Goodbye, breastfeeding guilt.

I destroyed the structural integrity of my boobs–what little there was–with an expensive, rented hospital grade breast pump in order to collect 500 ounces of milk that Stella would never drink. It sucked in every way.

Worse was the guilt and anxiety. None of it made any sense, but thankfully, it’s over. I was not able to breastfeed Stella past 11 and a half weeks and I am officially 100% okay with that. I feel a new sense of freedom and confidence. I really, really do. This can only be very good for me and Stella.

In an attempt to completely resolve any lingering bad feelings, I’ve been reading a blog called The Fearless Formula Feeder, where I found a link to this article in The Times. Against a backdrop of breastfeeding mania, this article is explosive. This exploration of the data (or lack thereof) behind breastfeeding’s benefits seems more comprehensive and credible and less emotive and debatable than Hanna Rosin’s notorious Atlantic article,  “The Case Against Breastfeeding”, which I also greatly appreciated. The bottom line is that it’s just not that big a deal. Breastfeeding is wonderful for some women and their babies, but its benefits have been greatly and widely overstated. Guilt and judgment toward formula-feeding moms has been unfair, out of control, and as it turns out, baseless.

I overthink things. So naturally, instead of letting go, I’d been doing a bit of research that helped chip away at my disappointment and breastmilk’s holy image. When you look closely at the actual studies, the mirage disappears almost completely. Of course there are some benefits to breastfeeding but they appear to be relatively small.  Furthermore, while there’s no way to know for sure, most of the benefits shown are likely due to the fact that breastfeeding moms are a self-selected population and are simply “the kind of moms” who tend to be more educated in general and in regards to childcare, more responsible, interested and engaged as a whole, and more financially ABLE to give their kids “the best” in many areas. It’s difficult if not impossible for studies to account for this.

The media tends to jump on any studies that suggest potential breastfeeding benefits, while completely ignoring the many, many studies that show no difference between breastfed and formula fed babies. Science has not been able to back up the “breastmilk as miracle cure” message. The main advantage of breastfeeding, in my experience, is that you don’t have to deal with the hassle of preparing and cleaning bottles, and you avoid the cost of formula. On the other hand, if you are frustrated with a feeding or parenthood in general, plastic bottles are great for throwing across the room–a major plus that can’t be overlooked. Ahem.

Like Rosin and the author of the Times article, the Fearless Formula Feeder is by no means anti-breastfeeding. She simply wants to defend formula feeders, and cleverly calls herself a “factivist.” It’s interesting to now look back and think about the “facts” I received about breastfeeding from all kinds of people and sources. I remember hearing in childcare and childbirth classes, in broad terms, that “breast was best.” This message is also plastered on every can of formula (thanks for rubbing it in, by the way). I was told that breastfed babies are smarter and healthier, and have better bonds with their mothers. More specifically, I heard that breastfed babies have fewer incidences of diarrhea and ear infections.

At the end of the day, I know my child better than any study. Here’s what I’ve experienced: Stella’s brilliant, ahead of the curve in every area. We share an incredibly close bond. She’s 14 months old and has never had an ear infection. And, drum roll, please… her eight-week bout of diarrhea STOPPED with her first bottle of formula. Just sayin’.

At this point, my only regret is that I didn’t stop breastfeeding sooner, so as to more quickly relieve her pain, prevent her feeding aversion, and end our stress and suffering. I was not able to stop until all hell broke loose and Stella wound up with a feeding tube. Why? Because of all the “facts” I heard about breastfeeding. It simply wasn’t possible that we could fail at breastfeeding, because breastfeeding is perfect and miraculous. I contacted a La Leche League leader and the very rude Jack Newman and several other breastfeeding experts over the phone or via email, and these well-known experts’ conclusion was that I must be doing something wrong. One supposedly all-knowing Ph.D. / IBCLC, after hearing the horrors of our situation, suggested, “Hold her more securely–don’t let her feet dangle. Babies need to feel secure.” If I could have punched her through the phone, I would have. Other high-profile experts said the problem was latch and that at Stella’s advanced age (10 weeks), it was too late to fix. This was stated with disapproval and disappointment, because clearly I hadn’t enforced proper latch. I cut out dairy and soy and tried even the dumbest suggestions. This led to a lot of crying and failure and desperation. To all that, I can now officially say, “BULLSHIT.”

I must  note that thankfully, at that difficult point in our lives, not all voices of authority shared an insane breastfeed-at-all-costs mentality. A renowned lactation consultant and a wonderful pediatrician helped me make the decision to stop breastfeeding. They said I may want to consider formula-feeding and that it would be okay. That breastfeeding’s toll was clearly too high, and that it simply wasn’t the be-all-end-all of child health. I didn’t believe them at first. But eventually, I was able to do what was best for us. I will always be grateful to them for being so sane, for being a voice of reason and compassion not just for Stella but for me, too. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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About amberhj

Mom, writer, worrier. And a stubborn idealist nonetheless.
This entry was posted in breastfeeding, formula feeding and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Goodbye, breastfeeding guilt.

  1. Trish Norton says:

    Amen to that!!! I was able to breastfeed Sarah, my second for close to 6 months before my supply dried up…I don’t think there was any difference between Sarah and Libby (who we forced onto formula with a feeding tube at 6 weeks). In fact, Sarah had earlier diaper rash, earlier ear infections, and earlier ear tubes. I think our bond is pretty much the same. Sarah walked earlier, crawled about the same time, and spit up a whole lot more. Am I glad I breastfed Sarah, sure, it was cheaper and easier in some ways. Am I glad she took bottles right away too, when necessary? Heck Yes! I wish I would have known that when I was crying about giving up breastfeeding Libby.

  2. amberhj says:

    Hi Trish! It is interesting to hear your firsthand experience on both sides. I remember you telling me about switching Libby to formula and that you needed someone to give you permission in a way. That stayed in my mind and was very helpful, so thank you! If I am lucky enough to have another baby I will definitely try to breastfeed also. To go 6 months, as you did with Sarah, would be great!

  3. I cannot tell you how infinitely happy it makes me to read this. I have read through your entire story now and so many time I’ve wanted to reach through the computer screen and hug you. You and Stella went through so much and you are the LAST person who should ever feel guilty about breastfeeding “failure”. It is just ridiculous that you went though so much for something that has benefits, true, but not enough of them to justify the pain and suffering so many women like us go through.

    Your assessment of this article was spot-on. I am so glad you felt as vindicated by it as I did. I can tell you that all the research I’ve done thus far has backed up what the writer says. Michael Kramer is an interesting dude… he is very pro-breastfeeding, but also a (relatively) honest scientist, from what I can tell, and he is at least willing to admit the truth. Which in the end is all I am asking from people – why can’t we be pro-breastfeeding and pro-truth simultaneously? Doesn’t seem like it should be that hard.

    Someday, you’ll have to tell me your Newman story. As I’m sure you can gather from my blog, I have a special place in my heart (one of seething hatred) for the man. 🙂

  4. Linnet's mom says:

    Thanks for this very timely entry! I just a couple of days ago made the decision to stop pumping milk, and though on the whole I am feeling pretty good about it, reading this helps. I nursed my three olders kids until well past a year old, but because of her medical problems have not been able to nurse the youngest. I really did want her to have breast milk until she was recovered from her heart surgery, but she’s there now & almost six months old, so it’s time to stop. We’re at the point now where the disadvantages (mostly time taken away from my sleep & my other kids) outweigh the advantages. Plus I have a lot of frozen milk in the deep freeze, so she’ll still be able to have half milk/ half formula for at least a couple of months. Now, if we can just get her to drink more of it from a bottle!

    Also I wanted to thank you for posting all the tube weaning resources – they have been very helpful. Based on the reading I’ve done on the Graz clinic site we reduced the total volume we are feeding her by about a third and almost immediately have seen a dramatic improvement in how she takes her bottles (she’s not hungry enough to be cranky between feedings, but definitely wants the bottle by the next time she’s due up). So things are going a lot better!

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