When I first started writing this 3-piece blog post, I intended to break it down like this:
- Part 1 – An introduction that got the following point across: Be educated and knowledgeable about what and how you feed your baby, no matter what or how you feed your baby. That original point expanded as the thoughts started flowing, so I ended up writing a piece that basically became breastmilk vs. formula, in which I highlighted things I had noticed about breastfeeding and emphasized that we shouldn’t judge one another for our choices.
- Part 2 – My own experience with formula feeding.
- Part 3 – The pros and cons of breastfeeding (which will, I imagine, expand into the pros and cons of formula-feeding, since the two subjects overlap).
As the title implies, this is in fact Part 2 of my little baby-feeding trilogy. But due to the responses posted on The Fearless Formula Feeder’s Facebook link of my first post, the content has shifted just a bit. The morning after posting Feed your baby! (part 1), I woke to a comment from Suzanne over at Fearless Formula Feeder. She enjoyed my post and shared it on her Facebook page. I was thrilled–and anxious and vulnerable. Her remarks were very flattering–and coming from somebody who is published, knows her stuff, and hits the topic of a very controversial issue head-on in a nonjudgmental way, I took it as a huge compliment.
But I was anxious and vulnerable because I knew that many of her Facebook followers were formula feeders. I knew that, if my message was not received in the way I had intended, it would be controversial. In addition, I’m relatively new to the whole blogging world and I’ve never had a blog post shared in an area that would provide a substantial amount of readers. I was about to be critiqued, publicly, and I knew it.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the comments were positive. My message, for the most part, was received as I had intended. Of course there were a few dissenters, but that’s to be expected when such a (sadly) controversial issue is broached. But what got my attention was the fact that some of these moms took offense to the term “Defensive Formula Mom.” As I read the comments I quickly realized that “defensive” is a term frequently used by The Alpha Parent. In fact, “DFF” is an actual term The Alpha Parent uses to say some really nasty things about formula feeders. After a bit of Googling and reading, I can most certainly understand, given its history, why these moms took offense to the term “Defensive Formula Feeder.” It is not okay–it is mean and harsh and judgmental and all the things I do not want to be, or to be associated with.
But I want to explain now why I chose the term “defensive.” There were times when I felt defensive about how I was feeding my baby. When I was breastfeeding, I felt defensive. And when I formula-fed, I felt defensive. Nobody is immune to it. I live in a place where breastfeeding is not the norm. One of the commenters on the FFF Facebook post mentioned that she was the first of her friends to formula feed. Well, I was the first of my friends to breastfeed and, thankfully, none of them ever judged me. Not once. In fact, they were supportive and encouraging and sometimes even in awe. But I still felt a bit like the odd man out. I couldn’t turn to my friends for breastfeeding advice–I was learning as I went and I made up a lot of stuff! So in that regard, I have been in Formula Mom’s shoes, just on the other side of the coin.
Like I mentioned in Part 1, geography matters. Being the odd guy out can sometimes make a person feel defensive, right or wrong. Breastfeeding was a huge struggle for me in the beginning, but I kept fighting for it. J wouldn’t latch for the first several months, so I pumped and bottle-fed him. When well-meaning friends would see me bottle-feeding him and say, “I thought you were breastfeeding,” I explained that we were having a hard time with latching and it was breastmilk in the bottle. I felt like I was doing something wrong because I couldn’t get my baby to latch. I felt defensive.
Once he finally latched, we fought with his reflux. Whenever his reflux medication needed to be adjusted, he would fight me and refuse to nurse. I wondered if maybe formula might help his reflux since it seemed a bit heavier than my milk. It didn’t help, but that didn’t stop me from wondering if something was wrong with my milk that had caused the reflux in the first place. I felt defensive.
There were times when I breastfed in public that I felt extremely defensive. I’ve breastfed in restaurants, at Target, at the park, on an airplane, you name it. And every time I was hyper-aware of people judging me for daring to feed my baby in public. Once, while nursing J in the food court at Costco, I noticed a group of older women looking at me and speaking quietly among themselves. They weren’t seated too far from me, but I couldn’t hear their conversation. Still, I felt judged and I immediately became defensive. I made eye-contact with one of the ladies and refused to look away from her. Finally, maybe sensing that she had made me uncomfortable, she pointed to my nursing cover and said, “That sure is handy. We were just saying that it would have been a lot easier when we had babies if we would have had those.” I immediately relaxed, laughed, and told her it was called a “hooter hider.” She proceeded to ask me how old my baby was, and to reminisce about her own babies. I never needed to feel defensive, but I did.
I returned to work when J was 5 months old. I pumped and pumped and already had a pretty good supply of frozen milk stashed away. When he was about 10 months old, my stash was gone and my supply wasn’t keeping up since I had to pump 90% of the time. I had to supplement my baby with formula. He didn’t like it, and he threw up whenever he drank it. Finally, he started refusing the formula completely. I increased my pumping and took every supplement and tried every trick I could think of to increase my milk supply (I even ate a donut every day because it helped one of my friends increase her supply–let me tell you, that was a real hardship). I wondered if I was failing my baby by not being a stay-at-home-mom and providing him with enough breastmilk. I. Felt. Defensive.
A few weeks into the formula-refusal, I started wondering if he had a sensitivity to cow’s milk. I switched him to soy-based formula and he still threw up when he drank it. Then he started refusing that too. I was still breastfeeding when we were at home, and pumping when I was at work, but I knew he wasn’t getting enough to eat. I finally took him to his pediatrician and, sure enough, J had lost weight. Dr. R. recommended Similac Sensitive Ready to Feed formula. And lo and behold, my baby drank formula. And liked it. And he didn’t throw it up. And I felt…relieved.
I continued to pump and send a mixture of milk and formula to daycare with him. And we continued nursing in the mornings, evenings, and on weekends. But my supply was no longer a stressor in my life. I knew I had done my best to supply enough breastmilk and to find a formula that worked for J–I finally knew that I had nothing to feel defensive about.
One of the moms on The Fearless Formula Feeder’s Facebook link of my first post made the comment that breastfeeding moms stared at her formula as if she was giving her baby heroin. She said they never said anything, but that she could almost hear what their thoughts must be. She went on to say that she knows those must be their thoughts because she was once a breastfeeding mom who thought the same things about others before she switched to formula. That’s just incredibly sad to me. I’m so glad that I was able to reach a place where I no longer felt the need to be defensive over my choice to breastfeed. And I no longer felt the need to explain why I was supplementing with formula.
It is natural to feel defensive in a world where people are constantly throwing judgments at one another–in a world where “mommy wars” exist. It’s true that my feelings of defensiveness were internal. That’s on me–my bad. But the fact is, those feelings would have never surfaced if moms weren’t reprimanded for breastfeeding in public, shamed for breastfeeding their toddler, or accused of being “selfish and lazy” because they’re formula-feeders. I’m so glad I no longer feel burdened with defensiveness on how I feed my baby–because it’s a terrible thing and it breeds divisiveness.