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The breast-feeding debate: Guess what? It’s OK not to nurse your babies!

I am prefacing this post by saying I am in no way anti-breast-feeding. And I am not trying to discourage new mothers from doing it. At all. I think breast-feeding is a wonderful choice for new moms to make, but it’s just that: A choice. That is, there are other options. Options as in formula, which, as my mommy blogger friend Rebecca Woolf once said, is not the F word.


I wrote an article for the May issue of Redbook magazine (it hits newsstands this week!) called “No, You Don’t Have to Breast-feed.” I am incredibly proud of it. I wish that when I was breast-feeding (and not breast-feeding) I’d had a story like this to read. Because just as I felt no one told me the truth about childbirth, no one really prepared me for the challenges of breast-feeding. The pain, the commitment, the angst, the guilt about stopping. Even the class I took didn’t help. Probably because the instructors were so focused on scaring the shit out of us and making us think we had to breast-feed our kids or else….


My history: I breast-fed Alex for a month before resuming my cancer meds and, thanks to multiple infections and my general disliking of the experience, it did not go well (you can read about all the gory details in the article). I breast-fed Nora for 36 hours because I wanted her to get some colostrom. I thought I might stick with it for two weeks before going back on Gleevec but when I got home from the hospital I realized that was crazy talk (it was killing me, Alex was desperate for my attention, and I really wanted Nick to help with feedings). So I switched to formula which I’ve been very happily feeding her since. This time I had no guilt.

My happy, healthy, formula-fed kids....


I know that my experience with Alex was unique and that for most women after the initial few weeks of adjustments, it all goes smoothly. And that a lot of women love breast-feeding. But I also know that for some women (like me) breast is not best. Here’s a snippet from the article:


"I was lying on an exam table trying not to look as a surgeon drove a giant needle into the side of my breast to aspirate the rock-hard clogged milk duct inside. Both of my breasts were engorged to porn-star status, and the pain that radiated from them took my breath away...That’s when the doctor uttered the five most magical words I’d heard since giving birth: “It’s okay not to breast-feed.” Actually, she shouted them. “If it were 1907, your child would die if you didn’t breast-feed!” she shrieked. “But it’s 2007. We have choices, people!” When I got home from her office, I put on two sports bras, shoved frozen peas down my chest, and stopped the insanity. I had made it through almost a month of breast-feeding my newborn son, and I was done.... The most recent data show that nearly 74 percent of women try breast-feeding, a rise of 50 percent since 1973. This is great. Breast-feeding is great. The problem is, breast- feeding advocates have become so anti- formula that they are alienating moms who don’t, or often can’t, do it. And as a result, the bottom line—the fact that we’re all trying to raise healthy babies—has gotten completely lost.”  Read the whole article here.


Basically, there is a new pressure on moms to nurse their babies (see this recent report as evidence) and I think it’s gotten a little out of hand. New moms need to be reminded that this is their choice. And that if they can’t breast-feed their babies for one reason or another or they just don’t want to that it’s OK. For the Redbook piece, I spoke to experts about the pros/cons of breast-feeding as well as real moms who've been there and done that. Or not done that. Believe me, my hat goes off to moms who breast-feed exclusively for six months and continue on for a year as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. That is a feat, especially for working moms who have to pump. Because no matter what anyone says, breast-feeding is a huge sacrifice and time commitment for the mother. Nursing moms are amazing in my book. But they are no better than moms who formula feed.


Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous to see the general reaction to the piece. I know this is a hot topic and I know that breast-feeding advocates are very passionate (their passion is basically was led me to write the article in the first place). My friend, Lauren (a champion breast-feeder, btw), told me that if anyone gives me any crap I should just distract them with Nora pictures. The one below in particular. “THAT is a happy, sweet, well-fed baby who loves her mama,” she said.


So, did you/do you breast-feed? Did you feel pressured one way or the other? Any guilt surrounding your decision? Do you breast-feeding moms feel like there is judgement coming the other way too? I know this is a very personal topic for a lot of people but I hope we can discuss it openly today!