I am an advocate of breastfeeding. I truly think every mother should try it. I know that it won't work for everyone and that's okay because science has come so far and formula is a great substitute if it is done right but that's another story for another day. Still when I see a baby being given a bottle it makes me hurt in my soul, it's an Indescribable feeling that I am constantly trying to ignore and stuff out of my body. I wish I didn't have this feeling, as a doula, I want to make sure that all moms and babies are happy and content with however they choose to feed their baby.
And the truth is that I know why I get this awful feeling and it has nothing to do with bottles. The truth is that time and time again mommas and babies don't have a fighting chance when it comes to breastfeeding successfully from the start for so many reasons. I think that if women understand what they're up against from the beginning then maybe they would have the fighting chance that they deserve to have a successful breastfeeding relationship. So ladies here is some of what we are up against when it comes to breastfeeding:
1. Our Culture
The American culture uses breast as a highly sexualized body part. From a young age girls are told to buy Wonder bras, that boys only want one thing, and of course if you've got it flaunt it. These ideas are ingrained into our young brains so that we think if we show our breasts we are asking for sex and if we cover them then we are being "Good Girls". So obviously when it's time to bare all and breastfeed our baby we are ashamed. That is why we spend $30 or so on nursing covers, and how easy is it to latch a newborn with a nursing cover? Oh that's right it's not, but Society tells me I need to cover I need to be a "good girl" so here we are-I'm off to a bad start already.
I remember a friend asking me to go into the other room to nurse while her husband was there (in my home) because she was worried he would look at my breasts. I was ashamed and embarrassed the idea that feeding my baby might cause infidelity what?! Only in America my friends only in America. How many other women are made to feel this way and how many have their breast feeding relationship affected by situations like this, many I'm sure.
2. History (family/social)
Before formula was invented babies had to be fed human milk to survive. It's estimated that only 2% of women physically cannot breastfeed with the possibility of up to 5% not being able to keep up production enough to sustain a baby without supplementation. Wow it makes me wonder how can this be when so many mothers these days proclaim that they can't keep up? The US average breastfeeding rate is only 30% exclusive breastfeeding by 3 months of age that means that 70% of women are physically unable?! I don't think so, what is more likely is that when a problem arises or a non-problem there is no one to ask for help or no good help around, and the reason why there is no good help around is because nobody has been breastfeeding for generations.
I myself had only ever seen one person breastfeed my whole life, and no one in mine or my husband's family had gone past a couple weeks or months if that. Honestly the idea of breastfeeding my baby never even crossed my mind until I read that it was supposed to be healthier for my baby, it didn't seem normal to me. My breastfeeding Journey started out like so many other moms misinformed, unsupported, and underappreciated. There is no doubt lack of support in family, social circles, and community is a huge contributor to the low breastfeeding rates in the US. Overcoming these problems is how we can learn and how we can help other moms like this in the future but if 70% of mothers are never nursing then who are we supposed to turn to? (Hint: We need doulas more than ever!)
Misinformation is a huge reason why a breast feeding relationship does not last. Much of this is because how vastly different a formula fed baby looks from a breastfed baby in demeanor and or size. Everyone is worried that a breastfed baby will be too demanding , wanting to nurse a lot and constantly wanting to be held. Yes! This is normal! An infant's stomach can only hold 4 ounces of liquid at the most even at six months. If you formula feed correctly you will notice you are using more bottles then you had imagined. Also all babies want to be held a lot, it is a natural need, and if you take away this need by keeping the baby on a strict schedule or letting them cry on their own you are suppressing those instincts. So hold your baby and enjoy it. Forget the naysayers and repeat after me: Fruit spoils babies dont! Breastfeeding is not only about filling an empty belly it's about fostering a relationship, physical contact and hormones, all the things that make you want to love and care for your baby. Formula fed babies drink up faster than breastfed babies and that may worry some moms because they may think their breastfed baby is not getting enough, but science says that bigger is not always better so try and see a new normal when your breastfeeding your baby. Don't get me started on how breastfeeding babies don't sleep through the night, no babies are supposed to sleep through the night. Breastfeeding babies waking up a lot to nurse decreases the risk of SIDS!
The sad part is that no matter how hard you try and correct this misinformation sometimes the ideas are so far ingrained that the breastfeeding relationship will suffer. I can't tell you how many times I've had someone come up to me and give me the "look of horror face" when they realize that my baby has teeth and I'm still breastfeeding (gasp!). That's misinformation! Babies don't use their teeth when they're breastfeeding and it doesn't hurt to breastfeed a baby with teeth, if a baby is latched on correctly they can't bite you! So there is nothing to be afraid of-unless they unlatch and decide to use you as a teething necklace- then be afraid be very afraid LOL! (And get yourself a teething necklace).
There you have it ladies the cards are stacked against you. So yes when I see a baby drinking formula inside I weep, I don't weep because I think formula is poison, or because I think that the mother is making bad choices for herself or her baby I really don't, fed is best. I weep because like so many others before her and around her she never had a fighting chance. It makes me sad and angry that she will never know the indescribable joys of breastfeeding or the triumph of overcoming the most basic of obstacles. I weep because I am angry at society and I'm sick of being embarrassed to feed my baby in public. I weep because I have no one to relate to or anyone to say to me "this too shall pass" when nursing gets tough. I weep because I will never get back all of the hours I lost when my first precious baby was new and I stressed and stressed over breastfeeding instead of enjoying it. Most of all I weep because I know no matter how much I support or advocate not every mother will understand, actually many mothers will not understand, I know this and I weep for them. I stuff it down and I put a smile on and I continue to support and advocate because maybe just maybe in the future they will choose a different path. But maybe they won't and in any case I can help them so that the next time they see a mom nursing they can be supportive socially or that they can learn some words of encouragement to share, and maybe even correct the misinformation.
So yes I am a huge supporter of breastfeeding but no I don't think you are terrible in any way for using formula and I understand better than you think the multitude of reasons why you choose to do so. I am in support of your decision, but I will not stop advocating not even for a second because someday this message make it through. Numbers may go up and breastfeeding may be easier for my daughter and for her daughter, it is my hope that by supporting and informing and advocating all mothers that I am paving the way to future success of future generations of mothers.
I am a student midwife and doula serving families in the North Country, and living life with five littles.