Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Breastfeeding awareness

Today marks the end of breastfeeding awareness week - and I haven't done much for it. Oh sure, I've been breastfeeding, but I was doing that anyway. So it's a little like Christmastime, when I note that I have Christmas decorations up - but it just so happens they've been up all year. (I jest not, I just looked around and saw a Christmas candelabra - it's not sooo yule-ish that I couldn't get away with it - but the holly bedecked reindeer on top of the tv is maybe not so excusable).

Anyway, happy breastfeeding week. Rachel from Women's Health News had stuff on it from the beginning and has lots on breastfeeding generally.

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This morning on radio news a woman from the formula lobby was interviewed - along with a breastfeeding advocate - about the possibility of a total ban on advertising for formula (currently you can't advertise infant formula - but you can advertise follow-on feed, which has a slightly different formulation and is meant for babies over six months old).

The lobbyist started out with the usual breast is best message but quickly managed to run rings around both the interviewer and the lactivist and ended up with pretty much free advertising for formula.

Great.

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Breastfeeding rates in the UK are pretty low - lower apparently than even in the US (which has seen a recent increase in breastfeeding rates). On the parenting discussion forums I participate in, I see a lot of excuses for quitting breastfeeding - but I don't see a lot of support for continuation. In theory, the system of health visitors (community nurses specialising in early childhood health) should provide support for breastfeeding and the local health system provides support for breastfeeding clinics in my borough. But in practice, I found the breastfeeding support very hit and miss and I received sometimes contradictory messages from healthcare professionals. The best advice I got was from a pediatric nurse who is an old family friend and who had just come over to see the baby.

But in one sense, breastfeeding advocacy shoots itself in the foot. What I'm about to write is controversial, but it's just my observation.

Formula can be used to supplement and even aid breastfeeding, but no one will tell you that.

Don't get me wrong, I believe that breastfeeding is the best way to nourish your baby. I also believe that full-on formula feeding should be used only in extremis (you adopt, you must take prescription medication which is incompatible with breastfeeding, etc).

After my monumental 3 days of labor and emergency c-section, I also didn't manage to sleep for a further two days because of the conditions in the post-partum ward. I was absolutely exhausted. Cletus wasn't latching well - probably because he was pumped full of epidural drugs, but also because his poor little head was so beat up he was in a lot of discomfort. Nursing wasn't going well for us. But I absolutely refused to give him any formula in the hospital. Partly out of pride, but also because I was under the impression that should a drop of formula pass my baby's lips - that would ruin breastfeeding.

Eventually, we realised the poor little mite was starving. I really wasn't producing enough, because I wasn't healthy enough. So we gave him some formula. Just a little. The extra boost of calories helped him to nurse better. And I also never gave him any formula unless I'd put him to the breast first - thus to stimulate my supply. But nobody told us how to use formula as a kind of bridging food - until my milk came in.

When it did, we did without formula for a while. But unfortunately, I developed a post-operative infection. That didn't knock out my supply, but it didn't help. Again we used formula, sparingly, to ensure Cletus got enough to eat. My infection came back and Cletus also had a bit of a growth spurt. I really couldn't keep up. We used formula.

It shouldn't have been an issue, but I felt soo bad. I felt like some kind of renegade. I felt I was letting down the "exclusively breast fed" side. Again and again I'd read that so long as nary a drop of formula was used, I'd never have a supply issue. Well, being in the position where I hadn't used formula for over a week and really not having enough and wearing myself out and fretting over a hungry baby - I discovered I did have a supply issue. I used formula.

I still use formula. But largely out of convenience, I admit. Cletus gets one small feed of formula (3.5 to 4 oz) several days a week just to give me a break. Yes, I could express milk, but that really hasn't worked out for me - and let's face it, while I'm still recovering, it wouldn't be much of a break.

So yes, I used formula. But it was because I'm totally committed to breastfeeding that our formula use has been limited. Many people would have just switched over to formula once they'd started on the tainted feed. Using formula has helped both me and Cletus have the strength to carry on with breastfeeding.

I'm disappointed with the lactivists for making me feel bad for using a little formula and I think the formula companies would be more than happy to exploit this feeling. And that's sad - because the point is to encourage breastfeeding and all its healthful benefits, not to sweat the occasional ounce of formula.

6 comments:

vol K said...

Screw the activists. Trust your instincts - true nature.

Anonymous said...

It takes extremists to get our attention in this busy world, but you have to take such things with a grain of salt. Formula is not addictive. VolMom

Furrow said...

These all or nothing statements are for stupid people who can't understand ambiguity or make adjustments. At least, that's how it seems. But the method does seem to backfire pretty often.

KathyF said...

You're absolutely right. We used formula to supplement with Daughter Number One, but DNT wouldn't touch a bottle, not for anything. I was pretty much glued to her for a year.

Did I mention she's leaving home soon? Not sure how I'll cope, though hitting the bottle seems like a good idea.

genderist said...

Babies are funny. As long as you feed them, they grow. Breast milk makes them grow. Formula makes them grow.

My friend is breast feeding now, with occasional formula supplementation, which I think is fantastic. It works best for both her and baby Grace.

You have to do what works best for you.

Whymommy said...

ARe you healthy? Yes. Is the baby healthy? Yes. Are you mostly breastfeeding? Fantastic.

Good for you.