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Can You Really Call Yourself AP if You Don’t Breastfeed?

Breastfeeding an infant

Image via Wikipedia

Well, no – according to a lot of the Attachment Parenting sites and blogs and parents out there.

But I think you can.

I’ve been meaning to post on this for awhile, and a friend’s post having to do with the subject spurred me to do it today.

I want to say first – I do enjoy and learn a lot from many of the attachment parenting sites out there – and I do believe that breast is best. But here’s what I’ve learned so far about formula feeding mums. They are:

  • Lazy
  • Selfish
  • Neglectful
  • Too interested in climbing the career ladder to take care of their child
  • Feminist (used as an insult – lol)
  • Feeding their baby poison

Now, the reason I write all of this is not really to rant – but because I used to agree with it!

Before I became a mother, I was able to judge with the best of them. I never even questioned the fact the I would breastfeed. I did my research – I read in many places that it’s not something that’s easy, but I knew it would be easy for me – I mean, it’s the most natural thing in the world to do, right?

Then I had the Bean.

And let me tell you – my breastfeeding experience was a nightmare. Having so much trouble with something I was so sure I would be able to do was one of the most difficult experiences of my life.

To begin, the day the Bean was born, the hospital’s lactation consultant came to see me. She told me I was doing it wrong, that I had the wrong type of breastfeeding pillow, and showed me one feeding position. All of this took about 5 minutes; then she went away.

I wanted to leave the hospital the same day the Bean was born – because I had a midwife I was allowed to do this. But because that wonderful lactation consultant had told the nurse I wasn’t doing well with breastfeeding, the nurse who released me also expressed her doubts about my ability and whether or not she should let me go home.

Already, this was becoming a frustrating experience. I really wasn’t worried at this point – I knew that breastfeeding was something that both the Bean and I had to learn how to do. She wasn’t crying or starving or having any issues, and I knew my midwife would be able to help me – why was I already having to face so much discouragement?

I did end up convincing the nurse to let me leave with the assurance that I would have help from my midwife. And the first few days were OK – certainly not wonderful on the breastfeeding end, particularly with the insane lack of sleep, but I thought I was doing OK.

Then the pain started…I swear, it was worse than childbirth! My cracked and bleeding nipples were constantly hurting – add in the sucking power of the industrial strength vacuum cleaner that was the Bean’s mouth, and I was in agony. Not only that, but she had this trick of screaming her head off every other time she was put to the breast – sucking, refusing to stay on, screaming, throwing in a bite here and there…it was awful.

By day 3, I was paging my midwife every day. The Bean wasn’t gaining weight or having the proper amount of wet diapers. I was terrified. I have gone through a miscarriage – I know that babies can be lost – the idea of my precious daughter not gaining weight was doing my head in.

My midwife was so encouraging to me – she really did try to help in every way she could. On her suggestion, I went to see another lactation consultant. I was in tears the entire time I was there – all I could think about was my inadequacy as a mother – what kind of mother has so much trouble feeding her child?

The lactation consultant was sympathetic, but not helpful at all. She seemed scared by my tears, and when she showed me what to do (pretty much exactly what I had been doing), all she did was tell me I didn’t seem to have any problem and keep on doing what I had been doing.

This was not working…

I kept at it. I was pumping to make sure to increase my milk supply – adding more pain to my sore body. It seemed like if she wasn’t nursing, I was pumping. I couldn’t get away from the pain. Added to that, my back was killing me – I could not find a comfortable place to nurse no matter what chair or couch I sat in. And I was still recovering from childbirth!

By day 10, when the bean hadn’t eaten for 6 hours and wouldn’t stop screaming, I gave in. I gave her a bottle, and the miraculous happened. She sucked it down, filled her little belly, and slept happily.

I agonized over the decision to give her formula, but even the thought of trying to breastfeed or pump one more time was more than I could handle. Most people say that breastfeeding is an incredible bond with your baby that you can’t get anywhere else – but for me, I actually hated my daughter when she was on my breast. I did not enjoy the experience at all, ever. I couldn’t stand the fact that I actually felt hate and anger toward my 10 day old child, and I wasn’t going to let it continue.

I started feeding her formula. The guilt was huge, but it was such a burden off of me to know that my daughter was getting food – that she was happy and eating and filling her diapers the way she was supposed to.

I made my husband come with me to the midwife appointment to tell her my decision – I was SO afraid she would judge me! But she didn’t – she was amazing. She could already see the difference in me as well – a smiling, happy mother with a smiling, happy baby – as opposed to the tearful and screaming duo we were before.

This is getting to be a long post, but I really want to share my story, because I know I’m not the only one, and I don’t think us formula feeding mamas should have to slog through such a huge swamp of judgment for making this very difficult decision. (Nor do I have any secret ties to the formula companies – if that is your conclusion from reading this, please go away :) )

I have 3 very close mommy friends with children around the age of mine. 2 of them breastfeed, 1 of them formula feeds. When I told the first two I was formula feeding, they didn’t judge me for a second. They were interested in knowing the reason behind my decision, but beyond that, all they offered was support. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that!

I have also had the experience of seeing the cold veneer that can come over someone’s face when they find out I’m giving my baby formula. Fortunately, it hasn’t happened often – but it’s never nice to know that someone is judging you – particularly when they don’t know what you had to go through to make that decision.

I am very regretful that I used to be one of the judging camp (and sometimes I still stumble in that area) – but I do encourage you, if that’s where you are, to step outside of it and breathe in that fresh air feeling of not knowing everything – and being OK with it.

And if you’re feeling judged, don’t let yourself be guilted. Own your decision – know that you made it because it was best for your family (not because you are selfish, lazy, etc.). (A great post you might want to check out about this whole letting people judge you thing can be found at Job Description: Mommy)

Breastfeeding is a big topic right now. There is a lot of research that says breastmilk is best for babies, and the advantages that it can give to both mom and baby are pretty amazing. And I don’t have any exact statistics, but I believe the percentage of women who actually cannot physically produce milk are fairly low.

But I shouldn’t have to be pushed into saying ‘I couldn’t breastfeed’ just because I’m afraid that someone will judge me (and I’ll admit it – I have done it a few times).

I honestly believe if there was more support out there for moms who are struggling, instead of finger pointing, a lot more moms might actually be breastfeeding. It’s a complex issueparticularly when you throw in the stigma of breastfeeding in public, the honestly insidious marketing strategies of formula companies, the strain for some moms who have to go back to work soon after the baby comes, postpartum depression, and myriad other issues involved – you can parrot breast is best till you’re blue in the face – but please, acknowledge the reality that there are no easy answers here.

I think if I do it again (and I will be if God blesses us with more children), I will actively seek out better support, and I will recognize that it might be really, really hard, and I won’t make the mistake of defining myself as a good or bad mother based on whether or not I choose to continue nursing.

I will own my decision – but it would also be nice if I didn’t have to justify it to anyone. I believe I have a right – along with every other mommy – to be accepted for my choices – whether that be as a formula feeding mommy in an attachment parenting forum, or a breastfeeding mommy who wants to feed her child outside of the restroom or the car.

With the evidence of a happy, healthy baby before me, I should need no other assurance – or defense. :)


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9 Responses to “Can You Really Call Yourself AP if You Don’t Breastfeed?”

  • Kelly Martinez says:

    Kudos to you Kel for sharing your story an telling it like it is. I'm so sorry you had such a terrible experience. As a breastfeedin mama who has successfully mastered nursing two babies, even in public, returning to work, pumping, nursing/bottle feeding, and even with Nat being in the NICU for over a week before I was ever able to nurse her– I want mamas who want to nurse and struggle to know that success is possible and to not just give up without trying if it's something they really want. You sought assistance and it turns out that with the Bean, it wasn't the answer for the two of you. I'm glad you can own that. As a breastfeeding mama, let me tell you that it's not only ok that you feed her formula, it's the right thing. Every baby is different. Every time you're a new mama it's different. And it IS complicated. But nursing (aside from let-down) should be painless (until they chomp down with teeth because they think it's funny!). If a nursing mama isn't experiencing that, than here is a problem that you either have to figure out or abort mission because it will kill you. And if nursing doesn't work for you, for any reason, you're right, you shouldn't have to justify it.

    One thing about everything out there for new moms is that they all come across as 100% correct on whatever subject and if you do ANYTHING differently you're a terrible mommy. I've learned you have to read the advice and take them all with a grain of salt. Sift out what works for you and don't feel bad about the rest. You k ow what's right for your family.

    • Kelly says:

      Thank you so much my dear :) You are one of the mamas we need to see more of!

      And I give you kudos for nursing two little ones even through those struggles.

      In regards to taking it all with a grain of salt – 100%, no question, absolutely DO do this! :) One of the reasons I am interested in blogging, and someday becoming a doula and/or midwife, is to do whatever small part I can to help allay this mommy guilt that is so prevalent among us. I think most mommies out there are trying their darndest to do the best by their kids in spite of literally mountains of obstacles, and that we all need to give each other a little bit more benefit of the doubt.

      Be educated – yes. Be open minded – yes. Try your best – yes. But in the end – you are right on – YOU are the one who knows what's right for your family. I really just want finding those answers to be more of a blessing than a trial for all those mommies out there. :)

  • Heck yes, Mama!

    If we have another baby, we're skipping the breastfeeding all together. That choice might make me far more unpopular than the "I tried and it was hard so I made the best choice for my baby" track… but that's ok with me. It will still be our choice and what will be best for my family.

    I'm ok with people thinking that I'm neglectful, lazy, or too interested in my career – I'm not neglectful and certainly not lazy, but I AM interested in my career, and that doesn't make me a bad mother – it makes me a responsible mother who will be able to feed her family, a mother who knows that taking care of herself will only lead to taking care of her family, and that her success is her family's success.

    It doesn't matter if someone is "ok" with our formula feeding, or if I am "ok" with their nursing… because no outside permission is needed.

    This competition/guilt thing between moms is ridiculous. You can judge me if you want, but there really is no point. I will still make my choices for my family. Everyone that I know is just trying their best to do what is right for them.

    Thanks for posting! Sorry for writing you a novel…

    • Kelly says:

      lol Michelle, no worries – I think that post was a novel in itself!

      You are so right on about choosing what is best for your family and not needing outside permission – and you are a star for owning your own choices!

      I agree that it doesn't matter if people are OK with those choices…but I do wish there was a little less judgment going on all around. I think new moms, particularly, need a whole lotta support – not a whole lotta worry and people questioning their decisions.

      In the end, the decisions we make are our own – and we know the reasons we made them – and if we let others make us feel guilty then we're not headed in the right direction.

      But during a very fragile time for new mums, I do feel a need sometimes to call out the people who make the assumptions and the judgments – especially around feeding our babas. Mommies need support more than they need to be discouraged – whether that's from family, friends, random strangers in the mall or on the internet. :)

  • Kelly Martinez says:

    Absolutely Kelly! Sounds like you've got a little ministry. I've often found that my heart is for those who struggle with the same pain I've gone through (I now really feel for mommy's whose babies are in the NICU). So yes, share this wisdom and freedom with other new mamas.

    That said, one of the best parts about nursing, I gotta say, are the boobs. I'd really like to keep them. ;) Just throwing that out there. Hee hee.

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