I try to keep things on this blog light-hearted and non political but after reading about the "breastfeeding initiative" that New York City's Mayor Bloomberg is trying to push, I can't shy away from something controversial this morning.
It's been weighing on my heart because my journey with breastfeeding was wrought with frustration, guilt, depression, anger and completely intertwined with my Postpartum Depression. It's something deeply personal to not only myself but to every mother because at the core of the issue it comes down to wanting and doing the best for our children.
First of all - the science is definitely out there that breastfeeding for any length of time is beneficial to the development of infants. There is a whole host of yummy, healthy stuff that is contained in breastmilk that you just can't quite recreate in formula.
BUT. Life is not Star Wars. Things are not divided into good and evil. If breastmilk is good, that does not equate formula to being evil or poison. For many women it is a viable and lifesaving option for their infants due to an inability (which could be for several reasons, none of which are up for judgment) to breastfeed long-term or even at all. Choosing to breast or formula feed a child does not determine the "greatness" of a mother. For many mothers, myself included, the decision to quit breastfeeding and instead give Natalie formula was actually the BEST thing for her because that moment of decision was the moment I began to climb out of a dark hole and back into the sunlight. Giving up breastfeeding allowed me to become the present mother I needed to be so that I could bond with my child and be nurturing, patient, kind and loving.
Bloomberg's initiative states that formula in NYC hospitals will be locked up in a cabinet much like the strong pain medications that some women require after delivery. All mothers in NYC hospitals will be encouraged to breastfeed. THIS is the good part. Encouragement is supportive, compassionate and genuine. But what happens next is where I have a problem. If a woman would like to either supplement or 100% feed their child formula, that mother will be "talked to" by the nurses about why they should not "opt out" of breastfeeding and then the mother will be forced to sign a paper in order for them to receive the formula for their children.
I am almost 29 years old. I am an educated woman. I do not need to be "talked to" by a nurse or any other person about my choices and decisions. If my principal has an issue with my performance at work, we have a private dialogue in his office. If I inadvertently hurt a friend's feelings, we meet for coffee and have a heart-to-heart about the issue at hand. Maybe it's the phrasing, but "talked to" invokes images of being a young child sitting in a desk with a stern teacher standing over me, her face taut with anger, wagging her finger in my face as she tells me what exactly I've done wrong. Not the experience most women want to have in those emotional hours after the delivery of their child.
Mayor Bloomberg, have faith in the women of your city. Have faith in mothers in general. We know ourselves and our bodies far better than you. We instinctively know what is best for our children and for our families. Breastfeeding, for some, is not the best option and those women should not be lectured in the first crucial days after birth as to how they are already not up to par on the course of motherhood.
The supporters of Bloomberg's initiative are crying out that this is not a judgment against formula feeding mothers but instead a plan to keep the mass marketing of formula to mothers in the hospital at a minimum. Now this is just anecdotal evidence based on my own personal experience, but I didn't really notice any big push by the pharmaceutical companies to get my baby hooked on a certain brand of formula while we were in the hospital. If anything, when I mentioned the slightest frustration with breastfeeding, I was quickly shut down and reminded of all the benefits of breastmilk compared to formula. Sure there was formula floating around and stashed in the bassinet cart but quite frankly, I couldn't tell you what brand and whether or not Natalie liked the little bit that she received when getting her to latch on. My whole experience in the hospital was so foggy and full of information, long nights and visitors that I couldn't tell you the color of the walls, the food I ate or the formula they stocked.
I've also found that in life, whether it is with friends, family or in my professional career, you will attract far more bees with honey than you will with vinegar. Approach women about the topic of breastfeeding with concern, respect, and most of all - caution. You don't know where in life that woman has traveled. You don't know what type of pain and suffering she has experienced that might have changed her world view on breastfeeding. Putting women on the defensive who are in a vulnerable state, such as right after the birth of their child, will do nothing to promote the cause of breastfeeding. Making women feel judged, less than, or a failure for not complying to the supposed "gold standard" of motherhood will only alienate those who you are trying to persuade.
Personally, Craig and I have tossed out the possibility of me not breastfeeding any future children based on the fact that it played such a large role in my PPD after Natalie was born. Our first priority with a new child will be keeping me focused and present with my family and my infant. A sane mother is much more effective than one stuck in a fog. If I were to be in a hospital where this was the practice and I had to be lectured and then sign a waiver of some sort before my child was allowed to have nutrition, both Craig and myself would be livid........and I would be embarrassed and humiliated. And most likely, an experience like what Mayor Bloomberg is proposing would most definitely be a huge trigger for someone who suffered as I did after the birth of my first child.
Is this how new mothers need to be treated? Absolutely not.
Hand new mothers a pamphlet and offer compassion, encouragement and respect. Then live and let live.