Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Why Can't I Just Say "No"?

I'm 21 weeks pregnant and I've already been asked at least 20 times if I'm going to breastfeed. The fact that this is a standard pregnancy question is bizarre to me- that's a very personal decision that involves very personal factors and parts of my body. Why does anyone want to know or care about what my answer is? My unedited answer is "No, I don't want to breastfeed" but I've never actually said that. Usually I talk circles around the question- I mention my general desire not to, but then note all the pressure and propaganda that make me feel that I should, but then I counter that neither I, nor my siblings, nor JP, nor most kids born in the 80's, were breastfed and we all turned out quite well, but then... After 10 minutes of rambling I usually change the subject. Why do I do this? Most people asking are good friends who aren't going to judge me or a family member who will support my decision regardless of what it is. A Google search on "formula feeding newborn" will bring you to websites, articles, "studies", and chat rooms which equate your decision with child abuse. This infuriates me. Why is it that mothering is so open for public comment? There are women who can't breastfeed for physical or medical reasons. There are mothers who have to return to work right away because the government does not guarantee paid maternity leave, and those mothers are usually returning to jobs without a lactation room or private office where they can pump. There are babies who are adopted and premature babies who cannot suck properly and need the extra calories present in formula. This is a personal decision, one of many that a parent makes which has affects on their child.

I know there are a million studies concerning the superiority of breast milk, and I do believe that it has unique benefits, especially for the immune system. I'm not trying to debunk science, but I think the advantages are often overstated through the use of adjectives in articles that have no numbers. I think that any study which looks at kids 15 years later is flawed in too many ways to prove breastfed babies are intellectually or biologically superior. I found an interesting article that reads, "what's not so thoroughly reported is that some of the research has serious limitations. 'They're the type of studies that CNN loves to quote and doctors love to hate.' says Tom Jaksic, MD, a leading expert on neonatal nutrition at Harvard Medical School, referring to those linking breastfeeding and disease prevention. And like most research, while breastfeeding studies are significant, he explains, they're largely 'population-based,' meaning that babies who are nursed may have parents who are well nourished, well educated, and able to afford quality medical care. 'We try to correct for these things statistically, but we can't completely.' says Nancy Butte, Ph.D. of the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine. Butte has been studying the chemical components of breast milk and formula for more than 20 years. Both she and Dr. Jaksic believe that if they could eliminate statistical variables, they would find that breastfed babies, taken as a group, are only slightly more resistant to illness than formula fed ones. 'It's hard to distinguish between a well-cared-for bottle-fed infant and one who's breast fed.' says Butte." So, once again, I absolutely agree that "breast is best" but I disagree with those who equate formula with malnutrition and a terrible mother.

I suppose my biggest irritation is how offensively judgmental some people are about breastfeeding- even those who haven't had children yet! I am annoyed at my own feelings of defensiveness when I try to explain that I don't want to breastfeed (I haven't decided what I will actually do, but I don't want to). I think this relates to my general anger at how judged women are in relation to procreating- that people feel free to make comments about a woman's weight gain, about her sip of wine, about her diet coke, about wanting an epidural during labor, about planning to use child care, about returning to work in general, and about so many other aspects of mothering. There are so many choices JP and I will make for our baby that will affect his intelligence, immune system, and temperament- formula v. breastfeeding is just one of them, yet I feel it is one of the most debated, judged, and inquired about.

I haven’t gone into my reasons for not wanting to breastfeed. Some of them are admittedly selfish- after 9 months of existing solely for the benefit of my son, I want my body to be mine again, others are based on convenience- I’m returning to school and want the nanny and JP to be able to feed the baby without my having to pump, and the core reason is that my absolute gut reaction to breastfeeding is really really not wanting to do it. I’ve always felt that way- I know its supposed to be the most natural thing in the world, but I am fundamentally uncomfortable with the very idea. I haven’t actually made a decision yet, I am willing to try and will be talking with my midwife more about this at my next visit. Last night I told JP that I wished I was having a baby in 1982 so that I could formula feed without being judged or yelled at (through the internet or in person) or that I had a “valid” physical reason that made breastfeeding impossible. I then realized the absurdity of wishing a physical condition on myself just to avoid feeling judged and defensive. So I decided to blog about it. You can comment with why breastfeeding is best and should be done despite all obstacles or comment with what you chose to do and why. I’ll delete anything overly negative as I read quite enough of that on other websites today.


  1. I support you. Period.

    Seriously, you are the parents and you are smart and can work this out. Unless you start posting pictures of yourself freebasing and explaining your plan to smack around your toddler, you won't hear criticism and judgment from me. (But oh, I'll give Bizarro LL a good thrashing for that stuff! :)

  2. Interesting post -- I do think it's a little intrusive when people ask that, although I think it tends to be women who want to share their experience with breastfeeding. I guess it never bothered me that much because I can give the "right" answer, but now that I think about it, what if I really wanted to breastfeed but couldn't?

    I do believe the stuff about immunity and health benefits -- research keeps discovering new benefits and functions of breastmilk, which is why companies keep coming out with new types of formula. At the same time, I agree with you that breastfeeding puts huge limitations on your ability to function in society -- sleep, go back to school, leave the house. I also feel like breastfeeding has been the main source of stress for me in having a newborn, especially in the first three weeks, when we were still getting established. Between the physical effects on me (soreness, fatigue) and worrying about whether we were feeding him enough, dealing with screaming fits when I ate foods he didn't like, the trauma when he was starving before my milk came in, and the other near-daily dramas, at times I felt like having a newborn would be a breeze if we were formula feeding. Ultimately I feel like breastfeeding is worth it for me because I feel like this is food specifically made for my baby and I don't completely trust formula that some company made -- but formula feeding is very tempting at times.

  3. I just wanted to pop in and say hello and congrats on your new baby boy! i was linked through grassdiaries and have read a few of your entries and will definitely be back. :)

  4. I understand your frustration about people asking, commenting, and judging you on a personal decision.
    My mom has always told me how much she enjoyed breastfeeding and how it was a bonding experience for her. So, that's why I kind of want to breastfeed :) I haven't looked into the studies or anything like that.

  5. I plan on breastfeeding for the same reasons CM stated. However, this is your choice, a personal choice. No one should judge you. Period.

  6. I hate the guilt associated with breastfeeding--you're not doing it right, you're not doing it long enough, blah blah blah.

    Personally, breastfeeding never worked out for me and my son. He refused to latch on, and the process was so frustrating and damaging to our relationship that I gave up after about a month. I ended up pumping for about 9 months, which was a huge pain, especially when I returned to law school and there was no convenient place to pump (don't get me started on how unaccommodating law schools can be to new moms).

    In retrospect, I don't think formula feeding would have been all that bad. As you said, our generation was pretty much all formula fed, and I don't think we turned out too bad :)

  7. I planned on breastfeeding the can imagine how that went. I planned on nursing the singleton and went TERRIBLY too. She was awful at it and I was awful at it. The guilt I went thru the with the 1st attempt was mind-bending and contributed to my PPD. Second time around, I understood that it was just not going to work out from about day 3 while still in the hospital recovering from c-section.

    Don't sweat it, really. My formula fed kids are doing fine. They actually have less colds and ear infections than my best friend's breastfed kids. Of course, sonny boy is home today with a fever, but he's 7 and half his class was out sick last week.

    I would have LOVED to nurse and feel that bond but babies do thrive on formula.

    You're going to be a great mom!

  8. Why the gut reaction against it? I definitely understand your pragmatic points but without knowing what underlies your gut feeling - as I'm sure most of your "ass-vice" givers don't - it's hard to keep myself from suggesting you should maybe try it for a few weeks. What does your doc say?

    I am not at that point yet, but I must say, the info about the positive hormone-releasing effects of nursing sound pretty cool. Isn't it that the endorphins are sort of like those released during sex? Those are good endorphins! :D

    Good luck and keep the good posts coming!

  9. CM- when you wrote, "I guess it never bothered me that much because I can give the "right" answer, but now that I think about it, what if I really wanted to breastfeed but couldn't?" that's what I was originally getting at in my post- when someone asks if you're breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed, you can't just say "No." It has to be "No, b/c I couldn't for X reason" or something like that. I feel that there aren't many decisions that I feel compelled to justify to complete strangers, so why this one?

    I consciously avoided using the world "guilt" in my post because if I do formula feed for whatever reason I don't feel guilty about it. I'm not an inferior adult because I was formula fed and I don't feel that I am harming my baby. (I do understand people's statements that I'm not doing all I can to help my baby, but isn't that always true? There's always something more I could be doing to make him smarter, healther, etc.). I used "defensive" b/c that pretty well sums it up and I'm trying to understand why any woman who didn't breastfeed has to be defensive about it (and invariably give a detailed account of how hard she tried and why it didn't work).

    To the last anonymous commenter- I have no idea why my gut reaction is that way- it's just that. A gut reaction. I'm not saying I won't try it and overcome it, but I have always felt fundamentally averse to breastfeeding (though I don't have that feeling at all when I see another mother doing it). It makes me uncomfortable just thinking about it. I don't know why. I long for the 80's when I didn't have to understand why, or try it, and I could formula feed with everyone's approval. I'm glad breast milk's benefits are better understood and that more babies are receiving them, but I wish that understanding was dispensed as "one more thing you can do for your baby" rather than "this is the most important thing you will ever do and you are a horrible mother if you don't do it, whatever the obstacles."

  10. I remember reading somewhere that breastfeeding is the only time a woman actually loses fat cells in her thighs. At all other times, all you can do is shrink them.

    So, maybe there's something in it for the mom, too. ;)

    Just a thought.

  11. It sounsd like you've done your research but read up on the breastfeeding and childhood obesity studies - babies learn satiety through breastfeeding instead of being forcefed bottles. Many moms do it for the sake of vanity - it doesn't just have to be about the baby. Mothers burn upwards of 500 calories a day breastfeeding - you'll rebound faster to your prepregancy weight.

  12. In retrospect, I should have introduced formula after the first month, instead of after 4 months, for a whole host of reasons. I then both nursed and formula fed until baby was ready to wean on her own. Based on my own experience, there are a couple of reasons to breastfeed not yet mentioned.

    1. Guaranteed to sooth a screaming newborn. I had no idea just how handy that would be.

    2. That babyweight melts right off. YMMV might vary on that one, but I ended up 10 lbs lighter than my prepregnancy weight with no real effort.

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  14. well put! My sister recently had a baby and she too has felt a lot of external pressure about this topic - and she wants to (and does) breastfeed. Even though she always planned to breastfeed, she still felt pressured as if some people were saying "good for you, you made the right choice" - as if the alternative is wrong?

    Throughout this process we have also learned that about 10% OF women are simply unable to produce the milk in the quantity an infant naturaly demands - no matter how hard they try. So another added element can be a feeling of failure - yes, it is a natural thing - but nature isn't always perfect.

    I am just glad that you see this as the personal choice that it is and whether you want to do it or not, can do it or not is in no way a reflection of your quilifications to be a mother. More people should heed what you say!

  15. I breastfed my oldest until she went to pure solid food and decided my boob was boring (she was 10 months old) - my youngest didn't do so well with the breastfeeding, and I knew I was making the right decision for her when I switched to bottles. When I was in my house with her, I never felt guilty, but I lived in Berkeley, CA (breastfeeding nazi capitol) at the time, and got MANY judgemental comments at parks and otherwise when we were out ("I hope that's breastmilk in that bottle!", and I was really bothered by that.

    I agree that it's not anyone's business to make comments as to your choices - or even to know what your choices are. I despise how judgmental the "mommy community" can be - especially for new mothers. How horrible - just when people have the least confidence, and are working so hard to find all the right balances for their families, the community attacks. It's messed up.

    I do, however, think it's in the broader community's interest to conduct studies and look into where the health benefits lie. The studies aren't judging - they're providing information. Of course, like with any area that is investigated by research, we as consumers need to read carefully and determine what we think - but on something like health issues, it is important to have the information out there. It is still, in the end, a parent's decision.

    If there was such a thing as an absolute truth as to what's best and what's not best (which there rarely is), things would be a heck of a lot easier.

    My younger daughter is just as healthy and smart as my older daughter, that's for damned sure!!

    And I also must say - I didn't lose a LICK of weight while breastfeeding. I felt so cheated, after hearing how many calories you burn and how the weight will just "melt off." Not the case for me. It was for my sister a few years later, but not me. At all. And I know I'm not the only one.

  16. Interesting post!

    I see your point of view, but I must say that you have to look at the population in question. For instance, there is probably not a huge difference for people who are able to provide their infants and children with proper nutrition throughout their lives AND are able to take them to the doctor when they are ill (i.e. you).

    BUT, if you are going to look at a country where many children die before they reach the age of 5 (for various reasons, including malnutrition) and whose parents have little/no access to medical care, then breastfeeding is best. Mothers do provide their infants with immunities to illnesses that those infants would not otherwise have and breastmilk does have all of the nutrients that an infant needs to grow and develop.

    There have been studies done in developing countries where formula companies went in, promoted their formulas, convinced mothers to stop breastfeeding, and the infant mortality rate went up significantly.

    Nevertheless, these are two extreme examples,and the middle road is a bit iffy, especially with the way that the US healthcare system is headed, with more and more middle-class Americans unable to afford proper healthcare for their children.

    The posting on the relationship between childhood obesity and breastfeeding is also really interesting!

    You've raised some interesting points and clearly sparked a good debate :) Bravo!

  17. As my pediatrician told me -- "I was a formula fed baby and now I'm a f-ing doctor."

    That was her way of letting me know she respected my decision no matter what (kinda love my pediatrician). I was formula fed as was all my family. I chose breastfeeding for my son. Though I loved it, I don't know if I'll do it for future kids.

    When someone asks, don't dance: say either, wow that is a really personal question. Or say, No, I am choosing to bottle-feed like my mom did for me.


    No further justification necessary.

  18. I guess this is an old thread now, but thinking about right after I posted, I realized (in retrospect, this is kind of obvious but) that since I was breastfed as a baby, it's easier for me to believe all the good things about breastfeeding as opposed to formula. If I had been formula-fed I would probably feel the same way as you, that it makes little difference either way.

  19. Whatever you choose that works for you is fine... I have an 8 month old that I am still nursing. The first 4 months were hell!!!-she didn't latch on and I felt like a milk cow having to pump constantly. After about 6 weeks I couldn't keep up and had to supplement with formula.
    She is currently 90% breast milk/10% formula. Oh and don't believe that the weight will just melt off from breastfeeding-that isn't the case for everyone. Some people don't lose their weight until after they ween the baby from the breast. Don't let other people guilt you into doing it if you don't want to. Good luck...

  20. After my son was born I thought I'd try bf for a month. That was okay so I thought I'd try to get to 6 months. By then it was super easy and I realized how much money we were saving so we went until 1, and he still was such a baby that we ended up bfing until 18 months. Tomorrow is actually the 1 year anniversary of my son weaning. It was hard, we occassionally used formula (less than one can over 1 year), but it worked out pretty well and I can't even imagine how much $ we saved which was important on one income. I also took an entire year off school and I don't know if I could have done it to the extent we did if I'd returned a semester earlier. I was so glad when he weaned, but it did make the 18 month rough spot more difficult b/c I couldn't offer to nurse when he was frustrated or hurt.

  21. I was in the same situation. I simply told people who weren't family or close friends that I didn't care to discuss a very personal decision. I was polite, but firm, and people generally left me alone after that. Except one cunt at work who harassed me about it, but she stopped after I went to HR. I had mixed reactions from my family, but when it came down to it, they understood it was my decision and not theirs.