Diving In (to controversy)

When I was pregnant with M I got my first real taste of what some call the mommy wars.  I knew they existed, I just hadn’t gotten to experience them first hand.  My initiation came from a long time friend of the family.  Someone who I thought of as a second mom.  I was far enough along in my pregnancy to realize that things don’t always go the way you plan.  When asked about my birth plan I told her I wasn’t committed to anything regarding interventions.  I knew I didn’t want a c-section if at all possible (something my OB definitely supported), but I was staying open minded about pain control.  I was honest with her, and I got blasted with what she thought was best.  How women’s bodies know what they’re doing, and how she had given birth to a ten pound twelve ounce (now 18 and a baritone) baby boy without any drugs and all it took was an experienced OB who knew the right position to get her in to.

It stung.  I knew that things could go wrong, that it doesn’t always go the way you planned.  Working at a children’s hospital had taught me that.  Getting an epidural likely saved my life by lowering my dangerously high blood pressure, yet all of these years later, I still feel hurt by her words.

I don’t talk much about breastfeeding on my blog.  The reason is that I know it is something deeply personal.  I worry that if I go on and on about how I was lucky, yes, lucky, enough to have exclusively breastfed my daughter for 19 months, that I will make someone who struggled to breastfeed at all feel inferior.  I worry that if I talk about how she used a nipple shield the ENTIRE time she breastfed except this one night when she was really really tired, then I will incur the wrath of the breastfeeding purists.  I worry that if I talk about how I successfully pumped from when she was born (stupid jaundice) until she was over 14 months old, while I worked full time, that someone will go after me for not staying home where I belong.

When I was struggling with oversupply issues (like I said, lucky) or when I needed info on how to handle pumping and working, I visited the LLL boards. I once, just once, made the mistake of veering off of the pumping and working boards.  There I was met with scathing criticisms of anyone who would ever let their baby drink from a bottle.  How you couldn’t call it breastfeeding if it wasn’t always from a breast. I can just imagine what that would do a person that, unlike me, wasn’t having success.  Someone who was struggling and looking for support while they dealt with a premature baby who was too small to latch, or a job that didn’t allow them to pump, or the choice of taking medication to save their life or that of their infant.

At the heart of it, I am extremely pro breastfeeding.  I was lucky enough to grow up around women who breastfed.  There was never a question that if at all possible, that would be my choice.  However, I know life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.  I hesitate to call myself a lactivist because I don’t want to be associated with people who use the title to make others feel bad for their choices.

I think that formula companies take part in horrible things, but I also feel for the women (and men) who know that they would be lost without something more nutritious than karo syrup and water to give their babies.  (something I found in my father’s baby book, for the record)  There has to be a better way to encourage and support women (and men), whatever their choices and realities are.

So, since I don’t talk about it, and this makes the most amount of sense to me as a way to neutrally bring it up, I give my bullet pointed lists of what worked for me, and what advice I would give, if I did that about this.

  • Nipple shields are not the devil.  They used to be, but they aren’t bad now.  19 months.  The kid had an odd oral issue and if she didn’t have the top of her mouth stimulated, she wouldn’t suck.  When she did suck though, she was a hoover, so it worked for us.
  • Get a lactation consultant.  Not your Dr, not some young one that has never breastfed, get an experienced one if you can.  Best one I had retired shortly after I met her to be a grandmother.  I still miss her. Check with your pediatricians office (if you see a GP, get a Ped for this reason only) because most larger Ped’s offices have them on staff and you don’t pay extra.
  • If you must visit LLL for advice from other moms on pumping, or supply, or anything, take it with a grain of salt. They are peer boards, and sometimes people are nuts.
  • Use Kellymom.com.  She has some of the best neutral resources out there.
  • Do not feel the need to justify your choices to me, or anyone else.  If your sanity is at stake, take the meds you need to.  Kids need a mom who is healthy more than they need breast milk.
  • Know your rights.  In Minnesota companies over a certain size must provide a place for women to pump that is NOT a bathroom.  Ask your employer.  My HR department failed to mention to me that my company had three mother’s rooms with hospital grade pumps in them.  I found out from the admin on our floor who referred me to a manager of another department.
  • Check with your insurance about what is covered.  Mine, the year after I shelled out 300 bucks for my pump, started covering them.
  • Family support helps.  Take the class, with your spouse.  You wouldn’t believe what some people think about the mechanics of breasts.
  • I will answer any question anyone has about how it worked for me.  How I was able to figure out scheduling and have enough on hand while I worked, how I dealt with excess liapase (scalding breastmilk FTW), how I dealt with crazy  uncomfortable family members, how having a blackberry made me not worry about pumping at work, anything.
  • If by chance you find yourself as a new mom with a formula sample you don’t need, consider instead of getting offended, donating it to a crisis nursery.  They have good reason to have formula on hand.  Throw in some diapers while you’re at it.

If you want some other reading about the current controversy caused by a formula company, see this from Missy, and this from Robin.

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  1. Posted February 23, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just been kind of observing this conversation, but I’m a little confused. My sense was that Missy was taking on the marketing tactics of a company that makes infant formula. I don’t understand how that grew into a discussion of women feeling judged for using formula. I commented with similar thoughts on Robin’s post. I’m interested to see how this all takes shape.
    Angie recently posted..Postpartum Shape-Up Weeks 4 &amp 5- Before and In Progress Photos

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      This really isn’t meant so much as a reaction to Missy, since I have HUGE issues with what the formula companies do, especially in low income neighborhoods and the 3rd world. I agree with her on most things. (I also no want a specifically breastfeeding app of my own) I’ve seen a lot of controversy about breast is best, formula is evil, etc, and I have never written about my personal experience. I sort of figured it was time. I think that there needs to be more open dialog about what we go through, even if it doesn’t fit any kind of perfect ideal. I think it goes a long way towards helping women feel accepted as moms, not just because they made what someone thinks is the “right” choice.
      Amelia Sprout recently posted..My Health- and Why You Should Care

  2. Posted February 24, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    I thought I’d exclusively breastfeed, and then my daughter was born. For SIX weeks, she screamed and ate, every hour or two, round the clock. I was a zombie, miserable, exhausted, pumping when I wasn’t nursing to bring up my supply. Turns out, my milk never “came in” like it was supposed to, probably due to the incredible pain caused by my unplanned, emergency c-section (she was breech and it wasn’t discovered until I was 10cm into a non-medicated birth).

    And so, on the eve of my SIL’s week-long visit, I gave Belly a bottle of formula—I needed a break, and knew my SIL’s trip here from FL would be miserable with a screaming baby. My oldest took the bottle and slept for six hours. It was nothing short of a miracle to my exhausted mind. Even my lactation consultant, who I spoke with almost daily, approved.

    When people say formula is evil, I remember that formula SAVED my breastfeeding relationship—I went on to nurse her until she was 3 years old, using formula when I worked and couldn’t pump enough. I even tandem nursed her and my 2nd daughter.

    So, yeah, I think that there needs to be more support for women who breastfeed, but there needs to be less stigma attached to anything other than “100% pure breastfeeding”.

    That same SIL I mentioned above was steeled for the critics when she had her baby girl and went exclusively to formula—but she had no choice—she had a double mastectomy in her first weeks of pregnancy, before they even knew there was a baby.
    Fairly Odd Mother recently posted..Wordless Wednesday- Its a double

  3. Posted February 24, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    “I think that there needs to be more support for women who breastfeed, but there needs to be less stigma attached to anything other than “100% pure breastfeeding”. ”

    This. This is my issue. When we go all “formula companies are pure evil” we shame moms from using them when they do need them, closeting their use out of guilt and perpetuate that you can breastfeed, or you can formula feed, but not both, leading to more women giving up breastfeeding at all.

    and as always, you rock, Amelia!

  4. Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    This. This is why I became a peer breastfeeding counselor. Because moms need support, not judgment. Because every mom knows their own baby best, but sometimes its nice to have an experienced mom to talk to. Because when I was exclusively breastfeeding and working full-time outside the home, there was no one around for me to talk to who 1) had done the same and had success and 2) was experienced or even understanding of pumping and bottle feeding.

    I now work with many moms who breastfeed exclusively, partially, pump, use an SIS…you name it. ALL these moms deserve good, accurate information and support. I’m sorry you had a bad experience on the boards…just know that they aren’t representative of all of us. :)

    And for the record, even though formula companies’ business practices are atrocious, formula in and of itself is not evil- it saves lives EVERY DAY and we should all be glad its there. My personal goal, with the mothers I work with is to make sure they have all the information they need to make informed decisions.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and in such a supportive, informative way!
    birdie recently posted..Running Update

  5. Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    It’s actually fairly interesting to look at the history of groups like LLL. While formula companies often get a lot of heat for their marketing practices, LLL has engaged in a lot of fairly questionable behaviors themselves. Just as drug companies can be attacked for manipulating the data in some drug studies, some of the data techniques used in studies cited by the LLL are abominable. At a certain level, a lot of it is no different from every other political/policy debate ever.

  6. Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I think that it’s posts like this one that are important to discussion. Gray. There is gray area. There is gray area in breastfeeding, birth choices, working or staying home, etc. I know there are people out there who are super passionate about certain lifestyles and choices that they are making. Great! But, I think that it’s so important that those passions be included with statements like “and we’re so glad it worked for us” or “and this is how our family does it.”

    I’m a LLL leader, and I start every meeting with a blurb that includes “LLL believes that you are the expert on your child. You may hear something here today that doesn’t work for your family or that you don’t agree with. That’s okay. We all have different situations and circumstances. I would hope you feel heard and supported no matter what choices you are making. I am not here to tell you what to do or how to raise your child. LLL believes that with accurate information you are able to make the best decision for yourself, your child, and your family.” Or something like that.

    When I took over leadership of the group, it had a reputation of being 100% black and white. There were people who wouldn’t consider coming to a meeting, and there were others who had come once and were never coming back. It’s been about two years of work now. I’m trying to change the perception that LLL is only for people who want to exclusively nurse for as long as possible and let the child self wean some time around kindergarten. Months when we have a topic that I know could tend toward a very all or nothing type of conversation, I call other members ahead of time and ask them to share experiences of using formula, weaning before 12 months, using nipple shields, pumping, helping caregivers who are used to feeding formula learn to feed breastmilk, etc.

    I feel so frustrated when I hear stories like the one in your post where someone was judging another mom for using a bottle. It’s all too common, and it’s not helpful or productive.

    Thank you for sharing this post. I think if more people were able to step back from the rhetoric and emotions attached to such sensitive issues it would be a lot more productive conversation for most people.
    Casey recently posted..“Hi- Mom!” “Bye- Mom!”

  7. Posted February 24, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    You made some very good points in this post. I agree with a lot of what you said. I too work full time outside the home and had to pump/use bottles. I never knew that wasn’t looked at as “purist” breastfeeding.

    My thoughts…I try not to judge others and hope others don’t judge me. I give advice/support to people who ask for help when it comes to natural births and breastfeeding, but I never preach or admonish those that don’t agree with me.

    Sorry for your experiences. You wrote about it really well without being harsh or judgemental.

    PS. Regarding your point about MN laws requiring workplaces to provide a place to pump that isn’t a bathrooom…I had to pump in one of our interview rooms at police headquarters! LOL! I had to cover the hidden cameras every time and put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign! I guess I should do a post about that!

  8. Posted February 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Amelia, I have emerged out of my chaotic life back into the blogging world lately to stay with this topic that Missy reported. (I may disappear again for a while, until Walter gives his mama a bit more freedom.) I just wanted to say that your post is wonderful, and I agree with absolutely everything you are saying. Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting on this topic! I know you probably hesitated because of the controversial nature of the topic, but I’m so glad you decided to write. I think a lot of us agree with you.

    @Robin – you are so right that formula companies are not evil. On the contrary, they are blessings. So many moms and babies need them to provide safe food for their babies. I, too, wish people would stop making how we choose to feed our babies a controversial topic. Parenting is hard, and we all have to find the way that is best for our families. We should support each other in those choices. Lord knows we all need each other’s support.

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