PARENTS

Unapologetic Parent: Stop Shaming Moms Who Bottle Feed

11/24/2015 03:00 EST

It doesn’t matter why I bottle feed — I do.

I have three sons, and whether I pumped for six months or started formula early, it doesn't matter.

Or does it?

According to breastfeeding advocacy groups, such as the #normalizebreastfeeding movement and all of those #brelfies (breastfeeding selfies), breastfeeding is normal. The word 'normal,' by definition, means to conform to a standard or common type; not abnormal; regular; natural. And scrolling through brelfie after brelfie of women looking angelic with their babies effortlessly latched on to their nipples, I did think, "Wow, they sure look natural."

But for some women, including myself, breastfeeding doesn't come naturally at all.

According to Statistics Canada, among mothers who breastfed for less than six months in 2011 and 2012, about 44 per cent stopped because they felt they had insufficient breast milk, while 18 per cent reported having difficulty with breastfeeding technique. And the third most common reason for breastfeeding less than six months was due to a medical condition of the mother or baby. There are diseases and medications that prevent some mothers from breastfeeding.

These mothers may have little choice but to bottle feed to keep their hungry babies healthy.

But how unnatural it must have looked the other day when I had my baby's bottle propped up to his mouth with a blanket so he could feed himself as he lay back in the stroller. It was almost 3:15 p.m. I was late to pick up my two other sons, and my baby was hungry. And I don't just mean a little bit hungry; I mean certifiably hangry. So, when faced with desperation on the small child's face, I meet it with a solution.

But yikes, how unnatural it must have looked.

And yet, how awesome would that #bolfie be? And I mean a real, true-blue, bottle-feeding picture. Not one that says, "I'm only bottle feeding my baby in the interim before I go back to breastfeeding, because OF COURSE that would be the only time I would ever bottle feed." No, a real picture showing a real scene that may look a little like a two-year-old chomping on a twinkie to some people, but to others — it's reality.

My reality is that, as a woman, I struggled with the fact that I couldn't perform something so primordial. But at the same time, there wasn't enough unequivocal, black and white information telling me that bottle-feeding was bad and that my baby would suffer from it. Science was not telling me that I was a bad mother if I chose the option that would put food in my baby's belly and sanity into our home.

Author of "Is Breast Best?" Joan Wolf said, "Science tells us how to behave, how to be the healthiest, and the information we get on breastfeeding is in keeping with that. What we don't seem to realize in the case of breastfeeding is the science does not provide evidence for the claims that are made."

But still, I wondered, what had got me so riled up each time I attempted nursing and failed?

It wasn't the doctors or reports from the American Institute Of Cancer Research (AICR) that notes, "breastfed babies are likely to receive protection from cancer," and that "breastfeeding probably decreases the likelihood that a child will be overweight, at least during the early years of childhood." And that, "these influences can make cancer more or less likely, and breastfeeding may slow the growth rate so that the chances of developing cancer later in life are lower."

It also wasn't the call from the America Academy of Pediatrics (APP) to exclusively breastfeed for four months, because it "may help prevent asthma, eczema and food allergies in high-risk babies."

It wasn't studies that were done on breastfeeding and bonding, or the possible fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses and bouts of diarrhea that gave me guilt-ridden pause.

It was other mothers (and some fathers) who possessed very strong and sometimes medically-backed opinions about how to feed my babies.

University of Toronto professor, Courtney Jung writes in her bold NY Times article: "the fervor of breast-feeding advocacy has ramped up even as medical research -- published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, BMJ in Britain and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition -- has begun to report that the effects of breast-feeding are probably "modest."…. The benefits associated with breast-feeding just don't seem to warrant the scrutiny and interventions surrounding American infant feeding practices."

Jung, whether you agree or not, steers the conversation of who is right and wrong, to a more positive dialogue about the judgment those of us who choose the 'less-than-natural' route face. "All too often, advocates cross the line from supporting a woman in her decision to breast-feed into compelling a woman to do so," she says.

When I stopped pumping, I felt much more comfortable pouring formula powder into a bottle in front of a doctor than I did a woman in the park.

Even though movements such as #normalizebreastfeeding were created to destigmatize and celebrate the right for women to breastfeed in public (and to breastfeed, period), they have also served to shame mothers who bottle feed. Whether intentionally or not, if you do not conform to what is "normal," after retaining all of the information (or lack thereof) available, society ends up seeing you as a pariah -- an uneducated, irresponsible, non-bonding mother. Our culture ends up shifting so far to one direction that many are left feeling judged and alone.

It seems as parents we are constantly wading in the waters of guilt or self-righteousness. It doesn't have to be this way. Calling anything 'normal' is dangerous, because there is absolutely nothing regular or typical or average or ordinary about making personal choices on how to parent.

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