A Note From Your Doula: Formula or Breast, Mama Knows Best

By Jen Wittes

Hello friends,

Chances are, somewhere along the line, you have encountered a little internal road block known as “Mothers’ Guilt.”

Yes, inevitably, we mothers have guilt in spades.

Do I hold my child too much?  Too little?  Is this the right car seat?  I shouldn’t have done that.  I shouldn’t have said that.  What are the effects—really—of that occasional Happy Meal?  Did I somehow cause these allergies by eating peanut butter while pregnant?  Should I sleep with my baby?  Or not?  Am I enough?  Am I still sexy?  Should I be worried about being sexy?  How selfish of me.  We all know I should be focusing on my child and only my child 24 hours a day.  Yes, even when I sleep.  I should also find a way to add more hours to the day—for real.  Oh, and find a cure for cancer, so that my child never suffers.  And world peace would be good, too.  Gosh, I’m really not anything if I don’t do everything.  In fact, I’m nothing if not perfect.

Whew.  I get tired just thinking about what we, as mothers, put ourselves through.  And nothing I can say will stop you—my friends, my readers, my clients—from dipping into the guilt pool now and then, every day for many.  It’s a mom thing.  Like smelling our child’s hair, kissing ouchies, and sobbing as that first kindergarten bus pulls away; feeling guilty is what we do.

That said, today I want to hone in on a particular topic that leaves many mothers absolutely wallowing (unnecessarily) in guilt.  Bottle feeding.  That’s right, I said it.  The two dirty words that give many birth professionals the dry heaves.  As doulas, we’re supposed to be supportive.  We’re also—according to urban legend—supposed to be earthy and crunchy and poetic and for certain, determined and successful in our crusade to get every baby on the planet to achieve the perfect nursing latch.  Breast is best, breast is best, breast is best.  The mantra, the chant; the judgmental, the guilt-inducing.

Truth be told, breast is best.  We all know that.  Formula companies know that.  Doctors know that.  Midwives, doulas, husbands, neighbors, talk show hosts, dogs, cats…everyone knows.  And will be happy to tell you so.

Breast milk is tailor made for your particular child’s needs.  It promotes love and connection and health and happiness.  I love breastfeeding.  Did it myself for a total of five years.  It is my job to know everything about breastfeeding–how to troubleshoot, how to encourage.  My eyes and ears and hands have gotten many women through thrush, mastitis, nursing strikes, biting, exhaustion, fear, and frustration.  I.  Support.  Breastfeeding.  I’m a doula.  Of course I do.

But…

I also support bottle feeding.

They say that every woman can breastfeed.  This is mostly true, but not really.  I have indeed seen cases of milk not coming in–and yes, those women tried everything.

Some women can’t.  Some babies can’t.  Or rather, they have such difficulty doing it, the breastfeeding relationship becomes a burden rather than a blessing; thus disrupting the bond between mother and child rather than supporting it.  And these are often women with a loving partner, a natural home birth, doulas, and top-notch lactation consultants.  It isn’t always attitude or lack of support as some lactivists would have you believe; it’s just reality.

For some, breastfeeding is so much easier, lovelier, and cheaper than mixing formula…they can’t imagine a better option.  For some, bottles seem preferable, as they allow for rest and freedom—two things that can be invaluable in the first year of parenthood.

Here’s the thing…everyone involved in a mother’s life should foster an environment that encourages breastfeeding success.  That would include peace, quiet, cheerleading, and a list of skilled professionals to call in a pickle.  It does not include, however, expressing disappointment in a mother when things don’t go as planned.  It does not include pushing a mother–either subtly or aggressively–into something that makes her uncomfortable.

I am just sick with how formula feeding families feel about their choice.  They literally feel as if they are poisoning their children (to be clear…formula is NOT poision).  They feel like failures.  They feel selfish.  They feel worried and doubtful and yes…guilty.

On the flip-side, a mother who breastfeeds into the second year starts doing so “on the sly,” because she feels like a freak.  Oh, baby!  Are we ever hard on our mothers!

Mamas, you and only you know what is best for your child.  You make many difficult decisions.  To vaccinate or not.  To circumcise or not.  To go back to work or stay home.  T-ball or soccer.  Karate or ballet.  Public or private.  Not one person—not even little old me, the so-called baby expert—knows your son or daughter as you do.  You are the expert.  You are wonderful and kind and good and you do have your child’s best interests at heart.  Don’t ever doubt that, and don’t you dare let anyone else tell you otherwise.  So, you’re not breastfeeding.  So, you can’t bear to wean quite yet.  So, you do a little of both.  So what?  You’re doing a great job!

Friends and family of mothers…when it comes to feeding:  butt out!  Whether she stocked her shelves with Enfamil the second she found out she was pregnant or whether she’s nursing a toddler, it really isn’t your business.  Mama knows best.  The best thing that anyone can do for a baby is support and encourage the mother.  Trust me, it’s what I do every day.

With much love and acceptance of exactly who you are,

Doula Jen