I unwittingly became embroiled in a Twitter debate about breastfeeding the other day, after posting a tweet about finally not feeding guilty about bottle feeding my baby in public in a group of other mums who were all feeding from the breast. I didn’t mention that it was expressed breast milk. In fact, the only reason I shared was because I was so pleased with the emotional progress I’d made since writing this post earlier in the week.
Anyway, it somehow started off a debate about breast vs bottle. I feel almost stuck in the middle of this equation as I’m doing breast via bottle. The sticking point of the conversation came when someone commented that, ‘fed is best’ – and someone else (a breastfeeding advocate) replied that, ‘fed is the minimum’.
Naturally this is a very sensitive issue and I’m not really sure where I stand on it. Obviously, breast milk has amazing qualities that cannot be replicated by formula and is what babies are, by design, meant to drink. However, for women who choose not to or cannot breastfeed, formula is nutritionally appropriate and babies can thrive on it.
Much is made of the stigma around breastfeeding and how breastfeeding mothers are often made to feel uncomfortable when breastfeeding in public, but in my opinion, the stigma around formula feeding is far greater.
I have heard stories of midwives and health visitors to be hugely unsupportive of mothers who have chosen (for very good reason) to formula feed.
In my experience, I have found my midwife and health visitor to be very supportive of my choice to express rather than feed from the breast, and the health visitor in particular has been very supportive over the fact that I know that at some point, I may have to top up with formula or even move to formula feeding entirely. The message has still been, “but you’re still giving her the good stuff” (in response to my worries over expressing) and, “I can’t recommend formula feeding but I will support you.”
This last comment particularly stung, especially given my fear of being judged on any level. Did my health visitor say that because she’s not allowed to recommend formula in her professional capacity? Or did she say it because she doesn’t want to? Hard to know. But it doesn’t escape me feeling judgement over potentially formula feeding.
I don’t know when I’ll introduce formula but I’m sure it will happen eventually. I’ve already had a couple of nights where Little M’s chugged so much milk she’s completely depleted my stores in the fridge and I’ve had a panic and frantically pumped to produce more. One day I’m sure demand will outstrip supply and on that day, it will be better to feed her formula than let her starve, and in that sense, fed is best.
I also think that this debate completely ignores the emotional well-being of the individuals concerned. Breastfeeding isn’t easy. It isn’t. No matter how natural it is, lots of women just find it too difficult. And if it’s too traumatic (and only the individual concerned can decide that, not anyone else) then surely it’s better to formula feed and have a positive relationship with your baby? I’ve spoken to women who have been brutally honest and said that trying to breastfeed simply made them resent their baby. Surely a happy and securely bonded mother-baby relationship matters more than whether or not the baby was breastfed?
For me, that’s the bottom line. I don’t think breast is best, nor do I think formula is best. A positive mother-baby relationship is best, and whether that’s accomplished through formula or breast milk, so be it.