Apparently it is National Breastfeeding Week – or so the Facebook people say. Google says it was World Breastfeeding Week August 1 to 7. I missed it, but am going to write about it nonetheless. It seems that Olivia Wilde sparked some debate with Glamour shots of her breastfeeding her kid .
As it turns out, I have no idea who Olivia Wilde is, nor do I care if she has her picture taken with or without a baby.
I do however have some opinions about breastfeeding and how we view it.
I’ll start off with my bias. I am a straight, white man who is father to three daughters, all of whom drank breast milk for varying amounts of time from various containers and all of whom were also formula-fed. I also like breasts, whether they are lactating or not.
I believe the hype about the value of breast feeding for babies. I also believe in the power of positive peer pressure to make social change.
That said, I think the way we in North America treat and talk about breast feeding is crazy and unhelpful.
When our first kid was born my wife started breast feeding her and was “encouraged” to do so by the nurses in the hospital. It was terrible right from the start. Something about the way my daughter was latching was not working. She was not getting any food and in the process was causing my wife incredible pain which in the following weeks would come to be described as toe-curling pain. This from a woman who had just pushed a bowling ball out of her body.
The encouragement from the nurses – to be honest it was one in particular – was rough and poorly provided. She insisted that we wake our daughter every three hours and try to feed her if she wasn’t feeding more often.
At home things did not improve. The pain intensified, our daughter was still not getting the milk she needed and as a result was spending more time trying to feed than any other activity. This meant that my wife was spending more time trying to feed our daughter than sleeping or any other activity. When she wasn’t trying to breast feed she was dreading the next feeding and all-the-while we were watching the clock to make sure we were waking our daughter up every three hours to feed her.
Fortunately I was on parental leave so I was able to be on hand to provide whatever support I could and likewise was not getting much sleep – such is the life of a new parent.
We had a fantastic family physician who delivered our first two daughters (our current doc is also great) and he quickly put an end to the three hour wake-up process as soon as he discovered we were doing that. He said to never wake a sleeping baby and that she would wake when she was hungry and wouldn’t willingly starve herself. He also referred my wife to a lactation consultant. We went to see the consultant and that was an unhelpful experience. She adjusted and readjusted our daughter’s head and told my wife to keep trying and eventually the pain would go away. The main result of this session was to increase my wife’s feelings of guilt and failure.
We talked with friends and consulted books and everything seemed to say that the “mild discomfort” should pass in two to six weeks.
The pain did not pass and my wife decided to try pumping. It was less painful and meant that I could start doing some of the feedings and give her a break. At some point about 3 1/2 weeks in, my wife went to see our doctor and he said that if pumping was working better, then don’t keep struggling with nursing – the container didn’t matter!
We also opted to supplement with formula very early on, because it was the only way for my wife to get a break from the constant pumping/feeding. In one of our discussions with our doctor about feeding our daughter he made the comment that while breast milk was the best, there were many Nobel prize winners who had been formula-fed. That statement helped to relieve the pressure that we, and in particular my wife, felt.
With our first my wife did not breast feed her in public. Not out of embarrassment about baring her breast in public, but because it was such a painful and arduous process. We bottle-fed, typically breast milk, when in public.
On that note I would like to say that if anyone ever again dares to correct the angle at which I am holding the bottle or how I am feeding my child you will get a vociferous response from me.
With our first, breast feeding was not a bonding experience for my wife, although bottle feeding was a bonding experience for me. Breast feeding did not help my wife feel like a good mother. It certainly did not help her post-partum anxiety.
It was a thoroughly negative experience and I now know that we were not the only ones to go through this kind of experience.
With our second and third kids, breast feeding worked and worked well. We also opted to supplement with formula on occasion and did not feel the same pressure to breast feed, mainly because we trusted our own judgement and had a healthy, happy kid at home who was mostly formula- fed.
So at the end of it all, here is my manly, patriarchal, advice to mothers….
Relax. Yes, breast is best. Your relationship with your kid is more important. Formula is also a pretty great alternative if breast feeding doesn’t work for you. What you choose to feed your child in the first several months or perhaps years will not shape their destiny. You can still raise a happy, healthy, intelligent child if you feed them with formula. You know what is best for you and your child. Read the books, listen to the experts and then decide what works best for you.
If someone else is offended by your choice or doesn’t think you should be breast feeding or bottle feeding in public, that is their problem, not yours.
If someone encourages you to cover up when breast feeding in public, take your nipple from your child’s mouth and squirt your accuser in the eye. If someone judges you for bottle feeding your child tell them to back off and mind their own business.
To my fellow dads, support your partner. Ask for the opportunity to bottle-feed your child, it is an awesome experience. If someone criticizes you for how you are doing it, send them on their way and encourage them to mind their own business.
Judgemental people – chill out. How someone chooses to feed their child is none of your business. Back off and leave them to it.