Summertime and Controversy

It’s February, which means summer, which means hot.  Like many places over here, we don’t have any air-conditioning in our apartment.  That means Joe spends a lot of the day like this:

If only it were permissible for adults to go around dressed in the same fashion!  It might help cool some of the tempers that have been simmering in NZ these days surrounding the whole “breast vs. formula-feeding” issue.

It’s not a new issue, really.  The “breast vs. formula” debate has been going on ever since formula became a popular alternative.  This latest flare-up surrounds a brief, seconds-long clip of Piri Weepu {famous NZ rugby player} feeding his baby girl with a bottle while appearing in an anti-smoking PSA.  The local La Leche League expressed concern that this was undermining the “breast milk is best” position of the NZ government {who was running the anti-smoking PSA}, and the clip was pulled.

Naturally, this was cause for a revolt.  It’s ridiculous, really.  In one camp, you have LLL who’s aim is to promote breastfeeding while providing support and education.  In another camp, you have parents who feel targeted for using formula.  There’s likely a 3rd camp out there as well, but for the purposes of this post, I’m only going to focus on those two.

I think that most people in Western culture have heard at some point that “breast is best” and know that breast milk is the ideal, the same way that most people realize that drinking during pregnancy is a bad idea and that smoking around children should be avoided.  However, as someone who almost exclusively breast-feeds {I do occasionally give Joe expressed milk in a bottle and we’ve started to introduce solids}, I get irked when people are staunchly for or against one side or the other.

I believe that God created a perfect world, and that we as women were designed to be able to breastfeed.  Unfortunately, that perfect world and that perfect design were mucked up.  The end result is that things don’t always work as they were originally intended.  We have problems like complicated births, c-sections, failure to thrive, prematurity, food allergies, and a whole host of other issues that can affect both a woman’s ability to produce milk and a baby’s ability to ingest it.  That doesn’t even begin to factor in things like needing to return to work in order to help support your family, a situation which can be so stressful that your milk supply dries up entirely.

Do I think that women and society should strive to support breastfeeding?  Yes – absolutely.  It’s the perfect food for our babies in an ideal world.  But like I said, that ideal, perfect world no longer exists.  That’s not an excuse to throw up our hands and say, “Oh well!”  You should ask questions.  Go to a local LLL meeting.  Call up a lactation consultant.  Educate yourself. Talk to your doctor or midwife.  Most women that I know who have used or are using formula aren’t doing it solely for convenience’s sake – they’re doing it because they attempted to breastfeed and for a variety of reasons found that they were unable to do so.  And unfortunately, at some point or another, these women feel shame or guilt as a result.

You are not a bad parent because of feeding your child formula.  It would be far, far worse to choose not to feed your child.  I’d even say that it would be far, far worse to work yourself into exhaustion while trying everything in the book to breastfeed, leaving you stressed, miserable, and unable to cope with and enjoy your new baby.  Anyone who says, “Tsk, well if you’d only tried X, Y, and Z, then you’d be able to breastfeed successfully” is presenting an incredibly simplistic answer to a very complicated problem.  It’s not always that easy.

So, feed your baby.  Love them.  Listen to what experts tell you.  Try your best.  Then move on.  If someone criticizes your choice {which to me, the idea of a stranger coming up to you and shaking their finger at how you feed your child is just bizarre} then give them the attention they deserve: none.

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5 comments

  1. Sara says:

    Very well said. I killed myself trying to be successful at nursing. Lactation consultant, occupational therapist in the NICU, supplements, pumping, oatmeal, even having J’s tongue tie corrected all to end up never being able to produce more than 10 ounces a day at any given time. A day. And, while I did decide to make the switch to formula because I knew I wasn’t enjoying her like I should have been it still pains me when people ask if I’m nursing. I want to school them right then and there about how insensitive a question (not to mention personal and none of their business) it is, but how it stirs up so much guilt for those of us who couldn’t do it, for whatever reason. And, why do we have to choose sides? Why do organizations like LLL have to make you feel inferior if it doesn’t come naturally to you? It’s hard, yes?!?

    Anyhow, clearly, I’m not over not being able to. I mean, it really doesn’t get any more personal that whether or not you’re able to nurse your baby.

  2. Jenny @ Practically Perfect... says:

    I do think that there are people who choose formula for convenience’s sake only, but most of the mothers that I know personally haven’t done that. I also think that it’s a tough, touchy call to question a stranger about their feeding practices, and that it’s better to give the benefit of the doubt. We can’t always know why someone is using formula. I read a story here recently about a woman who’d undergone a double mastectomy and was buying formula for her baby in the grocery. She was criticized in the store for giving her daughter formula rather than “what nature intended”. Crazy! But like you said, it’s really important to educate so that people can make an informed decision 🙂

    Did you name your dog Piri after Piri Weepu? How funny!

  3. Ashley says:

    Piri is my dog’s name 🙂 And, It is a choice, but I think people make the formula choice more often because they JUST DONT KNOW and they dont have the right information. Its sad. It upsets me when people say “Its JUST Food” REALLY? JUST FOOD? The FUEL That foods are bodies – the bodies we only get ONE OF FOR A LIFE TIME should be given the Best FUEL….and mabye people debate over what the best fuel is, but at least make an educated choice..not just throw your hands up like its “just food” as if that isnt important.

  4. Perfectly Imperfect says:

    I think this was BEYOND well said. Probably one of the best posts I’ve read on this. I’m a formula feeding mom because I had to be. It didn’t work for BG and I to nurse no matter how hard we tried. I’ll try again for sure next time, and hopefully know more, but if push comes to shove, the next will be formula fed too. I do think that in an ideal world, everyone would be able to and would breast feed. I also think in an ideal world I’d be a size 2. Clearly it’s not an ideal world 😉

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