I'm going to get a little personal with this one, folks. It's World Breastfeeding Week. I think it's wonderful that Breastfeeding moms (and their supporters - dads, kids, friends) get a full week to publicly celebrate breastfeeding. At the same time, I wonder what all the media attention does to mothers that don't (for whatever reason) breastfeed, especially those who would, if they could.
I think a lot about the breast vs. formula debate, so I'm going to attempt to sort out my thoughts here. I'll start with my own experience.
I was able to breastfeed my son for six and a half months. I'm very proud of that, but it wasn't easy, and simply saying that I breastfed for over six months makes it sound like an easy success. You see, after having a C-section, and already feeling like a bit of a mommy failure, I was even more determined to breastfeed. In my mind, I wasn't successful at the birth, so I had to be successful at breastfeeding.
On top of that, I was a long time believer that breastfeeding was the only choice and didn't understand why some mothers wouldn't do it. Looking back, I think I was naïve, because it's really not that simple. Of course, the videos at prenatal classes and the pictures of breastfeeding mothers that frequently get shared online make it seem so easy. Why wouldn't I think that?
To make a long (and quite emotional) story short, after a horrible experience with breastfeeding in the hospital, I ended up needing to supplement with some formula. I was quite sure I wasn't going to be able to breastfeed at all - disappointment doesn't come close to describe how I felt. The day after leaving the hospital, (a five day stay) I visited the hospital lactation consultants and they helped get me back on track - I was able to breastfeed with the aid of a shield. I was so relieved. Something was finally going asplanned. Unfortunately, after numerous attempts in the following weeks, we weren't able to wean my son from the shield. I was told that this is often cause for concern, but for me, it was okay, because he was gaining weight and was healthy, and it didn't cause me any issues. It didn't feel as "natural," but it was what we needed to make it work, and at that point, I was willing to do just about anything.
Anytime I got discouraged, (and there were many times) I would say to myself, "I just need to make it to 3 months," then "I just have to make it to 6 months." I will return to work when my son is 10 months old, so I had said from the beginning that I would breastfeed until 6 months so I could take time to slowly wean and make sure that he was happy and comfortable.
At a point between 5 and 6 months, I had to start supplementing with formula. Even that was an emotional decision, because I wanted to be able to do it on my own, but also knew that he was needing something more and wasn't quite ready for solids.
Finally, at almost 7 months, it seemed like the right time for my son to make the full switch to formula. He seemed ready. I felt like I was finally getting the swing of things, but if he was ready, then that was what mattered. Even though it had been difficult most of the time, I was a little sad. Even now, I still miss the closeness sometimes, but when I do, I just gather my son up for a cuddle or we have a snuggly nap, and I know that it's okay. He's fine. Actually, he's more than fine - he's healthy, growing, and very happy.
In the later months of breastfeeding, I was also feeling increased pressure from the media, because at that time, a study had come out about there not being a difference between formula fed babies and breastfed babies. I'm not sure how accurate or how comprehensive the study actually was - all I know is that it added fuel to the mommy wars. Everywhere you turned, there were messages of "Breast is best!" or "Formula feeding is best!" It was a lot to take in, and I found myself agreeing with both sides.
I also noticed that many would say, I think breastfeeding is best, but formula feeding is okay if you have to, in an attempt to show non-breastfeeding mums that they supported them. (That's probably what I would have said before having a baby, too.) I think the problem is that even that statement could make it seem like mothers who have to (or choose to) formula feed made the "other" choice, not the "best" choice. As a mum you always want to make the BEST choice.
So, 9 months into motherhood - 6 months breastfeeding and 3 months formula feeding - here is my thinking on the debate:
Maybe we should just cheer on every mother (or father) who feeds her baby. I know it sounds silly, but to me, it's that simple. That's what a baby needs. They need nourishment. Just as important, they need parents who love them and are able to enjoy the short time that their little ones are little, and not be stressed out over something as basic as feeding them. If I had chosen to formula feed my son from the very beginning, he would be fine. He would probably be the same healthy, happy little boy that he is now. We would have snuggled just as much while I was feeding him. He would know that I loved him, and our bond would have been just as strong. I'm still glad that I was able to breastfeed, but in hindsight, knowing now what I do, I could have formula fed him and felt good about that decision, too.
So, if breastfeeding was your choice, and you are happy with the decision (despite any little bumps in the road), then breastfeeding is the BEST choice! Great job mum! Enjoy this time with your baby!
If breastfeeding isn't quite working out or causing you or your family undue stress, then you have to figure out what the BEST choice is for you and your family. Either way, great job mum! Enjoy this time with your baby!
If formula was your choice, then it's the BEST choice for you and your family! Great job mum! Enjoy this time with your baby!
In the end, you need to figure out what works for your baby, for you and for your family. Parenthood can be a pretty tough job. I'm only 9 months in, but it is both the most amazing experience and the most difficult, because I always want to make the best decisions for my little boy. We parents need to stick together and support the choices our fellow parents make. Our families may be different, but we're all just trying to do our best. Breast? Bottle? A mix of he two? In the end, we want happy, thriving babies, and only the parents of each individual baby knows what's best. After all, we wouldn't make a choice that was anything but the best!
That's my two cents.