We see you, Mama, sitting in the NICU pumping for your baby, or watching them bottle feed formula because with a premie, your milk didn't come in. We see you, Mama, waking up every hour to breastfeed your baby who was just diagnosed with tongue and lip tie. We see you, Mama, who's up all night warming bottles and mixing formula because you have painful mastitis, blistering raw nipples, or decided breastfeeding just isn't for you. We see you, Mama, pumping all day at work, sneaking away to bathrooms and hall closets or your car when there is no nursing room. We see you, Mama, timid to breastfeed in public for the first time, or whose baby is wrestling under a cover like a wild animal in a cage. We see you, Mama, who had to turn around to head home because you forgot your bottles on your first outing out of the house with a newborn. We see you, Mama, hiding in an airport bathroom trying to breastfeed in peace. We see you, Mama, building that liquid gold stash in your freezer for date nights or when you go back to work. We see you, Mama, taking care of your baby in all the ways that feel right. We see you, Mama, nurturing and feeding your baby with love. We see you, Mama, whether you're exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively pumping, formula feeding, using a milk donor, or supplementing with a combination of the above. We see you, we adore you, we cherish you, and we honor you and your story of motherhood.
We've all heard the trending modern mamahood phrase "breast is best"; it's commonly heard among new mom Facebook groups, on social media, in the news, or via lactation consultants. And while breastfeeding is recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics because breast milk has health benefits not found in formula (American Council on Science and Health, 2017), the pressure of "breast is best" to promote breastfeeding can put unnecessary shame and pressure on new mothers if they are unable to breastfeed for any reason - which they do not need to defend themselves over, or if they simply chose not to breastfeed because the act seems too daunting (American Council on Science and Health, 2017).
Here at FIT4MOM, our focus is obviously on physical fitness, health, and well-being, but we also focus on mama's emotional support and mental wellness. Does breastfeeding come easy to some? Yes. Does it come extremely unnaturally or with difficulties to others? Yes. Do some moms make the decision they will or will not breastfeed before they're even pregnant, while they're pregnant, or make a game-time decision once baby is born? Yes. Do some moms exclusively breastfeed (EBF)? Yes. Do some moms exclusively pump? Yes. Do some moms use milk donors? Yes. Do some moms exclusively use formula? Yes. Do some moms have to use a nipple shield or other feeding contraption? Yes. Do some moms breastfeed and supplement with formula? Yes. And you know what we say to all of the above....YES! Yes, yes, yes.....just as every mom has the right to raise her babies with her own maternal instinct, she also deserves to feed in a way that feels right. That works. That nourishes, fuels, and FEEDS.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states, "Over the past decades, evidence for the health advantages of breastfeeding and recommendations for practice have continued to increase. WHO can now say...that breastfeeding reduces child mortality and has health benefits that extend into adulthood...exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is the recommended way of feeding infants, followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to two years or beyond...Breast milk is the natural first food for babies, it provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year of life. To enable mothers to establish and sustain exclusive breastfeeding for six months, WHO and UNICEF recommend:
- Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life;
- Exclusive breastfeeding - that is, the infant only receives breast milk without any additional food or drink, not even water;
- Breastfeeding on demand - that is, as often as the child wants, day and night;
- No use of bottles, teats or pacifiers" (WHO, 2017).
So, it's no secret science & research shows that breastfeeding is the first choice for feeding infants through babyhood, and sometimes into toddlerhood. However, that being said, there are also many moms who cannot breastfeed, and they do NOT deserve to be shamed for that. Every mother should choose a feeding method that works best for her, her babe, and her family, whether that means exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively pumping, a combination of breastfeeding and supplementing, exclusively bottle feeding, or exclusively formula feeding, without judgment, shame or guilt. And, sometimes Mom isn't given the choice to breastfeed or not due to health reasons or restrictions.
What if Mom adopted a baby, and therefore has no milk supply and doesn't feel comfortable or want to use a breast milk donor? What if Mom had a previous surgery like a breast reduction, explant, augmentation, or mastectomy that leaves her unable to produce enough milk or damaged her milk ducts? What if Mom has a virus or an infection that leaves her unable to pass on her body fluids, like breast milk? What if Mom simply just cannot breastfeed for no particular reason at all? About 2 percent of all women can't produce enough milk, regardless of their physical or emotional condition (Parenting, 2017). Others may lactate poorly because they're exhausted, anxious, or depressed, or weakened by postpartum surgery (Parenting, 2017). Or what if baby has severe tongue and/or lip tie making it nearly impossible for mom's nipples to stop blistering and bleeding and baby to latch? Maybe Mom decides breastfeeding just isn't for her and her family? Whatever the reason, Mama deserves that freedom of choice. Being a mom who is unable to breastfeed or who is unable to make milk does NOT make an unfit mother.
The same kind of anti-shaming that we preach for formula feeding mamas also applies to breastfeeding mamas. They should not be shamed for nursing in public, they should not be asked to leave a restaurant, an airplane, or a public place if choosing to nurse with or without a cover. They should not be bullied or pressured by family, friends, or strangers to formula feed for "other's bonding time" or the way an earlier generation chose to parent/feed their baby. According to the Office of Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "the cells, hormones, and antibodies in breast milk help protect babies from illness. This protection is unique and changes every day to meet your baby’s growing needs. Research shows that breastfed babies have lower risks of asthma, leukemia (during childhood), obesity (during childhood), ear infections, eczema (atopic dermatitis), diarrhea and vomiting, lower respiratory infections, necrotizing (NEK-roh-TEYE-zing) enterocolitis (en-TUR-oh-coh-LYT-iss), a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in premature babies, or babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and type 2 diabetes" (Women's Health, 2017). So if a mom can and wants to breastfeed, we praise you. If she cannot or does not want to, we praise you.
The Office of Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also suggests that "breastfeeding helps a mother's health and healing following childbirth, and leads to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer, and ovarian cancer" (Women's Health, 2017).
Whether you are pro-EBF or pro-formula feeding, we hope you can see (and emotionally feel) both sides...
- Formula can be harder for baby to digest vs. formula can save lives for moms who cannot breastfeed
- Life can be easier for you when you breastfeed because there's no bottle clean up vs. formula feeding is easier because you don't get publicly shamed for having boobs out
- Breastfeeding is free while formula costs money vs. formula is worth the cost because your mental and physical well-being is priceless
- Breastfeeding keeps mother and baby close due to physical contact vs. no one can take away the bond my baby and I have, whether I bottle feed or breastfeed
...one thing we can all agree on is feeding our babies, and feeding them with love, care, and milk or formula that gives them vitamins and minerals to grow, thrive, be strong, and be well.
GIF via GIFY by the VIDEOBOOK
If you're a new mama, you've been there pondering whether to breastfeed or whether to give up....the amount of change and the amount of decisions to make for a little person who's now your everything is overwhelming, especially when it comes to bottle feeding and formula versus breastfeeding. There are struggles. There are obstacles. There are hurdles. There are real life situations and experiences that define how and what you feed your baby; that's why we wanted to remind you that #FEDISBEST. Don't be afraid to reach out for help and support.
National Milk Day is coming up on January 11th, so we want to give you a huge virtual hug, Mama, and say we know you are doing the best you can to provide for your baby - your family - and yourself, no matter how you chose to feed your baby. Is breastfeeding scientifically proven to be best for baby due to its healing properties, vitamins, and minerals? Yes. Is formula feeding scientifically proven to save and feed babies whose mom(s) cannot breastfeed or chose not to breastfeed? Yes. Cheers to ending the shaming behind the way we feed our babies, and the way that keeps mama and baby happy and healthy, becuase, after all, that's what's most important.
Thoughts on fed is best and formula or breastfeeding journies from real moms:
"Your recent outreach about 'fed is best' is everything! I definitely feel that there is so much pressure on new moms from outside influences on 'what's best.' I initially wanted to exclusively breastfeed; my hospital was pro pro PRO-EBF that even they made me feel pressured. Once I went back to work, my supply plummeted and Grey ended up in the 1 percentile on weight on his 3 month appointment. I was DEVASTATED. My doctor ended up talking me out of all my anxiety at that appointment, because I broke down crying and blaming myself because I wasn't doing good enough for my babe. And that's when she told me 'as long as your baby is growing and happy, that's all that matters. Let's try supplementing out.' In time, he ended up on formula only, but his health and well-being increased so much; I realized FED IS BEST...I think it's so easy to feel lost and alone as a new mom and it's totally normal. I think you come out on the other side at some point and realize that it doesn't matter what this person or that person thinks as long as your baby is growing...plans can be made, but life happens, and you may have to change course and that's OKAY! I swore up and down that I would EBF for the first year, and then realized that sometimes it just doesn't work out, and it wasn't my fault. I tried tons of tricks to try and boost supply, but as a full-time working mama, my body just couldn't keep up."
"Be strong and confident while listening to your mommy gut. Oh, and don’t forget to cuddle the s**t out of that baby while you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding them because they will grow right out of your arms in a blink of an eye."
- Jenny Mason
"I loved breastfeeding Mason! He latched immediately and it was an amazing bonding experience! The one and only time I regretted breastfeeding was at a family swim class which was mostly dads when Mason was 6 1/2 months! We just got done doing assisted laps and obviously Mason was a little hungry so he rips down my top and latches on... I’ve never been more embarrassed or had so many people stare at my chest! Other than that he breastfed till 14 months, and I pumped until he was 2."
- Melissa Surdy
"Sometimes they're happier on a boob, sometimes they're happier with a bottle of formula, and sometimes they want a little of both...if the baby is happy, I'm happy, and that's all that matters!"
- Erica Shepherd
"Nursing and the pressure to exclusively breastfeed definitely contributed to mental unwellness (for me) after I had my first baby. I remember thinking formula was 'poison' and wouldn't let anyone else feed her a bottle of formula even though my baby wasn't sleeping well and was generally unhappy (later found out she was hungry!) I stopped nursing at three months and my girl got chunky, healthy, and I felt like a sane person again! Fed is definitely best! Also, my second baby ended up being exclusively breastfed until I weaned him at 12 months old. Every kid is different..."
"I became a better mom when I decided to stop trying so hard to exclusively breastfeed and started giving my child formula. Turns out my child became a better child too, to the point where I thought something was wrong with him! He became calm when I became calm. He is an amazing thriving child and with my next child due in March 2018 I vow to not let the social pressure of breastfeeding get to me. If the baby is fed and happy, then we are ALL happy!"
- Kasey Cain
"I exclusively pumped with Isabel because she had latching issues and while she was in the NICU and not allowed to eat, I became a pumping pro...well, every time I was asked, 'Are you breastfeeding?', I would respond 'No, I'm pumping.' And immediately I would feel the need to explain myself. When I was getting ready to go back to work at around 4 months postpartum, I found an e-book for exclusively pumping working moms and the author said, 'When people ask you if you are breastfeeding, say yes. We may not be nursing, but we are breastfeeding.' From that moment forward I felt empowered to not have to explain myself anymore. It was very freeing."
"Breastfeeding was the hardest thing ever. From beginning to end, all 9 month of it, I wanted to quit. But, that cute little baby kept me in the game, and I'm so proud of myself for lasting that long."
"I breastfed for only a short time and then had to supplement (with formula)...after only three months, my supply wouldn't go up no matter what I tried. I felt so guilty, and still carry that around me some, but, at the end of the day, my son is a healthy almost 4-year-old who is smart, kind, and wonderful...at the end of the day it didn't matter how I fed him."
- Caitlin Ventiere
"I'm a neonatal nurse practitioner (so) everyone had opinions on what I should be doing...it's a shame when there's so much pressure on moms; like if you supplement it somehow undoes the goodness that breast milk gives...either way, if mom can or cannot breastfeed, there are so many options out there now...Huddy had a milk protein allergy, and I was getting grief for eating the wrong things, pumping at the wrong times, and this poor kid spent months throwing up when we could have just switched to a formula he could tolerate."
Thank you to all the moms who wrote in for this #fedisbest article; your voices and your stories behind your journey through motherhood are magic. You all are an inspiration to new mamas worldwide!
* Please always contact your OBGYN, pediatrician, local lactation consultant, doula, and/or physician with questions about feeding your baby or any struggles that come along with it. This article is meant to entertain + inform, not formally educate or outline what is "right" or "safe." Only you and your doctor can make a scientific informative decision on your baby's well-being and ability to thrive.