Yesterday I came across this article written by a father against breastfeeding.  And I got pissed off because it was just so, so wrong.  But when you say an article like that pisses you off, you get lots of women who supplement or use formula getting upset because they perceive it as a slight to them.  You have insulted them and their choices.  Or you’ve made them feel guilty for “failing”.  So let me (briefly) explain more fully why I get so angry…

  1. Articles like this make breastfeeding seem like an ideal that is unattainable by most people.  Perhaps the “breast is best” motto isn’t great for this either, but the fact remains that breastfeeding isn’t an “ideal”, it’s what your baby was biologically designed to eat.  It’s NORMAL.  When he tries to make the analogy that it’s akin to frozen chicken fingers versus real chicken, he clearly states his absolute ignorance on the issue.  Formula isn’t a form of breastmilk that’s been degraded, it’s something totally different.  A better analogy would be feeding your child fortified jello instead of fruit.
  2. Treating breastfeeding as something unattainable is also insulting to women everywhere because it assumes we are far less competent than our foremothers who had no formula to supplement with.  Yes, we have different problems today that can impede a woman’s ability to breastfeed right off the bat (including birth interventions, early returns to work, etc.) but the fact is that the NORMAL course of things for a new mom is to figure out how to breastfeed her child.  It takes time, effort, and help.  But it’s what moms have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years and to treat the current crop of women as being incapable is insulting.
  3. This father talks about the tears and feelings of failure.  He mentions some of the problems his wife encountered off-hand and speaks of them as if they are impossible to overcome.  But here’s the thing, breastfeeding being hard is NORMAL.  Most women encounter problems of one sort or another and have to continue to work hard to make breastfeeding work, but when they do it’s immensely worthwhile for both them and babe.  The problem is that if you think it’s supposed to be a walk in the park then of course you feel like a failure if you don’t succeed on your own.  But if you realize it’s like running a marathon, then you can see that you need lots of practice and that it can take lots of time to get to a stage where you can do it comfortably (and yet even then it will still be work sometimes).  You don’t quit as early as you might otherwise.  You are better able to see that there will be hurdles you’ll face and they can at times seem insurmountable.  But in the end, it’s worth it when you cross that finish line and can see the work you did.  However, pieces like this write as if breastfeeding should come easily to everyone and thus when it doesn’t, the only option is to turn to formula.  And that’s wrong.
  4. Probably the biggest problem I have is that this piece and ones like it ignore the real problem of a lack of support that is rampant in our society.  Yes, this particular mother went to an LC (Once? Twice? We don’t know), but one thing we all know is that all LCs aren’t created equal and like doctors, often a woman needs to “shop around” to find an LC that understands her current situation and can find a solution that works for everyone.  But not only do women need support from those who can diagnose any problems and are well-versed and educated about problems, but they need support from other women who have been there, and most of all from their partner.  Historically, it was completely NORMAL for women to have other women around who could help them navigate the muddy waters of breastfeeding.  It sounds like this particular mother lacked that kind of support – both in and out of the home – and that’s what we need to be working on instead of pushing formula to moms who, like this one, want to breastfeed.
  5. But then to top it all off, we get the usual rhetoric about how formula helps the family as a whole.  Ugh.  Let’s be frank here people, having a child changes your relationship and the family dynamic.  You enter a new NORMAL, but normal it is.  Yes, babies are more dependent on their mothers for the first months of life – that’s NORMAL.  Yes, you will get less sleep than you used to (though if you co-sleep the sleep deprivation tends to be less than those who have to actually get up and out and get a baby fed), but that’s NORMAL (and for babies who eat more frequently, prepping a bottle can actually mean less sleep than breastfeeding which is readily available on tap at anytime, no preparation necessary).  Yes, you may not get to go away for a weekend, but guess what?  Your child needs more than just food from a parent and thus staying close to babe for the first while is NORMAL, in fact it’s what your baby expects of you.  Yes, you may not bond with your child over food, but fathers throughout the history of humankind haven’t bonded with their babies over food, they bond using other methods that are totally NORMAL (try baby wearing, baby massage, bath time, reading, singing, just sitting and cuddling skin-to-skin, to name a few).  Giving your child an inferior food that puts them at greater risk for various diseases for these reasons is plain selfish.  There are good reasons women don’t breastfeed, but these are not them.  At all.

The formula industry has a great enough hold over doctors, the media, politicians, etc. that we don’t need to add parents to the list of people doing their job of advertising for them.  What we need is to make breastfeeding NORMAL again, because it is what infants expect.  And for women who can’t or won’t breastfeed from the breast, we need alternatives like milk banks and peer-to-peer milk sharing to be more NORMAL than formula.  And we need to stop seeing breastfeeding as something only certain special people can do, and instead see it as the biologically NORMAL act that it is.  An act that requires work and support, but that’s NORMAL too.  So no, I don’t get pissed off at women who use formula and in fact don’t even think about them as having done something wrong.  These articles piss me off because they are an attack against what is NORMAL in favour of profit for corporations and CEOs who don’t really care about what’s best for babies at all.  And I have to ask: How can one not be pissed off by that?