Breast vs. formula debate

On the way home from Toronto last week, I came across this Globe and Mail article on breast vs. bottle.

I’ve groused before about how I get “that look” when I tell people that I bottle feed when asked about breastfeeding. Until it happens to you, you never realize how controversial the whole topic is.

A greater struggle, however, was dealing with the reaction of strangers who would give her unwanted advice on how and why she should breastfeed instead. Nurses at her local health clinic also gave her disapproving looks when she reached for his bottle.”

So it seems that my awkwardness around the whole subject was more about me being an adoptive mum and now I read that it’s biological mothers who get the same reaction.  Never really considered that before.  My close friend stopped breastfeeding at six months because she was having such a tough time producing sufficient breastmilk and used formula so frequently that her little one came to prefer the bottle.  And thrived, of course, with no side effects. As you may know it’s a little hard to enjoy your much awaited little one when the kid is screaming for food or you’re worried about their weight.  She agonized over it reassuring herself that at least she had done 6 months but she certainly look at me to encourage her to continue.  I wasn’t in her position.   And just for the record, let me state that I do believe breastmilk is superior to formula and I think every newborn should get it.  I surely would have chosen breastfeeding had I the benefit of pregnancy and delivery.

My doctor didn’t know anything about adoptive breastfeeding.  I did some research and asked some people online about it.  They were supportive.  Other people have “heard” about it.  And let’s not forget when a complete stranger at my husband’s office offered up some outdated online information about it to me. Hubby was completely against the idea of course.  I’m not sure why he was so against it, it’s not like he needs my boobs to live.  But I bet you if I had actually delivered a child, it would have been  assumed I would breastfeed and he wouldn’t have even blinked.

Now I’ve never hung around families a lot due to my ages long battle with infertility, but it seems to me that every conversation I’ve reluctantly found myself to be a part of ended up in talking about the virtues of breastfeeding.  I was never sure about “lack of support”.  The mothers I knew were bursting with pride and talking about their texture of their milk supply.  There’s the LaLeche group to call for support, lactation consultants and certainly lots of online information, not to forget family physicians.  Had I been a biological mother, I’m sure I would have been informed of the resources.  Perhaps they meant society’s lack of support?  Not everyone feels comfortable about whipping their boob out to feed junior and not everyone wants to be around it.  Personally, I never minded and wondered why some of my friends would leave the room particularly in the company of male friends.  The whole sexualization of the breast vs. the primary biological reason for the breast?

From my experience, there has been sweet f*** all support in an adoptive parent bringing home a newborn .  You know where my support came from?  You guys!  Yep, that’s it.  It can be a little VERY difficult to talk about since you’re not 100% sure it’s really going to happen until it does.  More than one blogger has travelled hundreds of miles with all the baby gear in tow only to come back home empty-handed.  Oh, of course my IRL friends and family were all dishing out this is what you should do, this is what you need kind of thing. On a positive note, community health nurses will come and visit you and I just assumed it was just for biological mothers.  I only had one visit, but it was so informative and very helpful.

Our agency had no waiting family groups and no counselling sessions for waiting adoptive parents which was very unfortunate for me.  Oh, they did have parenting classes.  Ahem, parent what?  And birthmother panels.  Yes, I must agree they were very informative about one side of the triad, and I learned a lot.  Yet I can’t help by shake the feeling that there might have been a few questions regarding breastfeeding. Or how about should I ask the birthmum to breastfeed or where can I get donated breastmilk?   Couldn’t seem to find any in real life groups at all.  Oh, there’s books about what it’s like to parent an adopted child, all the issues about grief and loss and separation anxiety – all the fun stuff. But I found my information regarding breastfeeding for adoptive parents online.

It’s interesting to note that I once saw a doctor on TV talk about breastfeeding as the best option even though it can be problematic for a lot of women.  I really didn’t like the way he dismissed a woman’s physical discomfort as if it shouldn’t be an issue at all.  Well, from what I hear it’s a big deal and “it feels like shards are glass are being pulled through me” is a good enough reason for pain issue to be resolved to the woman’s satisfaction.  Not, well, too bad, breast is best, it’s not about you, it’s about the kid.  YES WE ALL KNOW THAT, but a condescending pat is not a solution.

I had spent a considerable amount of time researching adoptive breastfeeding.  I was encouraged to try it but once I realized the magnitude of commitment I’d have to make vs. what my likely output would be vs. my nerves over if the adoption took place, I realized that I was emotionally NOT  prepared for the task.  And yes, I felt guilty about that choice.  I’m no mouthpiece for the formula companies either.  They just want to sell their product and make money, make no mistake about it.  If you kid drinks 5 oz of formula, they’ll tell you their scoops are only designed to measure out properly in even sized ounces, so you end up throwing out unused formula…. which means you use more than you have to.  You’re not supposed to measure out half servings (which I did anyway).  One brand name organic company uses the same facility as a supermarket company does which made me wonder why the organic formula was so much more expensive.   Start reading on the differences between brand name and no name formulas people.  There’s isn’t much of a difference so they are all regulated to provide the same nutritional content.  Read the labels.  So if you go with a slighter cheaper brand, don’t bother feeling guilty, buy what you can feel good about.   They throw in small “revolutionary”  improvements and then charge you more – cause who doesn’t want to give their infant “the best” money can buy?  There are no discounts on buying the product in bulk either.  They have nutritionists standing by to take your infant nutrition questions but only regarding their product.  Kid crying too much after feeding  try their more expensive “sensitive” formula. Or I walk from store to store trying to find the special bifidus probiotic formula that suddenly becomes scarce.

Since there’s nothing I like better than getting a good deal (it’s like a runner’s high for me) I signed up for the newsletters and baby clubs crap and received coupons and freebies. And that’s not easy in Canada; we don’t get as many free item coupons up here.   Cause that’s what I call excitement these days.  Something free in the mail.  I save up my Shoppers Drug Mart points then buy formula and drag out the coupons.

Anyways, I digress.  In the end, I think I’ve learned that being a mum is an incredible challenge, one that we can make easier if we start supporting each other, rather than competing with each other about what choices we make in our lives.


7 thoughts on “Breast vs. formula debate

  1. I’ve thought about adoptive breastfeeding for about a millisecond. Ultimately I decided that I can’t feel guilty about it. My body doesn’t want to have anything to do with growing or otherwise sustaining a baby. I just have to accept that and tell those “advice-givers” to take a flying leap.

  2. Uh, that is…you know once there’s a baby and I’m exposed to those people. So not looking forward to the one-upper-mommy-club.

  3. Right on, my friend!

    This is such an important post and there are weeks and months and years of things to say about this.

    I come from a very pro-breastfeeding family and am very pro-breastfeeding myself, for many reasons. But I absolutely hate the way that our culture and many individuals in it continue to judge and shame and bully mothers. I think it happens on both sides – breastfeeding and formula feeding. Your point about the amount of support available to you and other adoptive mothers is very well taken – I had never really considered than until knowing you and your story. I will say that I know lots of bio moms who felt a lot of pressure to breastfeed but never got much in the way of meaningful support – there is plenty of assvice in this area, too, unfortunately, and even the people who are supposed to know about breastfeeding (doctors, nurses, etc) often are very ill-informed.

    Essentially, I think the way all mothers are treated in our culture is pretty f*cked up. Like you say, there is society’s lack of support, and I think it extends to all mothers. There is so much pressure, but we are expected to do everything ourselves and do it perfectly. Interdependence is not very hip in our culture, and that profoundly sucks when you’re going through anything in life that is difficult and requires help. In my opinion, new motherhood is one of those times that we would be better off living communally – we need people around us instead of all hiding out in our own little homes! (Although I am a huge fan of hiding out in my home…)

    So down with shame and judgement! And up with support and kindness and compassion! Excellent post as usual, my friend.

  4. YES!!!!

    I had no freaking clue about how to go about BF an adopted child. To be honest, there was so freaking much about parenting in general I was ill-prepared for. I wish I’d known more. I wish there had been support & education classes. I wish I’d known the health nurse would come out!

    Instead, we muddle through it. I have some regrets & carry some guilt. Like you though, I’ve learned not to judge a book by it’s cover too quickly and I try to support instead.

  5. bravo, sister. I’m so tired of all the judgment. where’s the support for individual choices?

    it’s true, there’s not much support out there for adoptive parents at all, especially re: breastfeeding. I found all the info I was ever going to find about adoptive breastfeeding online. my expert doc didn’t know anything about it. I couldn’t get the meds in the US and had to order them online. my hub was nervous about the meds and protocol. even my local la leche league couldn’t direct me to someone who had success inducing lactation. still, everyone I found had their own agenda.

    my best and only source of support was online, until I found a lactation consultant who was the only real life person who could advise me.

    that’s why I wrote about it. I figured if someone else was considering it and wanted more info, maybe I could help.

  6. I had never heard of adoptive mothers breastfeeding until I met a woman from my pregnancy loss group. And I know she’s been a tremendous resource for other adoptive parents. Of course, as you & others have said, there’s not always a lot of information & support out there for breastfeeding bio moms either… and heaven help you if you choose not to breastfeed for whatever reason. We need more support all round for women’s choices, it seems.

  7. This post is so spot on about so many issues with women and parenting in the West. Every problem can be solved if you just buy the right item. Every mom should breastfeed, but not in public!

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