For the holiday season many people believe that it’s best to avoid the heated topics of religion and politics. In the areas of parenting, particularly for mothers of newborn babies, the issue of breastfeeding versus formula feeding can become just as heated, leading to what’s known as the sanctimommy wars.
With lactation activists (also called lactivists) touting lines like “breast is best” there is a lot of guilt for the mothers who have decided breastfeeding is not the right path.
When I was in the hospital after the birth of my children I was strongly encouraged to attend a breastfeeding class where the lactation consultant told many emotionally fragile new moms, some of whom were having trouble getting their milk to come in, that feeding their child formula was the same as offering them up McDonalds. Six years later my blood is still boiling. I later learned from a doctor at the same hospital that three babies were under his care for malnourishment because their mothers were incapable of supplying enough milk and refused to supplement with formula. It became very apparent to me that the way we treat and talk to mothers and guilt them about how they feed their infants is cruel.
Here are 15 reasons that prove why the breast isn’t always the best.
15 The Benefits Are More Hype Than Fact
Breastmilk has been given so much hype it’s even been called liquid gold. It’s widely promoted as making our children smarter, preventing obesity, and fighting off all sorts of illnesses. A lot of people associate breastfeeding with good parenting and that’s not fair, especially considering that recent research has revealed it’s not quite the magic potion we’ve been led to believe. Research by Courtney Jung has confirmed these benefits are a lot more hype than fact saying, “Breastfeeding will stop one single ear infection for every 10 babies who are exclusively breastfed for six months.” That’s not exactly miracle milk. Additionally studies have found it will not really reduce the risk of obesity, asthma, allergies, or ADHD, nor does it have any other mystical powers.
14 The Baby Can Be Allergic
Lactose intolerance is an adulthood reality, it turns out that around 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. In addition to this there are a number of babies who are allergic to breast milk. When a breastfed baby becomes continually fussy many moms begin cutting spicy, gassy foods, and dairy from their own diets, however many believe that infant colic and general fussy behaviour may be linked to a milk allergy. What to Expect says milk allergies are usually related to cow’s milk and generally only impact two or three percent of babies, but is still worth consideration. If you’re suspicious watch for other symptoms like rashes, hives, eczema, vomiting, or congestion. If in doubt talk to your doctor and consider other alternatives to supplement and ensure baby gets what they need.
13 It Hurts. A Lot
Sometimes breastfeeding hurts. Some moms suffer from mastitis, inflammation of the mammary gland, during their breastfeeding journey, and sometimes it becomes too painful for them to continue to feed. One mom recounts, “I was told to feed through the pain. I was told the blood wouldn’t hurt her. I was told to express and feed from a cup the size of a thimble because using a bottle — even once — would derail her feeding and then, well, no doubt the end of the world would ensue as I would be forced into the formula aisles under the cover of darkness.” The mom added that her fear over telling her midwives she had switched to a bottle and was happy about her choice was ridiculous and added, “The pressure isn’t just from midwives, it’s from other women. We judge each other for choices we know nothing about.”
12 The Milk Doesn't Always Come In
I have heard people infer that without the natural birth experience you’re missing out on “real motherhood”. I had a C-Section to protect my son (twin B) who was breech and otherwise might lose oxygen. This doesn’t make me less of a mom, and neither does it when a mom’s milk just won’t come in. Moms who successfully breastfeed with one child, might find they are later incapable with their next, and that’s okay. One mom dishes, “I was four days into being a mother, I was out of my depth and, after all the formula-bashing in the antenatal classes, I was crying out for someone to tell me it was a safe and acceptable choice for my baby”. The scientific truth is that lactation insufficiency impacts up to 15 percent of women, but many people still push that breastfeeding is the base standard for “good moms”.
11 The Baby Keeps Losing Pounds
It is completely normal for a newborn baby to lose a small amount of weight before gaining it back. But when this continues it needs to be monitored closely, and it can be a sign that baby isn’t getting enough from mother’s milk, or that there are other underlying health issues. One mom says, “At the first week doctor’s appointment, the doctor said it was normal that she would lose a little bit of weight before beginning to gain it back. And though I still wasn’t sure that she was getting enough, by the second week, she had gained back a half ounce so we figured we were on our way. I was hopeful. The next few weeks would prove otherwise.” Moms need to stop feeling shame when it comes to making sure their baby is fed and getting what they need, even when it comes from aisle six at the grocer.
10 Too Tired To Make Breastfeeding Safe
Having an infant is tired work. Sometimes it goes beyond what’s normal, and sometimes the effort of breastfeeding is too much for baby and mom to handle. A recent review of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, a program that strongly encourages exclusive breastfeeding for infants, has shared that there are times when new moms are too tired to make breastfeeding safe. The push for “breast is best” at these hospitals has led to some awful results for a number of mothers including babies who have died from accidents such as suffocation - some pretty horrible unintended consequences. New moms need rest and time to fully recover from birth at their own pace, they don’t need to be bullied into breastfeeding when it is negatively impacting both them and baby.
9 It's Can Make You Sick
If mom is unwell she can hardly look after others, even a baby. Breastfeeding should never, ever be more important than mom’s health or taking important medications for mom’s well-being. In her New York Times Op-Ed Courtney Jung spoke about breast feeding being thrust upon her as soon as her pregnancy was known and she even commented that her birthing class wouldn’t complete lessons on how to formula feed a baby because “it’s against hospital regulations.” Things that can impact breast milk production include allergy or cold medication, a low thyroid, a postpartum hemorrhage, and hormonal birth control. There are many drugs that are dangerous when breastfeeding, so talk to a doctor you trust to assess risks before making any decisions or altering your medications.
8 It Won't Work With Work
I am a lucky parent who had my children in Canada where, at the time, I was given a full year of parental leave to focus on my twins, and their needs. People in other countries aren’t always so lucky. In the United States, new parents get such a short period of paid leave it’s often not financially feasible to breastfeed children. While there have been improved policies for moms who need to pump breast milk while on the job to ensure their child is fed, not all parents are able to take time to pump during a busy workday. While many advocates tout the line that breastfeeding free, this is simply not the case, and is a matter of checking our privilege. Ever heard the expression time is money? Breastfeeding is only “free” if you don’t consider the cost of time a woman takes every time she pumps milk or stops work for a feeding session.
7 The Real Reason Moms Don't Choose Formula
Triggering is a word that we’re all hearing more and more as we continue to increase our conversation surrounding trauma, self-care, and mental health. Essentially it’s when something experienced, read, seen or heard, can inflict emotional distress by awakening feelings or memories that are connected with a traumatic event or experience. While each person is different, and some survivors are able to breastfeed without any issue, and can even develop a sense of empowerment through breastfeeding, others may find that it’s downright terrifying. By shaming moms and taking away the control over their own bodies we are doing them significant harm. If formula makes a mom feel secure and safe, no one should try to shame her or try to take that away.
6 Prevents You From Enjoying Motherhood
Although it may not seem that way with all of the pressure, moms don’t need to breastfeed at all. Heck, moms don’t even have to attempt it if they don’t want to. If a friend told you they had a job that they were on call for 24-7 for six months that they dreaded doing every single day, odds are as a good friend you’d tell them to quit. No one should be strong-armed into doing something that they detest, and breastfeeding is no different. If breastfeeding is causing you pain, undue stress, or you just can’t stand it, it’s not right for you, period. Not breastfeeding? Despite what some are saying, only 17 percent of UK babies are being exclusively breastfed by the time they reach three months, so formula moms are not alone.
5 When You Just Can't Produce Enough
Sometimes there is a medical diagnosis that makes it difficult to breastfeed, and other times it doesn’t come in for unknown reasons. When my twins were four months old I went on a birth control pill that was “guaranteed” not to impact my milk supply. Within a week of taking it my supply plummeted. I was pumping twice as long and getting a third of the milk. It took two months of frustration for me to finally throw in the towel. Some people who have lived through breast surgery, insulin resistance or even cancer aren’t able to breastfeed, and that’s okay. Some moms can supplement lower supplies with formula, whereas others can rely on formula alone as the primary way of nourishing their child. Despite all of these very valid reasons for not breastfeeding, some extreme lactivists have even harassed cancer survivors about not breastfeeding their children.
4 In Cases Of Postpartum Depression
It's a part of the postpartum experience for women to feel stressed out, anxious, weepy, or exhausted after giving birth. This is often referred to as the “baby blues”. Some women suffer from depression far worse than this, with as many as one in seven women facing the serious mood disorder of postpartum depression or many other mental health circumstances. A number of women feel that depression paired with the guilt and shame over being unable to breastfeed is absolutely devastating. Breastfeeding is not worth the sacrifice of anyone’s mental health or life. Anyone who says differently clearly needs to work on their empathy and compassion skills, period. One mom talks about her decision to finally switch to a bottle, “Driving home frightened and exhausted, sanity finally prevailed. That night I experienced the joy of motherhood for the very first time – snuggled up in bed, we bonded over a bottle.”
3 It Can Impact Your Relationship
Having infant twins was a juggling act most days. Because I pumped and formula fed, my partner was able to better help me. It also meant that he was contributing more to the care of our children from the get go. He’d take the first night time feeding and I’d take the second. There was no resentment toward each other about who was doing more or better bonding with baby, we were both in it together. I don’t know if that would have happened had I exclusively breastfed. Feeling like you’re a part of a team, in addition to regular naps and date nights, was paramount to our relationship surviving the early stressful days of parenting. I think we owe both my breast pump and the cases of formula we used a huge thank you for that.
2 Mom Should Go With Her Gut
Our generation LOVES research, particularly when it comes to parenting. Who hasn’t gone down a Google rabbit hole when it comes to assessing cold symptoms, pregnancy symptoms or how to best take care of baby. Research is fascinating, but it changes all the time. Mom should breastfeed if she wants to, whether the latest set of science based inquiry reveals that breast milk is really the best thing since before sliced bread, or it’s not. We’ll continue to get conflicting research on breast milk vs. formula and everything else parenting for years to come. The same goes for formula moms. Give yourself to the parent you want to be, not the one that you or everyone else thinks you should be. This is your journey, don’t let anyone take that away from you!
1 Because Fed Really Is Best
If we don’t make mommy wars happen, there will be no mommy wars. Saying that fed is best doesn’t take anything away from what breastfeeding mothers experience, so let’s stop the bullying now. This movement is simply meant to remind us that we all deserve support, whether it’s an appointment with a lactation consultant or a cart full of formula at Costco. So let’s stop attacking each other and let parents do their jobs, taking care of their babies. This mission of The Fed Is Best Foundation is a belief that, “babies should never go hungry and mothers should be supported in choosing clinically safe feeding options for their babies. Whether breast milk, formula, or a combination of both.” What’s offensive about that?