No More Mommy Wars: Breast is Best…Until it Isn’t

Today’s post in the “No More Mommy Wars” series features Michelle from Endless Strength. Michelle is a mom of five and one of my oldest “blogging friends”. Her blog was one of the first I found back in 2008 when I started writing here. In fact, when I was struggling with breastfeeding Maggie, Michelle was the one other Catholic mom that I knew who used formula. She was a mom-hero for me. She still is. Thank you and welcome Michelle!

******************************************************************

As I prepared for the birth of my first child, everyone asked me if I was going to nurse.  “Of course,” I would say.

Along with completing the hospital’s birth preparation classes, I signed up for the breast-feeding class, too.  From what I remember of that breast-feeding preparation class, I received a few booklets, they discussed different position holds for nursing, and told us all, “And don’t even let formula into your house – it gives you an out.”  I left the class thinking, “Yeah, I got this.”

Because the class told all of us that breast-feeding was NATURAL, it was the HEALTHY way, our babies would be getting the BEST START!  The judgments started there, now that I look back on it.

Fast forward to my first three weeks with my first-born child, and I was a wreck.  Breast-feeding felt anything but natural, and healthy or best start be damned, my child was starving and fussy and the only way she was getting anything was from a bottle anyway.  The first night at home, my baby girl didn’t get anything to eat.  My breasts were engorged and she sometimes seemed to latch on, but my let-down was slow and she was impatient.  I couldn’t relax because I was sleep-deprived and had no idea what it meant to have a slow let-down.  I was pumping all day and we were giving her breast milk via a bottle.  Supply wasn’t my issue this time around, thank goodness, but my emotional state could not handle this continued pumping-only breast-feeding relationship.  And it killed me, emotionally speaking, that my baby wouldn’t nurse at the breast.  What was the point of this nursing thing, if not to get the bonding that they all said was so important?

As we transitioned to formula, I was grateful to the pediatrician we’d chosen who (it turned out) had a wife who had struggled with breast-feeding.  He told us about the regulation in the United States with regard to formulas, encouraged us to see for ourselves that the exact same vitamins, minerals, etc., were present in the least expensive can of formula we could buy, that it was made by the same companies producing Similac and Enfamil, but was in the Wal-mart brand, called Parent’s Choice, at the time.  He reminded us that feeding our baby was important, and while maybe our dreams of “natural” and “best start” and “healthy” may be dashed right now, there was an alternative, thank God!

While I didn’t suffer judgment in the pediatrician’s office, unfortunately, there were two major life decisions as we became parents that put us in the crossfire of Mommy Wars.  The first was that I was a WOTHM (Work-Outside-The-Home-Mom) and my husband was a SAHD (Stay-At-Home-Dad) at that time.  But, that one was easy enough to fend off – after all, I made more money than my husband and had completed half of my credits toward an MBA, meaning I would most likely ALWAYS make more money.  But the breastfeeding/formula feeding criticism cut me right to the core of what it means to be a woman, to be a mother.

I heard judging comments in some of the most unlikely situations.  People who knew me well and people who didn’t know me at all had an opinion.  I heard comments from family members who had nursed and from sisters who planned to nurse and from well-meaning friends, too.  And I got interesting comments from strangers, who suddenly spoke to me like they had a leg up on me mother-wise because their babies were exclusively breast-fed.

I was told, “That formula stuff tastes awful!” and “Breast-fed babies have poop that doesn’t stink.”  I was encouraged endlessly to “give it a try next time” and received pitiful sympathy that my baby must be sick quite a bit, and most definitely suffered “a lot of ear infections.”

My opinion is that I doubt anyone really knows what formula and/or breast milk tastes like to a baby, since it seems they aren’t able to communicate that.  I know that my babies have always “sucked it (formula) down” almost as well as I have seen babies guzzle at the breast.  And, having had babies that formula-fed and breast-fed (my #3) for a time, I can attest to the fact that poop is poop no matter what.  I did, over time, learn from using the Similac brand of formula samples I received, that my babies process that particular formula in such a way that their poop is especially offensive.  But it’s not like I smelled roses as I dealt with my third child’s breast-fed poop.  And as for the illnesses and ear infections, interestingly enough, the only child who suffered what seemed like a year-long ear infection was my third daughter, whom I breast-fed for 5 months, and she received tubes in her ears when she was 13 months that put an end to her ear infections.

The best thing I did was that I learned to avoid breast-feeding threads on message boards or on Facebook groups.  (My other no-no is circumcision threads.) I often skip blog posts on breast-feeding.  Often the discussions on Catholic message boards and in Catholic groups is a great support system for breast-feeding moms.  I also know that I made the best decision for my family, each and every time I chose not to breast feed.  I had different reasons each time I went for the formula, but they were all, ultimately, the best decision for me, my baby and my family at the time.  I have posted on my own blog about my experience and I will offer my experience to others when asked.  I am also not anti-breast-feeding even though I have chosen to go a different route with my babies. I have often thought that should I ever win the lottery and have another baby, that I’d stay home and breast feed to my heart’s content, if I could physically.  But honestly, I am just glad that babies get fed – however that may happen.

If breast feeding your baby works for you and your family, good on you!

If formula feeding your baby works for you and your family, good on you!

Personally, I think it’s high time that we all praise each other for caring for our babies, raising our children, in whichever way makes the most sense for our situations rather than nit-pick to death every parenting decision made from birth until preschool.

 

************************************************************

Michelle is a Catholic wife and mom to five children.  She works full-time outside the home, is a member of her parish school board, spends most of her free time driving kids to various activities and loves to watch college basketball with her husband.  She blogs at Endless Strength when the mood strikes.

  • Sarah

    Love this. Thank you. I am really struggling right now with what is “best.” My supply is low and continuing to drop, so I am in that stressful “one foot in breastfeeding, one foot in formula feeding” world. I love to breastfeed (when my supply cooperates) for the health and bonding benefits (my baby specifically asks for “breast” sometimes). But formula feeding at this point is far easier, he too sucks down the formula happily (and sometimes specifically requests formula and doesn’t want the breast!). Also, my prolactin levels must be super high because no matter how low my supply gets, there is NO sign of a cycle returning even 7mo. post-partum. I also really want my cycle back to try TTC for #2 sooner rather than later, but then feel selfish for that. UGH! Why is there so much emotion behind this? :) Anyway, thanks again for the perspective… us moms need to be easier on each other!

  • Sarah

    Love this. Thank you. I am really struggling right now with what is “best.” My supply is low and continuing to drop, so I am in that stressful “one foot in breastfeeding, one foot in formula feeding” world. I love to breastfeed (when my supply cooperates) for the health and bonding benefits (my baby specifically asks for “breast” sometimes). But formula feeding at this point is far easier, he too sucks down the formula happily (and sometimes specifically requests formula and doesn’t want the breast!). Also, my prolactin levels must be super high because no matter how low my supply gets, there is NO sign of a cycle returning even 7mo. post-partum. I also really want my cycle back to try TTC for #2 sooner rather than later, but then feel selfish for that. UGH! Why is there so much emotion behind this? :) Anyway, thanks again for the perspective… us moms need to be easier on each other!

  • http://twitter.com/MollyMakesDo Molly (@MollyMakesDo)

    We made the choice (yes I say we as my husband was part of my decision) to bottle feed from the get-go. After battling horrible depression during pregnancy we felt that deciding to breastfeed might be risky – what if failure at it or the stress of it made the depression worse, what if the depression affected my desire to care for my child. Choosing the bottle meant, to us, that anyone could step in at a moment’s notice to help care for my baby if the depression continued on and affected my ability to care for him. Now, as I start to hope for Baby #2 I

    plan on giving breatfeeding a try (as long as the depression doesn’t come back), but am completely comfortable with our choice the first time.

  • http://twitter.com/MollyMakesDo Molly (@MollyMakesDo)

    We made the choice (yes I say we as my husband was part of my decision) to bottle feed from the get-go. After battling horrible depression during pregnancy we felt that deciding to breastfeed might be risky – what if failure at it or the stress of it made the depression worse, what if the depression affected my desire to care for my child. Choosing the bottle meant, to us, that anyone could step in at a moment’s notice to help care for my baby if the depression continued on and affected my ability to care for him. Now, as I start to hope for Baby #2 I

    plan on giving breatfeeding a try (as long as the depression doesn’t come back), but am completely comfortable with our choice the first time.

  • Mary

    Mommies are just too hard on each other, all the way around!! I agree, we should do what is right for that kid, in that moment, and just love and support other mothers. No one walks in their shoes.

    I have one child who was 100% nursed and one who was a combination. Both my girls are healthy and happy and you wouldn’t pick one and say, oh gosh, she was messed up for life because of formula.

    In the grand scheme of things this is one year of the food they eat here people. And really, they are mostly on solids by the end of it.

    Formula is far better than soda pop and a whole host of things our kids get their hands on as the years go by. Lets find the big picture. (And not slamming kids with soda here, but soda vs formula? No argument about which is best!)

  • Mary

    Mommies are just too hard on each other, all the way around!! I agree, we should do what is right for that kid, in that moment, and just love and support other mothers. No one walks in their shoes.

    I have one child who was 100% nursed and one who was a combination. Both my girls are healthy and happy and you wouldn’t pick one and say, oh gosh, she was messed up for life because of formula.

    In the grand scheme of things this is one year of the food they eat here people. And really, they are mostly on solids by the end of it.

    Formula is far better than soda pop and a whole host of things our kids get their hands on as the years go by. Lets find the big picture. (And not slamming kids with soda here, but soda vs formula? No argument about which is best!)

  • http://motheringspirit.wordpress.com Laura

    Your post reminded of one from Rage Against the Minivan that went viral after the Time issue on breastfeeding (with the mom nursing her son on the cover). The author made the strong case that the only “mommy war” worth having was to fight on behalf for all the children in the world who lack the basics – water, food, shelter, parents to care for them – not for those of us who have so much to waste our time tearing each other down. Your story adds an important voice – thank you for sharing your truth and your love for your family!

  • http://motheringspirit.wordpress.com Laura

    Your post reminded of one from Rage Against the Minivan that went viral after the Time issue on breastfeeding (with the mom nursing her son on the cover). The author made the strong case that the only “mommy war” worth having was to fight on behalf for all the children in the world who lack the basics – water, food, shelter, parents to care for them – not for those of us who have so much to waste our time tearing each other down. Your story adds an important voice – thank you for sharing your truth and your love for your family!

  • sayin’ i love you

    I feel as if all these lactation specialists want to make you think that every woman in the world is naturally able to breastfeed and keep her baby satisfied. I beg to differ!! With my first baby I was nursing all day long, never left the house, and the supply never increased, he was always hungry, he would suck on his knuckles, and he wasn´t gaining any weight. Now I have a cousin who works outside the home, nurses her baby when she is home, when she is at work she pumps and saves the milk in the freezer, sometimes she travels and leaves the baby for about a week and when she comes back her supply is the same and she keeps breastfeeding normally. Not all women are created equally when it comes to breastfeeding.

  • sayin’ i love you

    I feel as if all these lactation specialists want to make you think that every woman in the world is naturally able to breastfeed and keep her baby satisfied. I beg to differ!! With my first baby I was nursing all day long, never left the house, and the supply never increased, he was always hungry, he would suck on his knuckles, and he wasn´t gaining any weight. Now I have a cousin who works outside the home, nurses her baby when she is home, when she is at work she pumps and saves the milk in the freezer, sometimes she travels and leaves the baby for about a week and when she comes back her supply is the same and she keeps breastfeeding normally. Not all women are created equally when it comes to breastfeeding.

  • All in His Perfect Timing

    I LOVE THIS!!!!!!! GREAT POST!

  • All in His Perfect Timing

    I LOVE THIS!!!!!!! GREAT POST!