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.
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.