by Jessica Martin-Weber
You have a kid? Congrats! What should you feed them? Trying to decide? Weighing all your options and carefully assessing the risks? Great! You should do that. Also, you’re screwed no matter what you do. In 15 years of parenting 6 kids, having both breastfed and formula fed, and gone through phases in nutrition standards (yeah, there was a period with lots of Hamburger Helper and soda pop at each dinner and then a period of only organic, homemade, but most of the time somewhere in the middle), I have found that the “right” way was not only subjective but also highly circumstantial.
That there are some actual risks associated with formula feeding and breastfeeding is undeniable, if heavily debated. Risks such as possible lowered natural immunity and increased chance of ear infections with formula feeding or risks of mastitis and dietary sensitivities with breastfeeding. Nothing in life comes without risks. Yep, you’re facing being screwed or screwing up your kids no matter what you do! As parents all we can do is try our best to mitigate the risks our children face without putting them in a bubble. There’s risk to that too, what with BPA concerns, the possible damper on social skills development, and the need for oxygen. May as well let them live in the big bad scary world. Carefully weighing all the possible options, doing personal research, and making the best informed decisions we can according to our personal circumstances and resources means we have to learn to live with some risks. Regardless of how you feed your child, there are risks you face no matter how carefully you studied, planned, and executed your decision. Be it breastmilk straight from the tap, pumped breastmilk, donor milk, or formula and then eventually, before you know it, store bought baby food (organic or not), homemade baby food (organic or not), or baby-led solids, followed by McDonald’s Happy Meals, Whole Foods shopping carts, homemade, or homegrown; there are a few unavoidable risks to feeding your child.
- There will likely be times you question yourself. Is this really necessary? Am I doing it right? Am I doing it wrong? Am I stressing out about nothing? Have I ruined my child for life? Has my child ruined me for life? The answer to all these and more is: probably.
- There is little doubt that new information will come out that you have, in fact, made the wrong choice. Those organic apples weren’t actually organic, breastmilk can have toxins in it (have you had yours tested?!), formula used an unnecessary ingredient now deemed dangerous and cancer causing, the baby food company didn’t list all the ingredients they actually used, artificial colors not only suck the actually cause two horns and a tail to grow on some kids… whatever it is, there will be something that’s bad about the choice you made.
- Your child will grow to like junk food. Like moths to the flame, little kids love toxic laden junk food, the more carcinogens the better. Try as you might, they will discover the joys of foods you’d rather they not consume thanks to a grandparent, a little friend, a mother more lazy and uninformed than you (admit it, you have been judging her and she knew it), or more likely, daddy. And they will, at some point in time, eat something disgusting off the ground or the floor of your minivan. They will also pick their nose and eat it. They will lick something that will make you gag. No matter what you do to cultivate their palate to make discriminating food choices, they will be drawn to the junk and you will wonder if it ever even mattered.
- The growth chart will scare you. Too big, too little, too average, whatever it is, you’ll probably have at least one appointment with your child’s doctor that will make you concerned about your child’s growth pattern. Because if there’s anything that can be truly charted, it’s that kids are predictably unpredictable.
- Statistics aren’t guarantees. All the scary stuff that isn’t supposed to happen/is supposed to happen based on how you’re feeding your child doesn’t come true. The proverbial “they” said if you feed your child “this” way they won’t get sick, or that’s what you understood anyway, and yet you’re wiping green snot off your child’s face every day for months. And someone is bound to point this out to you, trumpeting how their kid is never sick. Immune systems can be such ignorant traitors clueless on the what all those studies say.
- You will be judged. Pull out a breast or bottle to feed your baby and watch the judgment fly. Too long, too brief, too-not-what-they-did. Bad mom, exhibitionist, endangering your child, endangering other people’s children (their poor eyes may see the choice you’ve made and confuse them!), pouring toxins into your child, doing that in public, you name it, judgment will come from all directions no matter what you do.
- You can make yourself crazy. Trying to do it perfectly right could be exactly what drives you over the edge of sanity. A very real risk.
And if you think it’s bad when they’re infants, just wait until your child is begging for cheetos and refusing the organic avocado and kale chips at playdates. No matter how you feed your children as infants, they will someday inevitably grow into toddlers eating their own boogers (and sometimes those of others), tasting dirt on the playground, sucking a sucker they found on the floor of the public bathroom, and licking the railing at a public park. The good news is, most of the time they really are going to be just fine even though.
Which is why it’s a good thing we don’t feed our children for others. Good luck! Whatever you do, there are risks. This is just one aspect of parenting, have confidence, there are even bigger risk you face in this journey. Go on, feed your kids, take a deep breath, and take the risks as they come. You’ve got this.