The Tapestry of Guilt- The Truth About Guilt and Parenting

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Trigger warning- sexual abuse mentioned.

Blooming amongst the hard places

This post is talking about guilt, settle in, it’s a long one because… guilt.

If I had a dollar for every time I hear a mother share her infant feeding story under a thick layer of guilt, I would be a wealthy woman. If I had a dime for every time I hear a mother share her pregnancy story, her birth story, her postpartum/newborn story, her parenting decisions and realities under that stifling wet blanket of guilt that turns so many beautiful stories into a dark, twisted confusing drama, I would be an incredibly wealthy woman. Lots and lots of companies are getting wealthy capitalizing on mothering guilt, it’s big business. Be it for the length of time they breastfed, how involved their partner could be with them breastfeeding, their child’s health issues, how many bottles their child received, if they used formula, how well pumping went for them, or how she feels about breastfeeding, often guilt is a regular theme in these stories. Permeating the pregnancy journey, birth experience, first days, recovery, relationships, the learning curve, sleep experiences, solids, purchases, you name it, guilt underlies even many of the joys. Guilt, regret, and grief. Bittersweetness. Through their tears or defensive tone, guilt and sometime shame underlie their words, a framework on which to hang their tapestry of fear that in reality they are inadequate.

And it hurts.

This guilt upon which their story is spread causes many of them deep yet inescapable pain. For some that pain has made them feel vulnerable to the attacks of others or even what they simply perceive as attacks from others when they share. For some that pain has made them harden, putting up their defenses and adding caveats to the stories of others. For some that pain threatens their very confidence, adding a sinister voice to the question so many find nagging within: am I enough?

I know guilt well. Far too well.

This emotion is triggered when we’ve done something wrong or wonder if we have done something wrong. It can be a very good thing, alerting us when we’ve gone off course or ignored our moral compass, inspiring education to learn how to do better. I’ve been grateful for guilt at times, it has helped me be a better person, a better friend, better worker, better partner, and a better mother. With an important purpose, guilt can help us keep our actions in line with our values. Brene Brown explains that guilt is about what we’ve done whereas shame is about who we believe we are. That’s where things get blurry. Sometimes guilt grows into shame and we question not only our actions but our very worth as a person as a result of those actions. Usually starting with “what kind of person/mother/partner/friend/daughter would DO that?”

Sometimes guilt is legitimate, we’ve done or not done something that doesn’t aline with our values. Sometimes we bring guilt on ourselves unjustly. Either because of the importance we’ve placed on something (i.e. I must have this kind of birth because it is the best and science says my child will have a better life if they are born this way) or because we punish ourselves for what we didn’t know. Sometimes guilt is a result of privilege, easily missed as being artificially manufactured from a culture of expected norms based in privilege. Sometimes guilt is triggered by someone else wanting us to feel guilty in an attempt to control us or make themselves feel superior. Some of us have mothers that are particularly skilled in this manipulation. True, nobody can make you feel anything without your permission but we are social beings who need community and our feelings are a part of that dynamic and they matter. Why else would we even want to be with other people and take that risk?

Guilt has woven in an out of my own mothering stories, still does. I have felt guilt over a great many choices, accidents, ignorances, and situations entirely out of my control in caring for my children; from how I ate during my pregnancies, how their births went, what I have fed them at meal times, car seat mistakes, educational choices, health care decisions, discipline choices, the mess of my house, you name it. In 16.5 years of parenting, my mothering guilt has built up quite a rap sheet. But it all pales in comparison to my greatest grief as a mother. In the shadow of this one thing, I see these other areas for what they really are: mistakes or insignificant variations from my plan that are nothing more than blips on the radar.

I may have wept when breastfeeding my 2nd daughter ended at 4.5 months, 8 months shy of my goal. Guilt accompanied me for a time that I wasn’t strong enough to push through excruciating pain, couldn’t manage her screams from reflux, and wasn’t able to find the bonding promised in breastfeeding and instead found each feeding session a blow to my already fragile mental health in the midst of fighting postpartum depression. It felt real and devastating at the time and I won’t minimize anyone’s struggle through such an experience, it isn’t easy. A few years later though, for me that seemed as small as guilt in having to throw away a ruined meal due to forgetting to set the timer.

No, the guilt I hold and have gone to therapy for years over stems from when I failed to identify someone who would hurt my children and failed to notice they were experiencing ongoing sexual abuse at the hands of someone I loved and trusted. That two of my children were used, their bodies abused and their spirits crushed because of a person, a 13 year old boy I brought into their lives and I couldn’t tell it was happening… that is a guilt and grief I have lacked the words to explain for 10 years. How could any good mother miss that? How could I have missed the warning signs that the perpetrator was a risk? How could I not have known? How could I have failed them and allowed them to experience so much pain?

Maybe I didn’t deserve to be a mother. Maybe my children weren’t safe in my care. Maybe… maybe I wasn’t enough.

I haven’t been alone with this guilt, my husband, their daddy, has battled it too. It has brought out in both of us at times protectiveness, aggressive fury, self loathing, depression, and fear. Oh so much fear. And shame. For a long time that’s really all there was, guilt, fear, and shame.

That was a terrible place to parent from. No confidence, nothing healthy. Nothing to help our children heal and recover. We were trying but it wasn’t working.

The abuse wasn’t really our fault but it kind of was too. Our therapist and friends would try to encourage us by reminding us that the one responsible was the one who did it. That’s true, he is responsible but then, we’re the ones responsible for our children. It could happen to anyone, they would say, and that’s true too, but it happened to our children and we were supposed to stop it. We did as soon as we found out and we fought hard for them, demanding justice, accountability, and help for their abuser. But it still happened. As our eldest fractured before our eyes, splintering into little shards of herself losing her kindergarten year to nightmares, outbursts, and locking herself in the bathroom to cry wracking sobs or worse, sit curled up in the corner without a sound as she picked at her skin, we could only blame the one that did this to a point. When you point one finger out, there are 3 pointing back at you.

Guilt sucks. Shame is an asshole. Fear is crippling.

Our daughters were hurting and they needed us. As much as I didn’t feel like I was the right mother for them, as much as my confidence was shattered, as much as I had already failed them, I was the mother they had. After CPS had investigated and cleared us, our children were stuck with us, failures and all, we were the only parents they had. It became time for guilt to do something positive, it was time for course correcting, time to educate ourselves and learn how to do better, time to grow. We had little confidence in our abilities as parents, just enough to believe that maybe our love for our daughters would be enough and we could learn and grow.

We did. The approach to parenting we had taken was ditched and we started over from scratch after careful analyses of what we had believed and practiced as parents. Not only did we want to change our parenting because we felt our approach had failed our daughters and enabled abuse, we also were creating mindful changes to support their healing. With a critical eye we dismantled it all. Reading sources on child development and parenting that took a different approach than what we had tried before and intensely scrutinizing our parenting that may have contributed to the abuse or made our children more vulnerable, we gradually developed a parenting philosophy we could put into practice that was drastically different. Proactive in getting our daughters help and altering how we parented led to healing and over time, confidence building for all of us.

Guilt, whether it was rightfully placed or not, helped us get to that place. Guilt that broke us.

We could have stayed in that place of guilt, eventually embracing and internalizing shame as parents but that would have been an even greater failure of our daughters. Moving on wasn’t the answer, getting over it, letting it go, wasn’t what helped us, it was moving into and through it that made the real difference. With the help of therapy and the sharing of a few other bold individuals, our family found our way to healing that led to thriving, strength, and confidence.

Guilt hasn’t disappeared from my life, I still make mistakes, still am disappointed with myself from time to time, still hurt when I can’t manage to be the “best” parent I have idolized in my head. From worry and guilt about what I did before I learned differently (car seat safety, sleeping arrangements, etc.) to guilt that we sometimes find ourselves short of the resources to help our children reach their goals (such as our eldest’s dance training- still so far from the funds she needs). It’s still there, still pushing me to learn and grow and sometimes to change and figure out how to do better. But it doesn’t get to stay around for long, my children need me too much to sleep with guilt. Now, as our eldest is 16, she’s taking her sexual abuse experience and turning it into something powerful. From my guilt has come this overwhelming pride confusingly mixed with humility. (Read her story here and listen to her share in her own voice here.) And I’m done wasting time feeling guilty about things like formula feeding my 2nd (never had much guilt there actually, it was necessary and right for us), over guilt for things I didn’t know, past guilt issues out of my control, and moved on from guilt that I am human and make mistakes. Now when guilt pops up, I sit and examine it, question the source, and assess if it is genuine or artificially manufactured. Then I determine what I need to learn from it and dismiss it from my life so I can get on with the growing and learning. There are those that want me to wallow in it and try to throw it in my face from time to time, those that attempt to feel better about themselves by attempting to provoke guilt in me, and even those that try to turn it into shame so I question my very worth. They are powerless over me now because I’m no longer afraid of guilt, I can use it to grow. In the big picture, so much of the guilt we hold onto is for mistakes, wrong-doing, ignorance, or bad choices that are not lasting issues. I’ve survived true guilt for something so terrible, I already know the truth.

Even with my mistakes, even with my failures, I am enough.

And I don’t judge other parents or wish guilt or shame on them. Because now, I know it can happen to anyone. Even accidentally leaving a child in the car on a hot day.

I am a rich woman today, not in material possessions or my bank account. The wealth I treasure today is the intricate tapestry of experience in my family. Guilt has a place but it doesn’t own me or define me and it is my hope that every parent that truly loves their child and is willing to grow and learn as they parent will take the inevitable guilt they will encounter as they care for their children and turn it into something beautiful and enriching. Because when we know we are enough, our children can believe it for themselves too.

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My eldest, 16 year old Ophélia talks openly about her experience healing from sexual abuse, you can learn more about how she is now working to help others even as she continues to grow and heal by going here. To support her in that journey, see her fundraising video (she’s still a long way from her goal) here.

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#MyStoryMatters

“I always feel bad sharing my story because I don’t want to make others feel bad, breastfeeding my baby was so easy for me, it was just perfect. I almost feel like my story doesn’t count.”

The woman standing in front of me had a sleeping little one strapped on her back and a worried expression pressed on her face. She shared briefly in this rushed moment with hundreds of people around us that she rarely talked about her breastfeeding experience when she knows so many women struggle in their own journeys. Concern that sharing her own story may cause them pain, she keeps it to herself.

Another woman before her told me she didn’t talk about her breastfeeding journey except around a few key friends because it was so discouraging and difficult she didn’t want anyone else to feel sorry for her or not try breastfeeding out of fear that they would have a similar experience.

And before that a mother told me that she never talked about her experience feeding her baby for fear of judgment because she switched to formula just a few weeks in due to difficulties and postpartum depression compounded by needing to return to work. She just couldn’t take hearing more of the inevitable questions that would follow if she shared, asking if she tried any number of herbs and medications for her supply, if she saw the right kind of breastfeeding support, or how she felt about poisoning her baby with formula, or that if she truly loved her son she would have tried harder to give him breastmilk.

Following all of them was the mother that loved breastfeeding, had overcome a few difficulties, and went one to breastfeed for 3 years before weaning and starting all over again with a new little one. But she was a quiet person and not comfortable with breastfeeding in public, it was even challenging for her to do so with a cover and she preferred a private location away from other people. Awkward and very self-aware, she hated breastfeeding in public and she never posted breastfeeding pictures online (does that mean she even really breastfed if she didn’t take and share a #brelfie? Would people think she was lying?). So she didn’t talk about breastfeeding much because she felt like a fraud. There were some points she would love to tell but not all of it and not to just anyone. Her past history of sexual abuse made it even more difficult for her and she didn’t want to share more about her infant feeding path than she was comfortable with but that seemed inadequate and wouldn’t really help anyone.

All of these women and thousands of others I have heard from felt that their story didn’t matter. They felt their stories weren’t happy enough, dramatic enough, perfect enough, difficult enough, strong enough, smart enough, right enough, important enough, painful enough, humble enough, promising enough, advocate enough, bold enough.

Enough.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

You aren’t perfect and you never will be, whatever perfect means.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Your highs, your lows.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

The flab, the stretch marks, the skin and bones, or the extra padding.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

The moments of pride, the moments of shame.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Your hurt and your joy.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Your vagina, your scars, your breasts, and your bottles.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

And #YourStoryMatters.

#MyStoryMatters too.

Our children are watching, long before you will realize they are aware, they are watching. Every criticism you bestow upon yourself eats away at your confidence and how you view yourself. Which eats away at your child. How they will grow to see you, how they will grow to believe you see them, and how they will grow to see themselves. Are you treating yourself as well as you want your child to be treated by themselves and others some day? We are their models, is this what we want for them? And are we treating others, our friends and peers, how we want our children to treat others and how we want others to treat our children?

Will your child look at you and see that you are enough?

Will your child look at themselves and see that they are enough?

Perfection is far too high to aim for and since it is unattainable we are setting ourselves and our children up for failure if we tell them they are perfect and berate ourselves when we’re not. Someday they will know the truth that they aren’t perfect and we will have been the ones that lied to them.

But enough is enough. Within enough, there’s room for growth but still acceptance of where you are. When we are enough we can see how our stories matter. All of ours.

#IAmEnough

 

TLB is celebrating its 5th birthday this month. A month long celebration of our community and the thousands upon thousands of stories shared there. For 5 years families have been finding support in their journeys, receiving support and giving support. After finding the support they needed, many stay to pay it forward. Support forward. #TLBSupportForward. There is no better way to celebrate this milestone than going back to our roots, sharing our stories of feeding our children, our babies. To share your story with our community, email it to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces). All stories are welcome, we will have to be selective in what we publish to be sure it is a good fit and due to the volume of submissions it is possible we won’t be able to publish them all, but your story matters; so whether it is published on TLB or shared in the comments and interactions of our community, we hope you share your story. You can help encourage others with your story by making your own sign like above and taking a picture of you holding it to share on social media with these hashtags. Whatever it may be, from pure bliss of rainbows and sunshine to heartache and pain, your story matters. In sharing it you testify that you are enough and encourage others that they are enough too.

And together we all can say #IAmEnough #MyStoryMatters #TLBSupportForward.

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It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

by Kari Swanson

full term breastfeeding

My daughter was placed on my chest immediately after my obstetrician finished stitching up my c-section incision. She latched onto my breast and started breastfeeding right there in the operating room. Last month we celebrated her third birthday. She knows that babies have mama milk. She also knows that big girls have mama milk until they are ready to stop having mama milk. I expect that sometime between now and the time she is around 5 years old she will gradually wean.

Some might consider the fact that my daughter is 3 and still receiving breastmilk to be extreme, but anthropological evidence indicates that this is biologically normal for a young hominid primate. That being said, it is probably no surprise that I consider myself to be a lactivist. I believe that human breastmilk is the biologically normal food source for human infants and I volunteer as an admin on The Leaky [email protected]@b in order to support other breastfeeding mothers and to help normalize breastfeeding in a culture that has largely lost sight of the real reason women have breasts.

What may come as a surprise to some is that my daughter and my son before her received formula in addition to breastmilk. Why? Because I work full time outside of my home and I am among the unlucky few who truly do not respond well to breast pumps. For whatever reason my body just does not give up the gold for a machine despite my supply being more than adequate. After a time, despite numerous tips and tricks, pumping whenever and wherever I could, I ceased to be able to pump enough milk to entirely meet my babies’ nutritional needs while they were separated from me while I worked.

With my daughter I was fortunate to be able to spend 3 months home with her after she was born, and to spend 3 months thereafter working half time. I pumped at home before returning to work and I pumped before work, during work, after work, and on non-workdays once I returned to work. I had a small stash of milk in the deep freezer when I returned to work, but it was quickly depleted. When I first returned to work and pumped I easily had enough milk by the end of the day to send to the daycare without dipping into my frozen milk stash.

I determined how much milk my daughter needed in her daycare bottles using an iPhone app called “Breast Milk Calculator.” The app uses the baby’s weight, age and number of feedings in the previous 24 hours to suggest how much milk he or she needs per feeding. Using the app I determined exactly how many ounces she needed per bottle. The number of feedings was based on the number of hours she was away from me and how frequently she would normally nurse.

But, just as it had when my son was a baby, my pumping output dwindled over time. Eventually I was pumping less than an ounce per side per pumping session. I used up my entire frozen milk stash. Despite my best efforts at around 6 months I was no longer able to pump enough to send only breastmilk in my daughter’s daycare bottles. So, I sent as much breastmilk as I could and to make sure she had sufficient nutrition I sent formula too.

When my daughter was a newborn she, like her brother, needed supplementation. They both had jaundice and they both lost more than the usual amount of weight after birth. Although her condition was better than her brother’s had been (he was a very sleepy 37 weeker with more severe jaundice), my daughter was also a slow gainer. So, the IBCLC we saw recommended supplementation while I built up my own supply. When my son was a newborn he received formula supplementation, but my daughter received donor breastmilk, or as we referred to it “Auntie milk”—because our milk donor was my sister who was still breastfeeding her toddler son at the time my daughter was born.

By the time my daughter was in daycare full time and my pumping supply could not keep up with my daughter’s demands my sister’s son had weaned. I considered donor breastmilk, but decided against it. My strong, healthy baby did fine on formula, and I felt that the relatively limited supply of donor milk in my area should be available to babies for whom formula was not an option, babies whose mothers could not breastfeed them at all or whose health really warranted the exclusive use of donor milk. So, we chose formula instead.

I already knew exactly what formula I would choose for my daughter if I reached this point, because I had read quite a bit of research about formula before I had my son. I looked up numerous scholarly research articles and reviews of the literature about formula on PubMed. At that point I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I had been given the somewhat unhelpful advice that my desire to breastfeed and to go back to work full time were “setting [myself] up for failure”. So, in case that was true I did all of that research about formula and based my decision on what I had read. (Bear in mind that my son was born in 2004 and donor milk was not as prevalent, except from milk banks by prescription and at a rather high price.) Despite many assertions otherwise, infant formula is an acceptable, nutritionally adequate alternative to breastmilk and is a much better choice than the milk of any other mammal or milk made from plants.

Eventually both of my babies received only formula in their daycare bottles. Both times the amount I was able to pump became miniscule compared to the amount they needed and the stress and frustration of pumping so little became too much for me, so I stopped. They both did fine on the formula they received part of the time, so I felt comfortable giving them as much as they needed while they were separated from me. My daughter had breastmilk exclusively, either at the breast or in bottles, for more than 6 months. They were around the same age when they started receiving formula alone in their daycare bottles: 7-8 months. Despite this both of my babies continued to breastfeed whenever they were with me. They never experienced nipple confusion, expressed a preference for the bottle, or had nursing strikes. They both stopped receiving formula when they no longer needed bottles at daycare.

So, yes I am a lactivist. I believe breastmilk is the biologically normal food for human infants. But, breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

 

You can read more from Kari over on her site and enjoy her thoughtful, thorough writing and beautiful photography.

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Did you respond well to breast pumps?  Have you had to supplement?  If so, what did you use?  Were you able to supplement and still reach your breastfeeding goals?

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The WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor program- why you should care

It’s déjà vu for me today, Leakies.

Last year, right around this time, I wrote an article for this very site about how a representative was proposing that we removing funding from the WIC breastfeeding peer counselor program, The High Life of a WIC BReastfeeding Counselor.  That was struck down, and quickly, but sadly enough, threats to the program loom again.

In case you don’t know what the breastfeeding peer counselor program is, it’s an awesome program at WIC where breastfeeding or former breastfeeding moms are hired and thoroughly trained to provide breastfeeding advice and support.  In fact, our training is so awesome and the program is so respected that the organization that tests people to become registered lactation consultants, IBLCE, allows it as one of the few ways to gather the hands on hours required to take the examination.  The program helps both new moms and moms-to-be with a variety of breastfeeding issues.  We teach classes, we do one-on-one counseling, and we assess moms and babies who are having issues.  We can catch issues early and fix them or refer to someone who can.  We run support groups and work with businesses and hospitals to make the community a more supportive place for women who do choose to breastfeed.  We run warmlines.  Some of us do home or hospital visitations.  Many of us are IBCLCs.  What we do, in a private practice setting, would cost you a LOT of money.  Yet, for the women who qualify for WIC, these services are totally free.

And although we are all breastfeeding advocates, we’re not going to force you to breastfeed or look down on you if you don’t.  We will encourage you and help you, but we will not force our goals or ideals on you, and we will not look down on you if you don’t breastfeed for as long as we would or in the way that we would or even at all.  There’s something pretty amazing, though, about seeing a new mom who really, really wants to breastfeed, so incredibly tired and sore and unhappy and on the verge of giving up light up when she is given the tools needed to make things work for her.  And these tools are sadly unavailable in many other places.  Many doctors aren’t all the breastfeeding savvy.  Hospitals that have lactation consultants often only have them there part time, or they are too overbooked to give moms the time that they need.  La Leche League meetings can be at times that a new mom can’t manage – especially if she’s also working.

Money for breastfeeding support within WIC was already cut once this year.  This is pretty sad, given that the Surgeon General’s call to action to support breastfeeding was issued just a year ago.  We know the numerous benefits of breastfeeding, and we know that while so many moms want to breastfeed, a significant amount simply aren’t meeting their goals.  Mother to mother support is proven to be a huge help.  And when that support is trained and qualified to bust myths and give realistic advice while not being judgmental, that’s even better.

A House subcommittee yesterday passed a bill for funding for WIC that has no money earmarked for peer counselors. That, combined with the lowered budget overall, means that a lot of ladies will be losing their jobs and a lot of moms will be losing what might be the only education and support they have for breastfeeding.  While my office is amazing and everyone is supportive of breastfeeding and decently educated, and while I believe that WIC has taken steps to ensure that is the norm, there are many agencies that only maintain a counselor because that money is earmarked.  The peer counselor in those offices may be the only person there well versed in breastfeeding and holding the solutions to common issues.  If we take her away, there will be a lot of moms that switch to formula – not because they want to, but because they feel like they have no choice in the matter.

So why should you care?

Well, if you believe that women should be supported in their breastfeeding endeavors, you want breastfeeding peer counselors to keep their funding.  If you are someone who doesn’t care about breastfeeding but wants government spending to decrease, then you want breastfeeding peer counselors to keep their jobs.  You see, we help women to be healthier and have healthier babies, which translates into less money spent on state insurance and less spent on purchasing formula.  If you’re a business owner or manager, you want us to keep our funding, because by helping moms to keep breastfeeding and continuing to confer that specifically tailored immune protection, your employees’ babies are at their optimal health, and your employees will be at work more often, increasing productivity.

I urge you to sign this petition and consider letting your elected officials know that cutting funding to this program is ridiculous and short-sighted.  It may save some money short term, but it will have significant consequences long term.

 

 

 Star Rodriguiz, IBCLC, is a breastfeeding peer counselor for a WIC in the Midwest and has just started her private practice as an IBCLC (her Facebook page is here, go “like” for great support).  She also sits on the  breastfeeding task force in her town, is helping her  community’s Early Head Start redefine  their breastfeeding support, and is the  driving force behind a local breastfeeding campaign.  In  the remainder of her free  time, she chases around her nursling and preschooler.

 

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An overview to making an educated choice about formula

Star and I worked together on this post as a result of seeing a need to answer some questions and provide information on infant formula.  I believe that breastfeeding advocates and educators often provide only “formula is bad” kind of information that isn’t helpful for the parent that seriously needs to consider formula options for their child.  This article is intended to be a resource for those that will be using formula and would like information as they go about making their decision and for those that want to offer genuinely supportive support to all families, regardless of the feeding method employed.  There will be further information on formula available soon but for now, we hope this is helpful for those that need it.  It is my hope that breastfeeding advocates and educators will be able to provide quality information on formula when necessary and do so in a supportive manner.  Let’s truly support families and be a safe source of information on infant nutrition, free of judgment and profit-making agendas.  If you are a breastfeeding mom that needs to supplement with formula or switch entirely over to formula, be sure to consult not only with your child’s doctor but also an IBCLC in making your formula choice.  ~Jessica 

What are the questions and why do we need to look at them

Babies and breastmilk go together perfectly.  Breastmilk is the optimal, normal standard of infant nutrition, and I love the fact that I am in a profession where I can help mothers to achieve their goals where breastfeeding is concerned.  While I am a hugely passionate breastfeeding advocate I am not anti-formula.  Something that seems to confuse some people but it boils down to respecting the fact that we all make choices in feeding our babies, and sometimes formulas are a part of that choice.  Formula feeding moms love their babies just as much as breastfeeding moms do and want their babies to grow and thrive.  During some hiccups in my own breastfeeding relationships, I used commercial infant formulas as a supplement and I am thoroughly unashamed of that fact.  However, formula can be such a dirty word in infant feeding communities, and there’s a lot of confusion over it.  What kinds are there?  Which formulas are better than others?  Should I use commercially made formulas or make my own?  And how do we mix them?

 

The different types of formula

First of all, let’s address the varieties of formula.  There are three major types that are available: cow’s milk based formulas, soy formulas, and protein hydrolysate formulas.  Cow’s milk is the least expensive and most common.  They are nutritionally appropriate for most babies and engineered to be as close as possible to breastmilk recognizing they can not completely replicate all that is breastmilk.  However, some babies may not do well on these.  Some common reasons for not using cow’s milk formulas are allergies to the protein in the cow’s milk or the family’s desire to avoid animal products for their babies.

The next variety of formula is soy.  Soy formulas are not recommended for preemies.  They do not contain animal proteins, so they are useful in some medical situations or if a baby has issues with those proteins.  They can also be used by families who adhere to a lifestyle that avoids animal products.  A review by the AAP in 2008 found very few medical reasons to utilize soy formula.  There are also concerns that soy could interfere with the thyroid, immune system, or the reproductive system.  Those concerns have not yet been proven to be warranted, although the AAP did advocate for further testing.  Bottom line?  Unless your baby needs soy formula or you have some family reason that you are choosing to avoid animal products, it is probably not necessary.

The last of the three major commercial varieties is the protein hydrolysate formula.  These are also called hypoallergenic formulas.  Really, these will generally be ordered by a doctor to combat an issue like allergies to both the soy and the cow’s milk formulas.  Most people aren’t buying these over the counter because they’re just such an amazing choice.  They’re typically very expensive and needed only in specific cases.

 

Standards and regulations

Formula is held to certain standards of nutrition by the FDA.  (Note: this is different than being approved or regulated by the FDA.  However, there are standards of nutrition that must be met or the FDA will take action.)  Therefore, there is typically not significant difference between generic and name brand formulas of the same type.  There are pretty negligible differences between organic and nonorganic formulas, too.  Basically, with organic formulas, there is a certain standard for the production of the ingredients in the formulas.  Organic formulas have not been proven to be better for babies.  They are sometimes sweetened with organic cane sugar, which can make them taste sweeter.  This might be a problem – babies could develop a taste for sweeter foods or overeat due to the taste – but these are theories that have not been proven with peer reviewed research.

Homemade formulas are touted by many people and websites, but they are not something that I would ever recommend to a client or anyone else, for that matter.  There absolutely are risks associated with feeding an infant commercial formula, but there are even more risks to non-commercial formula.  No health body that I’m aware of recommends homemade formulas.  With commercial formula, you are getting something that is built to have the most optimal nutrition possible when breastmilk is not an option.  With homemade formula, there are a plethora of risks, running from nutritional imbalances to severe infections from pathogens in the ingredients.  In the days before commercialized formula, babies had to be supplemented with other things to keep away conditions like scurvy and there were deaths due to babies ingesting contaminated products.  Do it yourself is awesome for cleaning products or baby food or many other things.  It’s not good for your baby, though.  This is particularly true in a young baby with an immature gut, or digestive tract where the risk of illness from contaminated formula is even higher.  This post takes a thorough look at goat’s milk and homemade formula as alternatives for infant nutrition if you’d like more information.

 

Preparation and safe handling

Preparation of commercialized formula can be a problem, too. We often think that women in developing countries where there is unsafe water or not enough money to purchase the correct quantity of formulas are the ones at risk of incorrect preparation.  Of course, that does happen.  But we also see preparation issues in developed countries, too.  We may not hear about them as often but they certainly occur.

The only kind of formula that is sterile and can pretty much be put in a bottle, heated, and be good to go is ready to feed liquid formula.  Some health organizations recommend that babies under 3 months be fed only ready to feed for this reason.  However, most people use powdered infant formula.  Powdered infant formula is not sterile.  If you have a baby with immune system issues, or an ill baby, it is preferable to use ready to feed.  Using powdered formula in the right way can really help to make it safer.  You want to prepare formula on a clean surface, with freshly washed hands, and put it in clean, sterile equipment.  The World Health Organization recommends that you use water that has been boiled and then allowed to cool for no more than 30 minutes.  You should mix this water with the powdered formula (the EXACT AMOUNT called for on the can.  There are generally scoops with the formulas, and you should use the correct amount of level scoops) and then cool it to a suitable temperature by running the feeding implement (bottle, cup, whatever) under cool/cold water or placing it in cool or cold water.  It should be fed to the baby right away and leftovers should be discarded.  For more information, see the WHO guidelines for the safe preparation, storage, and handling of powdered infant formula.

 

Social issues and real support

Now that we’ve talked about types and preparation – and if I didn’t cover something that you have a burning desire to know about, please, comment or message myself or Jessica and I will find it out for you – let me step on a soapbox for a minute.  We know that breastmilk is optimal nutrition and that formula is recommended by the World Health Organization as the 4th best option for infant nutrition (following milk from the mother’s breast, expressed milk from the mother, and donated milk from another lactating woman).  But we simply cannot go on acting like formula is a poisonous, horrible thing that only uneducated, mean parents feed to their poor defenseless babies.  Some of the horrible comments that I have seen about formula and formula feeding mothers lately are ridiculous.  Would it be awesome if all babies everywhere could get breastmilk, either from their mothers or from donated milk?  Sure.  Is that likely to happen in the not too distant future?  No.  (Look here and here for information on being a donor or if you need donated milk for your baby.)  If we can meet moms where they are and provide the information they are seeking without judgment, we can be a trusted source for education and support and moms won’t have to turn to the formula companies as their primary origin of information.

I am the first person to step up and say that formula should be better regulated, that marketing should be reined in, that we deserve the best possible product for the smallest and most defenseless of our citizens.  But those are issues with the formula companies or manufacturing, not issues with mothers who can’t or won’t breastfeed.  Every mother I have ever met has a wide variety of factors and reasons that came into play when she chose how to feed her baby.  Discounting those things or casting blame or shame on her for them quite frankly sucks.   A real advocate supports women in general and knows that not everyone will make the same choice as her.

 

 
 Star Rodriguiz, IBCLC, is a breastfeeding peer counselor for a WIC in the Midwest and has just started her private practice as an IBCLC (her Facebook page is here, go “like” for great support).  She also sits on the  breastfeeding task force in her town, is helping her  community’s Early Head Start redefine  their breastfeeding support, and is the  driving force behind a local breastfeeding campaign.  In  the remainder of her free  time, she chases around her nursling and preschooler.
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Bottle Feeding Breastfed Babies

 

by Tanya Lieberman, IBCLC, with Amy Peterson, IBCLC

We’re very pleased to share an interview about bottles and breastfed babies today. We asked Amy Peterson, IBCLC, co-author of Balancing Breast and Bottle: Reaching your Breastfeeding Goals, to answer our questions.

For those of you who combine bottles with breastfeeding – whether you’re pumping at work, supplementing, or use a bottle for occasional separations – bottle and nipple selection can be confusing. For those of you whose babies refuse bottles, it can be very frustrating!

We hope that the information she shares below is helpful. Amy offers more information on bottlefeeding breastfed babies on her website.

Many bottles are advertised as “easing the transition from breast to bottle” and back again. What do you think of these claims? Are they independently verified?

These claims are very misleading. Just as every mother’s breast has a unique shape and flow, every baby has a unique suck/swallow cycle. What works well for one baby might be terrible for another. Parents need to observe their own baby sucking on a bottle nipple and analyze if the latch and swallow look similar to that on the breast. In our book, we use a tool called the SIMPLE Method that guides parents step-by-step on how to choose a bottle nipple for their own baby’s unique latch.

We are not aware if such advertising claims have been verified. However, we do know that this type of marketing is in violation of the International Code of Breastmilk Substitutes. This international health policy document, adopted by many countries excluding the U.S., is designed to protect families from underhanded marketing ploys such as words or pictures idealizing artificial feeding. Comparing a bottle to breastfeeding—even if it contains breastmilk—is idealizing that brand.

In our professional experience of helping babies combine breast and bottle-feeding, we have found that the nipples which claim to be best for breastfed babies are often the worst choice. The bottle nipples that are best for breastfed babies have a gradual transition from tip to base.

You and your co-author tested 37 bottles. What were the features you were comparing, and what did you learn about the range of bottles that you’d most want parents of breastfed babies to know?

We tested two different aspects of bottle nipples. First, we measured dripping by looking at the number of drips and the size of each drip. Then we hooked up bottles to a hospital grade breast pump to determine how fast bottles flow. After performing these tests, we compared the results to see if bottle dripping and flow rate were related.

The results were surprising. First of all, about half of the nipples, regardless of a non-“no drip” label stopped dripping within five seconds of tipping them upside-down. That was important for us because many bottle companies claim their nipples are “no drip,” implying that bottles that don’t drip are a better choice. To rule out the importance of dripping, we did further testing.

Second, we measured the size of the drip for those bottles that did drip. The most important thing we found was dripping does not equal a higher amount of liquid. Bottles that appeared to drip a lot often had less volume. Frequently it is assumed that a fast dripping bottle has a large amount in the drip. We discovered that a bottle may drip frequently, but with a low output. So, it is impossible to judge the size of the drip with the naked eye. Stated another way, the number of drips doesn’t mean more liquid is coming out.

As for flow, the term “slow” is not standard. To determine flow, we hooked up bottles to a hospital grade breast pump and measured the amount of liquid collected after 20 cycles. We found there was a wide range of “slow.” For example, the fastest nipple was eleven times faster than the slowest nipple. Following testing, we ranked nipples from slowest to fastest in Appendix C of Balancing Breast and Bottle. This is important because if a nipple flows too quickly, a baby’s suck will become disorganized. Likewise, a nipple might be too slow for some babies. A parent needs to watch their baby’s response to bottle-feeding rather than relying on package labeling. If a parent thinks the bottle is flowing too fast, try a different nipple in the package, and/or try a different brand.

The most fascinating results came from comparing the data of these two tests (drip and flow). Dripping is different than flow; they are not related. Most breastfeeding books suggest turning a bottle over to see how fast it drips in an effort to select a bottle with a slow flow. This suggestion is not accurate. We tested a nipple that dripped an average of 56 times when tipped over, but had a slow flow. Then, we looked at a no-drip nipple and much to our surprise, found it flowed 10.6 times faster. Big difference! Dripping is not related to flow.

Parents are often advised to begin breastfed babies on “slow flow nipples,” but even nipples advertised as “slow flow” can seem very fast. Are there any that are as slow as you think is appropriate?

As mentioned earlier, the term “slow” is not standardized. Nonetheless, it is important to begin with a slow nipple. If a nipple flows too quickly, a baby’s suck will become disorganized. For breastfeeding babies, it is best to choose a flow that mimics mom’s flow. For this reason, it is hard to say one or two brands are “best” since flow varies from mother to mother. Likewise, a nipple might be too slow for some babies. This is why we ranked the bottles and listed them in our book.

It is also important to remember that flow is only one aspect of choosing a bottle. If the baby’s mouth placement is wrong, regardless of the flow, baby will bring bad habits to the breast and still be in danger of early weaning.

For parents who are struggling to get their breastfed babies to take bottles, and who are exploring different bottles, what should they be looking for?

Moms need to consider the nipple shape and their baby’s mouth placement on the nipple. Ideally, the nipple chosen will gradually flare from the nipple length to the nipple base. This shape allows the tip of the nipple to reach far back into the baby’s mouth as the breast does, and then helps the baby to feed with the mouth open. Quite often a “narrow neck” nipple has a shape that reaches far into the baby’s mouth and allows for gradual widening of the baby’s lips.

A shape that often does not work well is a wide neck nipple where the nipple length meets the nipple base at a right angle. This nipple shape promotes what we call “straw” sucking, where the baby’s mouth closes around the length of the nipple and doesn’t open for the base. When babies “straw” suck on a bottle nipple, we often see gaps in the corners of the baby’s mouth which leads to leaking milk, gulping air, etc. This is quite different than breastfeeding.

One bottle feeding method is called “paced feeding.” Can you describe it and explain why it might be helpful to a breastfed baby? What are some signs that a baby is becoming overwhelmed while bottle feeding?

Paced feeding refers to helping a baby eat more slowly from the bottle. Pacing became popular in 2002, before flow had been studied. The idea behind pacing is that by helping the baby rest briefly during bottle-feeding, moms can more closely mimic how the baby naturally feeds at the breast. When a baby breastfeeds, the mother has several let-downs during the feeding. Between let-downs, the baby’s sucking slows and baby can rest briefly. If a baby is feeding from a fast flow “slow flow” nipple, the suck/swallow will be disorganized. Pacing helps the baby have rest periods while bottle feeding that naturally occur at the breast. Now that we know flow can be controlled by choosing an appropriate nipple, we have another technique in our bag of tricks to help babies be more coordinated when feeding from a bottle.

It is important to note that most babies can pace themselves once they master bottle-feeding with the right nipple. How do you pace? First, listen for swallowing while the baby is breastfeeding, noting when the baby naturally pauses and rests. Then apply the same rhythm to bottle-feeding. Also of importance is positioning. With bottle-feeding, support the baby in a more upright position because the flow of some bottles increases when the baby is laying back to feed (another element we tested).

Do all breastfed babies require pacing? No, in fact, imposing pacing can disrupt the natural feeding rhythm of a baby and cause harm when over used. Babies who are “good” feeders, meaning they have a normal, rhythmic suck/burst cycle, do not need pacing. It has been our experience that once a baby has mastered bottle feeding, it is no longer necessary for the parent to impose pacing.

Some signs of a poor bottle-feed include gulping, catch-up breaths, fast feeds, leaking milk from the sides of the mouth or down the chin, baby who has a furrowed brow looking very concerned, and a baby who pulls away from the bottle. For these babies, nipple shape and flow need to be double checked, and this becomes a good time to use pacing. Pacing also is an excellent technique for NICU and other high risk babies that are having feeding difficulties.

Lastly, we would like every caregiver who uses a bottle to know that dripping bottles given before a baby begins sucking usually cause the baby to pull back or flat out refuse the bottle. Caregivers need to be sure the nipple is not dripping when the bottle is offered to the baby. Allow the bottle to stop dripping or keep the milk tipped down in the bottom of the bottle. This topic is further explored on our website.

 

 

 Tanya Lieberman is a lactation consultant (IBCLC) who has helped nursing moms  in hospital and pediatric settings.  She writes and produces podcasts for several  breastfeeding websites, including  Motherwear,  Motherlove Herbal Company, and  the Best for Babes Foundation.  Tanya recently authored Spanish for Breastfeeding Support, a guide to help lactation consultants support Spanish-  speaking moms.  Prior to becoming a lactation consultant she was senior  education policy staff to the California legislature and Governor, and served as a  UN civilian peacekeeper.  Tanya is passionate about supporting nursing moms, and especially to eliminating the barriers so many moms face in meeting their breastfeeding goals. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, her 8 year old son and her 1 year old daughter.

 

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A Translation Guide for Navigating the Terrain Between Breastfeeders and Formula-Feeders

Talking about breastmilk or formula can be difficult to navigate with a loose, slippery, and uneven terrain.  One second you think you have sure-footing and the next you’re on your butt.

I’m not going to deny that hurtful phrases come from breastfeeding supporters, occasionally in the form of personal attacks, and if you’ve personally experienced that, I’m truly sorry.  Please know that most of us just want to get information out there, encourage others and want to see babies fed.  Including me.

More often I see what are truly meant as innocuous statements of information and education that are simply misunderstood.  All of us experience life through a variety of personal filters and we often have sensitive areas that automatically put us on our guard and we may take things as a personal attack when that’s hardly the intent.  When it comes to feeding babies all those devoted moms doing their best have some serious passion.

An article is released sharing the findings of a new study that revealing some new findings about breastmilk or there may be some issues with formula and hundreds of comments pour in with things like “formula is the same thing, really and all the breastfed kids I know are sick all the time but my formula fed kids have genius IQs and are never sick” or “you know, not everyone can breastfeed so I guess I’m a bad mom because my breasts just didn’t work.”  To add fuel to the fire there are the comments that say things like “See, this is why I’m so glad I gave my babies the best and breastfed.”  And really, what does saying something like that do for anyone?  Heaven forbid it be an article on a formula recall and the “so glad I breastfeed, breastmilk is never recalled” comments start flooding Facebook newsfeeds and loading the comments section on blogs and articles.  Nothing like rubbing someone’s face in their scary circumstances and flaunting “sucks to be you!”  If we’re not careful we cross the line from passionate advocacy into plain ol’ bullying.

Then there’s the mom celebrating her success in breastfeeding, sharing “So excited we’ve made it to 6 months without even one drop of formula!  GO BOOBIE MILK!  WOOT!”  In that moment that mom is inviting everyone to a party at her house because she’s truly excited about her accomplishment.  But just as sure as she’s about to pop the cork on that sparkling grape juice to pour a round for everyone someone says something like “I don’t know why everyone has to be so down on formula, it makes moms that use it feel bad.”

They probably don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer and they don’t intend to dismiss the celebration of that mom (or maybe they do, I can’t really say) but stirring in their internal narrative of parenting confidence are insecurities on this issue, perhaps closer to the surface than they realized.  Instead of being able to celebrate with that mom, they are having to deal with their own less than happy feelings and defend, at least to themselves, their reality.

Thankfully, most of the time people can just say some encouraging and supportive words.  Once in a while, far more often than I’d like, the communication deteriorates.  Quickly.  As though we’re trying to have an important conversation but lack the skills.  Like we’re speaking different languages.

Maybe we need an interpreter?  What follows is my light-hearted attempt at some translations to help us navigate these slippery slopes.

 

It’s not a put down on formula feeding mothers when breastfeeding advocates say:

 

“Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby.”

What we don’t mean:  “Formula feeding moms are less of a mother and less than normal.”  We know that’s not true.  We also know that breastfeeding isn’t (yet) accepted as normal in society.  We certainly don’t mean that it is always easy or even possible for every mom.  Or that formula feeding moms don’t deserve to be treated as normal, loving, caring mothers because we know they are normal, loving, caring mothers.  Nope, none of those things are what we mean.

What we do mean:  Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed a baby.  A mother’s body is programmed to breastfeed and a newborn baby is programmed TO breastfeed.  Meaning that, barring any physical difficulties, babies are born ready to breastfeed; the delivery of the placenta signals the mother’s breasts to produce milk to feed, the mother’s body biologically responds to birth by producing milk, and human milk is (usually) the perfectly formulated food biologically for a human baby.

 

“I’m proud to breastfeed.”

We don’t mean:  “I’m better than a formula feeding mom.”  Just like being proud to be a mother isn’t a put down to those aren’t mothers, so being proud of breastfeeding isn’t a put down to those that don’t breastfeed.

We do mean:  Breastfeeding is important to us and sometimes it’s hard and comes with recognized challenges.  We’re celebrating our accomplishment of something we value as important for ourselves.  We’re also recognizing that there is a lot in our society that sabotages moms that want to breastfeed and combating that can be challenging.

 

“I love the bond I have with my baby with breastfeeding.”

We don’t mean:  “Moms that don’t breastfeed aren’t as connected to their babies.”  Feeding a baby is a deep connection no matter how it’s done and is just one way parents bond with their babies.  Most of us know moms that formula-fed and are incredibly bonded to their children and don’t doubt for a second that formula-feeding moms deeply love their children.

We do mean:  This is something we consider special and helps us feel connected to our child.  That, to us, breastfeeding has a deep feeling of interconnection that goes beyond something we can explain but we try even thought words fail us.  Feeding our babies with our milk and at our breasts is one way we feel deeply bonded to our babies.

 

“I’m so glad I’ve never had to give my baby formula” or “I’m so glad she’s not had 1 drop of formula.”

We don’t mean:  “Formula feeding moms are lazy or giving their babies poison.”  Nope, it’s not a commentary on what someone else does.  We’re not saying that somehow formula feeding moms should be ashamed of giving their babies formula or that never giving a baby formula is some dividing line between the good moms and the bad moms.

We do mean:  Like being proud of breastfeeding, not giving their baby formula just feels like a personal accomplishment.  It is in no way a reflection of our opinion of anyone else’s choice or situation, merely an acknowledgment of a personal goal.

 

“Breastfeeding is beautiful!”

We don’t mean:  “It’s perfectly beautiful all the time.”  Finding something beautiful doesn’t mean it’s easy or right for everyone and it doesn’t even mean we always enjoy the experience.

We do mean:  Not only do we NOT find it gross, we also think it is special, something wonderful, and to be celebrated.  It is more than nutrition to us and is a beautiful experience we treasure even though it has plenty of challenges along the way.  We also know that not everyone agrees with us, that’s part of why we say it though so we can hope to change negative cultural attitudes toward breastfeeding.

 

“Breast is best!”

We don’t mean:  “The moms that breastfeed are the best moms and the moms that don’t are just ok or bad.”  That’s not it at all.  In fact, this slogan came first from formula companies when they were forced to acknowledge that breastmilk was a superior product to formula.  They had to acknowledge that but had to find a way that could make formula sound normal and breastfeeding to sound like it was a parenting “extra,” an optional choice.

We do mean:  Breast milk is the best food choice available for a baby and young child.  Personally, I don’t care for this statement myself (you can find more on that here) but I know when people say it they aren’t intending anything other than their enthusiasm for breastfeeding and stating a simple fact: breast milk is good for babies.  It’s not a put down towards anyone.

 

“I feel sorry for babies that aren’t breastfed.”

We don’t mean:  “Those kids are just so screwed.”  This comment makes me uncomfortable, I don’t like it.  But I understand where it’s coming from and why it’s said.  Those of us that breastfeed see the joy and delight our own children have in the experience, how they love breastfeeding.  We are completely convinced it is special for both them and ourselves in a purely innocent, sweet way.  While it can be very close to a put down, I don’t believe it usually is intended as such and we don’t actually full on pity children that didn’t get to breastfeed but rather mourn the loss of an experience we consider special.

We do mean:  This is an awkward but genuine expression of sadness for those missing out on something we feel is so special.  Should it be said?  I don’t think so.  But if it is I hope formula-feeding moms can understand it is most likely only because the speaker/writer truly believes every child should get to have the marvelous experience her own enjoyed so much.

 

“There need to be strict regulations regarding the manufacturing and marketing of formula.”

We don’t mean:  “Formula-feeding parents are gullible and fall for the marketing of poisonous formula.”  Voicing the view point that there need to be standards in how formula is marketed and that there should be strict regulations for formula as a product isn’t a reflection on the parents at all.  It may reflect a cynical distrust that formula manufactures have anything other than a bottom line on their mind (Unsupportive Support- For a Profit).  Ultimately though, those of us that believe that the manufacturing and marketing of artificial breastmilk substitutes in infant and toddler nutrition believe so for the good of the children’ receiving the product.

We do mean:  Even if our children don’t receive formula, the children that do are worth higher standards of excellence.  We demand transparency and better regulations for artificial breastmilk substitutes manufacturing for the babies that need it. Formula is necessary, the health of many children depend on it being manufactured with integrity.

 

Before you find yourself careening down a conversation on your butt, try to remember that most people aren’t trying to start something and those that are probably aren’t worth your time.  As a breastfeeding mother, I promise, I’m not trying to push formula feeding parents down.  We’re all just carefully trying to pick our way over the rocks, slippery spots, and potential jabs to enjoy the view life has to offer and with a little bit of sensitivity and understanding going both ways, we can all offer a hand to each other in spite of our differences.

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Unsupportive Support- For a profit

In recent years offering breastfeeding support has gained popularity.  Which is a good thing, strange though it is to say.  In fact, it’s uncouth to not be supportive of breastfeeding in light of the magnitude of research showing breastfeeding to be so beneficial to babies and mothers.  So magazines, websites, even businesses now offer frequent support with articles on breastfeeding, pages devoted to trouble shooting potential breastfeeding problems, staff experts responding to breastfeeding questions, and even live support available online or to call in to speak to someone.  In theory it sounds great and in some ways it is.  But even in offering support there are opportunities for unsupportive support.  And this time it’s a little more unsettling because it comes with resounding financial gains to those offering the support raising the question, is it even support at all?  This time in the series on unsupportive support we’re taking a look at the murky waters of advertising support, marketing, and profits.  (We’ve already looked at how breastfeeding advocates can offer unsupportive support here.)

 

How not to support and how to avoid being unintentionally unsupportive- part 7.

Unsupportive support is…

Breastfeeding help hotlines or websites breastfeeding pages sponsored by formula companies.

This one is controversial and I kind of understand why.  But the way I see it this is one of societies most insidious forms of unsupportive support.  It looks like support.  It sounds like support.  It is even advertised as support.  Except it’s run by a company that profits when breastfeeding moms quit breastfeeding.  Maybe I’m cynical but when a company’s profits can be directly tied to how well moms that intended to breastfeed fare in reaching their goal, it just seems a little hard to believe that there are altruistic motives in supporting those moms.  When a website that is supposed to be addressing questions about breastfeeding is plastered with a formula company’s brand with images of smiling, peaceful babies presumably fed with their product all the while supporting content that uses carefully selected language about how hard and difficult it can be to breastfeed and give your baby the best, it’s underhanded marketing to someone looking for help.  This isn’t support, this is marketing, make no mistake.  Formula companies are smart, they would not waste their money sponsoring and creating these sites and helplines if they didn’t feel it increased their branding opportunities and bottom line.  I believe women are smart, they can make their own decisions but I also know that there are times when a decision can be influenced one way or another and when someone is in need of help that super happy looking formula fed baby sure is enticing and the wrong information given to address her particular need could be all that is required for the mother to become a regularly paying customer.  Which is exactly what this form of unsupportive support is counting on.

Free formula samples in breastfeeding support bag in hospitals and doctor offices.

Another controversial one.  Some see removing formula samples from hospital bags and doctor offices as removing a woman’s choice in how she feeds her baby.  I don’t understand that argument, the choice is still there, you just have to pay for it upfront.  Concern is that not giving out free formula samples is being unsupportive to those that choose to formula feed.  That just isn’t the case, not handing formula out to each woman that comes through their doors and gives birth would be more supportive of formula feeding moms in that it would lower the overall expense of formula by the formula companies no longer spending millions on the free samples hospital program.  Those free samples aren’t free anyway.  They are absorbed in the price of the product, it’s all a part of their business plan.  Again, a company would not waste their money handing out free product if it did not yield a return on their brand and profits.  Make no mistake, they aren’t handing out free samples to help moms, they are handing out free samples to hook buyers and to give the impression that the hospital endorses their product.  These companies are smart, and they should be, they have shareholders and employees to take care of.  Formula has it’s place, that’s not the issue here.  Nor is there any judgment on formula feeding.  Rather the problem is that marketing tactics masquerading as support undermine breastfeeding and do so for a profit.  This study reveals how this is unsupportive with numbers such as “Women who didn’t receive the free samples were 3.5 times more likely to be breastfeeding exclusively after 2 weeks…”  (Read more about how the numbers really break down from PhD in Parenting.)  Tacticts to get formula into the hands of moms when they are most vulnerable, exhausted, and in that crucial time when milk supply is being established in those early weeks isn’t supporting them in their attempts to breastfeed.  Nor is it supporting formula feeding families either, instead, these samples going to everyone leaving the hospital with a new baby drives up the price they have to pay at the register for the next 2 years of formula buying.  For those that truly need assistance buying formula to feed their baby, there are options through aid programs that can and should be utilized if necessary and while in the hospital formula should be covered by insurance.  Hopefully more and more states will make the decision Rhode Island made recently to refuse to allow formula samples to continue sabotaging breastfeeding and both breastfeeding moms and formula feeding moms can find some real support from formula companies just by having them back off, stop undermining breastfeeding, and maybe even lower the register cost for their product by not sending the free stuff home with those that really want to breastfeed.  Better idea for support?  Sending the name and number of a lactation consultant home with the mother, free access to a lactation consultant during her hospital stay,  independent breastfeeding resources, and the information on a breastfeeding support group would be real support.

 

If you don’t want to breastfeed then don’t.  I’d encourage you to try it before you completely make up your mind but if you don’t want to do that, nobody’s going to force you.  Your body, your baby, your choice.  And I hope nobody undermines your attempts to formula feed.  Free samples and formula company support advice isn’t about choice, it’s about marketing.  There is a distinct difference there.

If you want to breastfeed beware of the unsupportive support that aims to line someone else’s pockets.  Formula isn’t evil and it can be a needed tool in feeding our babies but it can also sabotage any breastfeeding relationship.  The companies that make it aren’t inherently evil either but they are watching out for their shareholders and bottom line profits before they are concerned about women experiencing breastfeeding success.  The more women that breastfeed, the more it cuts into their profits.  Their marketing tactics are getting more aggressive as breastfeeding gains more mainstream attention and accolades.

Still, some truly supportive support receives financial gain for those offering the support.  Lactation consultants do and should get paid for the work they do.  Even this site earns some income through the sponsorship of the companies whose ad buttons you can see on the side.  So is earning a profit from supporting breastfeeding really only self-serving?  I don’t think so and I don’t think I’m saying that to defend myself.  I don’t think it’s self-serving and thus unsupportive support, for one important reason: there is nothing to gain from a woman not reaching her breastfeeding goal.

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Did you receive samples of formula and did you use them?  Do think formula samples can undermine a breastfeeding mother’s efforts?

Do you feel formula companies can be trusted to dispense advice and support on breastfeeding?

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