Wednesday, April 1, 2015

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Why you need to stop shaming families for bottle-feeding

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 


Charli Feather said...

Thank you for these words. As a Mother of a 4 Month old, and a bottle feeder with a good reason, I feel so guilty about how I have to feed my son. I am way more embarrased about bottle feeding in public than I ever was about getting my boobs out in a Cafe.. Isn't that warped? In my Mothers Group a Mother was discussing her options with a dwindling breastmilk supply, and she cried in the arms of the other breastfeeding Mothers because she had been "considering reaching for formula"... all in front of me, who unavoidably bottle-feeds due to physical personal reasons. I do wish that I could have exclusively Breastfed, but I feel that theres a skewed view of the alternatives. When I find myself feeling guilty about how I feed my baby I think of my eldest brother, he was one of the youngest Orthopedic Surgeons in this country, he rowed a little boat across the Atlantic Ocean, he has never been very sick, is allergic to nothing, loves his mother, and was exclusively bottle-fed from birth.

Theo Immunis said...

I feel that breastfeeding is indeed important however shaming the bottle feeding families is not the answer but rather trying to create a more breastfeeding friendly society. I feel it is inexcusable that in today's world breastfeeding in public is still frowned upon, that mothers are not provided a breastfeeding place at work etc. Breastfeeding mothers need to be protected and helped to do so by law and sure enough some countries are doing so. These studies on the importance of breastfeeding support these social changes and hopefully will further encourage change. Shaming the bottle feeding families is absurd when the shame lies within the society that failed them. However please do not down play the importance of breastfeeding as unfortunately a sample size of three children do no provide conclusive information as a full sized study.

Into the woods said...

I echo everything you've said here but Just to add research is research.... It is not done with the purpose of shaming anyone...

Cinnamon Cooney said...

I breastfed three children. Looking back it was a great choice for me. Further I would support any mom who wanted to breastfeed. What I would never ever do is shame a family for how they are feeding their children. I might go bananas If a family was not feeding their kids. There absolutely is a high horse humans seem to want to climb on ride around and act a fool. I know that families who do not breastfeed feel judged. Every Time I would breastfeed the kids where a non breastfeeding mom was she would explain to me in detail her tail to the bottle. How she got there and why it was not her fault. This all while I am just trying to get a wiggly kid latched on and maintain some dignity doing it. I was not judging her but somebody had. So much so she was in a permanent state of defense. Breastfeeding is hard. Really hard and lots can go wrong with it. Raising a baby up into a human is hard even more can go wrong with that. I for one never looked down at a mom doing her job. If you are feeding your kids the best healthy food you can the best way you can. Job done and then we can get onto the million impossible choices we have as parents

Tamara Drake-tearle said...

Brilliant words...I'm a breastfeeding mum who finds it hard to feed my 15 week old daughter in public due to society.
I have also experienced some negativity and jealousy from non breastfeeding mothers...I am non judgemental of them so I would appreciate the same back..I understand some mothers just cannot breastfeed and I do feel sad for them if they are upset by this...but also I should not feel negativity because I can breastfeed.
I think we all need to remember we are human and can only do and be the best we can...who gives us the right to judge another!

Into the woods said...

Also no one can MAKE you feel anything people are in charge of their own emotions....

Breezy said...

Hey, loved the post! Less judging about parenting choices all around would be great!

If you want a study that has a more equitable comparison of breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, I thought you might appreciate this:

The study compared sibling pairs, which is key to controlling for other variables such as SES, parenting style, etc., and found pretty much no difference between bottle and breastfed babies...except breastfed babies had a slightly higher chance of asthma. Ha!

Thought that might alleviate any lingering guilt. ;)