When I saw the recent Atlantic headline, “A Father’s Case Against Breastfeeding,” I groaned. Breastfeeding moms have it hard enough without their kids’ dads feeling rejected, or revolted, by the sight of babies on boobs. It’s well-known that most moms stop breastfeeding before they initially intend to, and lack of family, workplace and social support rank high among reasons for it. But when I actually read the Atlantic piece, I realized this dad does support his wife, and his approach to breastfeeding was supportive, too. Although I don’t actually think the title captures his message, I was surprised to discover I actually agree with most of what he has to say. (No, seriously.)
Chris Kornelis, the piece’s author, writes about his wife’s sincere desire to breastfeed, huge effort to make it work, and difficulty in doing so. The couple saw a lactation consultant together. They interrupted their own sleep to stick to every-two-hour pumping and nursing regimens. Yet, they struggled with latch and supply issues, and their infant son wasn’t getting enough milk.
I can relate. I wanted to breastfeed, too, but between supply issues, sleep deprivation, a reflux-y, super food-allergic (though we didn’t know that at the time) baby and – the final straw – a less-than-ideal pumping setup when I returned to work, I stopped trying. I was a little over three months in at the time, I think, but I’d supplemented with organic formula for a while by then, too, and I was – frankly – relieved to let breastfeeding go. Also disappointed, but, still… definitely relieved. I really believe in the power of breast milk – and was fortunate to have friends with steady supplies who shared their milk with my son, Kaspar, to keep some of the liquid gold in the mix when I stopped breastfeeding him – but, for me, organic formula was a pretty good substitute when I really needed it. And I did. Like Kornelis’ wife, reading the little label on the canisters that said doctors believe breast is best made me cringe, but in the greater context of our lives at the time, organic formula (and shared breast milk) were best. For us, at the time.
If I have another baby the old-fashioned way (we might adopt), I’m going to try to offset some of the obstacles that came up for us the first time by abstaining from highly allergenic foods, myself, while pregnant and nursing. (This is recommended, anyway, since our first child is so very food allergic… It’s pretty likely that could happen again.) Hopefully, we’d be spared of reflux and eczema as a result, and thus all experience more rest, and less worry. (More rest + less worry = more milk.)
I’ll also probably skip the whole hospital scene and opt for a home or birthing center delivery; I was stressed out by my post-delivery hospital stay, and didn’t have Kaspar with me for much of it. It’s been shown that keeping moms and babies together after delivery contributes to breastfeeding success. I also know a lot more about breastfeeding now. Kaspar would nurse for 45 minutes at a time, as a newborn, and I remember the nurses in the hospital telling me that was abnormal or something. It’s not. If I do it again I’ll just nurse like crazy in those first few days, in the comfort of my home, with lots of family and friend help on hand, and see if I can get things off on really strong footing.
Of course, I also know sometimes these things don’t go as planned, so if it turns out my baby needs some formula too, I’ll get this organic brand (no arsenic in the rice syrup!), find some milk share sources, and call it good. Because like Kornelis’ kiddo – and despite our initial milk and food challenges – my child, who was given formula, is – in a word -- great. He's thriving, in every way, and eczema free. Kids are incredibly resilient, and thank goodness… sometimes what’s ‘best’ isn’t as clear as we’d like it to be, so we do the best we can, and we learn as we go, and learn to compromise.
Kornelis writes, “Why is it that when it comes to being pregnant and raising babies there's no middle ground between ‘ideal’ and shaken baby syndrome?...” And he urges us to approach parenting choices with perspective: “What's better -- a baby who's formula-fed and driven to story time by a mom who's had six hours of sleep, or a parent who hasn't had that much in a week?” Choosing to stop breastfeeding, after making a serious effort, was the ‘best’ decision for his family. In mine, I didn’t really have a choice… My supply was pretty much shot after returning to work, and we had bigger fish to fry (a mysteriously eczema-covered and nearly sleepless baby). Short of quitting my job, nursing all day, running food allergy tests on my infant and switching to a diet of only sweet potatoes myself, continuing to breastfeed was not in the cards at the time.
All that being said, I think the number of people who really, truly run into show-stopper breastfeeding obstacles is far fewer than the number of people who stop breastfeeding early (or never even try). Breastfeeding education and suppor t – in the form of in-hospital and at-home lactation consultants, super-helpful partners, and workplaces willing to play nice with pumping moms – makes all the difference. I will continue to advocate for these things (and against corporate formula goodie bags in hospitals).
My own experience with formula is in no way a case ‘against’ breastfeeding, though, and neither is Kornelis’. He writes about the bonding he was able to do while bottle feeding his baby, and I applaud that, but I think dads can bond in that way with their breast-fed babies, too. I pumped as much as I could, and Aaron often fed Kaspar breast milk from a bottle. (This did not lead to nipple confusion, fyi.) Kornelis’ case is for, again, perspective… which exhausted, stressed new parents, “who are told there’s only one right way,” often lack, although I think more people than he might realize feed their babies formula in addition to breast milk… whether or not it’s publicly promoted, supplementing is a pretty common choice.
What do you think? Is Kornelis’ piece a ‘case against breastfeeding’, or a case for something else? Did you supplement with formula, or switch to formula completely, when feeding your babies? Why?
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