|2 day old Sullivan nursing with the help of a nipple shield|
What I can be sure of is that by writing this and publishing it online I will no doubt be spending the next few hours/days/weeks moderating comments and emails from people who think I am being hard on or unfairly 'judging' parents who formula feed their babies even though I'm writing this entire paragraph to say that I AM NOT.
What I am doing is addressing some of the suggestions and questions I have been getting since my second son was born 6 months ago. All of which boil down to the same thing. 'Why don't you just switch to formula?'.
A little history: after having breast reduction surgery in my late teens breastfeeding my first son, Oliver, in my early twenties went relatively smoothly, a few bumps in the hospital that resulted in unwanted, coerced and non-evidence-based formula supplementation and latch issues that left us reliant on a nipple shield for over 5 months but over all he gained weight (slowly), blebs & plugged ducts happened here and there but were never serious, and we "successfully" breastfed for over 4 years.
I use the quotations around "successfully" because when I became a doula and learned more about breastfeeding through other birth and lactation professionals I found that many if not all of the trouble my oldest son and I did have could be traced back to a tongue and lip tie. And as it turned out many things I was told were 'normal' or dismissed as 'not a big deal' were actually huge red flags that we had some serious problems. Everyone survived so I'm not going to think on it more than lessons learned, we struggled but we managed and I don't regret it for a moment.
Pregnant with my second son, Sullivan, I did a lot of research, identified the red flags I had missed the first time around and was very glad when a dentist in my area started offering laser frenectomies in his practice.
I cannot begin to say how thankful I am that Sullivan was my second. While Oliver and I had struggled a little and he was, in hind sight, a slower gainer than he should have been, he never lost any weight, he always filled diapers regularly, he was alert and met milestones early or on time.
Sullivan, on the other hand, struggles with the scale constantly, when my supply drops in the slightest he immediately stops dirtying diapers, and he regularly goes through phases of being sleepy at the breast eating just enough to take the edge off his hunger but no more. Had he been my first, had I not known that I was capable of nursing a baby well into childhood, had I been less aware of not only the risks of formula use but the absolute joy that the breastfeeding relationship brings, I would have folded at my ten week midwife appointment when my midwife looked me in the eye and told me no one would blame me for giving up if all the work I was doing to breastfeed became too much for me.
(Note: while that statement may be technically true, that no one would have blamed me and it would be 'ok' to switch, suggesting that, as a professional, to a tired new mom when that's not what she's asked you is about as helpful and supportive as telling a labouring woman it's 'ok' to have an epidural when she has expressed that she wants a natural birth. And if you don't know why THATS not helpful or supportive I suppose I'll have to write a whole other post about it.)
|Nursing with a homemade at-the-breast supplementation system|
So why do I do it? Why not 'just switch to formula'?
- Because to me making the switch to artificial milk should not ever be the first suggestion or made out to be the easiest or best alternative when breastfeeding hits a bump. There are literally dozens of other ways to manage supply issues and other common problems.
- Because using artificial milk, even prepared properly (which most people don't), has very real and sometimes serious health risks for both mothers and babies.
- Because breast feeding isn't just about health and nutrition. It is an integral part of the way I parent my children. It provides biological protection for my babies in our family bed, it soothes them when they are hurting or teething, it settles them when they're overstimulated, it provides security and builds trust, it forces me to slow down and engage my children even when life gets hectic.
- Because becoming reliant on artificial milk would be a huge financial burden on my family, thereby negatively impacting my older child and my family's food security in general.
- And mostly because the way we start our life is important. Everyone needs to stop discounting that.
Do I expect that every mother should work as hard as I did to breast feed exclusively no matter her situation or support network? NO, absolutely not, I get that it is my privilege and my connection to a network of well trained birth and lactation professionals that allows me to do so.
But I do expect that every single person who works with, provides any type of care to, or even comes in the slightest contact with mothers and babies understand that when we do things to interfere with or damage the breastfeeding relationship between mother and child we are interrupting vital biological systems that can drastically effect not just the health and development of that baby, but also entire communities. So maybe there is a small part of my brain that just wanted to prove even with multiple factors that can negatively impact breast feeding, bottles and formula don't have to be a part of the management plan.
We need to stop treating breastfeeding like it's a great thing to do 'if it works out', and start treating it like a vital biological system that must be protected and maintained. It isn't binary, and bottles of formula aren't the inevitable conclusion when things don't start off or continue to go well.
In short; If you are a mother who's baby isn't doing well and the only advice you are hearing is EITHER "just keep feeding, just keep feeding, you can do it, he's just small" OR "you're starving/harming your baby, you need to give him formula right now" know that there are amazing care providers out there who can give you real answers and help you find a management plan that will help you achieve YOUR goals. If you are one of the people handing out the above advice on either side, please search out the amazing professionals who have real answers and let them educate you.
"Why not just switch to formula?" Because you don't really have to. Not if that's not what you want, and you can find the right support.
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