Shame And The Mom: A Boob Story

October 7, 2009

Before I had children, I was deeply discomfited by the idea of breastfeeding. Neither pregnancy nor childbirth alarmed me – both would be uncomfortable, I figured, and the latter would involve some extreme measure of pain, but, really, nothing that the ordinary horrors (the monthly bloating and cramping and general misery) of womanhood hadn’t prepared me for – but breastfeeding? A tiny person, feeding off of you? Off of your boobs? Really? It provoked all variety of confusing fears about the psycho-sexual experience of motherhood (you have to expose your boobs? really?), and even though I understood, intellectually, that there was nothing weird or creepy or gross about breastfeeding, and fully intended to nurse my children, if I had them, I still, sometimes – involuntarily, and almost imperceptibly – shuddered when I thought of it. Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding. Eww.

Of course, when I finally did have children, that all changed. Mostly. My personal experience of breastfeeding, apart from the pain and difficulty (more on that in a moment) was – to be maximally gushy about it – transcendent. Nursing my babies, nourishing my babies, holding them close and providing for them – me! with my very own body! – was, to understate it, amazing. But that was in the privacy of my home. Nursing in public was difficult for me: I was anxious about exposing myself, about receiving disapproving glances and unwanted stares. And every disapproving glance or unwanted stare (stink-eyed in malls and libraries, ogled at DisneyWorld, asked to cover up on a plane) just reinforced my shame. It also, however, provoked a measure of frustration and, later, outrage. How was I supposed to care for my children, nourish and nurture my children, when so much of the outside world frowned upon it? And: how dare they?

I’ve written at length about my frustration with the fact that public breastfeeding is still not wholly accepted in Western culture. That mothers – women – are made to feel any measure of shame around the act of nourishing their children is, in my opinion, deplorable. And the fact that it was not so very long ago that I felt such shame – and that I bought into the shame long before I even put a child to my own breast – still hurts my heart. Which is why I didn’t hesitate to support public criticism of Nestle during their recent social media debacle. The calculus was simple: anything that undermines efforts to help breastfeeding become an accepted public norm = bad, anything that promotes breastfeeding = good.

But is any such calculus ever so simple?

A good friend wrote me last week and recounted her experience with breastfeeding her newborn son:

I had the baby one month early… He didn’t latch and I didn’t produce sufficient milk to pump and feed him. I tried for a solid month. I practiced latching with him every day. And every two hours from the time I had a fairly traumatic c-section experience, I pumped in order to try to get production going until (I hoped) his latch would develop. For a month… I took medication in order to help production. Nothing worked. This was horrible for me. I felt like my baby was basically being poisoned (with formula), and that I was failing as a mother. This was made worse by the fact that all information outlets were telling me that it is practically impossible not to produce enough milk. That, apparently, wasn’t a medical possibility. I had a lactation consultant who visited me many time and whom I visited. I talked to La Leche League. In short, I tried. It didn’t work…

So, my baby is formula fed. I resent the fact that formula feeding one’s child is practically viewed as poisoning one’s own baby… I’m suggesting that the mothering climate is hostile to formula feeding. I couldn’t breastfeed, but, really, I think we ought to reinstate formula as an active choice mothers can make without being considered bad mothers –even if they can breastfeed. It’s almost impossible to find good information and advice on formula brands and formula feeding issues, as the parenting industry would prefer that formula feeding just didn’t exist.

She’s right, I think, mostly. The parenting community might not be out-and-out hostile to formula-feeding, but there is absolutely an entrenched and often very vocal bias against it. I’ve been part of that bias. In my experience, that bias is most often motivated by a desire to see breastfeeding more widely accepted in the public sphere – every image of a bottle-fed baby, arguably, reinforces the idea that bottle-feeding is the norm – and to encourage new mothers to overcome whatever shame issues might be holding them back from nursing their children. But if formula-feeding mothers are being shamed in the process, isn’t that a problem?

I had a great deal of trouble breastfeeding both of my children. It was, for the first month or so with each of them, mind-bogglingly painful. With Emilia, I was fortunate enough to have a lactation consultant who told me that I would not be a bad mother if I ended up choosing to formula-feed – her permission to give up was exactly (if perversely) the motivation I needed to keep going, because the knowledge that I could quit if I got to the breaking point was enough to push me to continue to keep giving it another day, day after day, until the pain receded. With Jasper, I was not so lucky. With no formula-friendly lactation godmother, I was subjected to the repeated assertion that if it hurt, I was doing something wrong (I wasn’t. I know this) and that if I quit, I – and my child – would regret it. It made me crazy – literally. My post-partum depression worsened under the constant pain and intensifying anxiety, even as I reminded myself that someone, at some point, had told me that it would be okay to quit. Even as a few sane voices in the blogosphere quietly urged me (off the record, always) to consider quitting, for my sanity’s sake, I was gripped by the conviction that it would not be okay if I quit. It would be wrong. I should be able to do this. A good mother could do this, would do this. I was a lactivist, for God’s sake. And so I persevered.

It never really stopped being painful, with Jasper. He nursed round the clock, and my nipples bled, and I almost never slept. I was sparing with my PPD meds, for fear of contaminating my milk. But I battled the gathering dark, and persevered. I nursed publicly, and proudly: on planes, in front of TV cameras, standing in front of a crowd while speaking at BlogHer. I nursed another woman’s child. I persevered. For ten months. Ten dark months. And then I quit. Exhausted from the lack of sleep, and the pain, and on the verge of falling headlong into the dark, I quit.

And I felt ashamed.

I felt ashamed because, goddammit, didn’t my child deserve to nurse longer? Wouldn’t it be best for him to nurse longer? Weren’t all the other good moms doing it? Wasn’t I just selfish to not want to breastfeed longer, to not keep trying? I could breastfeed; what kind of lactivist was I, anyway, if I chose not to breastfeed?

I was right to stop. I was losing my battle with PPD, and my doggedness with my breastfeeding efforts had a lot to do with that. And an institutionalized mother would have to bottle-feed anyway, so. I quit. I was right to do so.

But it would have been nice to have not felt so strongly that it was something close to bringing upon myself the End Of My Maternal World to quit nursing. It would have been nice to have felt, really felt, and really believed, that it would, really, have been okay to quit nursing. It would have been nice to have felt – to have believed – that to choose to not breastfeed was not a damnable choice. That I could opt-out of nursing, and still be a good mother, a good woman, and a good activist in mothers’ causes. But I didn’t believe that, not really. Even as I told other women that it was totally okay to formula-feed if they couldn’t nurse or if it would serve the cause of managing PPD – even as I insisted upon choice – I didn’t really believe it for myself. Fine for them, I thought, but not for me. And I’m still very much gripped by something of this idea: when I look back on my experience nursing Jasper, I’m proud. I’m proud that I persevered. I’m proud that I set aside my own wants and needs in order to care for him in what I believed was the best possible way. I’m proud, because having done so, I have something that I can point to, during those dark nights when I’m worrying about whether or not I’m a good enough mom, and tell myself, see? You are a good mom! Look what you did!

And this, I think, is both entirely reasonable and entirely unreasonable. I did do something awesome. I sacrificed. But sacrifice shouldn’t be the criteria for being a good mom. And the standards for being a good mom shouldn’t be understood to be uniform. As I’ve insisted in this space ad nauseam, moms can’t win. There’s always somebody, somewhere, who is going to think that your parenting sucks. Co-sleep, don’t co-sleep; baby-wear, don’t baby-wear; home-school, public school; public school, private school; free-range, close-range – there’s no universal truth about what makes a good mother, so why should we assume that there’s one universal truth about how good mothers feed their babies? Breast is best, we know that, but there are a great many factors that make formula-feeding an entirely reasonable choice for a good mother to make. Necessity, for one. Sanity, for another.

It remains, whatever our choices, that there’s still a lot of work that must be done in the public sphere to make breastfeeding an accepted public activity, to ensure that women never feel the discomfiture, the ill-understood shame, that I felt before becoming a nursing mom, and that I was made to feel far too often afterward. The nursing mom should be an established figure in public life and in the culture, and we should work hard toward promoting her as such. But we should be careful, should we not, that when we fight the shaming of nursing mothers, we don’t, in the process, shame mothers who don’t nurse? How do we do that? How do we make this, always, about choice?

Because it should be about choice. It should. If we make about anything else, we just hurt ourselves.

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    Tina C. October 8, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    i think b-feeding is in a special category of motherly sacrifice, especially in this day and age when it is indeed more convenient to bottle feed. it is indeed not easy to bfeed and it hurts for a month for most ladies, i reckon. it is indeed worth suffering through until it becomes easy. bfeeding is way different than any other sacrifice that a mom can make.

    moms who try and give up for various reasons get cred. for having tried. moms who don’t even try do not get any cred. from me, in fact they get judged by me, and i can’t help it. i think it’s good that women of a certain class/situation are being made to think about the choice to bfeed or not, and i hope this trickles down/over to every mom of every class and status. moms who can’t try for medical/drug reasons are right to feel sad for not being able to do it, since it can be so lovely and worth it (also a pain and stressful).

    if a mom tries and gives up for whatever reason, that’s enough for me. it’s the trying that’s worth commending.

    i also used to whip it out wherever i needed to, including at disney, and gave other people the evil eye and somehow that prevented me from getting any looks. also, i’m usually oblivious. i thought of you often as i bfed on planes, at the library, etc., and was prepared with rejoinders but they never came. i’m kinda disappointed i never got to yell at anyone about it.

    Her Bad Mother October 9, 2009 at 10:59 am

    I reached a point where I kinda wanted someone to stink-eye me, just so I could vent my spleen. Once I got my courage, that is ;)

    McCashew October 8, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    My head hurts too!!!

    I just wanted to say thank you for writing this. I was such a lactivist (love that word – new to me!) with my daughter and I too NEVER would have expected to be. I approached it with a “I’m going to try it and if it works for us, we’ll do it” philosophy and by month 9 I was so deep that there was no way I was going to give up – I was making it 12 months – and I did. I shouldn’t carry that around like a badge, but I do, because IT IS an accomplishment! It truly is.

    I am expecting my second and worrying about how it will go round two. Will I have the same oversupply issues? What if I overcompensate and end up with undersupply? Will I be able to make it through the second time around? Will my family and friends look at me sideways the way they did last time when I continued on and on “unecessarily?” THANK you. This was just what I needed to read/hear.
    .-= McCashew´s last blog best girl =-.

    Kate October 8, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    This was a wonderful post. I am breastfeeding at the moment, but I’m not that great at it. It was the same with my son. My son never latched on correctly and after 3 months, I went to pumping only which meant my supply was totally gone by the time he was 6 months. With my daughter, things were easier, despite having to feed her formula only for a few of her first days because of some medical issues I had. I just keep plugging along. I was exclusively breastfed and have pangs of guilt about my supply not being up to snuff, but I just decided to do whatever I could and to give my children as much milk as I could possibly give them. One thing is for certain – there is an attitude on both sides of the issue of “you’re either with us or against us”. I know children and adults who never got one drop of breast milk and are happy and healthy. My husband is one of them. I also know mothers who look down on people who use formula. I wish that there was more lactation support and I wish there was more acceptance for those who make a different choice.
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..In Plain Sight =-.

    Rbelle October 8, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    “Perhaps because it’s obvious that feeding children hot dogs and processed food on a regular basis is bad for them in a way that isn’t the case with formula – which contains things that are actually good for children (if not ‘best’)?”

    Formula actually is a processed food. Not poison, not abuse, just a processed food, with processed ingredients.

    This all gives me a headache, too, because while that statement alone is entirely factual, some mothers will see judgment in it.

    Jamie October 8, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Yes to this comment by Catherine:

    “nursing is a full-time job, and so to some extent involves a certain degree of class privilege – you need to be able to stay home, or work in a field that indulges – ! – your desire/need to nurse.)”

    I would say more than “a certain degree.” I hate that these discussions about breastfeeding almost never mention that to even make this choice is a privilege. I have no children, but once I do I hope I can breastfeed. However, I was not breastfed for the full six months or year or whatever it is that’s recommended now…I was breastfed for three months. Maybe four? Because my parents’ divorce was finalized when I was two months old, and my 23-year-old mother needed to find a job. To, y’know, support her and her baby. It was not feasible for her to be job-seeking (and, eventually, going to college while also working) and have a workable nursing schedule set up so she stopped.

    I think it is great that so many women have freedom to make the choices that are best for themselves and their children and their families. But these discussions and debates can feel really insular, because so many of the Big Issues in these debates that really seem to divide women come from a position of incredible privilege and that is rarely, if ever, acknowledged. You breastfed for the first year of your child’s life because you felt strongly it was the best choice from a nutritional standpoint? That is awesome. But that is not a choice, not even a consideration, for many many women. The same with the contentious stay-at-home-mom issue. Best for you and your family? Again, that’s great. And also…not even an option, not even a blip on the radar, for a huge number of women.

    My family is not wealthy, but I’ve gone to pretty fancy-schmancy schools for college and now law school. And I was absolutely floored by the number of kids whose mothers stayed at home. Not because I judge that choice, not because I think it’s unworthy of women’s time or a waste of their education or anything like that…but because growing up no women in my family stayed home. My mom has always worked, my three aunts, my grandmother, all of these women had jobs because their families needed the money. It was very odd to realize that there are these passionate debates going on in the wider parenting world over decisions that were never realistically available to my family and many, many others.
    .-= Jamie´s last blog ..On Taking What I Can Get =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 8, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    That’s a whole other topic that is entirely post-worthy – how class-based so many of these debates are. Breast vs. bottle, stay at home vs. work, attachment vs. the alternatives… so many of the choices that we bicker over are simply closed to many women, as you say.

    Something for a future post…

    Daffodil October 8, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    That is so right, Catherine. First and foremost, how lucky we are to have choices and options and ways to make this parenting thing work for each of us and our wildly different circumstances. I am so very grateful that when one option did not work, and another was not possible, I could try something different.
    .-= Daffodil´s last blog ..In which I take two children to Disneyland and we all lived to tell the tale =-.

    Jake Aryeh Marcus October 8, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    I think it is critical to differentiate between shame imposed on us and shame (guilt, pain) we impose on ourselves. It can be very difficult to hear that we either made a choice or had a choice taken from us that might have resulted in a better health outcome for our kids. But how bad it makes us feel (that formula is harmful in medically objective ways) is not the fault of the people who write about it. Someone saying this directly to a mother as unsolicited criticism is entirely out of line. Personal decisions made by people who have access to the information they need to make them are just that – personal. No individual woman should be attacked for feeding her child formula. Breastfeeding advocacy is about changing the culture not attacking individual mothers.

    While breastfeeding was mostly fantastic for me, I have felt this shaming with regard to birth. I had c-sections I didn’t want and two I probably didn’t need. I grieve and I’m angry but if I hear one more damned glorious VBAC or home birth story, I’ll scream. I know all the ways my children may have been harmed by the highly medicalized and deeply traumatic way they came into the world. But I am done second guessing every minute of my labor. It’s over, my kids are here, and I do my best with how it turned out. Now many times I have thought I saw some odd look in the eye of a homebirther about my having had three c-sections but no one has ever actually said anything critical of me to my face. I did go years feeling that I had to give every gruesome detail of how the c-sections happened in order to justify how I got there – a desperate “see, I really really tried!” But no one made me do that – I imposed that on myself.

    Thinking about it, the shame I felt about having “failed birth” came from me and not from other people. I have to own it. I don’t want people to advocate less for home birth or vaginal birth or birth options because I didn’t get what I wanted. Same is true of breastfeeding. Advocacy that is truthful may be painful to hear for mothers who didn’t breastfeed (for whatever reason) but it is necessary for social change.
    .-= Jake Aryeh Marcus´s last blog ..A Podcast with Me from the 2007 La Leche League International Conference – Still Timely, I Promise =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 8, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    I think that you’re totally right – that much of this shame, much of the time, we impose same upon ourselves. I think too, though, that it can be difficult to figure out where the line is, where external messages/pressure stop and our own issues kick in.

    In any case, it’s something that we should strive to be self-reflective about. To what extent are we our own worst enemies?

    j. caroline October 8, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    I’m glad you wrote this because I was reading the boycotting Nestle debate the other day and was a little angry. Yes, I understand the issue involving promoting bottle feeding in developing countries without clean water, etc. etc. But the statement kept being made about how dangerous it is to bottle feed your baby. Really? So my adopted children who I bottle fed are permanently ruined?

    So you are absolutely correct- shaming bottle feeders to promote breastfeeding is not the answer. When breastfeeding isn’t gonna work, it’s not gonna work whether because of medical issues, mental issues, or adoption issues.

    And my 17-pound 4-month-old with huge thighs doesn’t seem to think formula is such a bad thing. And he uses a pacifier. And I gave him cereal at 3 months. Maybe I shouldn’t reveal any more…
    .-= j. caroline´s last blog ..New Blog for Web Updates =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 8, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    We could not have survived the babyhoods of either of our children without pacifiers. (Which, by the way, are believed to reduce the risk of SIDS.)

    Binkies FTW!

    Amira @ October 8, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I breastfeed and formula feed my son. He gets both and I don’t feel any shame in that whatsoever.

    His latch is terrible and hurts if I nurse more than 5 minutes, so I pump most of the time and when I can’t, the kid gets formula. So what? He’s getting the nutrients he needs both ways and really, if his pediatrician and I think he’s fine, then that’s all that matters.

    True, it’s unfortunate that there’s the stigma attached to formula feeding, and maybe it’s just me, but I tend to think “the Hell with them” to anyone who tries to shame me for feeding my son, whether it be formula or not.

    Condemning formula/bottle feeders to promote breastfeeding only creates another problem and fuels the mommy wars.
    .-= Amira @´s last blog ..Bottoms Up =-.

    C October 8, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Thank you for posting this..I too fell victim to the mommy wars when my daughter became deathly ill at a week of age and spent 3 weeks in the hospital. She required supplemental calories, which I added to pumped breastmilk. Then she was found to have food allergies. Which is when I threw up my hands, put away my pump, gave up trying to get her to latch, stopping paying ridiculous amounts of money to my LC, stopped being shamed by LLC who kept telling me I just wasn’t trying hard enough to make enough milk (regardless of the fact that many diabetics have low supply), and said “sign me up for the prescription formula.”

    I wasted so much time and effort to try to breastfeed her when it was the WRONG choice for me and for my daughter…I was actively making her sick, for chrissakes.

    And after all that, there were still people who told me that I just didn’t try hard enough. I should have tried more…cut all possible allergens out of my diet, taken more meds, pumped every two hours round the clock (sleep and PPD be damned), and that I was a BAD MOTHER because I didn’t. I cut those people out of my life.

    Because I don’t follow the common themes…I’m free range, I say “no”, I believe it’s a good thing for my 11 month old to play by herself so I can check my email, I let her cry it out…I am often judged. And that is hard. And alienating. But…it’s not going to stop me from doing what I think is right for us.
    .-= C´s last blog ..A long absence… =-.

    LD October 8, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    I absolutely agree with where you are coming from on this.
    With my son I had SUCH a difficult time nursing and I persevered. Why? Like you I had PPD, and I was in this weird headspace where I felt that I was already a horrible mom for being depressed not happy (joyous, even) and if I quit breastfeeding I would be an even worse mom. It was a hellish year.
    And, throughoutit every time that I wanted to quit I felt a ton of pressure not to.
    I understand that some of it probably wasn’t justified and that I was in a weird headspace, but I also truly believe that there is a lot of pressure. It’s not fair.
    When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had many visits with a psychiatrist to overcome my fears of depression, etc, and one of the topics we revisited over and over was breastfeeding.
    And, I decided going in that I was only going to formula feed because in a way I had somehow linked breast feeding and depression. (wrongly, but still).
    And I insisted that on all my hospital forms they wrote that I had had PPD with my son and I was going to formula feed and they could not push breastfeeding on me.
    But, when I was in recovery from my c-section I had a lovely nurse. I was telling her how this birth was so different. How I was so happy. And, she suggested to me that if the whole experience was different, maybe nursing would be to.
    For me it was.
    The baby latched right away. There was no pressure at any time.
    And that to me is how it should be. I knew I could try a bottle. I knew I would be supported in my choice. And that knowledge, combined with the fact that I wasn’t dealing with depression (and had strong pain medication) was freedom for me.
    If we were all offered that choice freely I think it would be a different debate. If doctors and midwives said “hey. breastfeeding is great for this reason, but formula is a perfectly acceptable option. And I support you either way” – maybe it would be easier.
    For me, sanity is more important than breastmilk.
    .-= LD´s last blog ..Sleep … I need it =-.

    TheFeministBreeder October 8, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    What nobody bothers telling you is that the cessation of breastfeeding can often CAUSE post-partum depression. Nobody made me feel bad when I quit breastfeeding my first son, but I felt awful about it. NOT because of society’s expectations of me (because seriously, relatively speaking NOBODY in America breastfeeds the recommended amount of time – less than 10% on a national average… in some states, is less than 5% – pretty grim statistics.) Everybody around me told me I’d “feel better” if I formula fed. Jesus, were they wrong.

    Our breastfeeding rates are dismal, at best, so I don’t believe anybody who tries to tell me they feel such pressure to breastfeed. Give me a break. I saw 10 ads for formula on television today, and not a single one for breastfeeding.
    .-= TheFeministBreeder´s last blog ..The Big, Hairy Vaccination Post and My Visit to GlaxoSmithKline =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 8, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    You don’t believe anyone? That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it, given the testimonials of so many women here, who felt profoundly guilty about not being able to breastfeed or having to choose to not breastfeed?

    You’re right that BFing rates are disappointing in North America overall (less so in Canada than the States, but still), but it remains that in certain communities (and there’s absolutely a class element here) there is tremendous pressure to make the right choice, do the right thing.

    But as I said (in full agreement with your closing remark), formula has the backing of multinational corporations. It has advertising. It’s profit-focused. BFing has none of the advantages of a capitalist-industrial complex, and so it needs – desperately needs – that we maintain our activism in its support. But that doesn’t mean that we need to, or should, ignore the place of BFIng in the socio-politics of mothering. Or that it might, at least, just make some mothers feel really, really bad.

    Judy October 8, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    I see some women commenting about the bond from nursing. I would like to add that it’s just as possible to bond while bottle feeding. I never once propped a bottle for any of my children, I snuggled them close to my body and held the bottles for them. The bottle nipple was within inches of my own. Even when other kids their age were holding their own bottles, my kids preferred Mommy to hold them, and we always rocked and I sang and talked to them throughout the feeding.

    But there is the possibility of letting Dad take over a feeding if you just cannot manage it yourself, too.

    I’m not saying bottle feeding is better. I’m sure breast feeding is better for the baby, but if it’s difficult, well, isn’t it wonderful that we live in modern countries where the water supply is good and we have an alternative?

    makyo October 9, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    amen to that. bottle-feeding and bonding are not mutually exclusive.

    also, isn’t it GOOD that dad can bond with the baby in the same way? (not that you discounted that, i’m just making the point a little stronger.) just as we should not ignore the deep bond that comes from a mother feeding her child, it’s equally important that dad gets that opportunity as well, whether through formula or a bottle that mom has pumped.

    The Bare Essentials Today October 8, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    I’m going to chime in on this even though I don’t have kids, I hope that’s alright. I personally have no desire to breast feed should I have children. I have absolutely nothing at all against breast feeding. I don’t even mind public breast feeding. I do, however, think that one should be considerate around other people and take into account that it might make the person you are breast feeding in front of uncomfortable. My cousin did that constantly in front of my dad and it made him extremely uncomfortable. She also proceeded to breast feed her child in my workplace, at a conference room table. I mean if the people you are around are comfortable with it then fine, I just think people need to be considerate about it. JMHO.
    .-= The Bare Essentials Today´s last blog ..TMI Thursday – Here’s the story, of a lovely lady, who refused to pop her boyfriends cyst with a pin. =-.

    Maria October 8, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    I wish none of us ever had to feel shame for the things we must do as mothers.
    .-= Maria´s last blog ..heart-twisty grin =-.

    Mona October 8, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    I nursed my son for six months through bleeding nipples when i thought he was getting more blood than milk, and no sleep. I kept nursing until one day a very wise friend came to me, picked up my screaming baby, and popped a bottle of formula in his mouth. He stopped crying and drank it up greedily. I spent a while, not sure how long, crying. I was a horrible mother! I was a failure! Then at some point in my hysterics I realized he was asleep. Had been asleep for four hours straight! He had never slept that long in a row. Two was the best I got because he was always so hungry. That was when I realized maybe it really was time to stop. And maybe he really was gonna be ok. He is now a very healthy 10 yr old. I know the joys and the perils of breast feeding. I salute you for diligently bring them out in the open.

    Katherine Stone October 8, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Such a HUGE, emotionally wrought issue. Thank you so much for jumping into this topic with both feet. I can’t begin to quantify what a big issue this is with women who suffer from postpartum depression.

    As a new mother with postpartum OCD, breastfeeding actually made things worse for me. My boobs didn’t come with ounce marks, and the anxiety of not knowing how much my son was getting (don’t talk to me about his poops, people, because that wasn’t enough proof when I was mentally ill) was too much to take. I was constantly freaking out about his feedings. Plus I was on medication. PLUS, I needed sleep and lots of it. I ended up quitting and it was the exact right thing for me AND for him.

    To be sure, quitting isn’t necessary for every woman with a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. I know just as many women with such illnesses who NEED to keep breastfeeding above all else because they feel that it is the only form of attachment they have to their babies.

    What does it matter what they choose? Having a healthy mom and healthy baby is the only thing that matters. (And yes, my son is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and one of the smartest kids in his class.)

    People sometimes forget about the negative effects that untreated postpartum depression or anxiety can have on a baby while mom is too afraid to each out for help because it MAY mean she needs to stop breastfeeding. Do we really need to be creating the kind of stigma that makes her avoid getting the help she needs as quickly as possible?

    I would hope that we could support each mother’s individual choice in these situations.
    .-= Katherine Stone´s last blog ..The Endless What-Ifs of Postpartum Anxiety =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 9, 2009 at 11:03 am

    PPD is absolutely a dirty little secret (in a manner of speaking) for breastfeeding activists – including myself. I long resisted writing about how breastfeeding was complicating my struggle with PPD – when I quit, I didn’t even admit that I’d made an active choice, and that it was because I needed to deal with my depression. We *should* be talking about this – it doesn’t compromise the BFing movement – or it shouldn’t – for us to acknowledge that the relation between PPD and BFing can be problematic. And talking about it could save lives.

    Amber October 8, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    “her permission to give up was exactly (if perversely) the motivation I needed to keep going, because the knowledge that I could quit if I got to the breaking point was enough to push me to continue to keep giving it another day, day after day”

    This same permission the NICU nurses, the lactation consultants, our pediatrician…my bf gave me is what drives me to keep going. I know I could stop….but I won’t. It’s been 7.5 HARD months. Fist pumping to no avail for 5 weeks while Alexa was in the NICU…months of meds and herbs to help production. Nipple shields and supplementing. FINALLY my body works…I couldn’t quit after all that…I just can’t.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..Different Strokes =-.

    eva October 9, 2009 at 12:45 am

    Wait a second…you had difficulty with your SECOND baby? I held out for 17 months of hellish breastfeeding of my daughter (skin ulcers on my nipples! It was THAT BAD!), always telling myself that at least it would be waaay easier and better and, well, less painful with my second. Who hasn’t even been conceived yet, but is still in my head waiting with his/her perfect latch and easygoing second-born manner. ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS MAY NOT BE A GUARANTEE????
    .-= eva´s last blog ..Things That Make Me Go Hmmmm =-.

    Her Bad Mother October 9, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I am. SORRY (**apologetic smile**)

    TIna C. October 9, 2009 at 11:51 am

    hold up. my 2nd baby came 2 months early. if i hadn’t bfed the 1st one, i seriously doubt i would’ve been able to pump milk for him (my milk came in about 4 days quicker 2nd time around) or nurse his teeny-tiny self in the NICU. i’m telling eva it was WAY easier for me the 2nd time.

    ps — i could talk about this topic until cows come home.

    Marianne October 9, 2009 at 6:40 am

    Formula should be available to mothers by prescription, and at least one consultation with a good lactation consultant should be a requirement alongside the prescription. Then it would be clear that moms who are bottle feeding have to do so, and there will be no stigma.

    It should also be noted that the specific bottle-feeding habits play into the mix of negtivity about bottle feeding too. Far too many moms give bottle-feeding a poor reputation by propping their baby’s bottle, leting their kids run aroudn with bottles on their own, putting pop in baby bottles, etc. So it becomes not just a matter of what is in the bottle.

    makyo October 9, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    “Then it would be clear that moms who are bottle feeding have to do so, and there will be no stigma.”

    you’re assuming that everyone who bottle-feeds does so out of medical necessity. isn’t there room for women who simply choose not to breastfeed? not out of necessity or out of ignorance, but simply by virtue of making their own adult decision. those women deserve not to be vilified for their choice.

    Jessi October 9, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Please, make formula a prescription, then my freakin’ insurance will chip in on it. this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. How about this? How about we make mothers stand in the town square and defend every choice they’ve ever made. We’ll assign letters. I’ll wear a red F for Formula.
    .-= Jessi´s last blog ..The Breast Debate Ever =-.

    Judy October 9, 2009 at 8:53 am

    I have to disagree with the formula by prescription idea – the pharmaceutical companies would no doubt cause the price to shoot up, and make bottle feeding unavailable to a lot of people because of that. I also don’t see why we should have to prove that we “have to” bottle feed our children. We shouldn’t have to prove anything. It should be a choice, and the choices should be respected by people who make or do not make the same choices.

    We’ve gotten ridiculous about thinking we have the right to criticize others’ parenting. We see someone bottle feeding and think she is a careless mother who doesn’t care about her baby. We see someone breast feeding and think she is a shameless hussy for exposing her breasts in public. We see someone smack a child on his well-padded bottom and we think they are child abusers. We see someone smoke a cigarette while walking with their child in a park, and think they are endangering the child’s life. We need to get over that.

    I grew up in a simpler time. Many breast fed, many bottle fed, it was a matter of choice and no one criticized either. Neighbors and teachers used corporal punishment on misbehaving children. We smoked. We fried food. We let the kids go hog-wild on candy on Halloween. And we all grew up – no less healthy than today’s children, and to a great extent, better behaved. We are not making progress.

    Her Bad Mother October 9, 2009 at 11:05 am

    I was formula fed. My sister was formula fed. Pretty much all of my peers were formula fed. I’m willing to bet that most of my (smart and healthy) grad school colleagues were formula fed (my friend, quoted above, was one of them.) Now, maybe if we’d been breastfed, more of us would have tenure already, but then again: maybe not ;)

    Mary October 9, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Mothers need to stop all the judgment of each other and be more willing to accept the differences in choices that mothers make. There are very few mother’s out there who do not want the best for their children no matter what their choices are. We see all the stories of “bad” mothers on the news and suddenly see that as a major issue while millions of us are at home just trying to to do the best we can with the choices we are making. Some of those choices will be good some not so much but they will equalize each other out to make us all good moms.
    Before women become mothers we do not place the judgments on each other and the pressure to do the right thing is not there like it is after children. We need to go back to that type of thinking and let mothers be and congratulate them for taking on the toughest job in the world and making the best choices they know how for their families and circumstances.

    Rhonda October 9, 2009 at 11:42 am

    I have three kids, 17, 13, 5, all of them bottle fed. By choice. And when I say “by choice,” I mean COMPLETELY by choice. No impairment, no medication, no inability, I just simply never had any desire to even attempt it. And based on that, I knew it would be a disastrous event for all involved. And sorry, I’ve never, ever felt guilty about it. Oh, many people made it their business to ensure that I knew that I would be raising a bunch of drooling, barely able to function lumps. However, they are, unbelievably, ordinary, average kids. And I refuse to believe that if you lined up all the kids in each of their classes, ANYBODY would be able to go child by child and say “breast, breast, bottle, breast, bottle.” Breast feeding – hooray! Don’t be ashamed, feed your baby anywhere you like. Bottle feeding – hooray! Don’t feel guilty – after all, you are FEEDING your baby, and not letting it starve to death.

    As stated by a previous commenter, we just judge each other way too much. Have a great day!

    Alexicographer October 9, 2009 at 11:57 am

    @Marianne @ “Formula should be available to mothers by prescription.” And presumably fast-food too? Can we offer a need-based dispensation to allow those who can’t afford the good stuff to buy non-organic produce? Yikes.

    Jen October 9, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Awesome post. I find myself stuck in this conundrum. On the one hand, I breastfed my kids and I think that if it is medially possible, people should at least try to do it. On the other hand, I don’t want to be a judgmental asshole and I know that kids that are fed formula are just as healthy most of the time as kids who are fed breastmilk.
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Dodging Illness =-.

    Brittany at Mommy Words October 23, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Jen I too am stuck in this conundrum. My husband wants to shoot me I talk about it so much. I think and dream about it! I run myself in circles…and I too, am not an asshole. I am going to post in the comments but I wanted you to know I get you!

    Megs October 9, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Agreed, agreed, agreed. To most of the above in your post, to most of the above from your commenters.

    “Most” even when the views sometimes seem opposed, because as you say, it’s just not a simple equation that breast=best when you take into account what is “best” for mothers, families, women, feminism, etc. etc.

    Recently covered a lot of the above issues, far less articulately, in a post about pumping in public restrooms:
    .-= Megs´s last blog ..Photo Friday: Injurious Bastard. =-.

    Sheri Bheri October 9, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    I think I got over it when I was able to figure out EXACTLY how I felt about it.

    My cousin’s wife did NOT want to BF. My Aunt wanted her to (for all the right reasons) and was going to ‘talk’ to her about it (yeah, my aunt could be THAT MIL). But my Uncle stepped in and said “AUNT! They’re her t!ts, leave her alone.”

    And that summarizes EXACTLY how I feel about the BF/FF debate, YOU get to do what YOU want with YOUR b00bs. And for me, it worked at the OTHER end of the spectrum too, because I was nursing a 3 y/o.

    I’d also like to point out that BF and FF are not mutually exclusive! My production was somewhat low and my DD got a bottle of formula every evening until she started solids. I guess I was lucky that my midwife supported me COMPLETELY in feeding my baby.

    Vicky October 12, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    My son had respitory issues at birth and I had ‘what the hell just happened’ issues after he was born. He ended up staying in NICU for a week and I went home in a daze. I tried to pump and nothing, literally nothing came out so I stopped. I decided that I would be better off being rested for when he finally came home. My real disappointment about not breastfeeding was that it was going to be really hard to lose the 70lbs I gained. But man, I felt guilty because I was a ‘bad’ mother.
    I didn’t even attempt to breastfeed my daughter and again, the guilt was there. But my daughter had colic. Bottle feeding allowed me to collect my thoughts while someone else fed her because there were days when I was curled up on my couch crying and thinking it was never going to get better.
    My son rarely gets sick, has a fabulous memory and an amazing smile. My daughter is 2.5. She has never been sick other than a mild cold. She is smart, full of personality and active.
    A few of my friends who breastfed have kids that are sick every couple of months – ear infections, stomach flu. So while the studies say kids who are breastfed are healthier, well, here I am saying that my kids are healthier than others and they were formula fed.
    Some kids walk at 10 months, others at 16 months. Some kids talk early, some are late. I don’t want my ‘claim to fame’ to be that my kids were breastfed.
    I assume that if breast is best all criminals were formula fed because obviously breastfed babies would never commit crimes.
    The older I get, the older my kids get, the more I realize it doesn’t matter. I had my children vaginally and would never ever think I am a better mother for that.
    There was a study released that said babies born to mothers who suffered morning sickness have higher i.q.s than mothers who didn’t have morning sickness. ‘Sickness is best’?

    Michelle October 13, 2009 at 5:08 am

    Hi-I live in Australia and its an issue there too. I’m so glad you raised it.

    I became really ill with some severe postnatal mood disorders right after the birth. Because of the new brain chemistry altering effects of my milk, and my need for uninterupted sleep, I had to tearfully give up breastfeeding, which I’d ironically taken to like a duck to water.

    Finding information about about which formula is best is next to impossible. All I run into is “breast is best” and “all formula is second rate”. We’re intelligent women-if Choice Magazine can find significant differences between dishwasher powders, you can bet your life they can find them between formula brands. But I’ll never know, because of the mantra we’re all afraid to stop muttering to each other.

    If it weren’t for the fact that I was formula feed myself on even more inadequate 1970′s formula and went on to get a law degree and represent my state in tennis, I might actually start to believe formula is poison and be guilt tripped by the experts. But it’s not. It’s not plan A and never should be. But as far as a plan B goes, it’s far preferable to dead or brain damaged babies (which is what I would have had without it). If you look at it that way, your head stops hurting real fast.

    Jennifer A October 15, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    I did breastfeed both my kids with formula supplementation. And I got responses that breastfeeding was gross, sexual and nasty all the way to giving my kids formula was like feeding them arsenic in a baby bottle. It did not help the hospital I had my kids at was shoving breast feeding down my throat and I was a bad mom if I didn’t do it.
    My daughter refused to latch so I pumped (and had to supplement) for 6 months when I had enough (and my boss was complaining about the break I took every day). My SIL threw out a bottle when she found out it had breastmilk. My MIL delighted in telling me how much formula my daughter had in a day and my milk could not sustain her. I had said that if my son did not latch, I would not even go through what I had. He did latch, but it was not enought so I supplemented for 6 months and thrown in the towel. My inlaws were repulsed I breastfed (they formula fed, why would I chose to ruin my breasts?) while my family was repulsed I gave him ANY formula(They breastfed with almost no supplementation, why couldn’t I do it?)
    My kids are healthy and happy and normal weights. They have asthma that has gotten better as they are getting older, but so does their mom and dad.
    We moms cannot get a break no matter how well our kids are doing or have done.
    .-= Jennifer A´s last blog ..Santa* may lose her mind before the holidays =-.

    Brittany at Mommy Words October 23, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    I am so torn on this because I am a huge fan of giving the boob when possible and when it is good for the mom and the baby. I had a terrible time for the first 2-3months breastfeeding both of my babies with severe hyperlactation. It caused my kids to have an impossible time latching on because they would basically drown in the milk that was spraying them and caused me to have mastitis at least 5 times with each of them. Whole boob swollen, fever, chills – yep! Oh and thrush where you have fungus there…nasty. Oh and I had to weigh them each at every feeding for the first month plus to make sure that the milk was going in them and not on them.

    Without support I would have given up.

    I can say that I had an awesome lactation consultant and friends and family that knew I was committed to bfing my kids if at all possible. In our classes before my first was born, the LC said if you don’t have support and others tell you to give up, you will give up if it gets hard. She was right. My husband and mom talked to me in the middle of the night when I was in severe pain. My boss let me pump whenever I needed to to relieve the soreness and be okay – and yes, he was a dude! My sisters thought I was crazy but they too always reminded me that I wanted to do this. Everyone said if I was really having too hard a time they would understand, given the complications but like you Catherine, this made me more determined!

    And I did it.

    I do not judge people who do not do this but for me it was right and it ended up being the most wonderful thing I have ever done. I adored those moments with my kids and I was, I will admit, SUPER proud of myself for sticking with it.

    And while I did not judge – I felt judged and I felt anger coming from some of my friends and colleagues who did not breastfeed. Am I crazy? I don’t think so. If I breastfeed it is my choice, just like bottle feeding is a choice. I used a nursing cover when I was a around people who were uncomfortable even though I feel no need to. I tried to be as sensitive as possible. But still, I was told over and over that formula is just as good, that breastfeeding in public is strange, that breastfeeding is fine when it comes to you easy but that a LOT of women just can’t and it makes them uncomfortable to talk about or see breastfeeding.

    Others have said it but there needs to be additional sensitivity on both sides. If I breastfeed, people can disagree but I should be able to feed my baby whenever I need to and not shove myself in a bathroom or in my car to make other people uncomfortable. They are uncomfortable because it is still not really accepted in many places. I also should be able to say I breastfeed and tell people when they ask, which they do, why I made that choice, without people thinking I am judging them for making a different one. I am not – I am just being honest about my own experience. I will be sensitive of your experience too. I will not judge. But let’s let people be themselves and not shove breastfeeding mothers in closet because of people’s discomfort with the issue.

    I agree with Jennifer – we just can’t get a break!

    Whew – that was a vent. Great post!

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