I am participating in the I Support You campaign (1st to 7th November) run by Mama By the Bay. This blog post is in aid of supporting all loving mothers NO MATTER HOW they feed their babies or what parenting choices they make.
Look, I’m just going to get straight to the point on the issue of feeding our babies. Despite how we feel when we have our first babies (I can’t speak for subsequent babies so I’ll stick to my own experiences – please feel free to add to the conversation if you have more than one), the way we feed them is not how we should define ourselves. Neither is the method by which your child is delivered. They are just facts on a timeline. Things that happened in our journey. A path we had to take (even if we chose it we did so because it was best for us and our babies). It does not define our child’s life. As I look at my almost 3 year old (how time flies!) I don’t fuss that he was mixed fed from day 1. I don’t care that he came to us via C-section. It’s just a memory now. It hasn’t determined the rest of his life. He sits at the dinner table with us, munching on whatever I make him (well mostly – he is a toddler after all). I have a scar, but I only notice it when it tingles after a couple of cocktails (true story – it’s weird). My Little Mister is funny, charming (most of the time), he is healthy and he is bright. Medically, all is quite well too. He has the immune system of …whatever only gets sick once a year (touch wood) and he is developing quite normally. While it took me time (about a year) to feel this way, I have NO regrets. None. Oh, except that I wish I didn’t worry so much what other people thought about my choices. THAT was the one thing I wasted time on. The one thing that kept me awake at night (even when my baby was sleeping).
Please allow me to do some very blunt myth busting in the name of supporting anyone who has ever had to feed a baby (it’s kind of a necessary task – you know, for keeping them alive and stuff)…
Myth: “If you stop breastfeeding, you’re going to miss out on a special bonding experience with your baby.”
Um, no. No you’re not. While breastfeeding is a beautiful way to bond with your baby (I can attest to that), it is certainly not the only way. It is one of many gorgeous ways we connect with our children. If you cannot (or choose not to) breastfeed, you are not to buy into that BS, OK? You’re a loving mother who has many tricks up her sleeve. Cuddles while bottle feeding – lovely. Talking to your baby. Singing with them. Eye contact. Smiles. The gentle way you tend to them. Quality time getting to know each other. The love you have for them is pretty powerful stuff in itself. You really think your baby can’t feel that bond? How do we expect adopted babies to flourish in the loving arms of their new parents (a heads up: I’m proof)? How do we expect awesome new dads to connect so beautifully? They can’t breastfeed and that does not diminish the love. Have faith in yourself. If the love is there, you’re going to be just fine. Sorry to be a little feisty, but FFS. I hate that people perpetuate this kind of judgement.
Myth: “Feeding your baby formula is the easy way out. New mums give up too easily on breastfeeding.”
Look, I have not met one new mother who has found the decision easy. I know that for me, to give up breastfeeding was a huge decision. I tortured myself over it for a long time before I went through with it. I weighed up the pros, the cons. I was educated on the subject. I had a great support network. I could argue that for a lot of new mums it’s harder to give it up. We have to change our expectations of ourselves that we may have had since before we were even pregnant. We have to admit to ourselves that whatever the circumstances, our bodies may not understand what we’re asking (this can mean working through feelings that we’re failing – we’re not FYI). We have to face the judgement of others. We have to fight our inner critics (the worst ones of all). We have to do so much more work (sterilising/prepping/warming bottles), spend more money on formula and the extra bits and bobs that come with the job. You call that easier?? We are f*cking warriors too – don’t you forget that. All new mothers are.
Myth: “Formula babies are fatter than breastfed babies. It’s like you’re feeding your baby fast food.”
Some babies just need some extra help to thrive. I’m sorry, but a thriving baby is better than the alternative. Also? Some of the cutest, chubbiest babies I have EVER seen were breastfed. And they were gorgeous. And healthy. And they grew out of their Michelin Man features quickly enough. And that’s saying something, because the Little Mister was a chubby bub indeed! Was it the formula? Probably. But only because he was able to thrive, just like the other babies, despite my body’s challenges. He, just like the breastfed babies his age, has suddenly grown into a boy shape (eek – when did that happen?) and wouldn’t you know it? You look at him, then look at his little friends and *shock horror* you would not be able to tell the difference. I know some people argue about the long term effects, but formula has been fed to human babies for generations now and I would not be able to tell the difference when I look at my friends or even my friends’ parents. So many more environmental or genetic factors determine our health and our body shapes as we grow. Formula is the least of our worries!!
Myth: “Pick a side and stick to it. Breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Which one are you?”
Firstly, it’s nobody’s damn business. You don’t owe any nosey parker an answer. Secondly, why can’t you have the best of both worlds when necessary? The Little Mister’s life began with mixed feeding. For the first 3 days he was exclusively on formula by default as I had no supply and he was in a hospital an hour’s drive away from me. The next 3 days I was stressed, on a heavy course of antibiotics (which no-one told me might interfere with my supply – this would have been so much more comforting for me to know) and getting stir crazy in the hospital. No milk! After a terrible first night with the Little Mister when he returned to me (he cried because he was essentially starving), a kindly midwife suggested formula top ups. She made it OK. There was no point starving him and distressing everybody involved. The first days of parenthood are hard enough! After I got home, with the help of some medication, I had some supply. It wasn’t awesome but it was enough for him to reap the benefits. I fed mostly on demand during the day but he had some top ups at night (I would breastfeed first and then offer him a little formula if he needed it). If we went out, I would pack some formula, because my boobs were super messy and unpredictable. I couldn’t rely on them as well as I might have liked to.
In my mind, he got the benefits of breast milk, but his diet was also supplemented to give him the amount that would help him grow and thrive. It was hard work to do both, but it was worth it. It was the right thing for us. And there was nothing wrong with that. There is no need to pick a side. What side? How about we all stay on the side of keeping our babies happy and healthy? However we need to in our unique circumstances? Yes please.
If you have a super hungry baby cluster feeding and crying for more when you have no more to give, what is the harm in supplementing his intake with formula? Gives your boobs a little more time to restock and helps your baby to feel satisfied and to keep the weight on in those important early days.
I know that we were lucky and there was no nipple confusion with the Little Mister – he was stoked to have anything and I am grateful. But seriously, if you’re struggling – like really struggling – anyway, what is the big effing deal? The worst that could happen? Your child wants a bottle over anything else? Read all of the above. It’s gonna be OK. I promise. Give yourself a break. You’re awesome. You care about your kid. A WHOLE LOT. You’re not failing. A lot of factors have to come together just right for exclusive breastfeeding to occur (your body has to come to the party, the baby has to learn how, and a whole lot of other things can affect your experience). Some women are lucky and others, not so much. It is NOT a reflection on your ability to parent. YOU ARE AMAZING no matter how you feed your child.
Newsflash: No-one is better than another person just because of how they feed.
I am making my stance clear here. I support you no matter how you feed your baby. Not in some kind of passive aggressive BS kind of way, where I say it because it’s the right thing to say, but then make little judgey comments here and there. I actually really mean it. I really really do.
We are all doing our best.
If you could write a message of support to new mothers, what would it be (doesn’t necessarily have to be about feeding)? Leave a comment – it might make all the difference to someone x
You might choose to spread the word via blog or social media yourself. Share my blog post, write your own (you can find ideas here), utilise Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Use the hashtag #ISupportYou or #ISYWeek