*Climbs on up*
There are very few things in life that get me riled up. Most of the time I just pass things/people off for being mildly irritating or down-right stupid and move on with my life because it takes too much effort to fight that many wars. But seeing as the following subject seems to be a recurring theme in my life since becoming a mother, I now feel like keeping silent will force me to explode. Folks, this post is about breast feeding. More specifically, about the ability for other people (whether family or complete strangers) to keep their mouth shut about a woman's decision on how to feed her own child.
A friend of mine gave birth to her daughter less than 3 weeks before my own daughter was born. Recently she made a comment on her Facebook page that her girly had sprouted some of her first teeth. Another commenter replied to that post, saying that she should now stop breast feeding. Lord, how I wanted to reach through my computer screen and slap that person for her. How does my friend feel about this comment? Honestly, I have no clue. I didn't ask. She can continue to breast feed or she can stop, and I will support her either way. It's entirely her decision. But here is why the comment irked me enough to write this lengthy, and (I hope) educational post...
There are certain things in civilized life you just don't do. Whether you realize it or not, telling a mom how or what to feed her child is just as offensive (if not more so) than walking up to that same woman on the street and saying to her, "Hey, that dress makes you look like a fat hooker." If you are a polite, reasonable person (which I'd like to believe most people actually are) you just don't DO that! You just don't!
I know that comment probably came from innocent intentions. (Hey, those teeth might make that activity uncomfortable now...) It goes to show how much people don't know about breast feeding in general, not to mention the fact that for a mother it is a very personal decision, and that the process of breast feeding itself can be a HARD fought struggle. Comments like that have a drastic impact on the way you feel about yourself as a mom, and it brings in to question the notion that you might not know what is best when it comes to caring for a child. (Just like telling a woman that her fashion choices could give the wrong impression.) Trust me, all day long moms are agonizing over every decision they make. Is this best for baby? What could I do differently? Am I going to screw her up for life? When should we start solid food? Which one should we start with? Do I need to set up a college fund now? Should we cloth diaper? And so on...We already have enough on our plates without somebody else making us feel guilty about something as simple as food.
Breast feeding has lots of advantages. (If you'd like to learn more about them, check out this brief article from BabyCenter.com that doesn't even touch on half of the benefits of breast feeding.) That being said, choosing to breast feed your child makes doesn't make you a hero. Nor does choosing to give your baby formula make you a villain. Both things accomplish the same goal of providing nourishment to your child. As I said before, IT'S JUST FOOD!
I personally have had my feeding decisions questioned from both sides of the argument. It doesn't feel nice. Especially since both times, the offending commenter had NO CLUE what my feeding situation was. I chose to breast feed my daughter. I can say it was because of the myriad of health benefits for both of us, but, as with most things in my life, I chose to do it because it was FREE. Formula is ungodly expensive! The fact that breast feeding was good for both baby and myself was just icing on the cake.
The first time somebody commented on my daughter's food choice, I was out shopping with my husband. Our dishwasher had died so we were in a large home-improvement store looking for a replacement. (A very male-oriented environment.) Since we had planned this trip ahead of time I had expressed milk in a bottle for Avery. She started to cry inconsolably while we were shopping and I knew she was hungry. At the time, I couldn't manage trying to hold her and feed her a bottle while walking. (Actually, I still probably can't do it.) So, I set out toward the kitchen improvement help desk where there were no customers, and a ton of empty chairs. An employee saw me sitting down with Avery and promptly interjected, "You're not going to do what I think you're going to do?" with the implication of breast feeding my child. He immediately cooled down once he saw the bottle I held in my hand. I was too shocked to respond, but inside I felt completely ripped apart. That one comment made me feel so defeated...like I should feel ashamed or perverted for doing something as natural as providing a basic need to my daughter in the way God designed my body to do so. Somehow I managed to hold myself together until we left the store a few minutes later, but I cried for over 3 hours after we got home. It hurt that much. I still get emotional now just thinking about it. What that man didn't know was that I had spent 3 DAYS, not hours, DAYS working to get that much expressed milk, enough for just ONE feeding, to be able to have the luxury of placing it into a bottle for my daughter, and taking it to the store with us. He also didn't take into account how uncomfortable I already felt about the prospect of needing to breast feed in public. At that time it was a 50/50 shot whether Avery would even drink out of a bottle. If she didn't take it, I would have had to pull a boob out in a very public place, filled mostly with men. Even though I had a nursing cover with me, there's always the terrifying thought that baby can grab the cover, whip it sideways, and you're exposed for all the world to see. Not exactly something a nervous new mom wants. I probably feared it more than that employee! That one stupid sentence brought to light all the insecurities I was already feeling and compounded them.
Fast forward about 3 months. Breast feeding had been going fine, and then all of a sudden it wasn't. I'd sit down to feed Avery and she would flail around in my arms. So combatively at times that I almost dropped her on more than one occasion. She would latch on to my breast, take a few sucks of milk, then pull off while arching her back and screaming uncontrollably. After a few days of her doing this at nearly every feeding I noticed her pulling at her ear. I thought she might have an ear infection that was causing her pain when she swallowed, so I took her in to see the doctor. No ear infection, but her behavior while eating concerned the doctor, and we were sent away with some nursing advice and a follow-up appointment for 2 weeks later. Nursing went a little better, but at her next appointment Avery had lost nearly 2 pounds in weight. That is a LOT for a baby to lose. Especially in such a short amount of time. In order to keep her from being immediately hospitalized we had 48 hours to get her to put on any amount of weight to prove that she was capable of doing so (as opposed to her having a metabolic disorder that prevented it.) We did this by giving Avery formula. Since she did gain weight during the test period, her doctors and I decided to keep giving her formula to help get her back to where she should be weight-wise, as well as placing her on a heavy dose of reflux medicine. At first this was in addition to attempting to breast feed. We saw a lactation consultant to evaluate Avery's latch. All was fine. (She actually told me that Avery latched beautifully.) We saw an occupational therapist who evaluated the muscles in Avery's mouth. She found no problems which would prevent Avery from swallowing properly. Meanwhile, since having bottles constantly for supplementing her feedings, Avery developed a preference for a bottle over the breast. She could get the milk out faster, and since we were encouraging her to take in as many nutrients as she could, I didn't pressure her to nurse. In order to keep my milk supply from dropping even further, that meant I needed to use a breast pump if I was going to keep giving Avery any milk at all. Pumping became the way of life...15-20 minutes roughly every 2 hours. Attached to the machine between 8 and 10 times a day, having to sit in one location and not be able to get back up once I began (unless I wanted to start the process all over), and still not producing enough for more than 1 or 2 feedings worth of milk got old REALLY quickly. After 2 days I was going crazy. What little free time I had between taking care of Avery and taking care of our home was now devoted to pumping. It was exhausting but I kept trying. I went as far as getting a new pump (to replace the one that was now dying from so much use), getting new flanges to be more comfortable, making my own and then purchasing a hands-free pumping bra to get some of my sanity back while I had to sit there, and taking Fenugreek herbal supplements to boost my milk supply. This went on for a month before I decided I couldn't take it any more. It was way too much work and I was no good to my baby, my husband, or myself if I kept wearing myself out by trying. I would feed Avery, then pump, and from start to finish it took roughly 45 minutes to an hour. And since she was feeding every 2-3 hours that meant by the time I was done I had barely enough time to eat something or do a small chore around the house and then I would need to start all over again. Something had to give, and for me that was breast milk. With as much time and money as I spent trying to preserve our breast feeding relationship, it was not a decision that was made lightly. Then came comment number 2...
On one of my now WEEKLY trips to the store to purchase a $20 carton of formula, a woman passed me in the baby aisle. She saw me comparing ingredients between the name brand and store brand formula and leaned over and said, "You wouldn't have to read ingredients if you breast fed your baby" and then continued to walk toward the produce department. (She's lucky I didn't chuck that package of formula at her head!) You see...just like the guy in the home improvement store, this woman had no clue the struggles we had been through with eating. It was offensive and unfair of her to judge me for a decision I had made. The difference between this encounter and the first however, is that this time I KNOW I'm making the right choice for my child. So I will let that lady wear her judgey-pants, and I will continue to cringe at the unholy amount of money I now have to fork over to make sure my daughter has something to eat. (Which, it is not lost on me, that even doing that is a luxury some moms can't afford. We are very fortunate to have the finances that allow me to give up breast feeding and still provide my daughter with food.) Plus, switching to formula has it's benefits too. Since feeding doesn't require boobs any more, my husband can just as easily feed Avery as I can, meaning I can get a break if I need one. (Yes, this is possible with pumping but for some reason it never worked out that way in our house. Formula is just easier for this particular daddy.) Also, on especially rough days, I can enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the night without worry of contaminating Avery's food supply with alcohol. The same rings true about medications. (Hallelujah I can take decongestants again!) I also find formula to be more convenient to take out with us in the diaper bag since I don't need to worry about keeping it cold the same way I needed to with breast milk. Do I wish I could still nurse Avery or provide her with expressed milk? Sure. But I'm not heartbroken that it isn't in the cards for us any more. I still spend plenty of cuddly, bonding time with her by giving her a bottle of formula, and since we're still working on weight gain and feeding issues it has made it easier to track issues with her health by knowing exactly how many nutrients she is taking in. Breast feeding worked for us before, and formula feeding works better for us now. I have lived both sides of the coin, and I know both equally provide for Avery's needs. All that to get to the bottom line...
The decision on how and what to feed my child is between me, my kid, and my child's doctor. It is certainly none of your business, as it is also none of your business how my friend feeds her child, or the next mother we know, or the one after that. On behalf of myself and all the mommas out in the world, I'm telling you to KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT! I will do what I feel is best for my family. You do not have to approve of it, or use my methods to serve your family's needs. Until such a time that my child is in mortal danger from my direct actions, you have no right to tell me how to care for her. (And in such a time, I do hope you intervene. For both our sakes!) If you know somebody that needs some education on the subject, I hope you will direct them here. With any luck, they'll see the error of their ways.
*Puts the box away*