The Other F Word
I don’t know how it is where you are, but around here “breast is best” is tattooed on our bosoms. And it’s true that breastmilk is amazing for babies.
But you know what else is amazing for babies? Formula.
I said it. The F word.
((Before I continue, I want to remind you that this entire post is watermarked with Do Whatever Works Best For You. Only you can decide that for yourself and your children. And in case no one has told you lately, you are a really really good mom.))
The logistics worked out for me to breastfed my firstborn for seven months. I’m not going to get into nipply details (I elaborate a little more here), but it was tough for both of us. Many women are teary and nostalgic during their last breastfeeding session, but I wanted to sing Jon Secada’s Hallelujah Chorus from the rooftops once my baby was fully weaned. I felt free…but I also felt like a quitter for not making it to the one-year mark and guilty for not loving it every step of the way. In retrospect I realize that I was wishing away precious moments of my baby’s infancy ticking away at an arbitrary deadline (I set for myself) for when I would stop breastfeeding. I wanted things to be different the second go round. I wanted to silence the shoulds swirling around my head and not let them dictate my feeding choices or my feelings surrounding them.
So approaching the birth of my second child, I took the pressure off myself and my boobs and I held the whole experience loosely. I didn’t want that pressure to breastfeed to rob me of any of the joy of parenting. Here was my plan: If breastfeeding was making me and my baby happy and working out well for the other members of our family, then I would stick with it. If it wasn’t, then I would give myself permission to stop.
Things were going okay at first, but it wasn’t long before I started dreading every feeding. I was also dizzying myself with juggling the timing and logistics of nursing the baby while availing myself to lovingly parent the three-year-old. Before or after carpool? At the park? Leave now for the pool, or nurse now and tell big sis she will miss out on swimming with her friends? How much should I let what is “best” for one child dictate the program for the entire family? The struggle was real.
I knew our nursing days were numbered when I said the real F-word three times before 7am while that sweet baby and I both sobbed topless in her nursery. That day I ditched the all-or-nothing mentality. From then on, my daughter got a mix of breastmilk straight from the source, pumped bottles, and bottles of formula. By month three, my sweet baby was getting all bottles all the time and all of them were filled with formula. She was thriving and so was I.
It turns out that the alternative to breastfeeding is not poison. And you know what else I discovered? Formula is not made of tiny shards of glass and arsenic! It is actually full of good things that babies need. Feeling the freedom to feed Hallie formula has made her first year downright damn near delightful for our whole family. I am a happier, more present, more joyful parent to both my children (and a more pleasant wife and human) because I stopped breastfeeding when I did. And I would argue that giving my girls the gift of a happy and available mother has far greater benefits than any amount of breastmilk.
If breastfeeding is working for you, then stick with it! You are an awesome mom.
BUT if it isn’t working for whatever reason, or just plain isn’t an option, you are still an awesome mom.
Maybe you are going to great lengths to try to make it work when it just isn’t. Maybe you dread feedings because each one is excruciatingly painful and time-consuming. Maybe you aren’t producing enough milk. Maybe you have had to make extreme modifications to your own diet because your child has an allergy. Maybe you have to head back to work. Maybe you are feeling guilty for quitting breastfeeding when there was more you could have done. Maybe the sacrifices you are making to breastfeed outweigh the supposed benefits of breastmilk. Maybe breastfeeding just wasn’t an option because you are an adoptive parent. Maybe you are the mother of quadruplets and breastfeeding is logistically impossible. Or maybe you just plain don’t like it.
If any of the “maybes” mentioned above sound familiar, give yourself permission to try something else.
Question 1: Can you tell which of these adorable children received the most breastmilk?
Answer: Me neither. And no IQ test, blood test, juggling contest, spelling bee, regatta or footrace would tell us either.
Question 2: Can you tell which well-adjusted adult in the picture below was breastfed?
Answer: Neither. That’s me on the right and my younger sister on the left. My sister and I didn’t get a drop of breastmilk and we both grew into happy healthy adults who enjoy an extremely close relationship with our amazing mother (who still buys us matching clothes). I turned out OK, but my sister turned out great. She is a gorgeous, non-obese, valedictorian, athlete, gourmet cook, mother, and all-around gentle, generous, beautiful soul, M.D. She is a shining star—and a walking endorsement demonstrating that formula fed babies experience zero long-term side effects.
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The decision to breastfeed is personal to every mother. We all have hopes and expectations going into motherhood about how it will go. We all have histories and convictions that make us more or less determined to make it work. And we all want to give our children the very best. But what if the “best” means different things to each of us?
There are so many choices we make as mothers—and I am here to say that breast or bottle is not the most important one. Not even close. It is so hard to remember that during the throes infancy. As mothers we have to make a lot of decisions regarding our children, decisions with actual long-term impact, and I know the stakes will only get higher as our children grow. So let’s take the pressure off of ourselves and each other about this one. Okay?
I’m awesome. You’re awesome. We’re awesome.