Friday, September 24, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake: Feeding Part I

Breast milk is touted to be the biggest miracle cure in all of history.  Dose your kid have conjunctivitis- squirt some milk in it.  Congested sinuses holding you back- spray some of the miracle fluid.  Baby’s ear infection keeping you up at night- drop in breast milk.  Do you have a broken arm- dip it in a gallon of the magical liquid.

 (My good friend showing off her new milk filled knockers.)

Ok, I think we get it.  Breast milk is fabulous.  It is an amazing, wonder food that is perfectly designed for our little ones' bodies.  But, what happens when breastfeeding is not a good choice for you family?  How do we cope in a world where Gisele Bundchen wants to establish a six-month mandatory breastfeeding law?
When Maisy was born I thought that I would exclusively breastfeed her like I did the first twelve months of Elana’s life.  However, when she was three-months-old, I had emergency surgery and was in the hospital for three days.  Obviously, Maisy had to take the bottle, and since I had not foreseen this development and stashed breast milk in the freezer, she had to have formula.  This shattered me.  Elana never had formula pass through her lips, and I wanted to give Maisy the same care and attention I had given the first born.  However, I was a bit too stoned on morphine to do anything about it. After returning from the hospital, we had to continue to feed Maisy formula another 24-hours as the pain medications left my body.  That was all she needed to get hooked, and she never looked back at my boobs again. 
What was I doing to this precious, innocent infant?  I felt like I was setting her up for a lifetime of failure by not forcing my nipple down her throat.  Will she ever bond with me?  Will she be constantly sick without those magical antibodies breast milk provides?  Will she spend years in therapy sobbing that her mother didn’t nurture her? 
As most of you know we live in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, the Mecca for all the breastfeeding fanatics that throw 500 pamphlets at you about how the “Breast is Best” as soon as your first ultrasound shows a beating heart.  It took well over a month for me to feel comfortable giving Maisy a bottle in public (although I would have gladly walked down the street with her attached to my nipple).  “Elana, climb down for the slide, Maisy needs to eat.”  And I would drag both kids home from the park to feed the little one in the confines of my own four walls where nobody whispered, nor stared at me with judgmental eyes, about the poison I was force feeding my baby. 
One good friend desperately tried to breastfeed her first born, but from the onset had difficulty with latching and milk supply.  After combining pumping and formula, she eventually switched to formula.  However, to make up for this bit of evil, she diapered her daughter in cloth diapers (vs. disposable) so that the other moms at mommy-baby yoga would know that really, truly, she did care.
The le leche league, my pediatrician, and the nosy moms at the park recommended pumping as much milk as I could drain from my sore nipples and bottling that for Maisy.  “Of course” I replied.  Hah, not so easy when home alone with a toddler and infant to find four 20-minute intervals when I could hook myself up to the pump.  Every time I used that device, I imagined myself as a heifer in a dairy farm attached to a rusty milking pump.  The pump taunted me with each motion- “not good, not good” it said.
Yes, of course we know that breast milk is what’s best for most children and families, but the breastfeeding militia is taking it a bit far when mothers who can’t meet the demands of breastfeeding develop massive amounts of guilt and deep depression over not providing it. 
There are numerous reasons women can’t, or choose not to breastfeed.  Many women find breastfeeding uncomfortable and/or inconvenient.  These women deserve the right to CHOOSE how they raise their family.  A woman depressed, stressed, and breastfeeding out of guilt, it not going to be able to provide a nurturing environment.  Even before Maisy weaned herself from my boob, after getting my second case of mastitis I was seriously considering cutting her access.  It is hard to parent two young children while held up in bed with a bright red knocker and 103-degree temperature.
In reality, most studies have shown that the vast majority of the benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk are foremost, if not totally, during the first few months of life (months 0-3).  Recently Professor Sven Carlsen, of the Norwegian University of Science, concluded that there was no difference in the health of a child between breast milk and formula.  He claimed that the difference lay with the inutero environment that the children had.  Breastfeeding mothers tend to have healthier pregnancies and seek better prenatal care than bottle-feeding mothers.  The milk did not make the difference.
(Maisy drinking her bottle of poison.)

I am always a bit shocked when I read that someone on my local parents list serve is asking for breast milk donations for their child.  Really?  Do they really think that some stranger’s expressed milk is better than a $30 can of hypoallergenic organic formula?  Who knows what the person had to eat, drink, or smoke before hooking up themselves up to a milking machine?  I get that they want to give their new child the best of everything, but is the answer the milk from an anonymous donor?   How did this happen that formula is seen as worse for your child than someone else's unpasteurized mammary gland byproduct?

In the end, each mother must choose for themselves what is best for their family.  If nursing your child until early adulthood works for you- great, more power to you!  But for some of us we need to choose between  providing every last drop of milky liquid to our child and maintaining our mental health.  At least for me and my family, I chose sanity.


  1. Yes! Great post! Just saw it on a comment thread on GGMG. I have always wondered the EXACT SAME THING about milk banks. It blows my mind that someone would go to such great lengths to acquire another's breast milk instead of just giving their kid some Similac. Also: Only in San Francisco is a mom more embarrassed to bottle feed than breast feed in public.

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