Fed Is Best

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The tale: “Breast is best”

It was my last day of maternity leave with my youngest, Annabelle, a feisty 4 month old who hated car rides. 

On my way to meet her dad for lunch at the mall, in typical Annabelle fashion, she wailed. She was mad. She was hungry. She was…

HANGRY!

I parked, mixed a bottle of formula, pulled her out of the car, and let her drink her hanger away while she held and drank from her bottle in my arms. With that, I started walking into the mall.

While crossing the overpass from the parking lot, a group of young 20-somethings passed me, and one blurted out, “BREAST IS BEST!!!”

A random stranger. Knowing nothing about my baby or me. Not knowing if it was even my baby. 

Not having seen all of the tears I cried over the loss of my ideal breastfeeding experience. Not having known about the infertility and six rounds of Clomid I had to take to get pregnant with Annabelle. Not having been there when my son Marco died on my chest years before, shortly after his birth.

Completely triggered, I snapped and yelled at her that she had no right to judge me and not to ever say that to anyone ever again.

The myth: “Breast is best”

This “Helpful Harriet”, who had the ignorant audacity to throw out an unsolicited piece of information to me, clearly knew all about the myth of breastfeeding. But obviously she didn’t know the reality of feeding a newborn.

Like standing over a boiling pot of water on the first night home from the hospital, tears streaming down my face, watching the baby bottles boil to sterilization, facing the fact that I couldn’t fulfill my baby’s nutritional needs without formula.

Or the weeks of trying and crying and hoping and praying, pumping and taking Fenugreek and Goats Rue and eating the breastfeeding cookies that loved ones made me, talking to lactation consultants, my OB, pediatrician, and anyone who would listen. And yet, I still couldn’t produce more than droplets of breastmilk for my baby.

Not to mention the fact that I so badly wanted a breastfeeding experience, I practiced  supplemental nursing, a sometimes painstaking method of nursing while feeding your baby formula. 

breastfeeding, skin to skin, fed is best

The truth: “Fed is best”

Listen up. This is important. This is what that girl didn’t know and hadn’t heard.

The way a mother feeds her baby is an extremely intimate experience. One which should never be judged by another. 

At the ripe old age of 41, I’ve seen friends and family members fall on all different plot points along the long and winding spectrum of feeding a newborn. And I’m here to tell you that every single one of them, from exclusive nursing to strictly formula feeding, and everywhere in between, loved their newborns all the same. 

A baby needs nutrition—period. They also need a mother whose wellbeing is optimal. A mother riddled with anxiety, depression, shame, and despair over the way she feeds her baby is not in an optimal state of wellbeing.

I believe in the benefits of breastfeeding/breastmilk, AND I have seen and experienced the harm that the “Breast is Best” message can do when overplayed.

The truth of the matter is that breast is best, unless it’s not. And it’s not best in many situations and for many reasons. Which means, unequivocally, that fed is actually best.

I’m not suggesting the downplay of benefits of breastmilk/breastfeeding. I’m suggesting that we add support for ALL mothers, regardless of the way they’re feeding their babies.

bottle feeding, fed is best

Moving forward

Let’s take a minute to appreciate that it’s amazing how fast parenting moves from early infant feeding woes to yelling at our 10 year old for eating Doritos for dinner (we’ve all been there!)…so don’t forget, “this too shall pass”.

Personally, thanks to an MRI of my pituitary gland years after Annabelle was born, for unrelated reasons, I learned that I have a benign tumor pressing on the area which is responsible for prolactin production. I felt vindicated learning this information, though the wounds of the loss of my ideal breastfeeding experience linger still today. 

No feeding experience is easy 

All these years later, I can’t help but to wonder how the “Breast is Best” message that was hammered directly and indirectly into me over the span of my life impacted the fact that I even saw my feeding experience with my Annabelle and her older sister, Lucia, as a loss in the first place. It wasn’t a loss. It was a win. They were fed and happy. I got to love them and do skin-to- skin, even when bottle feeding. Their dad was able to easily feed them. The list goes on.

Had the message I’d heard over the years been “Fed is Best”, perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so inferior to the milk-producing-mother-earth-godesses that I knew. In fact, I would have realized that they, too, had their share of woes. For no feeding experience is easy. Perhaps the tears wouldn’t have been quite as abundant, and the experience not as much of a loss, but rather normal.

In hindsight 

I am far enough removed now where I can say, “hey, it wasn’t that bad”. I was able to lean into the ease that formula feeding can bring the entire family. I was still able to nurse my baby for comfort and for a few droplets of breastmilk. And importantly, now, I’m able to truly understand and support women who experience feeding issues. To say to them, “you’re doing a great job, and it’s going to be ok, no matter what.” To say to them, “you are not alone”. 

If you’re currently feeding a baby, no matter the way, give yourself grace, and give yourself a hug (seriously, try it!). Love your babies, love yourself, and try to lean into whichever way you need to go. 

Let’s all continue to support ourselves and each other on our parenting journeys.

If you’d like information/support, check out Fed is Best, a non-profit, volunteer organization of health professionals who provide support and education on all ways of feeding a baby.

Breastfeeding, fed is best

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