This will be my last baby-related post for a while, but I wanted to talk about breast feeding. Yes, I know, a dude talking about breast feeding is about as popular as a hunk of raw meat at a vegan tea party, but I'm actually more interested in the culture of breast feeding than the act itself.
With our first child we did the typical first-timer thing where we read all sorts of stuff ahead of time. We developed a birth plan that was focused on doing everything with drugs and we were ready... and then shit happened. There were complications, things came out of left field and we had to roll with it. In the end, things worked out well. We had a healthy mom and baby, a decent birth experience and not much to complain about given the circumstances.
But if there was one things that we were gonna do, it was breast feeding. I mean, if you don't breast feed, your child is basically going to grow up a moron with slurred speech who is sick all the time, right? I mean, these are facts*! Except maybe when you actually look at the science (see "Problematic Science" section). Nevertheless, there is no doubt that breast feeding is beneficial to both Mom and the baby, so away we went.
Except sometimes the body doesn't cooperate. Sure, it can take some time for a mother's milk to come in, but did you know that some women's milk never comes in? Or when it does, the level never comes close to reaching the child's needs? We didn't. But we found out the hard way. Five days of a screaming hungry child and little sleep. When the visiting nurse came to our house our baby was dehydrated, had lost almost 15% of her birth weight** (and she was already small) and had jaundice. We were told that if we went another day of weight loss that we would have to bring the baby back to the hospital. We decided we had to get this kid some food, no matter how we did it. Turned out that despite continued effort, my wife's milk never really came in and it would have been a huge mistake to stubbornly continue down the breastfeeding only path.
But why did it take us so long to reach this rather obvious conclusion? Because of the 1950s. Starting in the 50s there was a move away from breastfeeding in the US (A solid summary of historical trends can be found here) and in the 1970s there began a push back that has resulted in the resurgence in breastfeeding rates. But like any issue where strong opinions are involved, sometimes numbers get a little skewed, arguments become more extreme and "common knowledge" spreads unchecked. If you look around at many pro-breastfeeding websites and take them as The Truth, you would come away thinking that not breastfeeding your child ought to earn you jail time and if you give your child anything but a breast, it will forever spurn you and your nipples. And so new parents will put themselves and their babies through a lot to avoid being Those People.
And as one of Those People, let me tell you that the reaction from many people when you reveal that you are not breastfeeding is full of subtle assumption that you are a bad parent. There are two types of typical reactions:
1) You are selfish and don't care enough about your child to put the work*** into making breastfeeding happen.
2) You don't know what you are doing and let The Man force you into making a bad decision for your child****.
Combine these reactions from many people you talk to with the emotions of a new mother who already feels like she has failed and it is easy to get to a bad place very quickly. Nothing like having judgment heaped all over you as a new parent for something you can't control.
But the thing is, our first child is not a toothless sloth. I know, I'm as shocked as you are. And with the second we have managed to use formula to supplement through an extended period of slower milk production to get things going a little bit this time around, and neither the bottle nor formula turn out to be baby crack. In fact, we seamlessly go back and forth!
When we started talking round after our first child, we were surprised at how many women mentioned that they had milk supply issues with at least one of their children. For some, it works out after some struggle, for others it doesn't. But in the end, the point should be having a happy child and parents, not adhering to some doctrine. While breast milk has been clearly shown to provide benefits for your child that a formula diet cannot, it is not always an option for all mothers. However, the alternative is not sentencing our child to a lifetime of playing catch up, despite the ads.
*As an aside, people love to throw around random stats during the entire process of child rearing, most of which are total bullshit and completely self-serving to the internal narrative of the Stats Provider.
**In the US, 10% is the threshold where they bring the baby back in.
***And it is work in the beginning.
****It only took four comments on a post where I mentioned milk supply issues, in passing, to get one of these.