My husband dared me to write this post, so if you are offended by it, blame him.
Well, actually he dared me to title this post Breastfeeding Nazis, but I didn’t quite have the guts to do that.
Let me start by saying that I am a HUGE advocate of breastfeeding, believe breast is best and all that.
In a perfect world, every mother would breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months. We would all produce enough milk (granted, the vast majority of us do), babies would contentedly feed, and most importantly, we would have amazing and supportive friends and family who encouraged us in our pursuit to breastfeed.
Unfortunately, the phrase breast is best is often not used to encourage and support women, but to beat them over the head.
Here are some examples:
“But my baby cries and squirms and pulls up his legs when I nurse him! What if something in my milk is hurting him?”
“Breast is best.”
“My baby cries all day long, and I keep wondering if he’s getting enough milk. I’m considering supplementing with formula.”
“Breast is best.”
“I am worn out, drained, at the end of my rope. My baby is colicky, and none of us are sleeping. I don’t enjoy breastfeeding but I feel guilty about the thought of switching to formula.”
“Breast is best.”
(you get the picture)
I recently put out a call to experts to comment on the use of formula for colicky or fussy babies. I wanted some feedback on questions such as:
In what situations (if any) would they recommend switching to formula?
Is there a particular type of formula they would recommend for colicky babies?
Should formula ever be used as a treatment for colic?
Here is one response I got to my query:
Physicians, who are not breastfeeding experts, say to try formula. They have no idea other than what the formula advance reps tell them. Why are you focussing on formula as a cure for colic? You have one [question] which asks if it should “ever” be an option (“never” and “ever” have connotations), and all the rest assume formula is a viable choice for this purpose.
Since breast milk is acknowledged by everyone with a shred of physiology knowledge to be THE best food for babies of colic age, it does not make any sense that switching to something that isn’t (and makes babies unhappier in the bargain– more gas, more spitting, smellier and more caustic stools, and more waiting) is a good idea.
Better that you should:
1) seek the input from breastfeeding experts, who tend to be nurses, and have good ideas on how to deal with fussy and colicky babies, and
2) teach your readers more about colic, surviving it, and not confusing your baby with different feeding modalities when, in reality, colic is outgrown in about 6 weeks almost all the time with no changes in diet or behavior at all.
I actually do agree with most of the points in this response, which by the way, was from an RN (except that colic is outgrown in 6 weeks, obviously).
I wanted to include this response as I think the attitude and lack of compassion represented here is all too common. I don’t even have a colicky baby anymore, and I was taken aback by this response.
Now imagine you’re a new mom whose baby cries all day, you’re sleep-deprived, your husband works long hours, and you are considering supplementing with formula on the off-chance it will provide even a minuscule amount of relief from the crying. You contact the local public health nurse (I am not slamming public health nurses. I think in general they are amazingly supportive), and you receive a response akin to the one above.
Does this help you feel empowered? Encourage you to keep at it? Or does it make you feel like you’re obviously a failure to even consider using formula? One more guilt-laden remark you can ruminate on at night while you’re laying in bed waiting to hear your baby wake up crying, yet again?
Whether you like it or not, formula is an option for parents, and nothing you can do will change that. Tell parents the facts: Formula will likely not help their baby’s colic, and in fact may make it worse. But also tell them it is their decision to make, and their baby will be just fine regardless of what choice they make.
There is a time for presenting the facts, and sharing what the research says. But do it in a gentle and empowering way, and trust that parents will do what’s best for themselves and their baby.
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