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Mar 16 2011

Breastfeeding Sucks

By at 11:05 am

One thing that parents are best at — and yes, readers, I’m talking about you, and I’m talking about myself as well — is trying to tell other people what to do.

Maybe it’s natural. Maybe it comes from being parents. You’re forced to order your kid around. So, why shouldn’t the rest of the world do what you say, too?

Kveller recently ran a story on a shortage of baby formula in the Hasidic community (the Wall Street Journal followed it). As can be expected, it was summarily attacked, on here and on my way-too-sharey Facebook page. Mostly, it was that knee-jerk “a-ha!”ness of parents who see a mention of bottlefeeding and leap to point out the wrongness inherent in a parenting style not their own.

Breastfeeding has become a badge of honor. A few months ago, when a brand of formula started advertising itself as “the healthiest choice,” tons of parent bloggers (myself included) pounced on it. In parent-heavy environs like Park Slope, there’s a type of bottle that actually advertises that the milk inside is breast milk — which is so self-righteously snotty, conceited, and straight-up ill-willed that it’s a good thing I wasn’t drinking breast milk when I heard about it, or I would’ve spit it across the room in shock.

My wife is an ardent supporter of breastfeeding. And our baby drinks formula.

Both of our babies started out on a boobs-only diet. In both cases, however, we had at one point to face the reality that she just didn’t have enough milk.

My wife was the first to admit it. The fact that I’m saying this is a testament to her openness and honesty. Not to get all sexually-bifurcated on you, but if this happened to men, we would never talk about it. I mean, the male gender invented the term “pissing contest.” If someone were to tell us that a part of our bodies were insufficient? A check-outtable, oversexualized part? Forget it, we’d never step outside again.

But my wife, she knows how to face reality. Her mother is one of the top lactation consultants in Australia and a mother of seven, and she had to supplement feeds for all but one of her children. There are a million things that can cause a situation like this — stress, exhaustion, genetics, or simple dehydration. Or it could be something more sinister. For us, it was one of each.

When our daughter was 6 weeks old, my wife got a virus. It led to her becoming dehydrated, which caused her milk supply to crash. She was in bed for days. I had to get all Michael Keaton on her, playing at being a single father, jumping rooms from the baby to her and back again. I can’t imagine how my mother-in-law (or anyone else) dealt with newborn twins. (Actually: Maybe by getting stressed out and losing some of her milk. Duh.) It was hard. She recovered, but her milk supply took months of hard work to build up again. For our second child, the reason was less dramatic, but we had to face facts. There simply wasn’t enough.

We were hard workers. We were vigilantes. We only wanted what was best for our babies. We had homebirths, only fed our kids organic food (my wife made most of it herself), and I read the bejeezis out of every parenting book I could get my hands on. That was the hardest part of this recent formula shortage, and the frustrating lack of answers from the FDA — we’d decided to only give our baby cholov yisroel formula, since we believe it’s especially important on a spiritual level.

So yes, breastfeeders and overachievers, I’m with you all the way. I’m on your side. I hear what you’re saying.

But sometimes, you need to just shut the hell up.


Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

16 Responses to Breastfeeding Sucks

  1. Julie G. says:

    Quite simply, I would like to say, “I support you and that you are doing the best you can for your child.” Period.

  2. Kerri says:

    I am a breastfeeding advocate! Your situation is not the norm. You & your wife did everything within your power to provide your wife’s breastmilk for your baby. There are herbs & a medication approved in Canada for use to increase milk supply & have seen them work wonders.They are not available in other parts of the world. However, in very rare cases they don’t work either. As a breastfeeding advocate I have also recognized that there are times when breastfeeding is not best for the mom &/or the baby. The cases I deal with however are moms who were well informed and did all they could & still did not produce enough milk. I have gotten calls back from moms thanking me for supporting them with their choice to supplement &/or no longer breastfeed. I’ve had others ask me how I could do that when I am an advocate of breastfeeding. It is because I am also an advocate of mom & babies & what is best for them, period.

    My concern is when women don’t breastfeed &/or supplement due to lack of information or lack of support or both! It saddens me. BUT not all hope is lost. I have helped several women who did not breastfeed their first babies who then went on to succesfully breastfeed their subsequent baby(ies). Even a mom who didn’t breastfeed till her 3rd. She was truly shocked that in fact she had more then enough milk. It was not a lack of milk, but a lack of support and information that resulted in her inability to breastfeed.

    So my job is to inform and support. From there it is up to the family to decide what is best!

    I was told because I was tiny & small boned that my body wouldn’t be able to carry a bigger (over 7lb) baby and that I couldn’t vaginally birth a baby over 7lbs. My body carried my first baby (all 8 and 1/2 lbs of her) for 41 weeks. The enter the world vaginally & I had no interventions. Similar story with my other 3 (all slightly smaller then the first). I was also told my breasts were too small to nurse. Even the bras in the kids section have cups that are too big! I am not even an “A” cup! In fact I exclusively nursed all 3. I had researched a ton of info for my first (no internet back then so through books only), but had no support. I basically was just stubborn. My baby was thriving despite my lack of support. I found LLL when she was 6 mos. old.

    Then my 5th baby ended up being my 5th & 6th! I was told by the OB I was so small I would most definitely have the babies very early, even though he knew I had gone 41 weeks with my other children. He doubted I could give birth vaginally if they weren’t both head down. He suggested (LOL) that there was NO way I could nurse twins. He didn’t know who he was facing! One twin was head down, the second was breech. He still insisted I would have the babies early. Then at 37 + weeks he said that they might have to induce because they were “late”. The ultra-sound said the first was 4lbs & the second was 6lbs. I had gained over half my body weight (53+lbs) and looked like I had swallowed a torpedo! The OB said since I had a proven pelvis for 8& 1/2 lbs they would let me “try” a vaginal birth if the second one wasn’t breech. She flipped head down a week before labour. At 38 weeks & 2 days I went into labour. Active labour started at 3am, I was at the hospital at 4am and at 6am my first baby (6lbs) was born vaginally, with no meds. The other baby had flipped & was coming anyways. The OB said since she was only supposed to be 6lbs we could try it. So the second baby was born, double footling breech. I looked down & said that was NOT a 6lb baby. She was 8lbs. My twins never had anything but my breastmilk till they started solids & had water to drink. I got pregnant again while they were still nursing. I nursed through the preganancy (as I had done through theirs, till a month before they were born). Then at 13 days over-due my son was born at home into MY arms. I lifted him out of my body & said, my gosh I think he is the biggest one yet. He was 9lbs, 2 ozs! I nursed him AND his twin sisters for quite some time. I am not sure how through the stress that I had…there were many (me hospitalized with a severe cellulitis (I was told I might die), dh losing his job, me going back to work, financial woes, etc.)I still managed to keep producing milk. I breastfed from 1990 until 2009. There were only a few months I didn’t breastfeed (older one choosing to wean near end of pregnancy). I nursed from spring 2000 until the fall of 2009 with no break. I even pumped & donated milk for another baby for a short period of time, while still nursing 3! I have no idea how my little body managed it all!

    Bottom line is we do our best to do our best for our children based upon what our bodies will do for us. Some of this is within our control, but definitely not all of it!

    Kerri (bio mom to 7, foster mom to 4 and grandma to 1)

  3. Liz says:

    I wanted to give my son at least 6 months! Tried and tried! However…everytime I’d breasted – I would cry. My family didn’t understand at first and my hubby was less than thrilled! My doctor said it was a form of ppd. I felt like a failure! I accomplished 3 months! But it just bothers me how judgemental other mothers were on me!! ‘You HAVE to breastfeed for at least a year!’ I cannot believe you give your baby formula!’. It was a hard, personal choice! My son is happy and healthy and that’s what’s important!

  4. Kristen says:

    I am a mother of three and I tried so hard to breastfeed all my babies but it was never enough. I had c-sections so I think that may have had something to do with it but I dont know. I remember with my first crying and feeling so depressed because I truly believed that I was a bad mother for not being able to soley breastfeed my baby. I always had to supplement with a bottle. After 4 months I couldnt take it emotionally anymore and gave up. I tried as well with my second and dealt with the same thing. Even though I had more knowledge this time it didnt help. WIth my third I got sick twice in the first weeks of his life and had to have surgery so I couldnt do it for more tahn a few days. I just wish someone would have told me how hard breastfeeding is. I admire anyone who can do it soley and applaude them so much but I was unable to do it. I did what I could and so does every mom. Wether you breast feed or bottle feed doesnt matter, your being a great mommy and loving yur kid is all that matters. Saftey, love, and all that entails is what matters. How you feed them does not.

  5. Kathleen says:

    We didn’t succeed at breastfeeding either. I exclusively pumped for six months, and it did suck. When I finally gave that up so could actually enjoy my son, I felt horrible, guilty, unworthy, etc. Then I found the Fearless Formula Feeder blog, and I’ve been feeling better and about becoming a full-time formula feeder ever since.

    It’s worth a look…
    http://fearlessformulafeeder.blogspot.com/

  6. Mary Ruth Andrews says:

    The difficulty with sharing breastmilk or obtaining milk from a milk bank is that if you are keeping kosher, is the breastmilk source, i.e., the mother donating, keeping kosher standards in the same way that you are keeping kosher?

  7. Sarah says:

    Agreed. I also wish, rather than demonizing bottle-feeders, we could talk about how to bottle-feed in a way that promotes bonding and nurturing. It’s not the same as breast-feeding, but it can still be a special time for connection, nurturing and bonding.

  8. KrissyFair says:

    My heart goes out to any mama who can’t nurse. Nutrition aside, I love feeding my little guy with my own body and I know how sad I would be if I couldn’t.

    I am curious about whether wet-nursing/milksharing is permissible? (I’m sure the question is ample giveaway that I’m not Jewish – although a regular visitor here!) If it is, then I’m sure there must be some Jewish moms with a freezer stash who would be willing to share and it could be facilitated by a little online call-out here.

    Or maybe it would be possible to hook up with Human Milk for Human Babies (formerly Eats on Feets) to set up a nation-wide Jewish chapter?

    • Matthue Roth says:

      Krissy,
      I think that would be a great idea! When my wife was milkless, we were living at her parents’ house in Australia, and a bunch of mothers there talked about setting up a milk bank. In general, it’s permissible in Jewish law (with the usual not-limited-to-Jewish health advisories in place) — although some people believe that it’s best for the wet nurse to be Sabbath-observant (for some reasons that are way too complicated for me to get into here, or to understand fully).

  9. Tiffany says:

    (For the record, the baby – toddler? – in the photo with this post has a bad latch and if your baby is nursing like that, your supply will probably not be as good as it is supposed to be. And here you just thought it was a picture of a cute baby having some milk!)

  10. Mthousemama says:

    I say as long as the baby is being feed and well taken care of then it is all good. I think we should just support each other as parents. Which means we support women who BF and we support women who FF cause attacking a parent does no good.

  11. Tiffany says:

    I don’t see any attacking there, except maybe attacking the women who mentioned breastmilk. There is an equal knee-jerk reaction to any mention of breastfeeding being best, and that reaction is along the lines of, “Stop judging me!”

    Yes, there are women who can’t produce enough milk. It is *actually true* that very few women cannot physically produce enough for whatever reason. In many other women, it’s not so much CAN NOT but DO NOT, whether it is because of illness, a baby’s physical features/ability to suck, breastfeeding that is being managed less than ideally, interference by medical practitioners, etc. That these women DO not make enough milk is not a judgment on their ability to mother. Most of those DO NOT cases don’t even have anything to do with the mother (or parents) choosing to do things “wrong.” Things happen (like illness) and it’s difficult to surmount them, or medical practitioners give poor advice (way more common than you may think).

    The research on lacatation is always changing, as well. 40 years ago, breastfeeding was “taught” in a different way than it was 20 years ago, and the methods are different now than they were even a few years ago. We learn more about how lactation works all the time, and not every lactation specialist is up on her/his research or willing to try new things. The “I saw a lactation specialist” is played like a trump card in discussions such as this, without anyone talking about how lactation specialists differ in their certifications, their skill, their workplaces (hospital policies can dictate how breastfeeding is supported), their communication skills, and their enthusiasm.

    Most women in the US start out breastfeeding. Most of them are not exclusively breastfeeding their babies six months later. (The WHO recommends breastmilk for babies until 6 months, with complementary foods added after.) Most women do not set out to use formula. Most women are capable of producing enough milk, but they also need the right amount of support from families, medical personnel, and society in general.

    By continually dismissing breastfeeding advocates as people who are simply trying to parent “better” than others, or people who are overachievers, or people who are judgmental, you do not help create a society that supports breastfeeding. You make it more difficult for any woman who wants to breastfeed but is having difficulty to find the help she needs, because it’s the more popular sentiment to talk about how those horrible breastfeeders are judging us all and they don’t understand how hard it is to breastfeed and parent, and that inevitably drowns out anything positive that may come out of the conversation.

  12. Jessica says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I’m am a big proponent of breastfeeding, but ended up having to bottle feed my son with formula. I think people assume that “bottle-feeders” don’t realize breastfeeding is “best”, but when the breast just ain’t making what it’s supposed to, we have to feed our kids somehow.

  13. Carla says:

    That last thing you just said there, about shutting the hell up? Well, amen. To that, and everything else in this piece.

  14. Meredith says:

    My son is only 4 months old, but I couldn’t agree more. Breastfeeding is probably the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done. Much harder than pushing said breastfeeding baby out of my body. You can spend so much time pumping until you hurt so bad so can’t hug your husband, taking supplements that make you throw up, and worrying about milk supply that you forget to enjoy spending time with your baby.

    I’m back at work and we’re getting to the point that our little man will probably start having some formula on a regular basis. And I think I’m finally okay with that. He’s getting every last drop of milk he can from me. But it’s likely not to be enough. In the end, more important that him getting my milk is him getting me, as a happy mommy, just trying to do her best.

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