Tuesday, November 18

bottle it you fundies!

I was and still am, a breastfeeding advocate. That is, I believe breast is the first choice, and more importantly, I support campaigns that educate women in poorer countries on the benefits of staying away from the local water for babies formula.

However, as any regular reader knows, I'm not an extremist, and I believe in, 'each to their own'. It wasn't until I started participating in mothering forums that I discovered the breastapo.

These are the women who go beyond advocacy into downright fascism - If you don't breastfeed you're obviously a bad mother and bottle feeding is tantamount to child abuse. And I'm not exaggerating either. There's an ugly phrase that's banded about by this group - withholding mother's milk. Like we don't give the baby an alternative, we just starve it.

During a time when I was not only recovering from my c-section surgery, dealing with my first newborn baby, that was a restless sleeper, and going through a terrible breastfeeding experience, I was devastated by such talk. I was offguard - not in my usual I'm-unaffected-by-what-others-think mindset. I was exhausted, sore, hormonal, and just good old-fashioned upset at not being able to get this right with my baby.

These women range from mildly prejudiced and socially blind, to tyrannical bitches. There is no room with them for individual experiences and even just for the right to choose for whatever reason. No, unless you've left both your breasts at the hospital for repairs, you have no excuse to not breastfeed.

So, my story was that I wanted the health-giving and bonding aspects of breastfeeding. And when my little Wildflower arrived, the desire to breastfeed was a physical and emotional ache. It felt like the most primeval urge. It felt right. It felt my responsibility. It felt like nothing was more vital in the mother-baby relationship - the giving of nourishment.

And then she would barely open her mouth.
Then her sucking was so weak.
The nurses were Victorian in their methods and only had one method and no equipment for serious problems.
And I didn't speak the language.
And baby was hungry and getting hungrier.
So I pumped to ensure she got the colostrum.
And to keep her nourished we had to go back and forth from boob to bottle.

I remember calling DIY Dad from the hospital in tears when she just wasn't latching on. After a c-section I had never wanted, now I couldn't seem to breastfeed. I felt like a total failure.

And then one day whilst pumping I thought my milk looked watery. I found internet sources and realised that my milk resembled cloudy water rather than the normal boobjuice. No wonder she was asking for more milk only 20 minutes after a feed. No wonder she cried so much. Poor baby was hungry.

Oh dear, I'm shedding a few tears now, recalling how distressed she was.

After 7 weeks of this torture, for both of us, I threw in the towel and decided to call it quits. That night, I backtracked as it seemed my milk improved. During the night she fed wonderfully. The ache in my heart from the hope that it was going to be alright afterall was unbelievable.

The next day, my milk was water again. The little Wildflower had had enough. This time, she rejected the boob.

My baby made things easier for me! She knew what she wanted and she wanted to be fed. Ah, my little Aries girl. The bottle it was. She thrived and her true happy nature had the chance to shine. Despite the occassional nostalgia about it all, I've never looked back.

I never wanted to give up. Breastfeeding is easier in my mind - all these bottles I have to make now! It was a traumatic time because I wanted it so desperately and because my hormones were doing the post-natal rumba. To have any woman class me as inferior, a bad mother, or selfish (which they do, trust me) is a sad state for sisterhood. One mother told me I needed to try harder - afterall, she had bleeding nipples and was in excruciating pain for months just to feed her son. This is good mothering?

I've left most of the mothering forums I first joined - the breastapo is in full force on the very popular ones. It's the intuitive and gentle parenting groups that understand, whatever their own choices. And this is the thing. If I remained in tune to my intuition, like I normally do, I would have let go of the breastfeeding sooner, or at the same time but without the guilt.

The unnecessary guilt I felt was partly because of the innate need to nourish baby, and partly because I read too much prior to her arrival. Too many - 'breast is best', and 'breast is the only choice by a good mother', type articles, forum posts, and books. One book I bought, to try to work through the problems, allowed one small sentence that admitted that there are a tiny percentage of mothers who don't have enough milk. That was it. No other options for using the bottle.

The bottle can be a serious health risk to babies in poorer countries because the water required to make up the formula is often contaminated. But formula itself isn't toxic. To hear some of these mothers you'd think the choices were boob or poison.

And sometimes formula even seems better for health. Of course it doesn't have the same mysterious antibody properties as breastmilk. But I've heard countless stories of babies with colic, spitting up, and skin conditions because of the mother's diet. And if, like my baby, yours is traumatised and hungry, and mother is incredibly stressed, then it's a no brainer.

Adopted children, sick children, non-breastfeeding mothers, and fathers through the ages have managed to create wonderful bonds and produce healthy, thriving children. It's an insult to them that their situation is in any way inferior to a mother who breastfeeds her child for years.

Yes, boob is generally best. But it's not a truism that it's always best.

As I've said on other occassions, mother's intuition is always best, not militant belief systems.

Let's remember the real enemies; the financially motivated formula pushers, the mother-unfriendly legislation and working conditions, and public prejudices against breasftfeeding.

Other mother's feeding choices should be kept where they belong - between mother and child.


  1. That was so beautifully written, Mon. I can tell you're very passionate about this, and that you can use that passion to be an advocate for those mothers who aren't able--for whatever reason--to breastfeed. You can truly sympathize and that's important I'm sure for a lot of women.

    I am going to send your link to my sister-in-law, who for a few reasons (and despite my passionate b-feeding attempt at help!), was unable to continue breastfeeding her now-1-month-old daughter. I have no idea if she feels guilt, hopefully not, but I think she would feel in solidarity with you anyway.

    Keep speaking up!

    And thank g*d that good formula is available today, and that you have good water, and that Wildflower is thriving on your love and feeding!

  2. Thanks for your kind words chook.

    I do think it important to speak out as it's something many women in my position keep quiet about for fear of alienation.

  3. You go girl! I had a similar experience but my milk didn't come in at all and even in the hospital my baby (with a heart defect) became dehydrated because I simply had nothing to give her, not even after pumping non-stop for half an hour. The midwives were evil. They didn't care about my bond with my baby, or my own health (I was on the verge of needing a blood transfusion) - they only cared that I was failing at breastfeeding. Some of the things they did in the name of breastfeeding were very cruel. I won't go on with the whole story! Even now, almost ten years later, I feel the pain and I rage against the memory.

  4. Welcome Sarah.

    Isn't it amazing how totally single-minded people can be about such things? And how totally disconnected?

  5. This is great Mon, and I know there are a lot of women who have had similar experiences. I certainly did. I use to call them 'the Breastfeeding Mafia'.

    When my baby was first born (after a difficult labour and birth that left me in shock and dehydrated) I tried to breastfeed her and kept telling the nurses that nothing was coming out. I also told them that I have a long diagnosed hormonal imbalance that may be affecting my milk supply. They didn't believe me and insisted that all was fine, and dismissed what I was saying.
    Five days later we were rushed back to hospital with an infant who was losing weight rapidly. I was beside myself. Then I was treated like a naughty child who wasn't taking care of my baby properly.

    I kept trying to breastfeed, as I desperately wanted to keep at it, (and my baby was keen and attached well), but I never made enough milk. Never. So I kept offering the breast and ended up pumping around the clock and breastfeeding and giving formula supplements. I stuck to this inhuman regime for 11 months. It was madness.

    Throughout this time I drew so much judgement and criticism for giving my child a bottle, and on a couple of occasions I was blatantly harangued for it.

    Although I chuckle about it now, and agree that these people are essentially mad fundies,(and grossly ignorant on many levels). However, at the time it was upsetting for a new and vulnerable mother to have all that aimed at her. Hmm...character building? heheh.

  6. Extremism about any subject is misguided. Each person and relationship is different, so there can never be one solution for all.

    I once knew a woman who was literally disgusted by the idea of breastfeeding. It was clearly a psychological thing for her, and if she had been coerced into nursing her children I'm sure there would have been huge problems. I have also known mothers who wanted to nurse and tried their best, and it didn't work out, as you experienced.

    I feel pretty strongly that breast milk is the ideal food for a baby. It just makes sense to me. (Not to mention the cost savings and lack of hassle!) I also feel that formulas often contain ingredients (like soy) that have effects that we might not perceive or that appear later in the child's life. But...I also try my hardest never to judge women who choose to (or must) bottle feed.

    When my son was born (emergency c-section, he was rushed via ambulance to another hospital, I didn't see him for three days, etc. etc.) I tried to pump in the hospital. Amazingly, I got very little help from the nurses there. Maybe they thought he wouldn't survive. But I persisted, and even though he never got any colostrum, I eventually was pumping lots of milk and when he finally was able to take food orally, that's all he got for the next 8 months. My daughter was also breast fed.

    I'm so sorry to hear that you had to leave groups that should have been supportive. Motherhood is not about martyrdom or about judging others.

  7. Do any of y'all know that for the first few days it's perfectly normal to have little to no milk? Colostrum comes in tiny amounts, really tiny. Babies are not supposed to need much to eat in the first few days.

    Here's a quote about it:

    "The small quantity of colostrum aids in digestion. While mothers often worry that the quantity of colostrum is too small for their baby, this smaller amount is actually easier for the baby's gastrointestinal system. Remember that your baby has not needed to digest his own food, so the smaller quantity in each feeding (often not much more than 1/4 oz) is actually the ideal amount for your baby in these early days of adjusting to life outside the uterus and digesting his own food for the first time."

    from this link:

    Though docwitch, your situation seems more unusual due to all the stuff you mentioned.

    Not trying to make any judgements, I just feel more people should know this! Even doctors and nurses don't seem to have a clue sometimes...

  8. Great post Mon. I certainly know what it's like to feel judged, even when the people doing the judging don't realize they are doing so. Attachment isn't just breastfeeding...it certainly helps, but it isn't the key.

    With my first baby, I couldn't nurse for about a month because of all kinds of complications. I had to use a tube and formula on my finger, and I pumped so that perhaps later I could. I was so fortunate to be able to teach her later to breastfeed, but I'm certainly not one to go on for years like some can do.

    A happy, healthy baby is the only indication of good parenting, not doing all the 'right' things. :)

  9. Thanks for sharing your story Docwitch - yes, sometimes health professionals are the worst about this. If you were allowed to express yoursef and taken seriously, she never would have lost weight. Like we don't have enough to freak out with a newborn!

    Anthromama - I also know someone that is disgusted by it. She still maintained it for about 6 months I believe, but I do wonder if the bond would have been better if she had gone straight to bottle.

    And yes, some formulas are below par. There is a local brand here that is full of sugar! Though these days the good quality products are fantastic in their range and quality of vitamins & minerals. Surpassing many women's ability to provide nutrients to their babies.

  10. You're right Lisa. Worth mentioning. Especially after a c-section. I had to wait a couple of days and then was engorged! But my milk was of low quality. I certainly wouldn't encourage giving up after a few days. And after weeks of trying, a mother knows the good milk or more milk isn't coming in. And if a bby is losinga lot of weight, then somehting needs to be addressed.

    I think what's important, for me, in this issue, is that we are all different, as anthromama said, there can never be ONE solution for everyone.

    What matters is the sacredness of the mother-child bond, and that the mother is allowed a voice - above the din of extremists and experts.

    As Nic says, attachment isn't about specific 'right' things and breastfeeding is just one. I wish I took that in during my experience.

  11. So glad to find a post like this! I used to call them the 'breastfeeding nazis' - I felt incredibly guilty when I had trouble breastfeeding my first child after having gall bladder surgery 5 weeks after birth, and then with twins my second time around. I was always told to just 'stick it out'. I came up with my own night-breastfeeding/day-pumping/supplementing combo that worked and let go of the guilt. But my sister-in-law never could breastfeed and was always made to feel terrible about it. I am glad more people are speaking out on this issue! (And as my mom always reminds me, I was an entirely bottle-fed baby and am not sickly, stupid or socially crippled - as far as anyone can tell.)

  12. Hi mommymystic,

    I agree it needs talking about. Too one-sided at the moment.

    And yes, you see okay to me......lol.

  13. I advocate breastfeeding too, especially extended breastfeeding becasue its so misunderstood in the UK. Saying that I did have a miserable time at first with the breastfeeding, undiagnosed oral thrush and poor latch meant I nearly gave up and my poor lad was so skinny. So I mixed fed, I've since discovered there were other options than formula open to me - and while I wish I'd known, at the time I did what I thought was best.

    My friend has a saying "Happy mummy, happy baby".... and I agree utterly.

    I do wonder tho Mon, if the watery milk you talk of was just the foremilk, which is the "drink" part of breastmilk, the hindmilk is the creamer thick milk and that's the "food" bit. The hind milk tends to come down in the second or so let down... ;-) maybe helpful if there's a next time eh.

  14. Eek! to the iea of a 'next time' lol

    I thought it was hindmilk too and I despereatly wrote in several online forums about letting down, etc. I got no useful help. It seemed that I wouldn't ever let down, or that was all I was making. I will never know.


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