Cablegirl emailed me yesterday to tell me about a (Breast)feeding carnival that was happening over at Sarcastic Mom. When I checked out the link I realized that this carnival was the exact type of motherhood bonding that I'm always hoping to see: moms who breastfeed and moms who bottlefeed (or did/do both) get to tell their stories. How great is that? Sarcastic Mom gets a bottles up from Formula Fed and Flexible Parenting for that!
The posts were supposed to go up yesterday so excuse my tardiness. I've talked about my huge struggle with breastfeeding more than a few times here. I thought I would offer a different perspective now that my younger son is almost two and I've had some space from it.
I'm really glad that I tried breastfeeding both of my boys. With my older son (OS), it was a dark hole in my life. How then could I be glad that I did it? I'm glad because I know that I tried and that was important to me. Between his inability to latch and my barely existent milk supply from my breast reduction surgery (which I have never regretted) it just wasn't meant to be. That sounds much easier than it actually was. Really it was a long period of time where I just felt terrible about formula feeding.
When my younger son (YS) came along, his latch was beautiful. In fact it was so great, that the lactation consultant brought around a resident to see it. I know that sounds weird, but it was really affirming to me. YS and I had a wonderful breastfeeding experience together. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I cried myself to sleep when I was told that YS had lost significant weight and needed to be supplemented and I would lying if I didn't admit that I went to watch the nurse give him a bottle in the wee hours of the morning. I would also be lying though if I didn't admit how much relief I felt to see him look so content as his sucked on his bottle. When my milk supply cease to basically exist and I felt burdened by the pumping that was in reality giving me less than an ounce a pumping session, I packed it away, had one final nursing session and then that was it. I still struggled emotionally, but it was easier the second time around. When I had OS, bottle feeding was hard for me to talk about. When YS was 3 months old, I started this blog to be able to talk about what it was like.
Looking back, I wish that I could have really gotten it that my number one job was to make sure that my babies were fed. I also wish, particularly with OS, that I could have really gotten it that formula feeding has a beginning, a middle and an end. It goes on for a year more or less and that's it. End of story. Sure I would have preferred not to shell out cash for formula for a whole variety of reasons, but I haven't seen a bank statement yet where I've seen the "savings" from not formula feeding anymore. It's probably been pretty close to two years now since anyone has asked me whether or not my kids were breastfed. When they've been sick, which is rare, they've just been sick kids, not sick kids who were, gasp, formula fed. Again, there was a beginning, a middle and an end.
Looking back, I do feel like I lost those precious first few weeks with each my sons. Instead of feeling overjoyed, I felt sad and guilty. Instead of bonding during feedings, I was stressed out. So here's the controversial part of my post. Because of the way my breast reduction surgery affected my body, and based on my two births I know I'm never going to produce enough milk to sustain a baby past a week. I'm not planning on having any more kids. In fact my husband and I have given away our baby things. However, if I were to have a third, I probably would not attempt to breastfeed. If the mom to be "me" from 5 years ago heard that statement she would probably be horrified, but the mom who is me today looks back at those times and feels that to truly be the best mom she could be to a newborn, she can't engage in what she knows what would be a lost battle before it began. Hey, I even had a lactation consultant flat out tell me that "some women are not meant to breastfeed" and I was one of them. The mom that is me today now...now that I have some distance...finally understands this. More importantly the mom that is me today knows that each mom needs to decide for herself what is right.
Homeschooling Restrictions in CA and Breastfeeding
I know, what a bizarre title! What does one thing have to do with the other? Well, yesterday I read an article in the Chicago Sun Times about breastfeeding or rather the the big push for people to breastfeed regardless of whether it's the best decision or even feasible for a particular family. It's called Moms Feel Pushed to Breastfeed. It actually was a very interesting article because it talked about the history of La Leche. La Leche was founded to ensure people have the support they need to be able to choose breastfeeding. To some people, it continues to be an invaluable support. Some perceive certain chapters as "pushing for your right to choose, but only if you choose breast-feeding." I empathized with one of the women who felt guilty about not breastfeeding.
So what do the two articles have to do with each other? To me they're about choices. Personally, I'm not planning on homeschooling my children. I reserve the right to change my mind, but for a variety of reasons, I don't currently consider it a fit for me. However, I like that I have the choice to be able to do it. I like that I can decide what's best for my children and my family without government interference. I think there are many reasons to homeschool kids. While a teacher's certificate may ensure that parents are qualified to homeschool their children, certification does not guarantee that a parent will do a good job. More importantly, lack of certification does not mean that a parent cannot do a good job of homeschooling.
I am not convinced that homeschooling parents should be accountable to the government. On one hand, I can understand wanting to make sure that children are learning the basic skills they need. On the other hand, once the government is regulating what children learn, I struggle with where the line should be drawn. However, if we assume for the moment that California is right in believing that homeschooling parents are accountable to the government, a more fundamental question is whether requiring teaching certification is the best way to drive such accountability.
I don't think that having a teacher's certificate means that children will necessarily be homeschooled better than children whose parents do not possess the certification. Do I think there's a good chance that those kids will get a good education? Sure. But it's not a guarantee. Nor is it a guarantee that children of a parent without the certification won't have a good education. Personally, if the government should be regulating homeschooling this way, I prefer the approach that I have heard described in Massachusetts, where parents are required to go over their lesson plans with school superintendents. That way there is some sort of check. I've also been told that most MA libraries offer lesson plans that parents can use.
If MA were to try something similar to CA, I would be out picketing with all the homeschoolers. I know not all families homeschool for religious reasons, but it does seem ironic to me that liberal me would be on the same side of the picket line as some people who are very conservative.
Ultimately, parents are the ones who know themselves and their children the best. Whether it's breastfeeding or homeschooling, you're the one raising your child. Neither government experts nor community organizations are around for midnight feedings or when your child doesn't understand fractions. Our kids aren't all the same. We as parents aren't all the same. Our families are not all the same. We don't all learn the same way. We also don't handle social situations the same way. Finally we don't cook the same way. Why would we need to feed our children the same way or educate them the same way?
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: Parents should have freedom of choice.
One of the qualities that I most admire in people is the ability to see both sides of an argument, even when someone supports one side. I try to live by that myself, and I like to know both sides of even the arguments on which I have the strongest views. I feel like I truly can make the best decisions when I know all the facts. Knowing all the facts, doesn't mean that I will align with one side or another, but I like that I can make my own decision.
One of my reasons for starting this blog was to promote the idea that women (and men) can take all the facts out there and make the best decisions for their families regardless of what alternatives may be better for other families. For example, I have always been a strong proponent of breastfeeding, and I found it enormously painful to be unable to breastfeed my boys. After I calmed down and came out of my black hole of gloom for not being able to breastfeed, I realized that formula is an adequate form of nutrition for babies (with adequate meaning sufficient, meaning it gets the job done) and is not rat poison. I remain a proponent of breastfeeding, but I believe (and have lived) the fact that it does not work for all families.
There are still some specific points of argument in the baby feeding debate that I believed only have one side. For example, one of the many reasons that I was upset that I couldn't breastfeed was that I knew that that breastfeeding helps to prevent allergies. With my "zoo", I was concerned for the boys as well as my pets. Then one day I had a realization while I was munching on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and relishing the fact that I could eat whatever I wanted, unlike a few of my friends who had breastfeeding-related dietary restrictions. No matter how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pieces of broccoli, onions, tomatoes, and chocolate I ate, my diet had no effect on my son's diet. His food was constant. I would still choose breastfeeding over formula, if I could, but since so few things in life are 100% problem-free, I wondered if any bad things do come through breastmilk.
Today I received a call from my friend Suzanne alerting me to an op-ed piece by Nora Ephron in the New York Times called "The Chicken Soup Chronicles". In a paragraph discussing the fervor of some breastfeeding advocates, she poses some interesting questions about allergies.
"...children today are far more allergic than they were when I was growing up, when far fewer women breast-fed their children. I mean, what is it with all these children dropping dead from sniffing a peanut? This is new, friends, it’s brand-new new, and don’t believe anyone who says otherwise. So: is it possible that breast-feeding causes allergies?"
Ms. Ephron doesn't provide any actual evidence that breastfeeding is harmful, and the overall tone of most of the piece is tongue-in-cheek. However, I find it interesting that except for the study in Australia that argues that breastfeeding does not reduce children's allergies in the long-run, this is the first time that I've seen something that questions breastfeeding.
As someone who is very pro-breastfeeding, part of me wonders if we should even bother wasting time, energy, and money studying something that has been found time and time again to be the best way to feed children. Does it really matter if there are some negative aspects to breastfeeding if they are so minor? Certainly there are a lot more important subjects to research. Would further research really change anything? Maybe not. However, it is kind of curious that little media attention has been given to the Australian study, and Ms. Ephron's question does highlight a health trend that does seem inconsistent with current research. Whenever I see a headline around children's health issues, I want to know what that study says. This doesn't cause me to question my belief that breastfeeding is generally better than formula, but it reinforces my belief that different approaches to feeding are better for different families.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: Knowledge is power, particularly when that knowledge is about how to best feed your children.
Yesterday before the snow storm hit, I ventured out to see my friend Martinez. She gave birth to a little boy in October. Martinez and I have been good friends since college. She is one of my older son's (OS) godmothers. I became friends with Martinez because she was constantly inviting me to do things. She would always organize outings, both outings that involved heading out on the town and outings as prosaic as marshaling a group to go to the dinning hall together for meals. Plus she's hilarious.
I asked Martinez the night before I visited her how breastfeeding was going. She said,"Breastfeeding sucks my asshole." (There's an image that would thrill Facebook.) Needless to say, it's been a struggle for her. She also said that given a choice between having to go through labor and delivery without an epidural or going through the first two weeks of having a newborn, she would pick the former. After having a long conversation about breastfeeding and lactation consultants, I decided that I will give a gift certificate for two appointments with a lactation consultant to the next good friend of mine who is pregnant with her first and who plans on breastfeeding. I don't know if any lactation consultants have gift certificates per se, but I can always print up a voucher for one and then pay for the appointment later. I am also going to include a list of phone numbers of breastfeeding resources with it.
This is the second conversation I've had in the past few weeks with a friend who came home from the hospital, was having major breastfeeding issues, and had no idea of a number for a lactation consultant. Since I barely remembered my own name during the first few weeks of new motherhood (and frankly sometimes now), that doesn't surprise me at all. Why not go cheap and stick with one appointment? Well, because I think breastfeeding is kind of like going to see the personal trainer. (That's not what I mean, Big Giraffe.) The personal trainer will show me an exercise, and the next time I'm at the gym and I do it all on my own, I'll get it about 80% right. To get it perfect, I have to have him show me one to two more additional times in separate sessions. That's how I felt with I met with the lactation consultants. That's why two appointments are key.
Martinez and I had a nice time catching up. Her baby is really sweet. We spent time discussing all the important aspects of new motherhood: sleep, food and how to ensure that you always have clean underwear (personally I stocked up before my kids were born). She also brought up playdates. This was kind of ironic seeing as I had just read Mayberry Mom's post on the subject. I had no real advice to give. I really enjoy having playdates, but I have a hard time arranging them, particularly with my older son. I don't understand the etiquette that goes with it since he's 4. Do I invite the parent? Do I pick up the kid and drive him home as has been suggested by some of his classmates (the problem with that one is that I can't fit another kid in my car)? How often am I supposed to schedule them? Really it reminds me a lot of dating. I even remember when I was a new mom reading an article someone wrote making that comparison. And it's not like I was ever uncomfortable initiating new relationships. I was the one who asked both my high school sweetheart and the Big Giraffe out, and I didn't even think twice about it. Yet I find it very stressful. Much better to spend today watching Fa La La Lifetime on TV when the boys were napping (okay and letting them watch the very end of it since they woke up before it was over! I had just spent two hours watching The Village Without Christmas. I wanted to know how it ended!)
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: Playdates are like dating, except with more stress and without sex. Breastfeeding is like personal training, and also does not include sex.
Breastfeeding after Someone Else's Breast Reduction Surgery
A few days ago, I was flipping through a Weight Watchers magazine trying to see if the at least one of the "50+ Holiday Recipes" looked any good. The headline of a letter to the editor caught my eye. It read "All About Breasts". How could I resist reading it? Apparently last month Weight Watchers featured an article on breast reduction surgery called "Bosom Budies." Alas, I could not find it on-line. Fortunately, I did not need to read the article to understand the letter replying to it. The letter was from a pediatric nurse practitioner who stated that women who "may want to breast-feed should not consider breast reduction surgery." She claimed that she saw many mothers who are unable to breastfeed because they've had the surgery and indicated that she personally is devastated by it. Excuse me?
I'm appalled that this woman thinks it is all about her. I'm sorry she feels devastated by this. I notice that she doesn't say that the women who are unable to breastfeed are devastated by this. Not to pick on semantics, but I believe instead of saying that women shouldn't consider the surgery, because considering is not the same thing as doing, she means that women should carefully evaluate whether or not they want to have the surgery, if they plan on breastfeeding.
I believe many people are thinking about breastfeeding after breast reduction, because I have gotten a lot of hits from people using those search words recently. (Perhaps they read "Bosom Buddies" or "All About Breasts.") Despite what this particular woman might believe, the decision to have a breast reduction surgery is not like waking up one day and deciding to get highlights in your hair. I personally had the surgery because I was in extreme discomfort due to the size of my chest. I know many other women who had surgery for similar reasons. In my case, I was a competitive swimmer from childhood through college. I had to stop the running portion of my training halfway through high school because my back hurt so much. My neck hurt when I would bend over a desk or table to do my homework. I was in wonderful shape (I had to get my fat measured frequently while on the swim team) and overall had a small figure, but I had to buy large shirts for them to fit across my chest. I am slightly under 5" 4', but I was spilling out of a DD. Let me just stress again how much my back constantly hurt. Sometimes my shoulders would bleed from my bra straps cutting into them. Just thinking about it now makes my neck hurt.
After the surgery, I was able to run for a half hour every day with the swim team before our two hour swim practice. No matter how much weight I have put on with pregnancies or Thanksgiving festivities, I have never again had problems with bleeding shoulders or neck pain. (I did have back pain, but that's common with pregnant women regardless of whether or not they've previously had a large chest. The pain stopped with each boy's birth and did not come back with any holiday feast.)
When I decided to have the surgery, I was 19. I take that back. I made the decision when I was 13 and became physically and mentally uncomfortable with my size. It was a long 6 years until I actually had the opportunity to go through with the surgery. My parents wanted me to complete a year in college first to make sure that I was confident in my decision to have the surgery. I became confident that I wanted the surgery when I walked through the door of school in 7th grade. That confidence continued until I had the surgery. As upset as I ever got over my inability to breastfeed, I have never regretted my surgery. I'm sorry I couldn't breastfeed, but I'm not sorry I had the surgery. It was better than I had even thought it would be.
There are no guarantees in life. At 19 I couldn't guarantee that I would one day get married or have children. There is no guarantee that I would have been able to breastfeed even had I not had the surgery. Do I think that if it's important to a woman to breastfeed, than she shouldn't have the surgery? Absolutely. It's also solely her decision to make. It doesn't matter what I think. I resent being told what I should do. Breast reduction surgery is serious. In addition to including the common risks of going under anesthesia, the recovery is hard. While I do not know the current risks to having breast reduction surgery, I was warned of the following when I had the surgery:
I might have to have my nipples put on ice (this did not happen)
I might not be able to breastfeed
I might have significant scarring (I was fortunate in this one too. My scars are barely visible).
I might lose some feeling
I would have to wear a two cup sports bra (not the mono-boob kind) for 24 hours a day for 5 weeks
I wouldn't be able to lift anything heavy for a month
As I was telling a friend recently, I wanted this surgery so badly, that these things weren't a huge deal to me. When the surgeon had a cancellation and could perform the surgery a few weeks earlier, I jumped at the slot canceling a previously scheduled visit from my out-of-state boyfriend. (No, Big Giraffe, that doesn't count as a benefit to the surgery.) Obviously anyone considering breast reduction surgery should consult with a doctor regarding the current risks.
Of course I'm sure that there are women out there who regret their surgery. However, I don't regret it, and I know quite a few women who believe that the surgery changed their lives for the better. Empathy for women who are devastated by their inability to breastfeed is one thing. A personal sense of devastation on behalf of even women who are comfortable with the implications of their choice is misplaced. A stance that women should not even consider alternatives to years of physical pain and emotional discomfort is insulting.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: There are pros and cons that should all be considered carefully by anyone who may want to have breast reduction surgery.
Today I got to be a guest speaker for a freshmen class at Simmons College. I was pretty excited about it. My friend teaches the class and was looking for someone to speak on the Mommy Wars. Of course I was thrilled when she invited me. She asked me to bring in a copy of the Mike and Juliette show and had her students read a couple of my blog posts on feminism and motherhood. We then discussed different issues and policies that mothers face. In preparation for the class, I asked her if I could have a copy of today's readings. One of the readings was the introduction from the book The Mommy Myth Idealization of Motherhood and How it Has Undermined Women by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels. I haven't enjoyed reading something that much in a long time. I really recommend it. It was thought provoking and at the same time, the authors definitely displayed a sense of humor.
Based on the clips and posts and the article, my friend asked her students what issues they thought moms face today. None of the students were married or had children. It was interesting to hear their responses both to the reading and to the clip. They made a lot of good points. However, as I listened to them and reflected on the reading, I had to wonder what has happened to feminism. Why do we have the Mommy Wars? The article talked about the increased pressure mothers have faced through the years from the media. One quote that seemed to sum it up for many of the students and me was, "You know, when our kids say 'all the other kids get to do it' we laugh in their face. But when the magazines suggest, 'All the other moms are doing this, are you?' we see ourselves being judged by the toughest critics out there: other mothers," (p. 19).
To me, feminism has always been about choice. It's been about believing that women are capable of making the decisions that are best for them and their families. It doesn't mean that we always like the choices of others or think that their choices are the right ones, but that we respect that their decisions are theirs to make. (Of course that openness assumes that these decisions aren't abusive.)
As a women's studies major and a woman who has always been fascinated by the roles of parenting in our society, I am always surprised by how many times smaller issues are part of a much larger problems. Yet they are not as easily seen as being part of a larger problem. Take for example formula feeding. There are many working women who want to breastfeed at work and/or pump at work, but are still often unable to do so because they lack adequate facilities or enough break time in the United States. Never mind women who are unable to fully establish a breastfeeding routine due to inadequate maternity leave.
One of the students offered another example. There is a lot of criticism of working parents whose schedules create latch-key kids. Given the prevalence of homes with two working parents in our society, shouldn't school schedules facilitate flexible parenting? No, the student did not encourage boarding school for preschoolers (although...); rather she suggested that pushing the start (and the end) of each school day back by an hour might make things far easier for both children and working parents.
One student described her negative impressions of mothers whose children have meltdowns in the grocery store. Of course, my children would never do this (I'm kidding.) While she seemed a little surprised when I said that temper tantrums at the grocery store are an undesirable but normal part of parenting. She seemed even more surprised that I said that I would like to see more fathers at the grocery store with their kids. That includes you Big Giraffe! Somehow I suspect that they would be given sympathetic looks. "Oh that poor overwhelmed dad. Isn't it nice that he's pitching in and taking the kids." On the other hand a mom would probably confront one of the following reactions:
An understanding smile from other parents who have been there too
A look of disdain or nasty remark for failing to control her kids
No reaction from oblivious customers do either to preoccupation with their own thoughts or lack of care. (Nothing wrong with this option!)
It definitely was an interesting discussion, and I am honored that I was able to be part of it.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: Whether you believe in post-feminism or not, respecting other parents as people is important.
I know when planning your Disney vacation two questions pop into your mind
How old does my baby need to be before I can ride all the adult rides?
Is there a place to heat up a bottle/nurse?
Fortunately, both questions have simple answers. The first is thirty. The answer to question two is yes.
I was quite intrigued by the Baby Care Centers in Disney World. In fact the Big Giraffe casually inquired whether or not we would be visiting one during our date night so that I could blog about it. Silly, Big Giraffe. Of course not! There's no reason to wait a whole week when we walked past one every time we walked into the Magic Kingdom. And sure enough, I grabbed my 15 month old and checked it out.
So what exactly is in the Baby Care Center? Just like everything else in Disney, it was well thought out and very clean. There were comfy chairs when I walked into the center. There is a separate room with a closed door for nursing moms only. I didn't investigate that since I'm not a nursing mom although according to this review from MousePlanet, it is open to moms who are bottle feeding their babies. However, I'm no longer doing that either. I do love the idea of moms whether they're formula feeding or breastfeeding being able to feed their baby in a clean comfortable environment. There was a kitchen where you could heat bottles and baby food. Forgot formula, baby food, diapers, baby Tylenol, etc.? Not to worry, because you could buy it right there. (A friend of mine who goes to Disney every year told me that all that used to be free.) The Baby Center itself is sponsored by Carnation.
There is a room that is filled with nice high chairs and a few kids tables and chairs. I saw some parents of toddlers feeding their kids there. That makes a lot of sense because it is quiet and air conditioned. I know we found that just going inside a quiet building or other calm place to eat seemed to recharge the boys when they got overwhelmed or overstimulated. Another room was filled with 5 changing tables. I was pretty impressed. I'm assuming that the other centers are similar. In addition to the Magic Kingdom, you can find them at MGM, Epcot and Animal Kingdom. The previously mentioned review MousePlanet for great pictures and more details.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: In the place where dreams come true, women can breastfeed and formula feed beside each other in peace.
The Breastfeeding Conference Part II: Supplementing
If anyone had told me that when my older son (OS) was just a few days old my husband would be using a syringe to push formula into a catheter taped to my nipple one mL at a time, I would have thought that they were nuts. In fact, I probably would have laughed at the images that this would have conjured up in my mind. When I think about it today, I once again see the humor. When it was happening, it left me in tears.
I had many frustrations about breastfeeding. One of them was the teeny tiny fact that I proved medically and physically unable to breastfeed for longer than five weeks.
A second frustration was that while the hospital dished out diapers, Tylenol, and Motrin as freely as tap water, they hoarded nipple shields because apparently nipple shields alone were responsible for rising health care costs. All I know is that we had to have nurses sneak them into my room, and I have a bizarre memory of a nurse telling me they lose an insane amount of money per week on nipple shields. I have a further memory (no less bizarre) of acting like a lunatic after my younger son's (YS) birth when a nurse discarded my bloody nipple shield out and I felt like I had just witnessed an object with the same value as the Hope Diamond being thrown in the trash. Luckily he got me a new nipple shield, and he did not get me a psych evaluation.
A third frustration was that I had a hard time finding information about supplementing. This frustration grew with the birth of YS since I was aware that I would need to supplement, and I was on the lookout for the information. I was looking forward to seeing how supplementing would be addressed at the conference. Based on my own personal experiences, it seemed like there is quite a difference of opinion out there.
Supplementing was first brought up in a presentation about obesity and breastfeeding. According to the speaker, research shows a woman's milk comes in a half hour later for every 1-unit (1 kg/m2) that she is measured above a normal BMI pre-pregnancy. So a woman whose BMI is 4 units above normal is not likely to be able to breastfeed until 2 hours after a woman with a normal BMI. What should a new mom do in the meantime to feed her baby? The speaker focused on hand expressing colostrum into a teaspoon and feeding that to the baby. My friend Linda, who accompanied me to the conference, was actually the person who added supplementing with formula to the conversation. She raised her hand to discuss her experience using a supplemental nursing system (SNS).
SNS is the official designation for a catheter taped to a nipple. The basic idea behind an SNS device is that it allows the baby to suck at the mom's nipple to stimulate breastfeeding or to supplement the breastmilk while at the same time providing the baby with formula. Using an SNS provided Linda with the comfort of knowing that her baby was being nourished while she was waiting for her milk came in. Once her milk came in, she was able to exclusively breastfeed her son and then, a year later, her daughter. While the speaker acknowledged that an SNS is a legitimate way to handle a delayed milk supply, she was somewhat dismissive of it. She also continuously referred to formula as an "alternate feeding method."
That same speaker also later delivered a presentation answering the question of whether insufficient milk supply is real or myth. Apparently she considered formula to be a mainstream solution when a mom does not have enough milk, because she abandoned the "alternate feeding method" euphemism and called formula..."formula." She also presented SNS as one of the first solutions that a mom could use to handle a low or delayed milk supply. I'm not really sure what made formula and SNS more acceptable in one presentation than another. I suspect it had something to do with the different focus of each session.
There are other ways to supplement. A lactation consultant at the conference said she sometimes advises women who cannot pump in their workplace to nurse in the mornings and the evenings and to have the daycare provider feed the baby formula during the day. Some moms breastfeed first and then provide a baby with a bottle of formula. This way the baby gets the mother's milk, but is able to finish with formula if he's still hungry. Although not mentioned at the conference, I've also heard of women who breastfeed in the morning when their milk production is higher and then formula feed in the evening.
As I wrote yesterday, there is a fine line between having a lot of supportive information and having information that makes breastfeeding overwhelming. When I think back to the images that I conjured in my head when the nurse first described an SNS to me, I wish that I had learned about it ahead of time. I also wish I had known about the hole in our health care system caused by nipple shields being stolen from the hospital and possibly sold on the black market how difficult it would be to obtain nipple shields, so that I could have saved up during my entire pregnancy to purchase my own nipple shields ahead of time; although while I'm not positive, I'm pretty sure I was billed for the ones I got in the hospital and they cost more than they do on-line.
Dr. Stuebe and I had a great conversation about the problem with the all or nothing attitude in the breastfeeding vs. formula debate. Many times a middle ground works best.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: Some women can and want to exclusively breastfeed. Some women are unwilling or unable to breastfeed and thus exclusively formula feed. For everyone else, there are a variety of ways to combine both.
Shocking isn't it? Yes, I really did go to a breastfeeding conference today put on by the MA Coalition for Breastfeeding. It was open to doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, public health students, and bloggers. Alright, maybe the literature didn't say bloggers, but Dr. Alison Stuebe invited me to attend after we sparred on the Morning Show with Mike and Juliet.
I have to admit that I went back and forth about going a few times. Dr. Stuebe has said that she thought people would be interested in my ideas and observations from blogging and personal experience about supporting all mothers regardless of their choice. That was definitely a plus. On the other hand, I would be lying if I didn't admit that I was nervous about going for two big reasons 1) I was worried about zealots 2) I wasn't sure if I could emotionally handle it. After all, the benefits of breastfeeding were sources of my feelings of guilt when breastfeeding didn't work out. At the same time, while I don't regret having had breast reduction surgery, I do regret that breastfeeding didn't work for me. Given a second chance, I would still have the surgery.
After waking up and finding my milk had expired (no pun intended) and having to put my younger son's (YS) whole milk in my cereal and coffee, I set out for a commute that I had traveled 5 days a week for two years. It usually took me 40 minutes to an hour. Today it took me over 2 hours. I, along with many other people, was late.
There's so much to say about what I learned that I am going to break it up into a series of posts interspersed with my typical content over the next week. However, what I wanted to focus on in tonight's post was how I felt. Ultimately, I left the conference with the same conviction that got me to the conference - parents need to make sure that their babies are fed.
Even though I was late to the keynote speaker, I walked in on a positive note. The keynote speaker was addressing in passing the fact that the evidence from studies can be conflicting in general. One study will show X and then another study will show that X is not true.
My feelings were less positive when I found myself annoyed and frustrated by a woman who talked about bringing your baby to work so that you really could do it all. The logo on her PowerPoint template depicted a woman breastfeeding while on the computer and on the phone. While I'm sure this is very doable and enjoyable for some women, it made me feel sad. It was just one more way of setting an expectation that mothers to be supermoms. Fortunately my attorney and superfriend Linda (who deserves her own post) got up and challenged supermom. She argued that the real solution would be working with lawyers and state legislatures to get better maternity leave. A lot of people kept coming up to her throughout the day to express their support.
Back on the positive side, I really enjoyed learning about the effects of obesity on a mom's ability to breastfeed and on breastfeeding rates, as well as the effects of breastfeeding on a mom's obesity and a child's obesity. The speaker did a good job explaining why breastfeeding is so important. I thought the studies were well explained, although the answers to my questions about how external factors were controlled left me unconvinced that the evidence truly supported the speaker's original claims. However she did acknowledge the elements of the study that were shaky, although she also seemed annoyed that I had asked the question.
Later on I went to a session on whether or not there really is such a thing as insufficient breastmilk. The speaker had a list of factors that could increase a woman's difficulty in having an adequate milk supply. The list included factors like breast reduction surgery, PCOS, being overweight, having a c-section, and experiencing a high degree of stress. I initially believed that it would have been helpful to know this information before attempting to breastfeed. However after talking to another superfriend and lactation consultant Cee this evening, I came around to her perspective that this sort of knowledged would have been scary and overwhelming. However, I think it is really important for health care providers to be familiar with these factors so that they can discuss them with patients as appropriate. There is a fine line between education and demoralization, particularly since stress, attitude, and confidence all play a role in the success or failure of breastfeeding. Of course, I really really wanted to breastfeed and it obviously didn't work, so a positive attitude isn't everything.
I left the conference on a down note. This was after all a continuing education class for health care providers. However, I felt that one important subject was never broached - at what point do you acknowledge that breastfeeding isn't working the way that the mother would like? At what point do you advise a mother to supplement with or even switch to formula? I was fortunate in that my lactation consultant actually told me it was time to switch exclusively to formula. Her words carried even greater weight because I knew that she was a huge breastfeeding advocate. I therefore really believed that it was time to move on, which was a relief and a gift. The lactation consultant encouraged me to cry and reassured me that it is normal for women who want to breastfeed but can't to feel a sense of loss. When I raised my hand to raise this important point, the speaker ended the session without calling on me.
All in all, I'm really glad I went. I really respect people who try to see an argument from another viewpoint, even if it doesn't change their mind. I also found that there was wide variation among those who attended the conference. Most people seemed to be okay supporting those for whom breastfeeding did not work, even though they were strng advocates for breastfeeding. There were a few commenters whose comments bordered on zealotry. It was also good to be able to speak with Dr. Stuebe without the cameras on. Finally, as someone who always advocates provision of better resources for all moms, I was pleased to participate in a meeting that identified those "resources".
I leave you with 2 Lessons Learned:
At 4 months it is normal for your baby to reduce the amount of time spent nursing, often causing your breasts to feel less full and thus making it seem as if your milk supply is insufficient, because you are now more efficient at producing the milk your baby need. That said, if you feel like something may be wrong with your milk supply or your baby, contact your doctor or lactation consultant.
Each mom needs to make the choice that's best for her own baby. Your baby will be fine.
"Weighting" for My Secret Formula Feeding Confession
I meant to write this last night and participate in the Blog Blast, but I fell asleep at an embarrassingly early hour. Yes, I'm a night owl, and I don't tend to sleep a lot. So why did I fall asleep? Because for the last few months I've been meeting with a personal trainer. Yesterday I met with him at 5:30 am.
In my time as a blogger, I've heard a lot of moms talk about mom guilt. I've also "met" moms who couldn't or chose not to breastfeed and who, like me, worried about their child's health. I've never met anyone who didn't breastfeed talk about one teeny tiny, selfish area: struggle with weight loss. Yes, I know it's selfish, but when I couldn't breastfeed I did think about the fact that my breastfeeding friends were automatically burning 500 calories a day.
Somehow in my mind, I came to the conclusion that had I breastfed, I would look like a supermodel. At the very least, had I been able to breastfeed, I would be my ideal weight. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I worried a lot about the impression I created when I went to BlogHer and told people the first two words from the title of my blog Formula Fed and Flexible Parenting.
When I think about this logically, I know that the only thing that breastfeeding would have guaranteed to me is that I would have burned the extra calories. I have friends who struggled (or are struggling) to lose their pregnancy weight despite breastfeeding, and I have friends and family who exclusively formula fed who have the physiques of women who were never pregnant. My primary care physician always says that genetics is a huge factor. The other women in my family breastfed, and they all struggled with losing their pregnancy weight.
A few months ago, I was inspired by two of my friends who were thrilled with the weight they were losing from meeting with personal trainers at our Y. I had been working out on my own regularly since December, but I was a lot less thrilled with my very slow weight loss. Ironically, or maybe more in reality, they had exclusively breastfed, but my mind tends to skip over that fact. Inspiration aligned with opportunity when I found that the Y was having a special on personal training packages. I signed up. Knowing that I was scheduled to meet with the trainer the following week kept me working out in between our sessions; no working out in between would mean a lot of pain.
Yes, it is expensive although personal trainers at the Y cost less than personal trainers at other gyms I've belonged to in the past. Is this really how I want to spend my money? No. However, it's working. I feel great. Don't tell anyone, but I'm actually starting to like going because at the end of every workout I feel like I've accomplished something. I've gone down 3 clothing sizes and have lost quite a bit of weight too. So that's my secret confession. Today I'm going shopping for some new, smaller, clothes.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: Sometimes people (meaning me) feel guilty about not breastfeeding for selfish reasons as well.
Let me get this straight because I think I am understandably confused about what the heck is going on here in our country. Last week we bash formula feeding moms for making the choices that work for them, subjecting them to the same scare tactics that we use to prevent people from smoking cigarettes and doing drugs. Furthermore, we lump all of them together and assume that all moms who formula feed do so for exactly the same reason.
This week we're bashing breastfeeding women. We're saying that breastfeeding is obscene and should not be supported in public, on the internet or when taking tests. The student in this case will lose her fellowship if she does not pass the boards, and lack of adequate pumping time may cause engorgement and mastitis, neither of which are likely to improve her test performance. The ultimate irony? A woman may be unable to become a practicing doctor because she is following medical advice for how best to raise her children!
Really, I shouldn't be so surprised by the irony. We are constantly sending mixed messages.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: Feeding babies is apparently socially unacceptable.
Jodifur emailed me a link to a Washington Post article by Stacey Garfinkle entitled "Breastfeeding is Obscene." To summarize, Facebook has removed all photos of breastfeeding moms from their network because they claim such photos violates the terms of Facebook by showing exposed breasts.
Are you kidding me? Seriously women just can't win. Breasts are either objectified or sexualized. This a bad message at any time, but it is particularly ridiculous and offensive to be telling women that breastfeeding is gross during National Breastfeeding Awareness month. No wonder we have problems with the breastfeeding movement here in the United States. Since Facebook has international presence, I guess this is a globalization of the attack on breastfeeding and women's choice. Instead of viewing breastfeeding as something beautiful between a mother and a baby, we're putting it on the same level as porn. There's something seriously wrong with that.
While I don't think the answer should matter, I would be interested in Facebook's answer to Ms. Garfinkle's question as to what part of the breast creates a problem for them. When a baby latches on you can't see anything anyhow!
Happy National Breastfeeding Awareness month!
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: There is a lot of work to be done to help our society understand that breastfeeding is a beautiful and natural choice.
Between my older son's 4th birthday, 4th birthday party, and preschool open house, my dog's 6th birthday, and whatever else was going on this week that has left me feeling wiped out, I missed my blog's anniversary on September 4th. I can't believe I've been blogging for a whole year. In honor of that milestone, I am republishing my first blog post below:
A smidge over 3 years ago as the nurse handed over my first child to me to breastfeed for the very first time, I really thought that breastfeeding would work. After all I was the knowledgeable, well informed mom who had gone to the breastfeeding classes when I was pregnant. If I wanted to breastfeed than I would be able to breastfeed.
I had had a breast reduction 6 years prior, but my surgeon had many patients who were able to successfully breastfeed, and even the lactation consultant said it was possible. In fact the woman in the room next to me at the hospital was a fellow veteran of surgery, and after exclusively breastfeeding her first two children, her third had latched right on. I also attended the required breastfeeding class at the hospital when I gave birth and I met with the lactation consultant 4 times including one time at my home. It was a huge shock to me when my 8 day old baby ended up in the ER for dramatic weight loss, and I was devastated when the same lactation consultant told me "some women aren't meant to breastfeed and you're one of them". You know it's got to be pretty bad when the representative of the forces of breastfeeding tells you to throw in the nursing bra.
I grappled with thoughts like "how could this have happened when my son's weight was being closely monitored" and "I'm a horrible mother" and did I mention that it was September and September is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month? I then realized that while I had learned all this stuff about breastfeeding, I had no idea how to bottle feed a baby. Case in point: when I was in the ER, I let him drink the whole bottle of formula the resident had handed me. I let him try to get out every last drop. The resident then yelled at me to take the bottle away because apparently I was supposed to make sure there was a little bit of formula left over so he wouldn't suck in air and then get gas. (He gets enough without my help.) Gee, I sure wish someone had told me that BEFORE I had a baby.
Then there were all the issues of what formula to use, what bottles, why were the bottles leaking, what do you mean there's different nipple sizes, to heat or not to heat, etc. Never mind the pressure from some people not to use a bottle at all. Such a big deal was being made of this big move to breastfeed that those of us who couldn't were and have been left to fend for ourselves (the bottle feeding info was no better with my second child). I also learned that a lot of parenting in general involves trying to figure it out as you go. When my first child was born I started keeping a list of things I wish people had told me about parenting. This blog will contain the stories of my experiences and those of many friends through which we learned these lessons (and any other anecdotes I randomly feel like sharing).
A. Elliot's first lesson: Leave some formula in the bottle so you don't give your baby (extra) gas.
Dept. of Health and Human Services and Toned Down Breastfeeding Ads
Jodifur (as well as my friend Linda and my mom (thanks!!!)) sent me a link to an interesting article by Marc Kaufman and Christopher Lee today in The Washington Post. The article described the way heavy lobbying by formula companies may have played a significant role in persuading the Department of Health and Human Services to tone down a pro-breastfeeding ad campaign that would have employed scare tactics to persuade women of the evils of formula.
I have to admit that I struggled with mixed feelings as I read the article. On one hand, as a mother who couldn't breastfeed, I think the ads are terrible. They show syringes and inhalers with bottle nipples on them to make the point that your baby is at greater risk for asthma and diabetes if you formula feed. As I've said too many times to count, I think as a society we place an enormous guilt trip on women. It also seems like we are hypocrites. While we're trying to increase awareness and support for new moms suffering from depression, we consider this sort of scare tactic campaign to get moms to breastfeed. My friend's MIL who's a nurse told me this past weekend that she feels like we're telling women they have to nurse or they're bad moms, in a society that makes them nurse in dirty public bathrooms. At the same time, we're taking away formula samples. She felt that we're backing them into a corner. I still maintain that these actions each say that women aren't smart enough to be able to make their own decisions, particularly if people may not like those decisions.
On the other hand, hearing paid lobbyists for the formula industry express their gratitude to the Department of Health and Human Services for not "scaring expectant mothers into breast-feeding," makes me feel a little bit used. And, they pulled the ads because of concerns about lawsuits, which came down to money. It sure wasn't concern for the feelings of moms who can't breastfeed. There seems to be an awful lot of money that was thrown around to squash those ads. I find that disturbing. That's about personal gain, not about helping out new moms.
Before you think I'm jumping on the bandwagon to save the ads, let me assure you that I'm not. As disappointed as I am with the self-serving motivations of the politicians and the formula companies, I still find the ads offensive, and I am glad that they didn't air. I am concerned about The Washington Post reference to research that found that this sort of scare tactic to be effective, and that described its similarity to the scare tactics that the anti-cigarette and anti-drunk driving groups use. I find it to be appalling. Formula is a sometimes needed form of nutrition for babies. Putting it on the same level as cigarettes or drunk driving would be like arresting someone for breastfeeding in public as though they had committed a crime like murder. Oh wait, that can happen in our society. Using formula is not driving drunk, and treating them similarly sends a horrible message. Talk about spiraling guilt for new moms!
I don't understand why this is seen as the only way to encourage breastfeeding. If the government is willing to invest this amount of money into supporting breastfeeding, they need to stop ignoring the root cause. Ads and formula bans don't address the real issue that there just isn't good breastfeeding support out there. In a country where maternity leaves are 4-6 weeks, where there aren't protections for working nursing moms to have adequate breaks and clean sanitary places to breastfeed, where for the one millionth time it is still illegal to breastfeed in public in some states, and where even in the states where it is legal women are often made to feel as uncomfortable as if it were illegal, it's not surprising that the breastfeeding rates are lower. There are so many smart intelligent people working behind these campaigns. Surely they can come up with a better way to encourage breastfeeding than employing scare tactics. Surely there is a way to encourage breastfeeding in a way that doesn't promote parental guilt and depression but does promote general respect for the individual decisions that parents make for their kids.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: A society that considers public breastfeeding a crime while treating those who formula feed like drunk drivers should not have trouble explaining why new moms struggle with guilt and depression.
A couple weeks ago, my blogging friend Hedda Dabbler, asked me if my younger son (YS) was finding it difficult to transition from formula to table food. She specifically wondered if I was concerned that he was getting enough to eat. I was not concerned for two reasons. First, I had already gone through the stress of watching my older son (OS) transition to solids at what I thought was an extremely leisurely pace. Second, YS actually transitioned to solids quickly and easily.
When OS was first introduced to solid foods, he wasn't that interested in them. He liked his cereal and his baby food fruit and vegetables, but that was about it. No Cheerios, Goldfish crackers, meat, or any food that wasn't pureed. Well, almost no food that wasn't pureed. He actually loved string cheese, and in fact "cheese" was his first word. However, he was very particular in his cheese taste. For example, cheddar cheese made him cry after he took a bite.
Initially (and initially lasted for a long time) I was concerned. Every time he had a pediatrician's appointment I would bring it up. "My son likes formula better than anything except cheese, and there is a limit to how much cheese I will let him eat. What do I do?" The pediatrician kept telling me not to worry about it (which I carefully filed under easier said than done). She said that kids all learn to eat at different rates. When I rationalized that perhaps he was slow to eat solids because he only had two teeth, she burst that bubble by telling me that teeth have nothing to do with it. (Those of you who know my husband, the Big Giraffe, casually can probably imagine this news cutting off his longwinded toothbrushing lecture to the boys listing all of the reasons why teeth are valuable mid-syllable. Those of you who know him well probably realize nothing can cut off that lecture. He simply didn't buy the pediatrician's claim that babies can consume solids without teeth, and I admit that I was skeptical too.)
Right before OS turned a year, he ate non-babyfood chicken for the first time. It was the first non-cheese, non-pureed food he was ever willing to swallow. After that chicken, it was like the barn door had been left open, and his tastebuds were on the loose. In a few short weeks, he was eating exactly what we ate. As importantly, he was eating more solid foods and decreasing his formula intake. (Our pediatrician insisted that OS continue to take in at least 18 ounces of formula a day.) By the time I switched him over to milk at 13 months, he was doing great with table food. Of course, the big giraffe and I were able to count several teeth in OS's mouth at that point, so we felt vindicated.
When it came to YS, however, things went differently. My toothless wonder was able and more than willing to eat pretty much any table food I set in front of him starting at 7 months (leaving the big giraffe and me eating our words). With OS, each food was introduced with great care over several days. It seemed like we were giving him new foods for ages. With YS it seemed to just fly by. I can't even remember when he first started eating what we ate, but he's only 13 months and we've been eating the same meals for a while now. In addition to YS's greater comfort with table food, he wants to do whatever his big brother does, so he was never happy with baby food. We also were far more laidback in introducing foods to YS because neither OS, the big giraffe, any of our extended family, nor I have any food allergies. That said, we are still waiting a while before we let YS try nuts or shellfish.
My biggest advice would be to talk to your pediatrician. That way you can get
Advice specific to your child
Instructions on how to assess whether your baby is properly chewing and swallowing food
Up-to-date information on how often and how much the baby should be getting from the bottle or the breast
Feeding babies table food is definitely something that I've found to be easier the second time around (although I know that's not true for everyone.)
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: Different babies transition to solid food at different speeds, with different levels of enthusiasm, and showing different food preferences.
Blog Round-Up on the Morning Show and Breastfeeding Ban
Because the segment on Fox TV was so short, none of the panelists got to fully express our points of view. I wanted to do one final post to reinforce a couple of the arguments that I consider to be most critical, and to link to all of the posts that I have seen that have further discussed and debated what happened on that show. Several of them include vigorous comment exchanges representing both sides of the issue. I would recommend that anyone who is interested in either side of the argument take a scan.
Suzanne also wrote several posts about the show on CUSS and Other Rants including This Just In which was a shout-out announcing it in which expressed her support. "I am excited to sit in the audience and give her a big thumbs up as she talks. I think it is no one's business to question why a woman uses formula." Suzanne also wrote Formula Feeding and Beaver Suckling which described her experience backstage before the show, and More Beaver Suckling which included some further reflections on the show.
Mrs. Chicky wrote Let's Hear it for Alex on New England Mamas providing a succint summary of what actually transpired on the air and sharing her personal support.
Amy spawned an extremely vigorous debate on formula feeding and the ban with her post on Club Mom entitled Blogger Takes on the Ban. Her words spoke directly to the issue of social pressure and guilt in saying "My first lactation consultant -- the one who admitted I needed to supplement, and supplement NOW -- described the formula in hospital bags like "sending someone home from rehab with crack in their suitcase."" She also clearly argued that just because breast milk may be best, does not make formula a bad choice when it is appropriate. "Breast milk is amazing. It's wonderful, almost miraculous stuff. But like Alex said, formula is not rat poison either...We moms have enough pressure and choices to obsess and worry about already. Give us our choices, give us support and information, give us encouragement. Not a stupid "I Eat At Mom's" onesie.""
Jodi also shared her personal experiences in Yeah for Alex stating "I tried, I failed, I moved on. But not without a substantial amount of guilt. Look, we all know breast milk is better. There is no debate on that. But not all of us can, or, want to nurse. For me it was an impossibility." Jodi also challenged why a formula ban should even be a priority of our government. "I also think our Government has more important things to worry about. Aren't we in a war? Doesn't NYC have crime, poverty, school funding issues?" "
With all that said, I want to share five key points that I consider most critical in this debate.
As I said in my original post, "As women, I think we are able to make our own decisions. I think as parents we do the best that we can, and we make the decisions that we feel are in the best interests of our own children."
Banning formula samples has the biggest impact on people who want to breastfeed and plan to breastfeed but can't. When my older son (OS), the Big Giraffe, and I got back from the emergency room at 3am when he was a week old, we knew that he had not been getting enough to eat. We were told to give him as much formula as he would drink. The hospital formula samples saved the Big Giraffe from having to choose between taking a dehydrated newborn out to a pharmacy in the middle of the night or leaving a dehydrated newborn in my care one week after I underwent 40 hours of labor followed by a c-section. Both of those choices were unpalletable. Not every community has a nearby 24 hour pharmacy. I know several other people who had almost identical experiences. It is great in the abstract to say that mothers can still request formula samples, but the people who most want to breastfeed are least likely to request those samples. The ban is potentially harmful to those families.
Using formula samples in time of need does not preclude women from going back to breastfeeding if they can do so and want to do so. I continued trying to breastfeed OS for several weeks (with heavy supplementing) until my lactation consultant told me that we could not make it work, and I tried again with my younger son (YS). Several commenters shared similar experiences, and I know many women personally who used formula for support, not as a crutch.
Even if some women abandon breastfeeding when the going gets touch if formula samples are available, Christina provided a comment sharing eyewitness accounts of mothers who fed their newborns regular cow milk if they were unable to breastfeed, which is far worse than any formula.
While breastfeeding is better than formula feeding, when it works, formula feeding is better than starving a child when breastfeeding does not work.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: There are a lot of strong feelings around how best to nurture children.
I just wanted to put up a quick post to thank so many old friends, people I just met at BlogHer, and new visitors to this site for linking, commenting, and sending emails offering so much support.
For those of you who did not catch the show on TV, there is a clip on-line. There was more to the discussion, particularly where we got into discussing the actual New York City policy banning city-run hospitals from including formula samples in diaper bags gifted to new moms and how formula is an acceptable alternative for women who can't or choose not to breastfeed. This video will at least give you a "swallow from the bottle," as it were.
You can go down two posts by scrolling or clicking to see more of my argument against The Latest Formula Ban, or check back over the next few days as I share more on the subject.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: I always believed that we bloggers are a community. Now I know it.
Last year Massachusetts almost banned the inclusion of free formula samples in hospital gift bags for new moms. New York City has now instituted such a ban. So what did I think of the action in MA? My opinion hasn't changed much since then. I still don't understand why it's an either/or situation. Yes, I've heard the arguments. A good friend of mine is a lactation consultant. She believes that if there is formula in the house, then a frustrated, tired new mom will reach for it instead of trying to continue breastfeeding. That may very well be true or it may very well not.
As women, I think we are able to make our own decisions. I think as parents we do the best that we can, and we make the decisions that we feel are in the best interests of our own children. (Note that I decided not to say your children.) We know ourselves best, and we know our babies best. New moms already feel shaky enough about parenting a newborn baby (if you didn't then you have my sincere admiration and congratulations); we don't need the guilt trip on top of it. We already do that to ourselves. As such I find it offensive that lawmakers don't feel that we're capable of saying that we don't want the formula. Certainly when I was at the BlogHer conference this weekend, I purposely did not take swag that I didn't want including the free Curves bars (don't even get me started on Curves) because I knew if I had them I would eat them, and that's not what I want to spend calories on.
Of course, I should clarify that moms in NYC will still get formula if they ask for it. Likewise, many places have 24 hour pharmacies or grocery stores where formula can be bought. However, to me the point is not quibbling over $5 worth of formula, but the principle of it: we should be able to decide for ourselves. I know many mothers who chose not to take the formula. Then there are other moms like me who needed it (and realized that we needed it at 3 am when we were home, unable to breastfeed with a crying newborn). We got to choose. What is that saying about us as adults and particularly as women when we need to have a decision like that regulated by law? I am not arguing that formula is better than breastmilk. However, it's not as if we're feeding our babies rat poison. The government does not need to protect adult women from the choice to give their babies formula.
I have heard people argue that formula should be banned from gift bags because it allows a commercial venture to place their product samples with new moms in a form of shameless self-promotion. I have yet to hear that argument applied to the sample magazines, sample medicines, or other product samples that are often given for free by hospitals, sometimes in the same gift bags. This is about delegitimizing a women's choice to feed her child formula. It is not about striking down the excesses of capitalism.
We should not be attempting to hide formula. We should be promoting breastfeeding. There is still a terrible lack of support for breastfeeding moms. It is still illegal for moms to breastfeed in public in MA. Here's what I think would be a great gift inside the free diaper bag in NYC: a certificate for a free lactation consultant session. That may be asking for too much. On the other hand, it ought to be possible to give new moms a refrigerator magnet with phone numbers of lactation consultants and resources for breastfeeding. For example, my insurance company has a nurse hotline 24 hours a day. Presumably that hotline offers some breastfeeding advice, but it would be nice for new moms to have absolute confidence that they know where they can find help. If I were committed to breastfeeding and frustrated in the middle of the night, my first instinct would be to call a hotline for help. If that weren't possible, then my next instinct would be to call first thing in the morning. Yes, my hospital provided lactation consultants, but I know from my own experiences and from friends, the consultants were overworked and that they did not always have the time to give a really great breastfeeding session.
My final complaint is about the t-shirt. It says "I Eat At Mom's". I'll give you that it's clever. However, I view breastfeeding as a beautiful and natural occurrence; a special bond that can be formed (don't be so surprised, this is one of the reasons I was so devastated that I couldn't breastfeed although I did treasure my bottle feeding experience.) To me, it's the equivalent of eating at a 5 star restaurant. I wouldn't cheapen it by putting a t-shirt on your kid that basically says "I Eat at Ed's" (Ed Debevics anyone?) when your child has just eaten at the Rainbow Room. Ultimately though, it's your decision because just like everything else in parenting, we get to make our own decisions.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: It is possible and desirable to promote breastfeeding without limiting any woman's choice for whatever reason to feed her child formula.
So this post has been coming for a while. Almost exactly a month ago, my younger son (YS) finished his last can of formula. Since we're not currently planning on having more children, my run with formula is over (this is not to say that I won't still be posting about formula and formula related topics.)
It probably seems a little weird to have a post reflecting on my second one-year stint with formula. It's over! Let's celebrate! After all, I never found the prospect of formula exciting. Both times that I was unable to breastfeed, I was concerned that a whole year of formula loomed ahead of me. A whole year of extra expenses, carting around bottles, washing bottles and let's not forget about a whole year where I felt like the odd woman out every time I pulled out a bottle in public.
When I was told by the lactation consultant to throw in the nursing bra so to speak with my older son (OS) I was at really freaked out by the health and emotional concerns of not breastfeeding. This was quickly followed by the financial aspects of formula feeding. A friend pointed out that formula feeding has a beginning, a middle and most importantly an end. It's not something that goes on forever. Barring any problems, it's 12 months from start to finish. During both of my years with formula, I looked forward to the days when I wouldn't have to drop $31 at BJs for each can of formula. I thought of all the money I could have been saving and what I would do with all the money I would be saving when my kids switched to whole milk.
Here's what I've found now that I've gone through this twice. Yes, formula feeding is expensive. However, once solids are introduced the amount of formula that is consumed is less. So really you're not paying the same amount for formula each month for all 12 months.
Kids are expensive. More importantly as they get older, they want and need different things. Yes, this month we didn't have to pay for YS to drink formula. However, we have paid for him to eat lunch and dinner when we go out because not only is he old enough to really enjoy going on family outings, but he now eats what we eat. We also will be paying for him to do swimming lessons because he is old enough. I also have paid for a family membership at the Y because he's both old enough both to enjoy some of the tumbling classes and to participate in my favorite service: the childwatch.
Yes, these are isolated events and of course are choices not necessities, but my point is that I wish I could go back in time to visit myself during the first few days of being a new and terrified mom and point out that the formula cost is relative. We've got a nice preschool tuition bill due for OS soon!
As for the emotional and health aspects? Well, I can honestly say as the mother of an almost 4 year old, I can't think of the last time someone asked me if OS was breastfed. As quickly as I was thrust into the world of breastfeeding (or lack of breastfeeding) it ended. Now when OS is sick, I'm just the mom of a sick four year old. Never mind when I was last asked about OS; I can't even think of the last time I was asked about breastfeeding YS! Now that we're entirely responsible for making sure that he gets all the vitamins and minerals he needs, I sometimes miss that fortified bottle of formula. Thankfully Enfamil makes daily infant and toddler vitamins!
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: The cost and inconvenience of infant formula may pale in comparison to the cost and inconvenience of keeping older children fed.
The title of this post is a direct quote from Jodi. One of the things that was the hardest for me when I realized I needed to formula feed my older son (OS) was that I felt completely alone. As I've said before, I didn't really know anyone who was exclusively formula feeding. A cousin of the Big Giraffe was, but she lived over an hour away from me. I also couldn't learn about formula feeding from bloggers. Blogging wasn't as big then, and even if it had been, as valuable as it may as reading about other people's experiences, the written word doesn't have the same nuances or tone as real speech. When Jodi told me she was going to describe her experiences with formula on Motherhood Uncensored Blogtalk Radio, on the show entitled "Mommy Guilt: Don't Let it Eat You Alive," I was really looking forward to hearing her. First of all, I really enjoy her blog, but second of all, I wanted to hear what she said about formula feeding.
In the show Jodi describes her inability to breastfeed despite trying everything the lactation consultant suggested. Her son would not latch on. She also described about how embarrassing it was for her to pull out a bottle in public. I could empathize with what she said. My first experience in the world of moms friends was through a community new moms group. I was the only one in the group who didn't breastfeed. Two of the women in the group were very vocal about the benefits of breastfeeding to the extent that I began to doubt the science I had studied for my post-BA certificate, not to mention my parenting. My cell biology professor set me back on track by describing the different types of antibodies that are in the human body and how each are transferred, but the guilt that I was a terrible mom still remained. Jodi is right; when you're not comfortable with bottle feeding, pulling out a bottle in public is very embarrassing. Sara has a story on her blog about someone she knows who had a double mastectomy and got a hard time from someone when formula feeding her baby in public.
The second thing I wanted to address about Jodi's talk show was that no one ever told her that some babies don't ever breastfeed. I was fortunate that my lactation consultant gave me "permission" to throw in the nursing bra so to speak and assured me that my baby would be just fine. However, this was after OS was 8 days old and had been in the ER for dramatic weight loss. I needed someone to tell me it was okay. My husband and I were both breastfed. I come from a medical family. I had taken all these science classes and learned about breastmilk and antibodies. I needed someone with a medical background to support me and tell me that my baby would be fine. With my second child, I had to come to the place when I was pregnant where I could give myself permission to stop. There is a reason that my kids are 34 months apart. Before I walked into the hospital to give birth, I decided to take breastfeeding from moment to moment. At any point if I felt that I was seeping back into the black hole I had been in with OS, I would stop, even if that meant I never even tried to breastfeed. For me, my descent occurred after I came home from the hospital when YS was about 1 week old. By that point he was so frustrated with my poor milk production that he wouldn't latch. I continued to pump for 4 more weeks until my milk was basically gone, and that was that. Unlike OS who couldn't latch, YS did latch onto me. I am glad that I got to experience those moments on breastfeeding with YS. It leaves me with a happy feeling towards my breastfeeding experiences.
I thought I would share a bit about my kids health experiences. Again, this blog is pro-breastfeeding, but this post in particular is about what happens if breastfeeding just doesn't work for whatever reason. My kids are both very healthy. We're the ones who are always at playgroup. My older son has missed preschool (aka germ city) a few times because of vacation and because I've been sick, but only once because he's been sick. I'm pretty strict about taking a sick day if there's any question. My older son had ear tubes, but I have been reassured many times by his ENT that it's because his Eustachian tube is abnormally shaped, and that it has nothing to do with formula feeding. So where did this Eustachian tube come from? From my genes, not from my bottles. I have a long list of ailments that I have suffered, despite being solely breastfed. That is not to say by any means that breastfeeding isn't good, but simply to show that it's not a guarantee of good health:
10% hearing loss due to silent ear infections
Scarlet Fever in kindergarten
Pneumonia twice in kindergarten
Horrible case of the chicken pox in second grade
weird long lasting high fever for a week and terrible sweats not to mention a strange rash that has left minor scars on my arms when I lived in NYC right after college
My parents call my Typhoid Alex because I had so many weird virus growing up
Thankfully no allergies
One of YS's pediatricians said that she personally thought poor health and allergies have more to do with genetics and what kids are exposed to. I know that YS got his first cold much earlier than OS did, but then again YS also had an older brother who was in preschool bringing home germs. As Jodi said "you parent the child you have". My kids are formula eaters.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: There are Babies Who Don't Nurse; It's Okay.
After a very busy day yesterday, I decided to crash on the couch and watch the news. That's when I learned about a new very sanitary place to have a picnic when I run errands with my boys. I have to admit a lot of times when I'm out and about and the kids need a snack, I do worry that perhaps the store we're at or the grocery cart they're sitting in really isn't clean enough for them to be eating. Alright I confess that I really don't worry about that nor do I even normally carry snacks when I run errands with the boys, BUT if I did thanks to the news I know the perfect place for them to eat: in a public bathroom! Pretty amazing, huh? So how did I find out about this brilliant place to eat? In a news segment of course! I know you just can't wait to see the link so here it is: "Mother upset after being kicked out of store for breast-feeding her baby." Got to love the wordy title.
To sum it up, this mom was shopping at iParty with her husband and 8 week baby when the baby got hungry. She sat down in the aisle to breastfeed and was asked to leave. I still can't believe that it's illegal to breastfeed in public in MA. Anyhow, I was already pretty annoyed when I was in the midst of hearing what had happened because I think breastfeeding in public should be legal. However, to top it off, they interviewed 4 random iParty customers who were not even there when this happened, not that it matters but it just shows how insane this was, to show that the opinion on breastfeeding at iParty is split. There's a helpful survey right there! Anyhow, this one woman said that if the mom really needed to breastfeed her baby, she should have gone into the bathroom. She said it like she had come up with a brilliant solution. (I'm disappointed that her comment isn't in the story on-line.) I'm sure that bathroom there is real clean! I immediately had two thoughts when I heard her say that.
When I've had to sit on a floor of a store to bottle feed my babies, I've been pretty desperate and there hasn't been time and/or a better place to go much less a chair. I doubt she was sitting there because she felt like it.
Do you know how much my boys would love to eat in a public bathroom! All the gross disgusting things in there that they could get into and touch? OS has always been very intrigued by the sanitary napkin bins. YS is really into floor drains these days and both of them like to lick floors. I imagined if someone told me I had feed my 10 month old in a public bathroom. It would take 5 times as long and he, OS and I would need to be sterilized afterwards. OS would probably want to start eating all his meals in a bathroom.
Who shops at iParty? I'm sure a good percent of their customers are mothers throwing birthday parties.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: It's better to unwind with a book instead of the news.
Well, it probably won't surprise you to hear that I agree with what she wrote. I don't understand why there are so many judgments out there. I agree with making breastfeeding education available to pregnant women and offering good access to lactation consultants to new parents. It makes me mad that it is illegal in some states to breastfeed in public. I do think breastfeeding is best if it works. I've had a few interesting conversations with people both in person and over email about how I feel about breastfeeding. I absolutely support it. If any of my friends were to get pregnant and wanted my advice, I would absolutely encourage them to try breastfeeding.
On the other hand, I would never question anyone who decided that breastfeeding was not for them. There are a whole bunch of reasons why breastfeeding might not be best for a particular family, ranging from physical inability to emotional reasons to impracticality because of work schedules. And, as several people commented on the article, I think it is more important that the baby is fed than how the baby is fed.
I have heard some breastfeeding advocates make an absolute argument that because breastfeeding is natural it is somehow guaranteed to work. After all, in the good old days, there was no formula, and every baby was breastfed. I think these advocates have forgotten that society wasn't Utopian. A lot of women depended on wet nurses to feed their babies, if they were unable to breastfeed. I don't know about you, but I can't remember the last time I looked in the jobs section of the newspaper and saw an ad for "wet nurse for hire." And while I can't give you a specific link (you can do a google search on your own) I also remember learning that back in the olden days where multigenerational families always lived together and other relatives lived right by you, if you couldn't breastfeed your baby, then maybe your sister or sister-in-law could. Either way, there was a much higher infant mortality rate; I am not claiming that is linked to breastfeeding, but it does show that breastfeeding alone is not a panacea for all childhood health issues.
The two best two classes that I took in my life were college statistics and research methods. (I'm a graduate of Wellesley College, and if you're a woman, taking those classes at a women's college is pretty cool. Most of what we analyzed were studies done on women.) Every time I see a study, regardless of the subject - even if it is on gardening, I am grateful that I took those two classes. They taught me how to assess the validity of a study, based on its parameters and how to read and interpret the results.
If someone asked me what they should do to prepare for parenthood, I would encourage them to study statistics and research methods. After all, you can get knowledge from any number of sources on any parenting subject, without needing to take a class. One of the keys to parenting is knowing what information you should believe. My classes have given me substantial cause to question many of the studies that claim to prove the inferiority of formula feeding. Please read the next statement carefully: It is not that I believe that they are necessarily wrong; it is just that I believe that there is a common societal belief that the studies have made a far stronger case than I many times believe the data warrants. Along those lines, the largest problem with these studies in my opinion, is the a failure on the part of the public to differentiate between a correlation and causation.
There are often outside variables that you can't separate or in other words "are the other reasons why this could have happened." For example, many studies have shown that breastfed babies tend to have be smarter than formula-fed babies. Does that mean that breastmilk makes babies smarter? Not necessarily. The correlation could be the result of other factors. One argument that I've read in numerous sources is that more educated parents tend to be more likely to emphasize the value of education and ensure that their children are better educated (not something that was accounted for in the study.) More educated parents also tend to breastfeed their children. Thus the correlation between children being breastfed and children being more educated could plausibly be explained by the educational level of their parents.
My older son(OS) required ear tubes due to fluid in his ears from multiple ear infections. My younger son (YS) is being watched to see if he needs the same. Aha! They both were formula-fed. Could that be the cause? Well...maybe there are other factors. I was exclusively breastfed, but I lost 10% of my hearing from childhood ear infections. My exclusively breastfed husband had so many childhood ear infections that he was one ear infection away from tubes. When I asked my ENT if only breastfeeding for 5 weeks could have caused OS's ear problems, he looked at me like I was crazy and said it was because OS's Eustachian tubes were abnormally shaped and that it would have been a medical miracle if OS hadn't had problems with ear infections.
For the record, OS has never once had diarrhea either. So am I saying that you should go formula feed your babies to avoid diarrhea? That my mom should have formula-fed because, hey, I lost 10% of my hearing anyhow, so she might as well have thrown in the towel? No, I am simply pointing out once again that just because something might happen doesn't mean that it will, and even if it does, you don't necessarily know what the cause may be. (Again, I wish I had been able to breastfeed my kids.) OS might just have a great digestive tract. Maybe it's because since he was an only child I didn't take him to parks and indoor playgrounds until he was older, as opposed to my younger son who's already been to parks numerous times because OS wants to go. Maybe it's because I make him use soap and water to wash his hands before meal times (I'm not a big fan of those hand sanitizer gels but that's another post). Maybe as an only child he didn't have anyone bringing in germs from preschool...See how great a stats and research methods class can be?
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: Understand the research before you believe it.
One of the many things that I was surprised by when I was pregnant with my older son (OS) was how little my ob/gyn and the nurses seem to know about breastfeeding after a breast reduction (BFAR). While I do not have any current stats on how common breast reductions are or how common it is to have them before having kids, I know that it is not an unusual procedure. However, the reality was there wasn't a lot of information out there. I did speak with a lactation consultant when I was pregnant who not only told me that a good electric breast pump would be helpful, but that my insurance company would probably pay for it. She was right. She recommended one other thing: a book called Defining Your Success by Diane West which is about breastfeeding after a breast reduction surgery. People swear by it (at least in the reviews I read from Amazon.com). I tried to order it on-line, but at the time it was out of print. I eventually did get a copy of it before I had my second son. I was glad that I looked at it, and I'm glad that there's a book about BFAR out there. I think it's important to know that this book exists, but I personally didn't like it. More on that in a different post.
Shortly after this conversation, a La Leche leader who is a friend of my mom told me about a support group called BFAR. This group stands for breastfeeding after breast reduction. Despite my personal discomfort with this web site, there are testimonials from women in the group about how valuable it has been to them. That is why I'm posting about it. On the positive side, I like the fact that they provide an opportunity to discuss breastfeeding with someone who had also had a breast reduction. It would have been nice to know someone who's in the same boat. More importantly, they do have a lot of resources which, as I said above, is unusual. They also give information on what you can do to increase your chances of breastfeeding while you're pregnant.
What I didn't like about the site was the emphasis on regret. It appeared that it was more of an "I'm sorry I had a breast reduction" group. I am not sorry that I had breast reduction surgery. I also felt the site could seriously undermine any pregnant woman or new mom's confidence in her ability to breastfeed. Since to me confidence is an important component of being able to successfully breastfeed, I didn't think this group was a good match for me.
I recently checked out the website again, since it's been a few years, and I struggled most with a section about breast reduction surgery called "Should you have it?" I didn't like the way the site put all of the testimonials from women who were sorry that they had breast reductions at the top. The ones who weren't sorry were more hidden at the end. I feel that there is enough guilt that goes along with just being a parent. I don't need to start questioning a decision that I have always felt was best for me. I viewed it as medically necessary (hey, my insurance company certainly agreed) end of story. I also think discussing breastfeeding in a group that is at least as focused on regret as on supporting breastfeeding when I was having difficulty breastfeeding would have really put me in a black hole.
My efforts to breastfeed made me miserable, and, like I've posted before, the lactation consultant who visited me 4 times was the one who told me it was time to move on. Having her "blessing" made it a lot easier for me to let go. I know that if I had been around people who were telling me to keep trying, it would have been much harder. Ultimately, I was much happier being a mother when I switched over to formula. Ever since I became pregnant, I asked myself this particular question when I'm in a tough situation: "Will _ make me a better mother?" For me, breastfeeding, or more correctly my lack of ability to breastfeed, not only resulted in my son having a trip to the ER for severe weight loss, but it made me not enjoy being a mom because I was depressed, oversensitive and very irritable (not to mention consumed with guilt). That's not to say that I didn't have guilt when I started to formula feed (and quite frankly for a long time after) but at least I was happy and also equally importantly my baby was happy.
I emailed Suzanne today about a recollection that had made me feel better about formula feeding: When OS was a newborn my mom came out to help, and she bottle fed his supplements to him for me to give me a break. It helped me feel removed from the situation and made me able to see it through "new eyes," so to speak. When I saw how happy and content he was after eating, I felt better. My breastfeeding with my younger son (YS) had all the early hallmarks of success. However, he also started to lose a lot of weight. When I was told he needed to have a bottle in the hospital, I cried. At 3 in the morning my very supportive husband and I went to the nursery to "spy" on the nurse who was feeding YS. YS just looked so peaceful that I immediately felt better. Just like with OS, I gave him breastmilk and formula for 5 weeks until my milk dried up. With YS I was then able to move on to just formula leaving the guilt behind this time. Everyone around me was very supportive.
The part of the web site most evocative of guilt was the section where they talk about whether future moms should hold off on surgery until after they are done having babies, saying
"As mothers, we have to make hard choices and we often have to make some sacrifices to give the best for our children. This is one area that you can make a personal sacrifice that will have HUGE rewards. You can put off this surgery for a few years and give your children the incredible benefit of exclusive nursing (meaning without supplementation)."
At no time during my breastfeeding hell did it ever occur to me that I should have waited until after I had kids to have the surgery. Nor did anyone even suggest this to me directly. To ask women to live through years of pain, potential long-term physical harm, low self-esteem, and sexual harassment does not seem like a fair sacrifice to request. It also presupposes that a woman's complete control over her ability to have a child and over her physical ability to breastfeed absent breast surgery. Neither of these are guarantees, and it also begs the question, how long should a nineteen-year-old woman who is unsure about her childbearing plans wait? Is ten years of sacrifice long enough if she has not had a child by the age of 29? How about twenty years, if she has not had a child by 39? What if a woman subjects herself to twenty years of discomfort and then cannot get pregnant or has a baby but cannot breastfeed for other reasons. Talk about regret!
I was genuinely taken aback when I read the testimonials from women regretting their decision. This simply was not my experience. That is why I did not feel that this group was a good fit for me.
For those of us who didn't get an instruction manual with our babies and for whom parenting hasn't always gone as planned. On a more serious note this blog is about supporting a woman's ability to make her own choices about parenting including the choice, for whatever reason, to bottle feed her babies formula.