I haven’t written about breastfeeding in quite some time. It hasn’t been a big factor in my life recently, as we weaned in December and I quit my job as lactation consultant in January. I’ve kept a small presence in the online portion of a breastfeeding support group I helped found (just can’t quite let go) and when someone recently equated formula to poison, it ruffled my feathers.
Wait, a lactation consultant who doesn’t think formula is the devil? (Trust me, we’re out there).
The short answer is no. I do think that formula-feeding moms deserve a product with better ingredients (lose the GMO’s, guys, or at least label that you use them so parents can make informed decisions about what they feed their babies!!). However, infant formula is not a substance that, when introduced into or absorbed by a living organism, causes death or injury, esp. one that kills by rapid action. Nor is it an American butt rock band that gave us such classics as “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Nothin’ But a Good Time.”
Well, why would it bother me if someone else bad-mouths formula?
Because I used to be one of those judgmental assholes and I feel ashamed of my past.
When I was pregnant, I was determined to breastfeed. I knew it was the best option for my baby and I couldn’t believe that everyone else didn’t think the same as me! I railed on and on to my friend who was pregnant at the same time about how I couldn’t imagine mothers not wanting to breastfeed, what’s wrong with them, how could they harm their babies that way. My friend admitted that she might have to formula feed because of a previous breast reduction surgery, and I pitied her. I embodied the stereotype of the militant lactivist.
Then, I had my baby and got to experience the reality of breastfeeding. It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s downright hellish. I started to see why some moms not want to do it, or might not be able to do it, and my rock-solid belief of “breast is best” started to crack a little (along with my nipples). I began to realize I may have been wrong to be so judgmental.
My friend had her baby and told me that she had never planned to breastfeed; she just used the excuse of her breast reduction surgery to placate me. She told me that she felt uncomfortable with so much attention on her breasts and didn’t want to do it, but was worried how I would judge her if she admitted that. I felt like a world class scumbag. Back then, she was one of my best friends. During a time that was so special to both of us (how many people are lucky enough to experience their first pregnancies alongside their best friend?), I ruined some of the excitement with my narrow-minded views. This took those small cracks in my “breast is best” belief and shattered it.
What little pieces of my judgmental self remained were obliterated when I started working as a lactation consultant. I worked in a hospital with around 500 births a year. In the beginning, I know there were a few moms I upset with my reaction to them using formula. This was in part due to the pressure being put on me to produce higher breastfeeding rates, and every mom that used formula cut into that. Thankfully, I quickly realized that numbers were not as important as the moms and babies who represented them. I also realized that it was not my job to shame a mom into breastfeeding, and being disappointed in a mom for using formula was extremely arrogant and inappropriate. To those moms, I apologize.
Though I did help our hospital achieve amazing breastfeeding rates, I feel my most important job was building up moms – especially those for whom breastfeeding was not working out. Moms would show up in my office, exhausted and worn out from a constant merry-go-round of feeding, pumping, supplementing and tearfully admit that they couldn’t do it anymore. They would then break down and sob, proclaiming themselves failures for not being able to breastfeed and for having to use formula. This is usually the part where my heart broke, and I’d often tear up with them. I looked those moms straight in the eye and told them they were good mothers. I told them that the bond between mom and baby was more important than how baby was fed. I told them their babies were going to thrive and be happy, no matter how baby was fed. I told them they were amazing, strong mamas for loving their babies so much. They would look at me in disbelief, with tears in their eyes, and I would keep repeating it until I saw a glimmer of acceptance. I believed it was my job to be one of the lone breastfeeding supporters who could also (gasp!) support moms who didn’t breastfeed.
It’s because of those moms that I bristle when I see someone call formula poison or insinuate that formula-feeding moms are somehow less than breastfeeding moms. Seeing crap like that only rubs salt in those mothers’ wounds. They beat themselves up enough as it is; they don’t need random people spewing garbage like that. I wish I could go back in time and smack my judgmental self on the forehead. If I could, I would then tell her this: