From time to time, people ask me if I’m a “lactivist” (you know, those people who go around swinging their milk-filled boobs in everyone’s face and crusading for a world where every infant is sated with a human nipple), but I do not consider myself a breastfeeding warrior. True, I undertook the arduous, rewarding and quite surprising journey of a breastfeeding relationship with my first baby, which ended when she decided to self-wean at around 2 years of age (ostensibly, she was mostly nursing occasionally and only for comfort, but I was comfortable with waiting for what she wanted). With my second baby, so far, our breastfeeding relationship has gone quite well- she nursed like a champ when she was merely minutes old and the hospital where I gave birth was kind enough to give us an hour to breastfeed and bond before they did all the newborn tests and weighing and such. So I can relate with those who adamantly decide that “breast is best” and who steadfastly refuse to nurse their babies in the bathroom lest onlookers in public worry that their heads might explode at the mere HINT of a nipple being drawn into a baby’s mouth. After all, my mom breastfed me and she breastfed my younger siblings. To me, this is normal. But at the same time, I know that my version of normal and the version of normal that other people hold up as their own guide to how reality ought to operate is different. I know people who sit on their knees instead of in chairs during dinner. I know people who ride bicycles with baby seats attached to the back instead of driving a minivan. I know people who eat things that I consider condiments to be used sparingly with a main course. And I respect that. These choices are not life or death choices. And most children who grow up in environments where these choices are “normal” are not disadvantaged in the least. So I wanted to make one of those lists, you know, the kind that tend to get all controversial and make people get angry and start pointing fingers and talking in a really privileged-splainy voice.
But you know what? That’s ok too- that’s YOUR choice.
But let’s talk boobies and bottles:
5 Good Reasons to Formula Feed (or Supplement)
1) Your supply dries up no matter what you do.
This is not a trivial situation- my best friend has a baby boy who is 100th percentile in both weight and height (her husband is super tall), and she was talking to me about how she wasn’t making “that much” milk and was devastated that she was having to supplement formula. After giving her some of my own tips that worked for me for increasing my supply, I happened to ask her how much milk she was pumping at work. According to her? TEN OUNCES PER PUMPING SESSION, and it still wasn’t enough. My jaw hit the floor. Me? I’m lucky to get 4-5 ounces per pumping session with my second baby, and with my first? I got maybe 2-3 ounces after two pumping sessions when I was double pumping. My milk is very creamy and thick- very different than the milk my friend makes. And my baby is only in the 75th percentile for weight and 100th percentile for height. My friend obviously needed to give her baby formula because even the HUGE amounts of milk she was pumping was not enough. I also know people who tried and tried to breastfeed and employed a lactation specialist and they STILL lost their milk supply. Babies must eat, and formula is a viable alternative.
2) It is painful- baby’s latch is bad no matter what you do or the lactation consultant suggests, and even when latch is correct, it hurts like crazy.
I know women whose nipples actually RIPPED and were hanging on by a small amount of tissue (the thought makes me cringe, but it’s true). She ended up having to get stitches in her nipples and obviously, baby couldn’t feed from there while her wounds were healing. I know women who have inverted nipples who had a horribly painful and distressing time attempting to breastfeed and it just didn’t work out. Perhaps you might be the exception to the rule, but there are plenty of pitfalls and never ending pain is one of them. It’s hard to feel good about breastfeeding if it is torture, and this can actually negatively affect your relationship with your baby.
3) You have no support network and your baby has to be in childcare/away from you for most of the day while you work so you can pay rent and cover food expenses, etc.
You would not believe how many women are working because they HAVE to and not because they WANT to. If your workplace is like mine, you will have to pay your ENTIRE healthcare premium while you are on leave instead of merely your employee contribution, and then submit a reimbursement claim. Of course, by the time your claim check comes in, you’re probably going to be overdue for the next month’s premium, so you are off work and must have at least two month’s worth of premiums to float around in limbo land while also covering your monthly expenses. Needless to say, this is not a fun prospect. And many people have to work, either because they are single parents, or because their household requires two incomes to survive (not to mention insurance and health benefits). There are many people who are just trying to survive, and just trying to survive is not compatible with breastfeeding if you must commute an hour from where your child is being cared for.
4) You have an illness or must take medications that are incompatible with breastfeeding.
If you have a contagious disease like HIV, formula is a godsend. Many babies born to moms with HIV will not have the disease itself, and even though HIV is more treatable now than it ever has been in the past, it is still deadly and dangerous. Breastmilk carries diseases like HIV, and so formula is the obvious alternative. So too is breastmilk not an option if you need to take anti-psychotic drugs to function normally or have a seizure disorder and need to take your meds. There is no shame in doing what is best for your baby, and sometimes what is best is making sure baby is getting a source of nutrition that is not laced with medication or infectious disease.
5) Because you DO NOT WANT TO.
Your body, your choice. It’s as simple as that.
Now, you might think that I’m anti-breastfeeding from my list above, but you’d be wrong. Heres my second list, all about the boob:
5 Good Reasons to Breastfeed
1) You make lots of milk and baby latches easily so everything works out well!
Believe it or not, my breastfeeding relationship with my first baby was really hard! I had horribly painful nipples that cracked and bled! And not only that, but the baby wanted to FEED ON MY BLEEDY CRACKED NIPPLES and it felt like her mouth was made with razorblades when she latched on. But I did go see a lactation specialist and even though I did get the correct latch with her help, I still didn’t “get it” until a few weeks later when it all finally just clicked. Even though I watched my mom breastfeed two babies and saw plenty of moms breastfeeding their babies, it was a skill I had to learn for myself. My second baby? I had a bit of pain here and there, but none of the cracked or bleeding nipples. Lanolin pretty much was all I needed and I was good to go. Breastfeeding is REALLY easy to choose when you know how to do it and it feels fine and baby is gaining weight and looking healthy.
2) It feels good for you and baby!
You enjoy the “high” and feelings of happiness you get when your baby is breastfeeding, the lower levels of gas, fussiness and colic are also a bonus. Breastfeeding helps your body regain its pre-baby form a lot quicker and breastfeeding boobs are super pert and sexy!
For me, breastfeeding makes me look like I got a boob job. Seriously, those things defy gravity. And looking down into the eyes of my baby makes me get all gooey-hearted as I watch her nursing. Even at night when I’m half asleep, I can feel when she latches on and it gives me a sense of peace and calm, and it is calming for baby as well.
3) You have a support network and a workplace that has accommodations for breastfeeding/pumping or can stay at home and feed on demand. Your insurance/health plan allows for partial coverage or full coverage of a breast pump and pumping supplies.
This one is an important one. I am incredibly lucky that my workplace has a “mom’s room,” which is a special place to pump that has a couch, a couple chairs and a fridge for storing breast milk. I am also quite lucky to have a husband who brings my baby up to my work every lunch hour so that I can feed her from my breast. With my first, I hardly could get anything out with the pump, but whenever I fed her directly, I could feel it rushing out of my body- I needed a BABY, not a pump! The pump that I chose the first time was a gift from my mother in law and it broke not long after my daughter stopped needing regular exclusive breastfeeding. My second one feeds really well, but I also make a surplus of milk and my insurance (thanks to the so-called “Obama Care”) now covers breast pumps 100%! I was able to get the Medela Pump and Style, and it’s really helped me get a lot of extra milk out for storage and feeding in the mornings and afternoons when I am not there.
4) Breastfeeding can help your health!
If you have insulin sensitivity or a family history of Type 2 diabetes, breastfeeding will lower your likelihood of developing the disease (even later in life) and cuts your child’s risk by more than half. Breastfeeding can also help normalize your hormones and metabolism after giving birth, shrinks your uterus to pre-pregnancy size more quickly, and makes your brain release dopamine and serotonin, which is a helpful deterrent to post-partum depression. Finally, it can delay or stop your period for quite some time, and once your Aunt Flo does return, it can lead to lighter flows that are less painful.
5) Because you WANT TO.
Seriously. It’s that simple.
I am a huge proponent of Bodily Integrity. What is that, you ask? Bodily Integrity is the revolutionary idea that your body is yours and you get to decide what to do with it as long as it does not infringe on other people’s bodily integrity. So, for example, if you needed my kidney to survive, it is my CHOICE to give my kidney to you because even though you NEED it, my kidney is in my body and therefore mine to make choices about. Your breasts are part of your body. It is your choice what to do with them, regardless of what other people say or what other people think or what other people would choose for themselves. Even if breastfeeding has clear evidence of having a higher level of benefits, there are many situations in which formula is a better choice because we all have a different reality, a different “normal” and when we choose what is best for ourselves and our children, we make better, less stressful environment for each of our individual lives.
Now, that said, I must add one caveat- the right of Bodily Integrity can be a bit tricky because choice is often not truly possible. When you have the CHOICE to stay home, work, or have a job that is totally flexible to the arrangements you want for childcare and breastfeeding, that is a choice that most people do not have. Many women stay home with their kids but wish they could work at least part time and cannot because very few flexible part time jobs exist. Many women who work have little to no support for breastfeeding or childcare arrangements at their workplace. There are only a fraction of women who truly can choose.
For me, this is at the heart of the “Breastfeed or Formula” debate- the idea that choice is often only truly available to a very few number of people and the rest of us are forced into a mode of behavior and forced to sacrifice something in return. Sure, breastfeeding can be rewarding, but not if it makes you lose your job because your workplace is inflexible and you are starving on the streets because of it. And formula can be very convenient, especially if you have no real alternatives or options to increase your time or flexibility. But I would love to strive for a world where a person could actually choose without having to make huge sacrifices to their sanity, time or body. This is why I support legislation that makes workplaces give paid parental leave, flexible schedules, a place for pumping, and even on-site daycare options! The more that we make our society friendly to families, the more we will thrive, and the kinder we are to parents and children, the kinder we are to everyone. I think that the childfree and the empty nesters, the young adults and the elderly, and many other groups of people also need the opportunity to be treated with dignity and respect by society (including the workplace), and that with more respect for the work-life balance in families, so too will all other groups benefit. Our world is only as advanced as our most vulnerable members. I think that the way we feed our babies is not necessarily what we should be focusing on nearly as much as the way we are able to negotiate clear and full choices about our babies and their wellbeing. Because I want to live in a world where it is possible to build a society where we are respected, cared for, and where all humans are able to access our needs with dignity and respect.