It seems like there’s ALWAYS a debate about breastfeeding going on. I think everyone pretty much agrees that breastfeeding (if and when possible) is best for a baby’s health, but we still argue about other topics surrounding the issue: Is it polite to breastfeed in public? In certain areas only, or everywhere? How should workplaces assist breastfeeding moms? What kind of support should hospitals give? Can you even call yourself a real mom if you choose not to breastfeed at all? (This last one might seem over-the-top, but I’m sure that’s how some mothers who do not breastfeed feel judged.)
My daughters are 3 and 1.5 now, so it’s been a while since this topic has been relevant to me as a mom. But I wanted to weigh in, anyway. Recently the mayor of New York City encouraged hospitals to treat formula as other medicine and drugs, keeping it essentially locked away until the mother signed for it. And even then, the mother would be given a lecture each time she gave her baby formula about how breastfeeding was so much better. It’s important to note that while this isn’t a law that has been passed, many of the hospitals are going along with Mayor Bloomberg’s “encouragement”.
For me personally, I felt that formula was a sanity-saver. I tried breastfeeding SuperGirl for a week, and at the end of that week I eventually caved (notice the negative connotation of that word) and started giving her the free formula we’d received in the mail and from the hospital. You know how they say that babies should eat every two hours for thirty minutes at first to build up breast milk? Well, SuperGirl was napping for thirty minutes and then eating for TWO HOURS; she had it completely backward. I had a lactation consultant come out as part of the hospital’s program and said that she was latching on fine, that her weight was fine, and it appeared I had enough milk. I tried pumping so my husband could feed her and I could get some sleep, but despite my milk being in, the pump never worked for me (and it was a good quality pump). At the end of the week before I gave her the formula, I remember breaking down and sobbing because I felt like a failure, but the breastfeeding was making me absolutely miserable. I was hardly sleeping, and although I didn’t have any other postpartum signs of depression, I felt that the lack of sleep was making me depressed. It was this and the support of my husband and mother (who was staying with us the first week) that allowed me to finally give myself permission to give SuperGirl formula.
I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was. I slept so well that night and felt like an entirely different–happier!–person the next day, and suddenly I could ENJOY my baby.
Still, as the negative connotation of “caved” earlier implies, I did feel like a failure. Because we’ve all heard by now the numerous benefits of breastfeeding, I think most moms who want the best for their children WANT to be a success at breastfeeding. There was intense pressure from myself as well as the larger society of mothers to do it. And I’d seen both of my sisters-in-law breastfeed their children for at least a year and with (what appeared to be) no problems.
So, when I became pregnant with WonderGirl, I knew that I wanted to try again. With SuperGirl, I hadn’t known that you could breastfeed and formula-feed at the same time. Knowing what had happened last time with SuperGirl, I intended to start out just breastfeeding with WonderGirl, but gave myself permission to alternate between breastmilk and formula as needed, and that’s exactly what I did. During the night and the day when I was awake I breastfed her, and my husband gave her formula in the mornings when I was still sleeping (again, pumping didn’t work for me). We did this for three months, until my breast milk eventually dried up and we went straight to formula (a move made because I went back to work).
Do I feel better about breastfeeding (at least partially) WonderGirl for three months? Definitely! 1) Since I knew what to expect, I felt like I was more mentally prepared. 2) I didn’t have the same soreness and pain I’d had with SuperGirl. 3) I felt that I bonded a lot more with WonderGirl through breastfeeding than I did formula feeding SuperGirl.
Now, it’s possible that if I hadn’t had those free cans of formula from the hospital that I wouldn’t have “caved” and started formula feeding SuperGirl after only one week. Or I might just have sent hubby out to the store to get some formula. =) And yes, I agree that breastfeeding, if and when possible, is best for baby. But do I think that moms (especially new moms!) should be shamed for choosing formula and made to feel bad about their decision when they do choose not to breastfeed? No, in my opinion; education is NOT the same as shaming.
Beyond that, I think that any mother who even ATTEMPTS to breastfeed should be given those golden boob awards that people post on mom forums; in my opinion, it’s the most difficult job when dealing with an infant.
Finally, I know that having formula as an alternative saved my sanity and very likely kept me from suffering from postpartum depression. It seems to me that we’re better off having a community of happy mothers who are also confident caregivers than women who start out feeling like they’re already on the losing end, or women who continue breastfeeding when it breaks them down mentally, physically, and emotionally. Breastfeeding is amazing, but in my opinion, we can’t overlook the health and happiness of mothers as part of the equation.
Now it’s your turn to weigh in! Did you breastfeed or formula feed (or both)? Even if your children are adopted, I’d love to hear from you! Do you think that hospitals should “lock up” formula, and do you think that this will encourage mothers to breastfeed or just make them more ashamed of choosing formula?