Breast feeding versus Bottle feeding

   It seems like this has a been a hot topic this week.  It caught my attention when I heard part of Brian Goldman’s program on CBC radio one earlier this week, “White Coat, Black Art” .  He was discussing the pressures put on new mothers to nurse their newborns, and that the message they were given was that they were failing as mothers (already!) if they didn’t nurse, but chose to bottle feed with formula instead.  Wow, did that resonate with me.
   We had been to the prenatal classes, and read the books.  And we were not “young” parents, as we were both 31.  We were prepared and my husband and I expected that I would nurse, and that would be the way it would go.  (We also thought we would use cloth diapers, but that is a story for another day).  Nursing was better for both Mother and Baby (and heck, formula was expensive!), so that was the plan.  Well, as most of you know, babies come with their own plans, and nowhere can you find those plans written down anywhere to read ahead of time.  So, we tried.  And we tried.  And we tried.  And because it wasn’t working, the maternity nurses said that we could stay another night at the hospital to get things figured out.  During this time, there were all sorts of hypotheses about why nursing wasn’t working…Maybe the baby was tongue tied?  Maybe there was something wrong with my nipples (yes, they were tired of being grabbed by big nasty maternity nurses and shoved into my baby’s little mouth).  I spent most of those first days in tears, which the maternity nurses wrote off as hormones.
   Our first trip to the Health Unit, the day after coming home from the hospital, and the public health nurse  weighed my little boy.  His weight was down a few ounces since we left the hospital.  More alarm bells!  Had I been feeding him?   How often?  Maybe I should pump.  So she brings out this big honking machine (it was blue) and said that I could borrow it for a few days.  She gave me a quick lesson in how to use it and then went back to focusing on our “lesson” in breast feeding.  More breast-grabbing, and holding my little boy’s head in her vice-like hands.  I hated her already, but had not voice to tell her what I really thought. 
   At home, my m-i-l was encouraging about the pumping, and told me stories about how she had been told “not to nurse” when her first baby was born, but she had anyway.  And it was so good that nursing was what was being encouraged nowadays.

   My own mother arrived two days later, and the first thing she did was send my husband out to buy a case of formula and some bottles.  In that moment, I was angry at her, but I think Rob was relieved.  We were all tired of the screaming baby.  And once I saw my little boy settle down contentedly with a bottle, I was grateful to her.  “You and your sister were bottle fed, and you turned out just fine.  Breast feeding is not the be-all end-all.”  Interestingly enough, once we started the babe on formula, he happily nursed and took the bottle, and started gaining weight, and he stopped screaming so much.  I nursed him until I went back to work when he was 11 months old.  At which point, he decided he didn’t want to nurse when I told him he had to, so he weened himself.
   When he was three and a half months old, we started attending Healthy Beginnings, a drop in program at the Health Unit for moms and babes under 12 months.  We went every Thursday afternoon right after nap.  There, I met some of the most amazing women ever.  Many of them I still see today (and that is 10 years for those of you who are reading this).  We were all first time Mums, and almost all of us were reasonably new in town, or at least we had not grown up in town and therefore didn’t have a tight network of friends right close by.  We became each other’s network and we shared sleeplessness (with someone other than our hubbies), first colds, first foods, labour and delivery stories, and of course, breast feeding experiences.  Especially the stories about the “Breast-feeding Not nice lady” (we have another name for her, but I won’t write it here).  At some point, we had all crossed paths with her.  And we had all been made to feel (by more than one of the PH nurses) that we were failing our children if we were not doing everything in our power to make breast feeding successful.  The facilitator of the group (an early childhood educator) asked us if she could take our comments back to the nurses who worked around her, and we agreed.  I don’t know if it made any difference or not.
   Two years later, when I was getting ready for my daughter to be born, I went out and bought a bottle and a can of formula and put them in my hospital bag.  Not because I wasn’t planning on nursing her (I was), but because I wanted to be in control of the situation and not be manhandled by some bossy nurses (don’t get me wrong, I know many amazing nurses, and our hospital has the best labour and delivery nurses anywhere, but past performance predicts future).  Needless to say, my “delivered in an hour, ten pound, three ounce turkey”, arrived ravenous, latched on in her first 5 minutes in the world, and according to the maternity nurses, “Could have given lessons”.   Still, at 7 days old, the PH nurse had another panic-bossy attack when my babe still hadn’t reached her birth weight (she was only 20 inches long, were we really concerned that she wasn’t back up to 10 pounds?).  Three days later, in the doctor’s office, she was back up over 10 lbs, and my doctor grinned when I vented about the nurses and their bossiness.  He took the weight chart and made a note and then went and faxed it over to the Health unit to satisfy the nurses that I wasn’t a bad mother, and that I had a lovely healthy baby.  Incidently, a few weeks later, at my daughter’s 4 month well-baby check and immunizations, I decided not to share with the nurse that my two year old had already fed her little pieces of sliced ham off of his lunch tray, and she had eaten them!

     There are many things that new mothers are told about the benefits of breast feeding, including how it can effect your child’s health later on in life (reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, etc).  However, you have to remember that if you made a choice to formula feed your baby because it was the best choice for you and your baby, then it is quite likely that you are going to think about what is best for your child in all areas.  Choosing to bottle feed doesn’t condemn your child to a life of fried foods and Saturday morning cartoons, unless you choose those things as well.  My formula-fed child has an incredible imagination, does well at school, is likely the skinniest boy in his class and has a great mind for mathematics and science.  He eats well and gets lots of exercise (and loves video games and the ocean).  My breast-fed child is a voracious reader, loves to perform and spend time with her friends.  She eats just about everything we feed her (including slices of ham!), hates video games and loves bugging her brother. 
  My recommendation is be true to yourself and let your love for your children and your own values guide your decisions.  Do your research, but make sure that you and your children are happy, healthy and loving life, because that is what will get you through.

Happy Packing!

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3 thoughts on “Breast feeding versus Bottle feeding

  1. Love it and thank you for talking about something most women won't! I felt like a failure when I was no longer able to provide for my daughter when she hit 6 months. Society puts to much pressure on moms and expects us all to be a "Stepford Wife".-Christine

  2. Like a friend of ours told us after the Bean was born, "breastfeeding isn't exactly plug and play." We had far more supportive nurses here in Ottawa, but during my two days in hospital after her birth, I lost track of how many people had seen my naked breast — and up until then, it was a pretty small list! We were so freaked out by all the hype, we were feeding her pumpted breast milk by spoon so we didn't cause nipple confusion. For goodness sake! Glad your mom took a sensible approach.

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