?) Full disclosure, I had always planned to supplement with formula because I wanted to be able to sleep and let my husband help with feedings, but I never thought I would suck at breastfeeding. And It never occurred to me that I might hate it too.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of the F-word. It’s extremely versatile and can be used in so many different situations. As a writer, I love that it can be a noun, verb, adjective, and more. As a mom, it comes in very handy when I’m frustrated, tired, and overwhelmed or I feel the need to be dramatic about all the above. You step on a Lego and scream, “FUCK!” Your kid wakes up four times in the middle of the night and you quietly pray each time, “Stay the fuck asleep.” You get projectile vomited on and blurt out, “Fuck me!”
And when you can’t take it anymore you dramatically declare that if anyone needs you, you can be found hiding in your closet with that pint of Haagen Dazs chocolate-chocolate-chip ice cream because you are frustrated, tired, and overwhelmed “As Fuck” (AF). I’ve even recently heard it used to describe the phase my son just entered: “The Fucking Fours.”
When I gave birth to my son almost four years ago (before I made regular use of the F-word in everyday motherhood), I discovered my second favorite F word. Formula. Yes, you heard me correctly. Formula. Let me say now that this is not an anti-breastfeeding, pro-formula-feeding post, nor am I exclusively in support of one food source over the other. I am exclusively for feeding your baby, however that works best for you. Now back to our regularly scheduled program…
I have very strong feelings about breastfeeding. It’s not because I’m anti-breastfeeding or anti-formula. In fact, I’m the opposite…I’m pro- women should choose what works best for them and their mental health and sanity during what might be the biggest transition of their lives…motherhood. And no woman should ever be made to feel like she is a failure or a terrible mother because she chooses formula over breastfeeding or even supplements breast milk with formula.
Now I know there are the people who believe that becoming a parent is all about sacrifice. We sacrifice for the well-being of our children and therefore moms should breastfeed no matter what. Well I’m here to call bullshit…because at the end of the day, giving your baby a happy, healthy mommy is just as if not more important than giving your baby breastmilk at the expense of your well-being. What about women who don’t produce enough milk? What about exclusively breastfed babies who don’t gain enough weight? No mom should ever be made to feel bad about how she nourishes her children.
Social media is filled with celebrities promoting breastfeeding. Celebrities not so subtly telling you that breast is best…the only proper way to feed your baby. And it’s not just celebrities…regular women like you and me love to judge and shame moms who choose not to breastfeed. Doctors and lactation consultants lay the guilt on thick for new moms who struggle with the decision between breast milk and formula. None of this is fair to new mothers. Plenty of studies show breastfeeding to be the better option and the same number of studies claim that these studies have no merit…which brings me back to my main point…choose what works for you…because your baby will be fine… and fuck the haters and everyone else.
Here is my breastfeeding story: It’s not a fairly tale.
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?”
August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, which means our social media feeds will likely be filled with articles and photos about the joys and benefits of breastfeeding. So, I wanted to talk to someone who could share more about the joys and benefits of simply feeding your baby, because there are alternatives and breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. And shouldn’t that be okay?
Meet Suzanne Barston, also known as The Fearless Formula Feeder and author of the book, Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t. After experiencing many breastfeeding complications with her son, having postpartum depression and switching to formula (the best decision for her family) only to realize that there was a severe lack of information and way too much judgment when it came to formula feeding, she decided to create a support network for moms who also went the formula route.
Suzanne’s judgement-free advice and determination to change the conversation about how moms choose to feed their babies and the support they should receive are a breath of fresh air. Her work is a testament to the fact that whether a mom chooses breastmilk, formula, or both has everything to do with the right choice for her and nothing to do with how much she loves her baby.
A mom delivers her second child at a local hospital and decides to try formula after her baby girl struggles to latch. She informs the lactation consultant about her decision to feed her baby half a bottle of formula and asks for a remedy for her sore nipples. When the lactation consultant suggests coconut oil, the mom expresses concern over her baby ingesting it while she breastfeeds. The lactation consultants responds, “You already destroyed her gut by feeding her formula. What’s it matter if she has some coconut oil?”
The same mom, who has now been up for over 24 hours, later begs the nurses to take her newborn to the nursery so she can get a few hours of rest. They tell her no, hardly check in on her, and as a result, she falls asleep while breastfeeding her baby. Thankfully, no harm comes to the child. I’m not saying the two are linked, but this mom is diagnosed with postpartum depression shortly after going home from the hospital.
Another mom delivers her first son at the same hospital. During her pregnancy, she makes the decision to both pump and formula feed because she will return to work (her own business) soon after delivery. While getting ready to feed her new baby, the nurse drops off a breast pump and tells her she probably won’t be successful with it, gives her a log and some diapers, and tells her to write down when she changes and feeds him. The mom repeatedly asks for formula and is met with an eye roll from the nurse who tells her she will bring it when she can get to it.
Dear Pregnant Jen,
There is so much I wish I could tell you before you go into labor on that first night of Passover, March 25, 2016. Yes, you will go into labor during the first night of Seder while sitting at a table with 30 of your closest Jewish family members. Papa will be asking, “Why is this night different from all other nights,” and it most definitely is as you simultaneously death grip squeeze your sister’s hand under the table, time your contractions on your iPhone, text a close mom friend who informs you to “call the fucking doctor,” and realize that not only do your contractions not conform to the 5 minutes apart pattern you learned about in birth class, but nothing about labor and delivery is anything like you’ve seen on television or in the movies.
I regret to inform you that you won’t sneeze and gracefully pop a tiny human out of your vagina like Brooklyn Decker in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. You also won’t look pretty, perfect, and polished like Brooklyn Decker during and after the delivery of your baby. Swollen, stoned, and sleep-deprived is more like it.
Let’s start there. Labor is unpredictable and doesn’t always go according to plan. In fact, the word plan really has no business being in the same sentence as the words birth and baby. Your baby is going to do what he wants. He gives zero fucks about your plans, not while he is in your belly and not when he comes out. He doesn’t care that you want his bris to be after Passover so guests can enjoy their lox and cream cheese on bagels rather than matzo. It won’t matter to him that the best mohel in town might be on vacation (although he should because…it’s his penis getting snipped). And he really doesn’t give a shit that you want to do everything in your power to avoid a C-section and have him the old-fashioned way.
Equinox, what the fuck is with this ad? It’s fucked up. I don’t know how to say it any other way. I’m not sure what your message is. I get the tagline COMMIT TO SOMETHING. It’s a new year and you want people to join your gym and commit to their health and fitness. Fine! Or maybe you are saying, “commit to anything, just commit to something.” Great! I’m all for that too. But why the model who doesn’t even have children, breastfeeding twins who aren’t even hers? Oh and she just happens to be in an LBD looking very glamorous. What does this possibly have to do with your gym?
Are you advocating breastfeeding now? I read in the New York Post that supporters of the ad like that equinox is “normalizing breastfeeding.” I’m confused. Please explain to me what is normal about breastfeeding twins that aren’t yours in haute couture at a party. Maybe I would get it more Equinox if you used a less glamorous image. Show what it really looks like when you commit to breastfeeding. Way to go joining the ranks of mom shamers.