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Thursday, July 9

Mommy Wars- The Battle of the Breast

What is one of the single most divisive parenting issues you can think of?

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The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends infants be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life and continue to be breastfed while being offered complementary foods to two years of age and beyond. But in 2003 in the US only 14.2% of 6 month olds were still being exclusively breastfed. Naturally lactivists cite these recommendations and statistics quite often in the quest to increase those numbers.

Imagine having this information, knowing all the amazing benefits of breastfeeding (for babies and mamas), and making plans to breastfeed only to have those plans completely fall apart. Now imagine trying to deal with the frustration and disappointment that would cause all the while wondering if other moms are criticising you behind your back for “giving up when the going got tough.”

I’m one of those lucky moms who have a relatively easy time breastfeeding. There were some horribly painful latch issues in the early days. But we worked through them and things are smooth sailing now. I’m also a big advocate of exclusive breastfeeding. But lately I’ve found myself frustrated by the way breastfeeding moms and formula feeding moms interact. It seems some nursing moms think the formula moms gave up too easily. They blame the moms for breastfeeding failure and harbor feelings of superiority. While some of the formula moms think the nursing moms are “breastfeeding Nazis” {an extremely offensive term}, or that they’re simply making too big a deal about the whole issue.

This has got to stop.

It’s my belief that most moms who don’t succeed in nursing their babes are not to blame. Are there moms who never even try, or who give up for really selfish reasons? Well, sure. There probably are. But there are also moms who don’t use car seats or who leave their babies in hot cars. That doesn’t mean they’re the norm. So if the moms aren’t to blame, who is?

Society.

What do I mean? Or, rather, who do I mean when I say society? I mean doctors, nurses, businesses, even lactation consultants! I mean everybody {yes you, and yes me}! See, here’s the thing. Breastfeeding is natural. But that doesn’t mean it comes naturally. It has to be learned. Moms (and sometimes babies) need help figuring out the mechanics of it as well as needing the right information and support.

I’ve discussed the factors leading to breastfeeding failure with a lot of moms. And I’m horrified by the accounts of doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants who dish out information that it just plain wrong, information that contributes to problems instead of solving them. How many of us mothers have been told we need to feed our babes for a certain amount of time on one breast then switch to the other? The nurses at the hospital tried to tell me to do that. Trying to follow their instructions nearly drove our family crazy. But I was lucky enough to read the right materials and learn otherwise. Babes should be given an opportunity to empty one side and get all the rich, fat hind milk. Then, if they’re still hungry, they should be given the other side. Babes who are limited in time on each side may not gain weight at the expected rate, leading moms and doctors to the false conclusion that mom’s milk isn’t rich enough which leads to the go-to advice to supplement with formula. Some hospitals and doctor’s offices even dispense formula samples to new moms when they’d be better served by a free copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

But misinformation isn’t the only hurdle moms face, lack of support can be just as detrimental. There are two forms of support I think every mom needs, practical and emotional. Practical support comes from dads, family and friends. It can be anything from fetching a glass of water while mom is nursing to loaning out your best breastfeeding book to a new mom or sharing your favorite web resources. Emotional support comes largely from friends and family but really needs to come from everybody. Nursing moms, especially those who are struggling, need encouragement (even a thumbs up from a stranger can lift a mom’s spirits) and acceptance. In other words we need to stop bickering about whether moms should cover or not cover when in public and focus on supporting them now matter how they choose to breastfeed.

So why are we divided? I think part of it is that sometimes we lactivists (myself included) forget that breastfeeding moms face a lot of hurdles aside from the physical setbacks (such as inverted nipples, thrush, etc.). I’m here to ask that we keep that in mind and refrain from harsh judgements. But I might also ask moms who did not have success and switched to formula to keep in mind that when lactivists proclaim the benefits of nursing we aren’t trying to make you feel bad. We’re just trying to convince future moms to give breastfeeding a go, a goal I think we can all get behind. But as long as both sides view breastfeeding as an issue that divides us instead of an issue we can face together we will be too busy fighting in the mommy wars to ever make a positive change. Love certainly isn’t all we need to increase the number of breastfeeding successes but it’s certainly something we can’t do without.

As always, feel free to share how you feel in the comments!

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18 Stubborn Stains:

CrystalHW said...

How do I get one of those for free? My sister in law has one that I used with Samantha,and I want to have one on hand for myself with the next one.

Holly Noelle @ Domestic Dork said...

Oh you mean the book? You can't, not that I know of. :( Just wishful thinking on my part.

Joy said...

Excellent post. I would also add to not assume that every bottle contains formula, there are moms who end up exclusively pumping for various reasons. My daughter had latch issues we could not overcome so I pumped for almost eight months. Keep up the great work!

Holly Noelle @ Domestic Dork said...

So right, Joy! That's exactly why I try to avoid the term "bottle feeding" and use "formula feeding" instead.
8 months of pumping, that's incredible!

Courtney said...

Thanks for this post Holly. I tried and tried for 6 weeks to nurse my son and he never quite caught on. We took him to the doctor and he was not gaining weight- I think that he had gained a little less than 2 lbs from his birthweight at that point. The doctor suggested I try supplementing with formula while also pumping to see if that would help my milk production.

I cannot tell you how I felt at that point. It was like I failed at the most basic of things- feeding my baby! The poor little guy was so hungry that he gulped down that first bottle, spit it all up, then wanted more. Pumping produced less than an ounce from both breasts, but I kept doing it because I wanted to give him
breastmilk in any way possible! After another 4 weeks of agony with the breast pump, I stopped producing milk altogether and we went to straight formula. My family was supportive- my doctors too- they all seemed to understand why I was so upset over not being able to breasfeed- they offered a lot of counseling and help when I needed it. It was a hard thing to give up!

I can honestly say that I've felt judged by other moms because I gave my baby formula- as if I was doing something wrong. I didn't take the easy way out- I had to make a decision and do what was best for my baby. He finally started gaining weight and that was what was important to me.

I plan on breastfeeding again with my next baby (whenever that may be)... I'm determined not to have one negative experience change my mind on what is best for my baby.

Kamity said...

I CAN COMMENT IF I USE GOOGLE CHROME! YES! FINALLY!

Go Holly!! <3

I admire women who breastfeed and supplement with formula. Any amount of breastfeeding is better than none! I also feel for Courtney. Three people I feel close to have been unable to breastfeed their babies. At least they tried, and I will never judge them for that.

I mean, I was a formula supplemented baby, and I think I turned out just fine! ;)

plantflowersandsingsongs said...

Breastfeeding can be really difficult. It took my dd three months before she was able to latch on. It took alot of determination to keep trying for so long...but well worth it!

I think it's a little over the top to compare formula feeding to not using a carseat or leaving kids in hot cars, though...

Katie!

Holly Noelle @ Domestic Dork said...

Courtney: Thanks for sharing your story. It's good to hear you had support when faced with that tough scenario. And it's good to hear that you aren't letting your previous bad experience keep you from trying again!

Katie: Yes, I admit it's a little over the top. In first world countries with clean water formula won't kill a baby like failure to use a car seat or leaving a babe in a hot car will. {In places with dirty water, or in poor families which dilute the formula because of cost it can lead to infant mortality.} However, I went ahead with the analogy because what I really want to get at is that it's not the norm for moms to outright not care about what's best for their baby. It happens, but it's not as prevalent as some people seem to think. Very, very few women who know all the benefits of breast milk and the risks of formula would simply refuse to give nursing a try. Plus, some (and let me emphasize SOME) women act like it is the end of the world for a mom to formula feed. Don't get me wrong, I think breast milk is FANTASTIC! And I think formula will never truly compare.
That said, I don't think breastfeeding is the be all, end all of being a good parent. And I, for one, think it's about time we stop blaming the MOMS when things don't work out. Especially since it serves no purpose and only ends up making moms feel like crap.
Wow, almost wrote a whole 'nother post there, didn't I?

In other words: Yup. It *is* a bit over the top. ;)

Nicole said...

I wish I'd had my easy baby BEFORE my pain in the ass baby. Had I known that I could try to nurse again after the first horrible weeks I would have. Or if I'd known how incredibly easy and wonderful it would become I wouldn't have ever considered giving up on breastfeeding. But that's not how it worked out: Nolan could not latch, lost weight, cried, I cried, and a week later we started finger feeding pumped milk (with wee synringe). After a week of that I gave up the thought of breastfeeding and fed him pumped milk in a bottle instead. [pumping sucked, by the way]

Every time breastfeeding was brought up or I read about it in Mothering, my heart BROKE. I felt like a total failure. I wanted to explain to everyone that it wasn't my fault. Ah well...

Having a second baby who nurses, so happily, so heartily has healed a lot of that wound. But I do definitely see the divide among mothers and the need for more support before, during and after the 'learn to nurse' period of life.

xoxo Holly! You rock

The Surette-Nelson Collective said...

you know there are many devisive topics amoung moms with babies and breastfeeding certainly is one of them! i do agree that there is too much misinformation and not enough quality supportive information out there for new moms...that truly is the key to success (well that, luck and perhaps a few other things!). hopefully as our culture continues to lean more towards breastfeeding becomming the norm (just a recent phenomenom after the switch to formula gained momentum), we'll have mothers, grandmothers, friends, etc. also there to lend very supporting hands.

Kimmy @ kimmythingy said...

What a great post!
I have three children, and found it virtually impossible to breastfeed my first for many reasons (lack of support was a pretty big reason).

I remember not only feeling disappointed that it wasn't working, but also made to feel incredibly guilty by OTHER MOTHERS.

The early years of a childs life are difficult enough without mothers criticizing each others choices. *nods and steps off soapbox* lol

Jen said...

Amen, I couldn't have said it better myself. I had a neighbor who was a breast feeding natzi who was always preaching to people on a pedestal. I have 3 kids and breast fed each for a year, but never talked about it. I never listened to the nurses or books that said to feed 10 minutes on one side and switch. That just seemed stupid to me and I later read in a book the benefits to emptying one side first. I have a friend who has to take seisure medicine and couldn't breastfeed because of it. I felt bad for her when people would look down on her not even knowing her story.
Can't we just play nice with each other?

Holly Noelle @ Domestic Dork said...

I feel the need to point out again that I think the term "breast feeding Nazi" is incredibly offensive. Having studied the atrocities of the Shoah the only people I will use the term Nazi for are real Nazis. It's a personal crusade of mine to encourage people to not use the term lightly.

Cami said...

I usually avoid reading blog posts about breastfeeding because the issue is so divided and people are very biased, but I want to thank you for how you phrased this post! I had difficulty nursing my daughter and by 4 months she was exclusively on formula, but looking back, I see that it had a lot to do with me having a bit of postpartum depression and conflicting information from lactaction consultants. I am still pro-breastfeeding and intend to use my new-found knowledge for my next child.

Cami said...

If people would stop being so hostile about the topic of breastfeeding, women like me that actually needed help and support might me able to find it instead of feeling like I was unable to bring up the subject with anyone for fear of being attacked. That is the reason I didn't succeed.

Holly Noelle @ Domestic Dork said...

Cami, I'm so sorry you never felt comfortable getting the support you deserved. It's so hard to want help and feel like it can't be asked for. But I'm very glad to hear that you plan on giving it another go with your next little one. When things go well breastfeeding is an amazing thing (even if at times a hassle...Lu is teething and sometimes try to use me as a teether - OUCH!). It makes me feel very glad to see moms try again even after trouble the first (or second, or third) time!

Samantha @ Mama Notes said...

I like this post Holly. Everyone seems so rushed to feed babies solid foods. And I'll admit, I am excited and ready to feed him foods too, but I am waiting until 6 months. The facts and research says this is what's best!

Anonymous said...

I was one of those that HAD to formula feed. Not because I didn't want to. I never was able to even try. I was taking medication that would go in the breast milk and they were unsure if it was harmful. I didn't want to take the chances. I always felt judged by other moms and especially by the media. Most mom's want to provide the best that they can for the children, and I was no exeption. I just hate the guilt that I was made to feel that I wasn't doing the best for my daughter.

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