The preparations before a baby comes often includes a decision of how to feed your baby. Will you choose to breastfeed, bottle feed with formula, bottle feed with breast milk, or do some sort combination? You may even start with one method and switch to another- regardless if you're doing so for medical or personal reasions. But ultimately the choice belongs to you.
During this time you may be getting pressure from many different areas. Your friends may push breastfeeding, but your older relatives may say, "Just give the baby formula! It's what you had and you turned out okay!" Hospitals may spout about breastfeeding; but after birth, you may find that they push formula for many reasons. Then there's social media, which only brings about a whole new set of pressures.
The latest internet pressure is coming from an organization called Fed Is Best. They have been a loud voice in the Formula versus Breastfeeding debate. We've all heard the phrase "Breast is best." Over the years, this statement has made many- including myself- feel immense pressure to breastfeed their baby, only to feel terrible if it didn't work out or you chose not to do it. Now we have a new phrase to add to the already difficult first few days of life as a new parent- "Fed is best".
The Fed Is Best organization was started by Dr. Christine Del Castillo-Hegyi and Jody Segrave-Daly, a nurse and IBCLC. Dr. Del Castillo-Hegyi's own disastrous experience with breastfeeding led to her son having extreme dehydration that has led to a host of other cognitive issues. The story on their website, Fedisbest.org is truly heartbreaking. As is the story of Landon Johnson and his mother Jillian. Baby Landon also suffered severe dehydration and sadly passed away as a result. Their stories have flooded Facebook and caused many soon-to-be-families to question breastfeeding.
To be clear, I don't disagree with the main message of Fed Is Best- that infant feeding is important and that any efforts should be made to ensure they're taking in fluid. On the surface, Fed Is Best is trying to prevent needless deaths due to dehydration. As someone who had a baby who struggled with feeding and was close to dehydration, I can see where they're coming from. In this day and age, it's unbelievable to think that a baby would pass away from such a preventable situation.
The older message of "Breast is best" has been around for decades, and for some can make them feel overwhelmed and shamful if breastfeeding isn't possible, isn't desired or there are other issues that are blocking or preventing successful breastfeeding. My biggest concern however is that the messages on both sides of the issue are scary, inflammatory, pressure filled- and for a new parent or pregnant parent, very confusing. Perhaps we need to consider abandoning both and have a new phrase- "Support Is Best".
In the decades that I've been supporting new families with birth and breastfeeding, one thing that's a recurring problem with feeding baby is the lack of support for a family that wants to breastfeed. This is particularly an issue for those giving birth with obstetricians in hospital. Once your baby is born, a nurse will help latch baby on. But at the same time, that nurse is having to fill out paperwork, clean up the new mom, tidy up the room and remove everything that was needed for the birth. The new mom is often left to their own devices once the baby has latched. In addition, the manner of how the baby latched on often didn't involve the feeding parent. The nurse latched the baby, and the feeding parent is leftmjust holding the baby with little instruction or time for questions.
Once moved to the postpartum room where latching has to happen again, the family will most likely struggle. They may ask for help from the postpartum nurse who has other patients who need help too, and the same thing happens again.During the latching of baby, there may not be much education happening. If there is any, that education will vary depending on the nurse that's helping. If there are struggles, then the support dissolves and formula, nipple shield or tube feeding are suggested without any way of fixing the root issues, or plans for getting off such supports. All while this occurs, the feeding parent is still recovering and exhausted from the birth itself.
24 to 48 hours later, the family is sent home with the belief that things are working- but still without much education and with possibly supplementation, nipple shields or tube feeding. They're now at the mercy of family doctors and pediatricians who generally know nothing about latching and positioning to make breastfeeding better. Their main concern- and rightly so- is the baby's weight and health. If they see weight loss, then formula is often suggested if it isn't already happening. But if breastfeeding is the ultimate goal, that doesn't help fix the breastfeeding problem that may be occurring.
Also, the suggestion or referral to a lactation consultant rarely happens. When a family does, usually on their own, reach out to a lactation consultant or breastfeeding clinic, they may finally have success in feeding. Families may see these LCs privately or in a group setting in a clinic, where they are one of 10 breastfeeding parents trying to figure things out too. Though like all birthing professions, the LCs maybe over worked or unhelpful, and also suggest formula or supports like nipple shields or tube feeding with no exit strategy for their use.
How can we do better for families who want to breastfeed? Well, we have to start before there's a real problem. This includes encouraging readily available breastfeeding education; having nurses in hospitals that are well versed and up to date on breastfeeding support and education; and giving the nurses more time to spend with their patients. Having follow up support is cricual- even something as simple as speaking to someone over the phone to ask questions after you leave the hospital. It's wise to encourage more midwifery care, which can offer more one-on-one home support after birth. We should also encourage doula support as the norm so families can have someone at home to help fix minor problems or encourage good breastfeeding practices. Finally, we should have family doctors and pediatricians be more knowledgable about breastfeeding as a whole.
Sure, maybe all of that is in the Utopian future. But some of these things are available now, such as midwifery care and doulas. In the end, you need to use your instincts. If you're struggling and need help with breastfeeding but don't like the answer you're getting, keep looking. Find a professional that makes your breastfeeding journey a positive and successful experience.