This is one of those neverending issues where everyone has to pussyfoot, and I’ve been thinking long and hard about what exactly I want to write.
If I write things that sound mean and harsh, even if they are my opinions, I know I will hurt people I have gotten to know and respect.
If I write platitudes, that is all they will be: platitudes. Good as the three dollar bill they’re worth.
So I will try to tackle it and here it goes.
Yes, breast is better than bottle and even the formula companies will tell you that all over their happy ducky and bear packaging.
The doctor will tell you that, even if he or she does not know the particulars of how to breastfeed and therefore ends up recommending that you do switch to formula should your baby not gain weight to their utter satisfaction right away.
The nurses, while sometimes trying to shove a bottle in your baby’s mouth, will also tell you that breast is best.
Perhaps your mother or mother-in-law might concede that it is. Then they’ll tell you that you were fed formula and you turned out just fine, didn’t you? Plus, do you really want to go around showing your breasts to anyone who cares to see them?
Babies and bottles seem to go together in our society. It’s one of those regular conventions one sees everywhere– a little tiny bottle, for a little tiny baby.
Blue nipples for baby boys. Pink nipples for baby girls.
Paparazzi captured Brad Pitt’s butt bulging out with little Zahara’s bottle as definite proof that he was with Angelina, after all.
Bottles and babies. Babies and bottles.
If it’s so widespread, is there really anything to feel guilty about?
Of course there is, for the main part. But our society hates anything that makes us feel completely responsible. It takes an enlightened person who can fully admit that they have failed at something, and that the reason is of their own making. That it is their own damned fault.
We love to blame The Man.
We love to tell ourselves that things are hard. That they are painful and that we are misunderstood. We love to have excuses, such as that we’re prudish or that we didn’t have enough information.
Sometimes those excuses are valid: inverted nipples don’t look like a picnic– I don’t want to imagine how must harder it must be to learn how to latch a helpless infant, and the stress it must cause. Chronic illnesses that demand constant medication are sad realities that prevent any kind of breastfeeding, of course. And sometimes the good intentions of the hospital staff prevent any establishment of a breastfeeding relationship. Also, the infant’s fragile state can prevent breastfeeding, as can previous surgeries.
Yes. There are reasons why breastfeeding cannot, will not, or should not happen.
But sometimes the reason is something more to do with a mother’s discomfort with her own body. Or a lack of thorough research and therefore ignorance. Or simply the feeling that she does not want to nurse because her breast will sag.
So you can get pregnant but you can’t feed the baby? You can withstand one abuse but not the other?
You will have the baby but you will not feed it.
“But that’s what the formula is for,” she might cry.
And I have to say that as reviled as Dr. Nestlé has been, his intentions were good: develop an artificial baby food so that Swiss orphans don’t starve to death or die of malnutrition in orphanages.
Choosing to use formula when you’re able to breastfeed is in a way making a statement about your willingness to mother, isn’t it?
I know that this is not a popular stance, but I feel that this selfishness that masquerades as “my choice as a mother” needs to be exposed.
Breastfeeding is not easy and can hurt awfully and plenty can go wrong with it, but the feeling alone that you’re doing something essentially sacrificial for someone else is enough to keep me going, at least.
Maybe it is true that it’s not a good idea that everyone should breastfeed. And maybe I have no business judging those who’ve chosen the formula. But from this height, my fall should not be too hard: I’ve been breastfeeding for three months and things could happen to make me quit tomorrow. But at least I, able-bodied, able-bosomed woman that I am, have tried. I have not denied my child a mother in the simplest sense of the word.
And yes, if you’re able-bodied and able-breasted and chose not to breastfeed from the beginning I think you’re selfish. It’s your choice not to breastfeed, and it’s my choice to say you’re selfish. I hope that we can at least agree to disagree. Am I saying you’re a bad person? No. There are plenty of otherwise selfish people who are nice. Just, well… you know… they are selfish.
Next week: do not get me started on feeding a two-month old solids.