Family Life

is breast really best?

is breast really best

I am a member of a Facebook group that is all about one mum helping another. Often people are posting questions about toilet training, which foods to give, how to make icy poles or what to do with a baby who doesn’t seem to sleep. Here and there I give my two-bobs worth, because I figure if I can share my experience I may in fact help another Mumma. Often, many mums are also coming to this group asking for breast feeding advice. As I struggled with breast feeding both my bubbas, I am always amazed to read people’s thoughts, struggles and opinions on this topic. Some are quite strong, and sometimes judgemental. And then one Mumma just shared her story. It touched many people in this group. It raised many comments. I asked this Mumma if I could share it here, for you, and she kindly agreed.

Lisa is 25 and her son, Nate, is a little over two months old. Lisa has only one child and a particularly cheeky dog. She, like many of us Mumma’s have a story to share when it comes to breast-feeding their bubba.

This is Lisa’s story….

When you buy a pack of cigarettes, you are confronted with a picture of black lungs or some other graphic depiction of an extreme side effects of smoking, and a reminder in BIG LETTERS that smoking isn’t all that great for your body. In the same manner, the words, ‘breast milk is best for babies’, appears on all tins of baby formula, a warning to parents that by feeding their babies formula, they are not giving them the ‘best’.

As a new mother, I wasn’t particularly in love with breast feeding. My son is an aggressive eater and would suck and pull at me, it was so painful that I got to the point where I began dreading feeding him. But I had been led to believe, by more sources than I could possibly count, that ‘breast is best’, so I persisted.

For no reason that I could understand, I went from having way too much breast milk, to having almost none around the time he was six weeks old. Logical me thought, my body is telling me it is done with breast feeding and I need to put him on a bottle. However, emotional, so-in-love-with-my-baby-that-my-heart-hurts me felt very conflicted at the thought of stopping breast feeding. Whilst the experience wasn’t pleasurable for me, I was haunted by guilt, and couldn’t shake the feeling that I was failing my son because I didn’t love him enough to give him what I had been told again and again was the best thing for him.

I was not prepared to let my baby starve, so I decided that mixed feeding was a good compromise. My son was not interested in formula, and would scream when I tried to feed him with a bottle. However, with my milk just about gone, I had no choice but to introduce more and more formula feeds, and whilst I tried 3 different formulas and at least 5 different bottles and teats, he would arch his back and scream hysterically during and after almost every feed, and make me feel like the worst parent in the world.

Whilst I received nothing but support from my parents and husband, who continuously reassured me that I loved my son and was doing everything I could for him, that was certainly not the message I was getting from other ‘helpful’ friends and relatives. All I would hear about is how he was unhappy and in pain because the formula was so bad for him, and I should just put him back on to breastfeeding (like it was that simple!). Every time he was unsettled, I was told it was because he was on formula. I spent two weeks crying every day, and my son was completely miserable. In the end, I went on medication, bought a breast pump, and managed, through sheer stubbornness, to get my milk supply back up.

The support I received once I was back on breast feeding was shocking. Suddenly, I was a success story, one of those women who ‘stuck with it and didn’t give up’. My child, now an exclusively breastfed baby, was sure to be a happy, healthy, smart, successful person by virtue of the fact that he was off that God forsaken evil formula.

The difference in people’s responses towards me was a real eye opener. When I was bottle feeding, people would say to me that they ‘understood’ and ‘they’re sure he will be fine’, and my all-time favourite, ‘now you can go out and leave him to be fed by someone else!’, the subtle implication being that I had purposefully weaned him in order to get some ‘me’ time. Now that I am back to breastfeeding, I hear ‘good on you’, ‘look how well he is doing’, ‘you should be so proud of yourself!’, as though sticking him on my boob is some big achievement. Getting my milk back up was hard, yes, but formula feeding is MUCH harder than breast feeding. You may not be able to find time to shower, but you HAVE to find time to clean and sterilise bottles, boil and cool water and prepare the formula in advance, because once your baby is awake and hungry, you BETTER have that bottle ready to go! Then, after all of that hard work, the baby drinks half a bottle, and you get the joy of pouring out the rest because you cannot reheat formula, so all that time spent preparing goes straight down the drain, literally! Then there is the cost, my God formula is expensive! And you go through so much! Breast feeding, in contrast, requires no preparation, is always the right temperature, never gets wasted because the baby just takes however much he or she wants, and has the added luxury of guilt-free feeding. But good on me for picking breast feeding, like it is the harder option?

I believe that formula didn’t work for my son because he didn’t like the flavour, and he was stubborn and didn’t want to be weaned off breast milk at that point. I also believe, without a shred of doubt, that had I stuck with the formula, he may have continued screaming for another week or two, but he would have gotten used to it, and more importantly, he would have been every bit as happy, healthy, smart and successful as he will be now. Babies cry, they get sick, they get stomach aches, whether they are breast fed or formula fed, babies are little people and people aren’t perfect. Breast feeding a baby doesn’t guarantee you anything other than the ability to feed your child for free for the first six months of their life.

What all babies need, more than anything, is a sane mother. This prejudice against formula needs to stop, breastfeeding isn’t best for babies, what is best for babies is to be in an environment with a mother who isn’t going out of her mind or being made to feel like a failure. Babies need to be fed, warm and loved, that is about it. Women need to be supported as mothers, and told to feed their baby in the way that works for them and is going to enable them to be the best possible parent they can be.

Linking up with Essentially Jess

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  • Renee at Mummy, Wife, Me

    I totally agree!! I was nodding my head the whole way through. I never noticed that the ‘breast is best’ tag is plastered on the formula tins. It is crazy that you get congratulated for continuing breastfeeding or ‘getting the hang of it’. I’ve had so many ‘what a good little mumma’ you are. I breastfed my first and loved every second of it and didn’t want to stop. With my second it was nine months of pain and mastitis, I persisted though. In hindsight, I was pretty miserable and should have done what was best for me and babe and switched to formula.

  • LydiaCLee

    This will not make me popular, but this topic really sets me off. You say “What all babies need, more than anything, is a sane mother” but I would also add, what a baby needs is water and nutrients (from breast milk or formula). Formula got the bad rap because dodgy marketing in Africa meant babies were dying because it was mixed with dirty water. We don’t do that so formula is pretty much the same.
    My anger on this starts with my first child. I knew nothing about kids so figured I’d listen to the experts. My son was beginning to dehydrate and I was beginning to panic. The lactation consultant kept insisting I keep breast feeding so I did. Finally the Dr steps in and says “this is no good, he’s getting a temperature, lets give him a comp.” So we did, and he was fine, and I also breast fed him til he was 2 (so no confusion or any of that fear mongering). I did have a huge fight with this woman in front of a group of new mothers, many of whom she insulted if they were bottle feeding. I told her the Dr comped the baby, and her reply “They only do that to protect themselves” I pointed out I’d only be suing the Dr if the baby died, which shut her up.
    Second tale, with my third, I was in a shared room, and this poor woman had been physically destroyed in childbirth, she could barely sit up and was in tears cos she couldn’t breast feed and her husband (who I almost got out of bed to punch in the face) was saying “We agreed, you would breast feed, you just need to try harder”. Then the midwife, who was being equally annoying (and in my opinion unhelpful to a new mother who is traumatised), when she left the room said LOUDLY so the other woman could feel even more like crap, “Oh, you know what to do. You’re an expert.”
    So, for me. The baby is the important thing. Feeding it is important. Feeling bad because you can’t breast feed is not good for you or the baby. Persisting to the point of insanity is not good. You bond, you snuggle, the baby grows, so whichever way you do it, it’s win/win.
    FYI with son number 1 I mainly breast fed but would give occasional bottles of formula to. #3 refused formula, but not from lack of trying on my part. All three were breast fed, so it’s not sour grapes. It’s just low tolerance for the nasty behaviour to women this subject provokes.

    • LydiaCLee

      Sorry for the essay.

  • Eleise Hale

    Look, I am pro breastfeeding and I do believe from a nutrition point that breast it is best. BUT like you say, if it is not working for mum and bub what’s best changes. This is a great story about that early pressure to be the perfect mum. I think the whole picture needs to be looked at for mums and so much pressure to do it on a new mum is never a good thing. Thanks for sharing.

  • Lauren @ createbakemake

    It amazes me that people (often complete strangers) feel as though they have every right to comment on how a women feeds her child. I started comp feeding my big boy when he was around 8 weeks old and he made the transition to be fully formula fed at around 5 months. After exclusively pumping for the first month of his life (he was born 10 weeks early), once we got home my supply just didn’t increase and he just wasn’t putting on weight. I would be in tears every week when we had him weighed, feeling like a total failure. I will never forget one weekend when we went to Bunnings and the lady at the door asked me if I was feeding him….. she caught me at a particularly bad time as I responded with ‘of course I feed him, who else would be?’ I also felt I always needed to justify why he was comp fed and on formula, when in reality it wasn’t anyones business!
    Our baby boy is 7 1/2 months and I have been able to continue breast feeding him. Again I am amazed with comments I receive from people – even those who know our big boy was on formula, congratulating me or telling me how much better breast milk is for him. I then enjoy reminding them that his big brother was fed formula and has turned into a happy, healthy and smart little man.

  • Jody at Six Little Hearts

    I have 6 kids and I am breastfeeding my last at 13 months at the moment. My last two kids were breastfeeding success stories – longer than 12 months (after the usual 3 month horror time of pain, bleeding nipples, reflux etc to get it all going).
    You will never find me criticising anyone for their ‘choice’ in this area! I have done it all, breast and bottle.
    The best thing for your baby is whatever is best for Mum. A happy, healthy Mum makes a happy, healthy baby.

  • annstuck

    I dare anyone to tell me how to feed my children. My 6 month old is on solids, 2 bottles of formula and I am still feeding him. He is happy, healthy and growing at the rate of knots. Whatever works for bub and you is all that matters. Just quietly people still need to give an opinion on older childrens diets too it doesn’t quit as they get older!!

  • Sophie Allen

    That was a great story, she has hit the nail on the head in my eyes. All of my boys were exclusively breastfed, but I never had any trouble and would never judge a bottle fed baby/mother because you just don’t know their story. Plus its none of my business anyway! #teamIBOT

  • Kate

    Such a contentious issue. There is guilt just waiting to suffocate us at every stage of parenting and with the heightened emotions mums experience with new babies, it is even more difficult. It was interested to read what the mum wrote about different people’s responses to her predicament, hadn’t really thought about it like that before. Thanks for bringing awareness to this, I’ll have to be careful how I communicate with new mums in this situation in the future so I don’t make them feel any worse than they already do.

  • Jodi Gibson

    I breast fed my first until she was 8 months, my second 5 months, then moved to formula. My girls are healthy, intelligent and happy. Do what works and what is best for baby and YOU. That’s my motto.

  • Rachel_theviblog

    All three of my boys were just like Nate – I would have LOVED them to take a bottle (even of expressed breast milk) but they just wouldn`t. I had to go back to work when my youngest was 5 and a half months old and it took a full day of screaming and resisting before he finally took a bottle. If your baby is loved and fed (by any method) and you are happy then that is all that matters. My oldest son is now 10 and it is impossible to tell which of his classmates were bottle fed or breast fed!

  • TeganMC

    I formula fed from the get go with my now 4 year old. I was on a few formula feeding sites and every now and then we would get ‘breast is best and the only way you should feed your baby’ women come on and post pictures of them breast feeding and telling other women who were looking for support that they were killing their babies etc. I was pretty strong in my convictions (plus my son was 6 months at the time so a bit late to start breastfeeding) so took their comments with a grain of salt but I could imagine how a woman less convinced in their choices could be swayed. Other mothers really are our worst enemies sometimes and I think they forget that the gorgeous babies are little people who have different needs. Also when it comes down to it..what use would I have been to my newborn if I was in and out of a mental health unit because I couldn’t take my medications?

  • EssentiallyJess

    This was a great read! I applaud this mother not because of how she fed her baby, but that she did everything she could to make sure he was being fed. Isn’t that the most important thing? All the judgement by women needs to stop.

  • SarahD@SnippetsandSpirits

    Wow such a well written heartfelt story. It is just ridiculous it even needs to be discussed it is nobody’s business how you feed your baby. It is a personal decision. I agree that it is the mothers sanity that is what is the most important thing so she is capable of taking care of her baby.