Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Confessions of a Lactivist

I am a huge proponent of breastfeeding. I truly believe that breast is best, that the nutrients are superior to any formula man can make. There are so many things I love about it- the closeness with my babies, the ease and convenience, being able to just roll over, nurse and go back to sleep in the middle of the night, never having to drag along bottles and formula when going out, etc, etc.
This is the point where I insert a big "but". I love breastfeeding but there are obviously also things I do not like as much
- the fact that breastfed babies usually sleep through the night later
- when babies are fussy and refuse to nurse in certain positions which makes nursing in public very challenging (thankfully AY seems to finally have outgrown this annoying habit
-having to be careful about eating or drinking certain foods which may not be great for baby .ie caffeine, cabbage, broccoli,  alcohol, etc.
- the fact that breastfeeding is all me all the time. On the one hand it is nice to be so "needed", on the other hand it is also very draining and sometimes I just want a break.
-Pumping- This has become more of an issue, now that I am out of the house about four hours a day four times a week. During the spring semester, I was only out of the house two hours twice a week. I had to pump milk but not that much and not so often. 
Now I am pumping about twice a day and am really not enjoying it. I only have a hand pump which is a lot more labor intensive. I also have a hard time getting a let-down on a pump so I am always nervous that I do not have enough milk. 
 AY has recently started solids, so the pressure is a bit less, because he usually eats a yogurt while I am out but I still need to pump and do not look forward to my pumping sessions. I am happy that I only have a bit over a week left to this course, but I really do have new found respect for full-time working moms who make the commitment to pump for their babies. 
What I have decided though, and it took me to till the fourth child to realize this, is that while breastfeeding is certainly the ideal, if I had to supplement with formula, it would not be the end of the world. Case in point- three months ago I attended a good friends wedding. I knew I would be away for a large part of the day and really tried to build up a milk stash, but was going through a low supply phase and knew I did not have enough. Rather than spend hours worrying about my hungry and crying baby, I bought some formula so the sitter would have a back-up. He ended having about 6 oz. of formula and nothing happened :)
I have spoken to two other mothers recently who echoed the same sentiment. They are committed to breastfeeding but if for some reason, they cannot pump or are worried about amounts, they will happily supplement with formula. This may sound like common sense, but many breastfeeding "purists" would look down on such scenarios and say I was not "committed" enough.
I want to clarify that I think that breastfeeding is not encouraged enough in the United States. There are many women who are under-informed and I would love to help advocate and educate for breastfeeding, either as a L&D or post partum nurse.  I also think that just because something is hard sometimes, does not mean we should throw in the towel right away. Yes, breastfeeding can be challenging in the beginning and sometimes even months in. But it is a worthwhile investment in your child.
And is not perfect. In a perfect world, your child would never have a drop of formula, never be left to cry and always have all their needs met immediately. But life is not perfect and we do the best we can and if that means a bottle of formula now and then that is okay.
What are your thoughts on this issue?


  1. Very nice article by your husband in this week's Mishpacha, Ruchi!

    I breastfed all my kids past a year old (until they stopped coming to me on their own.) I never pumped, they always got formula when I wasn't around and they all turned out fine! I don't consider that 'imperfect'. Also, I always had more than enough milk despite the formula supplements. All of my grandchildren are being breastfed, with some getting formula when needed. [You know their mothers...:):)] They are all doing just fine.

  2. Go working mothers! Last week I had to take a course in Haifa. It meant being out of the house from 6am to 8pm, count it - that is 4 pumped meals!!! One of which was in a nasty train bathroom.

  3. Some women do have milk supply/mastitis issues after missing feeds. Sometimes its 'the beginning of the end" of the breastfeeding journey. Its all about informed decision making and womens rights over her own body.
    I'm coming from a grandmas perspective who did use the occational bottle of formula with my breastfed babies, and also from a lactation consultants experience working with mom's who sometimes make decisions without all the facts and occationally regret the consequences.
    Kudos to all working moms doing the best they can for their families.

  4. I'm getting more relaxed in my 'old age' too =) I think formula is necessary in some cases, but the age of the baby comes into play. A newborn's gut, for example, is less mature than a four month old's. I would feel less comfortable with my babies having formula before 6 months of age, when we start introducing other foods anyways, simply because I consider it another food and one less appropriate for babies' digestive systems than breastmilk. However, I don't think any mother should have to worry about leaving her baby with less milk than it needs!! We don't want them to go hungry, and yes, pumping is hard! I've done that while working long shifts and have pumped in gross bathrooms, too. Yuch. I've done lots of 'milk swapping' with other moms, and even breastfed my niece once~ not everyone is comfortable with that but I like it as a nice alternative to my own milk if I can't provide it!!
    But for sure, formula is an appropriate baby milk if mother's milk isn't available. =) And no one should ever feel guilty about using it.

  5. wow, who knew this would inspire so many comments? Debbie, I know it's not "bad" to use formula but often people paint things in such black and white terms and don't see that there can be a middle ground.
    you know who, I was thinking of you when I wrote this post.
    Nancy, I do know that supplementing can sometimes cause milk supply issues for moms and compromise breastfeeding in the beginning. It is a bit more nuanced than I presented it, but I was talking about skipping a feeding here or there, rather than missing a feeding every day.
    And Melissa, you and I are kindred spirits :) must be the whole 3 boys, 1 girl thing.