|Photo by Nerissa Ring|
I listened to an NPR report titled “Breast-Feeding Boosts Chances Of Success, Study In Brazil Finds,” a few days ago on my drive home from work. In it a study was discussed that showed the long-term impact on breastfed children. It found that breastfed babies had higher IQ test scores and ended up becoming more educated and having more earning potential. Much of this depended on how long the child was breastfed (a few months as opposed to a year).
As I listened to the story, I thought about how with each child my wife and I bottle-fed, we felt shamed. I’d pull a bottle out at church and hear “Why aren’t you breastfeeding?” as though it were any of their business. As though I were committing a questionable parenting decision. I’d try to explain our situation: Mel had to go back to work, or she had a health problem, but it seemed like no excuse was good enough. It felt like bottle-feeding was something only bad parents, or lazy parents, or parents that didn’t have grit or stamina or flat out didn’t care about their baby, did. Which I can say from personal experience isn’t accurate. Life gets in the way.
I have three children, and each were breastfed at different amounts depending on where my wife and I were in our lives. Our first child, Tristan, was born while I was a sophomore in college. Mel worked full-time at a hardware store, and I was a full-time student and part-time bartender. Tristan was breastfed for about three weeks, and then Mel had to go back to work. We couldn’t afford for Mel to take more time off from work, especially when we calculated the bills that were racking up because our insurance was horrible.
We were anxious new parents, and we’d been told by doctors, family, and friends, about the benefits of breastfeeding, so we considered having her pump at work. However her employer didn’t provide a place to pump outside of the communal break room and the public restroom. Sadly most people think breastfeeding is about as socially acceptable as public urination. Hooking up to a breast pump while her coworkers enjoy a tuna fish sandwich would definitely be unwelcome. So Mel decided it would be better to use formula.
Our second child, Norah, came two years later. Mel was a stay-at-home mom then, but about three months after Norah was born a tumor was found in Mel’s jaw. With several surgeries, x-rays, and painkillers, Mel’s milk wasn’t good anymore, and so, once again, we went back to bottle-feeding.
Aspen, our third, came after I was done with school, in a good job, with good insurance. She is about 10 months old now, and has been breastfed the entire time without incident.
And when I think about my children, how they were fed as babies, and then think about the NPR story, I wonder if bottle feeding vs. breastfeeding is going to cause each one of my children to have large ranges of adult success. And when I think about that, along with all the other factors that go into raising a child, it seems like too much weight is being placed on how a baby is fed.
The fact is life sometimes keeps families from breastfeeding and I wish people would consider that fact.
Near the end of the NPR story was a quote by pediatrician Valerie Flaherman of the University of California in San Francisco. She said this in response to the breastfeeding study, “There's the potential for people to think if you don't breastfeed, your baby will be stupid or mentally impaired or something like that. But that's not true at all. Many other factors influence intelligence and a person's chances of being successful.”
I think there is a lot of truth in what Flaherman said. Breastfeeding is not the end all, be all, in a child’s health. There are many factors that can make a difference in a child’s successful growth into an adult. And the fact is that if a parent is bottle-feeding a child, it isn’t laziness, ignorance, or negligence, but most likely the result of what it takes to raise a family in 2014. I’m not saying that if you breastfeed your baby that you are doing anything wrong. But what I am saying is that if you are in a position in life where you can breastfeed without life getting in the way, you should feel grateful. And if you see a parent bottle-feeding a child, you should assume that they are doing it for a good reason.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley