Breast, Bottle and the In-Between
Breastfeeding, bottle-feeding or both? After three kids and three different ways of feeding them, I understand the many factors that affect a mom's decision.
At my son’s one month check-up earlier this year, I posted a picture of him all chubby and happy to Instagram with the title “One month check-up. Boy’s growin’.” Knowing I was nursing him, a few commenters who also breastfed left congratulatory sentiments like “Good job, Mama! Doesn’t it feel good to sustain life?” or “Nursing here too! Exhausting and overwhelming but so worth it—an amazing privilege!”
And it is amazing. I can’t say I looked at my son that day—all 10 pounds, 3 ounces—and didn’t think it was pretty cool that I passed on every one of those pounds to him. Maybe proud isn’t the word, but I was at least fascinated by the way my body had nourished him not only for the nine months I carried him but for the four weeks that followed.
The nursing comments on that photo continued, most of them well-meaning. But together, after a while, it might have felt like a nursing club secret handshake to any bottle-feeding mama looking on. One of those moms finally spoke up and left a comment that she felt nursing moms flaunted this sort of “we’re superior for what we do” feeling and that she was sick of it—that moms who chose formula deserved some praise, too. After all, it’s all hard work—raising babies, responding to feeding cries, helping them grow. And she had a point.
The discussion continued in the 102 comments that followed, proof that the breast vs. bottle debate hasn’t lost its—well, let’s just go with “energy”. It’s the jugular for many moms—a sore spot that can quickly arouse judgment and superiority or, contrastingly, guilt and disappointment. It’s nothing new, of course. In the six years I’ve been a mom, I’ve read countless articles, heard debates and been part of the discussion myself. But now there’s social media which preys on these hot topics like an ambulance chaser. If you felt bad about any particular subject in motherhood before, now you see it, hear it and feel a reaction to it every time it’s posted on Facebook or suggested in an Instagram comment.
It’s taken me three kids and three completely different ways of feeding my children to truly understand the justification and emotion behind both decisions—breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. Ultimately, when we do what’s best for our own family; when we confidently stand behind our own parenting decisions while respecting and maybe even celebrating others’, a blow to that jugular is far less likely.
With my firstborn, nursing was initially pretty dreamy. Sure, there were a few hurdles in the beginning, but for the most part, I loved the bonding ritual of locking eyes with my newborn while she nursed. I was a stay-at-home mom with very little demands outside of my new motherhood role, and my daughter caught on pretty quickly to the whole suck-swallow-repeat thing. So, for a short time, it worked beautifully. What I didn’t realize though was that there was a strategy behind the milk supply. You had to drink a lot water, and if you started regularly skipping feedings to, say, give Dad a chance to feed the baby or conveniently switch to formula for a night out at a restaurant, you had to make up for it later with pumping. I didn’t realize that until four months later when my milk supply had gradually run so low that my daughter cried with every feeding, frustrated because she wasn’t getting enough. So I drank more water, loaded up on Fenugreek tea, “power pumped” and even tried prescription drugs to no avail. I was stressed. So I raised the white flag and called it quits four months into the game.
With my second daughter, nursing again quickly clicked and this time lasted much longer. I took the right steps to maintain my milk supply, and the planets aligned for a long term relationship with nursing—three beautiful years. There are so many factors though that played a part in why it worked for both of us—physiological and emotional as well as home and work environment.
Now, here I am with my third child and in a different place in life again—more work demands, more home demands but still enjoying nursing at least for part of the time. My son drinks formula by day and nurses in the evening—a routine that sort of fell into place on its own. There are things I love about nursing like knowing my son’s getting important antibodies, not having to make a bottle, saving money and simply sidling him up next to me in the middle of the night to soothe him. But bottles give my family the opportunity to help out with feedings, allow me some flexibility with my schedule and make it easy to feed him on the go.
Each of my kids has experienced something different for feedings, and they’re all just fine today. Let’s not forget there’s a whole lot more to raising kids than milk origins. Most important, when a mom’s comfortable and happy, a baby’s more likely to thrive.
The comment discussion from the Instagram photo I posted that day ended up resolving pretty meaningfully. The commenter who originally felt hurt by all the nursing compliments returned to say she regretted lashing out—that she recognized her bottle-feeding guilt and the struggle she had with nursing was her own hurt, one she shared with a lot of other moms who spoke out. I commend her for her honest remarks and know she isn’t alone. When I watched this dynamic unfold in the comment field, I realized our goal shouldn’t be to establish solidarity for one particular perspective but rather sensitivity for every choice mothers make. We all have our sore spots, and the love for our kids and the dedication to being good moms creates a lot of sensitivity around these issues. When it comes to feeding our babies though, I think every mom out there deserves a high five. Regardless of breast or bottle, responding to the demands of hunger cries, waking up in the night for feedings and planning trips with “when are we going to feed the baby?” in mind—it’s hard work. Really hard work.
And no matter how you’re doing it, if you’re doing it at all, I say…
Good job, Mama! Doesn’t it feel good to sustain life?
Note: I’ve deleted the referenced photo from my Instagram feed to protect the identities of all the commenters and awesome moms who passionately spoke out on this sensitive subject from both sides of the aisle.
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