If there’s one topic of childbirth that’s constantly under discussion, it’s breastfeeding. There have been protests waged by moms advocating breastfeeding in public, debates on when a child is “too old” to be breast fed and an entire army of doctors, nurses and lactation consultants that question what feeding practices you’ll choose for your baby from the second you find out you’re expecting.
But there is another side to this issue that is rarely discussed: those mothers who choose not to breastfeed.
Once making their decision, one would think that healthcare professionals would take the time to educate those moms on the different kinds of formula available, proper nutrition and a healthy feeding schedule for their baby. You would be wrong.
Instead, those moms can expect a barrage of literature on how breastfeeding is best and constant visits from their hospitals la leche league pushing for her to “keep trying.”
The nurses aren’t much better.
My husband and I recently added to our family by bringing a beautiful 8 pound baby boy into the world. We named him Samuel and instantly fell in love with him. From the time I checked into the local hospital to have him, I was questioned on whether I intended to breastfeed.
After I was moved from labor and delivery into my own room, new baby in tow, I was awakened by nursing staff every two hours and instructed to feed him. It didn’t go well. After three days of struggling to accomplish what seems to come so naturally to other women, I gave up and asked for a bottle for my (now screaming) infant.
Four different nurses and a lactation consultant came in and tried to talk me out of it before one nurse finally relented and brought me formula. Sam guzzled the bottle and drifted off into a contented sleep, his little belly finally full.
Those staff members who were especially pushy undoubtedly shook their heads in disgust as they wrote me off as just another mother disinterested in doing what was (in their minds) best for her baby.
Now, no one is denying that breastfeeding an infant is the best form of nutrition for a baby, but we’ve come a long way in formula manufacturing. It’s not like these babies are forced to live off mare’s milk or passed off to the nearest wet nurse.
During my three day (failed) quest to master breastfeeding, little Sam lost nearly a full pound of his body weight. He cried constantly and my joy at having another son had changed to despair at my perceived failing as a mother to do even the most basic thing — feed my baby.
Along with health care professionals, the pressure continues. Friends, family, co-workers, even casual acquaintances will just blatantly ask: “Are you breastfeeding?” Everyone seems to want to give you their two-cents on the subject and no one stops to consider that it’s a rather personal question and frankly, none of their business.
Back at home, we’ve settled into a routine. Sam is happy and healthy and can knock back bottles of Gerber like you wouldn’t believe, I’d have had to be a dairy cow to keep up. My husband, John, and I take turns feeding him, bonding time that would have been denied to my husband had we exclusively breastfed.
As for me, I’m back at work. And while my job does afford me more flexibility than most other forms of employment, I doubt that breastfeeding my son would be considered acceptable behavior at meetings or during interviews with local city officials.
The bottom line is that there are many reasons why a woman might choose not to breastfeed her baby, and none of them make her any less of a mother.
Perhaps the reason is physical, the baby is tongue tied and can’t latch or the mother is unable to produce milk. Perhaps the reason is practical, she has to return to work or perhaps she wants to be able to share nighttime feeding responsibilities with the baby’s father. Maybe breastfeeding just weirds her out.
Whatever the reason, her decision should be respected, not constantly questioned and, in some cases, outright challenged.
Hospitals need to better educate their staff on how to promote breast feeding without making new mothers feel inadequate if they choose to go the formula route and “formula moms” need to cut themselves some slack and just enjoy this time with their babies — because it will be over in the blink of an eye.
Whether breast or formula fed, all babies grow up too fast.
Kasie Strickland is a staff writer for The Easley Progress, The Pickens Sentinel and Powdersville Post and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.