“Breast is best.” This is the motto of breastfeeding mothers everywhere. Unfortunately, there is also a strong opinion that comes with the above motto, “Breastfeeding mothers are the best moms,” giving moms who don’t breastfeed a burden of guilt that is absolutely unfair.
While I am all about breastfeeding and will always choose that for my own babies (biological and adopted), I don’t agree with the mentality that I’m a better mom than my formula feeding friends. I’m not better, I just chose differently. It’s that simple.
Those of us that tout breastfeeding have plenty of data to back up our decision. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics issues this statement about breastfeeding:
“From its inception, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has been a staunch advocate of breastfeeding as the optimal form of nutrition for infants. Although economic, cultural, and political pressures often confound decisions about infant feeding, the AAP firmly adheres to the position that breastfeeding ensures the best possible health as well as developmental and psychosocial outcomes for the infant.”
The benefits of breastfeeding are many. From helping mom lose pregnancy weight quicker, lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and being something that is readily available at a moment’s notice, to health benefits for the baby such as lower incidence of colic and respiratory illnesses, one can argue that breastfeeding has a lot of positives. Breast milk is amazing in it’s uniqueness, giving the exact nutrients that a baby needs, something that even the best formula can’t mimic.
Medically and physically, the benefits of breastfeeding can’t be beat. However, breastfeeding moms need to be very careful when it comes to strong statements such as, “Breastfeeding moms are more sensitive and aware of their babies’ needs than formula feeding moms are,” or, “The mother-baby bond is stronger in breastfed babies.” Having watched some of my friends formula feed, I see a bond that is just as strong and a sensitivity that is as keen in them as I ever had for my daughter.
Those friends of mine that chose formula feeding over breastfeeding always had a good reason for doing so. This wasn’t a selfish choice that came about because they were “bad mothers.” Situations such as adoption, health issues, or not producing enough milk brought about this choice. In almost all of these cases, I watched these women struggle through the choice, carrying a guilt that if they chose formula over breast milk, they were somehow failing their child, as if feeding formula was an indication of a mom that was less committed and lacking in love for her baby.
Who can fault an adoptive mom for not wanting to take the risk of producing lactation for her adopted infant in the event the birth mother changed her mind? As someone being faced with that very situation, I certainly can’t. I’m choosing to induce lactation once the possible adoption draws closer but it isn’t without a lot of fear on my end that I will walk away with empty arms but full breasts.
When it comes to adoption, the choice to take that journey is one that needs courage and sacrifice every step of the way, and choosing to breastfeed — or not — is absolutely no indicator of the parent’s commitment or love!
Some of my friends started out breastfeeding, but no matter what they did they couldn’t produce enough milk. I watched the devastation first-hand. I watched the devastation be made even worse as they received comments such as, “You’re just not trying hard enough,” or, “Nursing takes time, you can’t give up so easily.” In each of the cases I observed, these moms tried all they could but breastfeeding just did not work.
To say they lacked motherly love because they didn’t breastfeed is a statement full of irony. It was their love that caused them to try as long as they did! It was love and commitment that pushed them beyond their limits and it was a sacrificial love that allowed them to let go of their dream of breastfeeding and choose what their baby needed the most — nourishment, however they could get it.
I recently spoke with a friend of mine who is expecting her second baby. She was committed to breastfeeding her first baby and did so, but the entire time she did it, it was a process that drained her mentally and emotionally. For reasons unknown, her baby didn’t seem to be able to tolerate breast milk, or at least this is what doctors were telling her. Feedings could last up to hours at a time and resulted in screams and cries every single time. At one point, this woman wasn’t eating hardly anything, just to rule out anything that might be making the baby react to her milk, but nothing seemed to help.