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When to Debate Breastfeeding vs. Bottle Feeding

I watched a news report on the Public Service Announcements showing the pregnant women log rolling and the women on the mechanical bull - saying "you wouldn't risk your child's health like this before it's born, why risk it after?" The implication is that not nursing your child is akin to riding a mechanical bull - dangerous and stupid - when the obvious is right in front of you regarding health and well-being of your child.

Over the years, I've had a few women not start out nursing at all. Usually they were women who either had had serious breast surgeries that prohibited it or women with incest/abuse issues. Even my Hispanic clients almost always started out nursing (although they do tend to supplement with chamomile tea and sometimes formula).

As time passes, I am seeing more and more women who do not make milk. Sometimes women with pharmaceutical help still cannot produce milk. I see women with PCOS struggling with milk supply. I see fat women with undiagnosed PCOS/insulin resistance struggling, too. I see women who seem to be in the picture of health struggling with milk production. What is going on?

I've talked to other Lactation Consultants and their words have been so helpful for me to acknowledge my reality is also theirs. It is true; more women cannot nurse today than 20 years ago.

Is our environment killing breastmilk? Is our own pollution, pesticides, and trash causing the survival of the fittest mechanism to snap into action? If we were in another culture where breastfeeding was the only option and a woman couldn't, she would either find someone to do it or the baby would perish.

I know women who want to nurse so badly, they would cut their wrists and drip blood if they thought it would create breastmilk. Women search far and wide for breastmilk, sometimes from complete strangers, so their children are able to have the very best they can't give to their own babies. I know that drive - I did it for my son when he was so, so sick as a baby. I only had to acquire breastmilk until I had my second child, though... a very limited time. I cannot begin to imagine the anguish many women experience when they are unable to nurse their own children.

So, what of these ads? Should we applaud them and say, "So sorry you feel bad, you non-lactating women, but these ads aren't meant for you?" Should we love them and tell women how fabulous nursing is? Putting the previous post's article in their take-home goodie bag of stuff to read? Should we make bottles as heretical as I previously proposed we do to epidurals? (or cesareans on demand?)

How do we take care of women who really, really cannot nurse while also putting pressure on women who don't want to nurse because their boobs might sag? Is my reasoning even valid for other women?

This is often a case of the woman not having enough information to make an informed choice. La Leche League notwithstanding, most women don't have access to immediate and free breastfeeding help (and many don't have the Internet to look things up). Our culture makes it seem so damn difficult to nurse, if we could figure out a way to make it seem simpler, perhaps the rates would climb. Maybe if there were enough of us lactivists around, nursing would become the norm. Instead of bottles of formula everywhere being acceptable and women being asked to breastfeed their children on a public toilet, perhaps slings and babies at work could become the norm.

I saw the commercials and watched the news reports and laughed when they interviewed bottle feeding moms saying how hard breastfeeding was, how tied down they were, how guilty they felt watching the commercials.

I believe if you have no reason to feel guilty, then you wouldn't mind the message. If you aren't comfortable with your decision, then, by all means, feel bad about it.

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Reader Comments (12)

I am so damn fatigued by all these people who are fussing because they feel guilty when they see a commercial.
If the shoe fits - wear it. If it doesn't, then store it in the closet because it may fit at another time.
Breat milk IS the BEST for babies....but formula is an acceptable alternative for those women who can't or won't breastfeed. Do your research, look at your options, weigh your heart, make a choice and be solid in your efforts to do what is best for your baby AND you. Then hush up and stop taking everything so darn personal when the population is being educated. Not everyone is trying to attack your parenting choices and if you feel like you made the best decision for you and your baby - then stop crying foul and get over it.
The truth should not go squashed and hushed because it makes someone uncomfortable....the only problem with that is that we all hold different truths :/
The bottom line remains - we are all individuals responsible for making our own choices and we need to find a way OUT of the guilty corner and into an empowering corner.
I better stop now. that's probably way more than any of you readers are interested in, huh? LOL

June 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLife's Laundry

check out this article on the language that we use to describe the benefits of breastfeeding: http://www.bobrow.net/kimberly/birth/BFLanguage.html. It got me thinking and it can be applied to alot of things, including homebirth or midwifery care.

June 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I just wish it was prescription-only. That sends a clear message. I know peds would over-prescribe, but ...


June 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I had so many problems breastfeeding (low supply, lazy baby) that I came close to giving up more times than I can count. The only reason I ever succeeded at nursing was that I found a lactation consultant who was actually not a nitwit. The "free" lactation consulting at the hospital was a joke. I spent hundreds of dollars resolving our breastfeeding issue. Would I do it again? Absolutely. But I had the luxury of spending money like that. We can't expect the poor to be able to do that.

Incidentally, my husband is Mexican and his mother is always trying to get me to give the baby tea. Do you know why?

June 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBethiclaus

LL: You speak it as you see it... and I absolutely agree (as you know). I don't think you said too much at all; I think you said it just right.

Anon: I will check out the article... bet it's a doozy.

MM: I agree! Let's make it prescription only! What a great idea! How long would insurance pay then, eh?

Bethiclaus: It is sad to know that money might be the only thing standing between a successful or an unsuccessful breastfeeding experience... sad, but true.

Te de manzanilla - chamomile tea - is commonly given even to brand new newborns. Most of us know that chamomile tea has a soothing effect on the tummy and Mexicans seem to incorporate that into their infant and child's diet from the get-go.

Early in working with migrants, I tried to get them to stop the bottles, but all I got them to do was hide them from me. Instead, I began gently counseling them to nurse the baby first and then give the te de manzanilla after the baby is full. That went over much better. I realized, not quickly enough, that trying to change a culture is rude and arrogant. I then began reserving my Anglo opinion unless it had to do with life and death (extreme swaddling in August in El Paso, for example).

Does that help?

June 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Just wanting some feedback. I saw a teen mom yesterday, (Peruvian and Mexican) and I told her to give the baby a little cup or finger feed if she felt the need to give tea...

June 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I think the ads are over the top and not helpful.

I am one of the women who had trouble producing milk, I did and still do feel guilty about it. I had to stop breastfeeding at 6months and 9 months (1st and 2nd kids) and I supplemented sooner than that with the 1st (went back to work).

I think saying "if the shoe fits, wear it, if it doesn't put it away" or "if you feel guilty you have a reason to" is bunk, hurtful and not helpful at all. I would have dripped blood if it would have produced something good for my baby. But formula didn't kill either of them.

I had to make the choice to do the best I could to feed my baby. It wasn't some vain nonsense about boobs sagging (although I'm probably facing reduction surgery as I went from a D cup to an H cup and now have back problems). It wasn't the inconvenience to my person, but the societial lack of accomodation certainly made me feel uncomfortable for the 15 months I did put in with nursing.

And I still feel guilty. Guilty because some part of my body betrayed what was "best" for my children. And if I was a better person or mother, obviously this would have never been an issue.

Since when have people only felt guilty because they "should"?

June 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

You're incredibly eloquent. Your last line made me want to hug you: that's exactly how I feel. THANK YOU!

June 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

I have to agree with the anon post two above mine... it is very easy when you CAN breastfeed to oversimplify the feelings and decisions of those who can not or do not.

After several years of painful fibroid cysts and tumors in my breasts, I made the decision to have two reductions at age 23 and 24. When I became pregnant, I read everything on BFAR and worked closely with a lactation consultant to try and nurse my son. Unfortunately, it was not in the cards for us. By the 12 week mark, I had no supply left and we were 100% on formula... Thank goodness that I ahve a supportinve consultant and pediatirican who worked with me to find the best solution for our family and my son's needs.

My reduction was the right decision for me and while I did the best I could to overcome that obstacle and nurse, I still feel guilt.

Campaigns like this don't make me feel any worse, but they certianly embolden those who feel that it is OK to call into question my "decision" not to nurse my children. The commercials give "concerned" citizens a platform from which to criticize everyone who doesn't nurse under a single umbrella. It is not supportive, it is not constructive. It only serves to instill guilt and fear... Two things, IMHO, new mothers could do without...

Positive conversations about the reality of breastfeeding, adequate access to support and guidance... these would be productive ways to spend that money...

June 19, 2006 | Unregistered Commentertpon

Anon: Re finger or cup feeding tea to newborn

This is an interesting thing I've seen over time - Hispanic babies don't get nipple confusion (as a rule). I've written that I can't help but wonder if nipple confusion isn't an expectation and a to-think-is-to-create situation. From day 1, the babies I've seen were introduced to bottles and never had one iota of an issue going back and forth between breast and bottle.

Of course, I was trained differently and know the mechanical differences between bottle and breast feeding tongue positions, but in babies not expected to have nipple confusion, they simply don't get it.

If the client wants to finger feed, then sure, no problem. If mom is going to feel guilty about using a bottle because it's easier for her, then re-thinking the issue might be good.

Anon and tpon - Re-reading what I wrote, I cannot imagine how you read that I over-simplified or minimized your anguish over struggles to nurse your babies. I do not believe I said that at all.

What I did say is that MOST women don't have the correct information, that our society doesn't support correct information or a system of free quality help (beyond La Leche League).

Months ago, I wrote of a client with a dramatic breast reduction who couldn't get the Baby-Friendly Hospital to give her formula for her child until I told the nurse to call the Pediatrician IMMEDIATELY for a prescription for that starving child.

I absolutely acknowledge the difficulties and emotional anguish. I work with women who have experienced it all the time!

It doesn't mean I don't think the ads are a delightful introduction to a discussion of the medical pluses of breastmilk. Look at the discussion here!

A poster asked why breastmilk doesn't do all it is claimed to do. The answer is NOTHING does all it is claimed to do - not haircuts, not medications, not even a loving marriage. If one can avoid even one of the illnesses they know can be avoided by nursing/extended nursing, then a baby and mother are ahead of the game.

No claims are ever made that artifical infant milk helps children and adults avoid diabetes, breast cancer and other diseases.

Again, the ads are merely a springboard for lively discussion.

June 20, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Breast feeding or bottle feeding is a personal choice. My daughter was bottle feed. Did I feel guilty about my decision, no. Did she suffer any ill-effect from my decision, no. She is a healthy, happy, educated young lady living life to the fullest.

July 16, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterrmgales

Add me to the group who wishes hospital lac consultants were better informed. My husband and I had the wherewithal to afford bringing in our own (from the breastfeeding class we took prior to birth) when we had a feeling something was off. We still say it's the best $100 we ever spent in our lives, and created a wonderful extended breastfeeding relationship that I am so grateful to have been a part of.

But we're lucky. We had education and money behind us. It seems like the scales were tilted in our (and our son's) favor from the get-go. I'm not saying someone else couldn't do it without determination and places like LLL, but the simplicity of resolving our issues is simply not available to everyone.

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTara Incognita

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