Late last year, a local mom suffering from post partum depression disappeared. Her body was found weeks later.
Her husband spoke out this week about the pressure Florence felt to exclusively breastfeed their infant son. This story hits close to home and understandably, there's a lot of discussion in local mom's groups about breastfeeding support, or the lack thereof, in our community.
I can only speak to my own experience; I don't pretend to know how other women feel about breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding, for me, is not just feeding my baby. It's a source of strength (finally my body does something right) and my magic trick (screamy baby? to the boobs!). It's not just functional, it's emotional. It's a part of how I mother my child. To be clear: I do not think that women who feed their babies formula are not mothering their children, they are just making one choice that looks a little different than my choice. Neither is right nor wrong, neither is better (or best, for that matter). The "breast is best!" message can be very damaging, as Florence's husband points out. She felt intense pressure to breastfeed. She struggled. She also suffered from ppd and ultimately, she did not survive. The "breast is best!" message hurts some women.
I've seen the argument that "fed is best!" is just as damaging and I disagree. Yes, breastmilk is biologically the perfect food for our babies. But if given the choice between eating the biologically perfect food or having his mother, what do you think Florence's baby would choose? Now, obviously I know this is an extreme case. Not every mom who struggles with breastfeeding will suffer from ppd, and not every mom who suffers from ppd will take her own life. One does not necessarily lead to the other. But the moms in my community who have spoken out about the lack of breastfeeding support, the pressure (internal and external) they felt to breastfeed exclusively, and the negative feelings they still harbour surrounding breastfeeding, make me feel like we need to do so much more for women who are struggling with feeding their babies.
"Fed is best!" can damage breastfeeding relationships because supplementing with formula can decrease a woman's breastmilk supply. The first six weeks or so of breastfeeding are fragile. A woman's body determines her breastmilk supply by how much milk is removed from her breasts. It's all about supply and demand. But "fed is best!" can save breastfeeding relationships by taking some of the pressure off moms. Breastfeeding doesn't have to be all or nothing; every ounce counts. Pumping and feeding expressed milk, combo feeding breastmilk and formula, exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively formula feeding: these are all valid ways to feed babies. If your baby is fed and loved, you're doing it right. Period.
I don't have a solution. I don't know how to make all moms feel supported. I've realized that part of my motherhood journey has been constantly feeling like I'm messing something up. And maybe that's not right but it's what is.
How do you think we can support moms in their feeding choices? Did you have a positive or negative breastfeeding / formula feeding experience? What could have made it better?