08/27/2014 12:33 EDT | Updated 10/26/2014 05:59 EDT

Moms Need Support No Matter How They Choose To Feed Their Babies

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There are some things I remember clearly about the first days after my sons were born. The agony of labour pains (you never forget those). The last pivotal push during delivery. Then the joy and the exhaustion. So much exhaustion.

I was zapped, emotional, and incredibly vulnerable. So I can't imagine what it would feel like to have a document thrust at me that essentially guilt-trips me into breastfeeding my newborns or else risk exposing them to "significant illness and disease."

That's what moms who deliver at Fraser Health hospitals in B.C. are facing. The infant feeding plan means well in promoting breastfeeding, but the method in which it's delivered is far from sensitive.

The "facts" given on the handout include:

  • "Babies who do not receive breast milk are more likely to get significant illness and disease" including diabetes, certain childhood cancers and obesity.
  • "Non-breastfed children may score a bit lower on IQ tests."
  • "Mothers who mainly feed their babies formula have some higher risks" of breast cancer before menopause.

A mom who chooses mixed feeding (formula and breast milk) or exclusive formula has to sign off under the line that says, "I understand that formula feeding increases the risk for my baby and myself for the diseases listed on the opposite page."

This is pro-breastfeeding taken too far.

Many studies have shown that breastfeeding has tons of benefits, but somehow the interpretation of "breast is best" has been skewed to also mean "formula is evil." There needs to be the same discussion and education for new parents about formula as there has been about breastfeeding.

In the first week after my oldest son was born, he wasn't gaining enough weight, even though I was breastfeeding him. So at a checkup, the nurse told us we would need to supplement with formula in the short term. We had no issues with that. We went home and realized: We don't know how the hell to do this.

My sleep-deprived husband went to the drugstore and stared at the rows of formula (powder, liquid, "enriched" this and "super" that) and shelves of bottles. The nurse had also given us syringes to administer the formula. Wha?

My prenatal classes taught extensive information about how breastfeeding was the best thing I could do for my infant. But formula was verboten. We weren't told how to sterilize bottles (Huh? You have to sterilize bottles?), or how to properly measure and prepare formula. How much do I give the baby? How often?

Our temporary frazzled state was minor, compared to friends who had premature babies in the neo-natal unit or who were recovering from C-sections. I also know a mom who'd had a breast reduction, and another mother who got an unexpected infection that required surgery. They physically couldn't breastfeed their babies. Gay or foster or adoptive parents also can't breastfeed.

So are they bad, or lesser parents? Hardly.

Yet some of the strongest, smartest, most successful parents I know have been reduced to tears over the "shame" of not being able to breast feed their babies.

Babies need to eat. Who cares if it comes from a boob or a bottle?

Let's fret less about what's "best," and take more care of new moms and dads who need to know that doing their best is all we can ask for.


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