Breast is Best…But What About a Backup Plan?

I forgot how much I hate the smell of formula.

It’s been over three years since I’ve handled the stuff. The babies I’ve cared for in the last three years have all been fed expressed breast milk, so it’s been awhile. But Baby Boy has reached six months old, which was his mother’s cut off for pumping. (She has never nursed him. She’s been pumping since the beginning.) So from this point forward we will be alternating bottle of formula with bottles made from our frozen reserve of breast milk. Until the breast milk runs out (likely in a month or so) and then we’ll be down to just formula.

This post is not about her decision to stop pumping. It’s certainly not about judging another woman’s choice. But it has me thinking about this issue.

It should come as no surprise that I am pro-breastfeeding. One does not have to be a super hippie to know that breast is best. No matter how great the scientific breakthroughs, formula does not come close to providing everything that breast milk does. It is not only better in terms of nutritional content, but it provides immunities that strengthen the baby’s immune system providing health benefits in both the short and long term (decreased risk of juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and cancer before the age of 15). And it provides health benefits for the mother as well — lowered risks for osteoporosis and breast and ovarian cancer, to name just a few.

I’ve always planned to nurse my children for at least the first year of their lives. I’ve never planned to offer them formula. But in the back of my mind, I’ve always thought… “Well, if it doesn’t work out, there’s always formula.”

But after opening that bottle of formula last week, all thoughts of that backup plan fled my mind. For me, it’s not about the studies or statistics. It’s just a gut reaction — mother’s intuition, perhaps? — that says I cannot feed that to my child. I was surprised by the severity of my reaction. And I was a little scared of what that would mean, of the pressure that would put on me, if I wound up having serious trouble breastfeeding. If formula is not an option, what do you do?

Meanwhile, at my Homebirth Meetup earlier this week, we were discussing the subject of milk supply. One member of the group, who has recently entered the third trimester of her first pregnancy, was expressing some fears that her history of thyroid imbalance would lead to an inadequate supply. We discussed it for awhile, but there was no way for us to know whether her fears would come to fruition of if she was worrying unnecessarily.

Finally, another member, who was sitting cross legged on the floor nursing her nine month old daughter, ended the discussion. “Look,” she said. “You do your best. You talk to your midwife, you talk to a lactation counselor, and you try everything you can to make it work. And if it doesn’t, worst case scenario…you call us and we pump for you. We will find milk for your baby.”

I don’t know if it was the generosity of her offer or the calm, confident tone of her voice, but I had to struggle to hold back the tears.

This is the support circle that every new mother needs. This is the village it takes to raise a child.

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One Response to Breast is Best…But What About a Backup Plan?

  1. Maddy says:

    That’s really, genuinely touching. I wish I had friends like that when my baby boy was born. I only had one friend who was pro-breastfeeding – everyone else thought I was either stupid (because it’s ‘inconvenient’, duh!) or some kind of superhuman (because it’s impossible for normal mothers to breastfeed!). And this pro-breastfeeding friend would simply have never had the time to pump for us – she has two children of her own who are old enough to keep her busy when she’s at home with them. Again, you are blessed to be so close to people like this. Your future baby will be coming into a wonderful group of family and friends.

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