Will locking up baby formula really solve anything?

Disclaimer: If you’re a man, you probably won’t want to read this. TMI!

There have been numerous articles in the news lately about Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg both encouraging hospitals to promote breastfeeding over infant formula. I applaud anyone, especially a politician, who promotes breastfeeding in the United States. The breastfeeding taboo has gone on too long in the Western world, and I believe our health has suffered for it. However, will these initiatives and laws really change anything? Will it be effective? My fear is that it won’t.

I believe to really be effective at promoting breastfeeding over formula, you need to look at the reasons why a mother uses formula in the first place, and then target those reasons. There has been enough publicity over the last few years that most mothers already know and understand the benefits of breast milk over formula. Then why do women still choose formula?

In my opinion, there are three types of formula moms: 1. Those who use formula from the get-go. 2. Those who breastfeed initially, but after a week or two, switch to formula. 3. Those who breastfeed for months, but switch to formula before the recommended six months are complete.

I understand and thoroughly believe that there are women who cannot breastfeed, whether that is because of a low-milk supply, mastectomy, baby doesn’t like the taste, etc. I understand that there are extenuating circumstances, and I do not mean to point fingers or offend anyone. I know several wonderful moms off the top of my head that were not able to exclusively breastfeed for six months. In fact, I have several containers of formula samples in my cupboard that I’m holding onto in case of emergencies. I’m not going to let my son starve! I also believe it’s a parent’s right to determine what is best for her child and family. I will not judge (at least outwardly) a mother who chooses to exclusively formula feed when she can breastfeed, but I do personally find it difficult to understand. I invite you to share your opinions -kindly!- in the comment section below.

My first type of formula mom is probably not going to be swayed by a hospital briefing or formula as a prescription. She has made her mind up even before labor begins that using formula will best fit her lifestyle. Bloomberg and Quinn’s initiatives need to target formula moms #2 and #3. I was almost one of those moms. After I gave birth, my son struggled to latch properly, and I, the new mom, had no knowledge or experience to help him. Instead of correcting the problem, the nurses sent me home armed with a nipple shield. After a few weeks of nursing, I came very close to quitting. My mother, who breastfed me exclusively until I was a year, even suggested that I switch to formula. She said that my feelings regarding breastfeeding were “unhealthy” and would affect my relationship with my son. She was right. I was in a great deal of pain. Both my nipples were cracked and bleeding, and I actually lost half a nipple. It literally just came off in chunks. At one point I had to pump milk for several days from that breast and bottle feed him, because the pain from nursing was agonizing. I hated nursing so much that I was angry every time I fed my son. I was angry at him. I was angry at the situation. It wasn’t healthy. The only reason why I continued to nurse my son was because I knew breast milk was best for him, and I was determined to give him the best future possible.

Women need to know that although nursing is natural, that doesn’t mean it’s going to come naturally. Some women who had a good experience may say that it does. I beg to differ. There are going to be times that we’ll want to quit. Times that it will hurt. Women need to know that there are resources out there to make it better. Rather than locking up formula, hospitals should equip their staff to teach moms how to get a proper latch. They should provide lactation consultants, or if they already do…more consultants. These consultants should make their presence regularly known and visit moms in recovery. Instead of lecturing women and telling them do this, show them how. Give them the means.

I also want to point out that I have had two different pediatricians on separate occasions encourage me to start my son on solids at four months. This is counter to the American Pediatrics Association’s advice to exclusively breastfeed for six months, yet PEDs are telling moms this.

I almost quit, but I held on, and months later…I’m very, very glad I did!

What do you think? What would make nursing easier for moms? What do you wish the hospitals would do to help? Will it help to lock up formula?

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  1. I totally agree with you that hospitals and the baby community at large need to address women’s apprehensions regarding nursing. I know a couple of ladies who exclusively used formula from the beginning: one who just thought nursing was gross and another who had a hard time producing enough for her first two children. There is such a wide spectrum of philosophies out there about every aspect of pregnancy, childbirth and raising babies and children that it can be hard to pinpoint what hospitals and pediatricians should target.

    But I do believe that OB doctors and midwives could certainly take some serious time with expecting moms talking about all the aspects of nursing long before the due date. I also believe that lactation consultants should take more time in recovery with the moms talking about what to look for when they get home, what products or measures to use in case of pain or improper latch and simple ways to manage time so that nursing is more convenient than bottle feeding.

    I am thankful that though I had pain the first couple of days with my boys that my experience was not nearly as bad as yours. I’m also thankful that my mom was able to stay with me and had some recommendations to help with engorgement (some goofy-looking Medela nipple apparatus). I’m no hippy who’s going to pull up her shirt in public at every whim of her baby, but I’m a big proponent of breastfeeding for its health, cost and bonding benefits.

  2. Wow! I definitely applaud you for not giving up on nursing after all that! I had planned on nursing Arianna exclusively, but was not able to due to a very low milk supply and some other health complications. By six weeks, we were about half nursing/half formula. By 14 weeks she was all formula. I still believed breastfeesding was best and determined to at least try to nurse all of my babies, and I am so glad that I did. Carson nursed almost exclusively for 5 months, but we continued to nurse until he weaned himself at 13 months. Some moms are going to use formula no matter what, and formula is not bad for them, just not as good as breastmilk. I do think more women would chose to continues to breastfeed if they had more help and realistic expectations from the start. We hear a lot about how wonderful breastfeeding is and how it is a great bonding experience, and it is, just not usually right away. We live in a society where we want things to be easy and convenient. When new moms start experiencing the struggles of nursing, they immediately think of the convience of formula as opposed to the rewards of working through the issues they are having. In answer to your question, no, I don’t think locking up the formula in the hospital is going to help at all. Moms need to feel that there is going to be help after they leave the hospital, either through the hospital, a local support group, or from their pediatrician.

    1. You’re definitely right about new moms turning to formula after struggling with nursing. I’ve spent time reading message boards online, and I’ve come across post after post by a new mom basically looking for agreement that she should stop nursing, because of the pain she was in, etc. I agree…it can be very painful at first. That’s why I was very thankful for my pump, but not all moms can afford a pump, and not all babies will switch between the bottle and the breast.

  3. Yes, OBs/doctors/midwifes/friends/moms/ should make a point to throw a girl a bone and let her know that breastfeeding does not come easily to most people. There is all sorts of information thrown at pregnant women about what to expect through delivery, but somehow the recovery and breastfeeding processes are ignored. I cried every time I had to nurse my daughter for the first two or three months because it was so painful, and the only thing that kept me going was that I knew it was best for her, and I felt like if I switched to formula when I had more than enough milk (I regularly backed up into my armpits. Not fun), it would make me less of a mother. This was all with help from an incredibly patient team of lactation consultants who helped even after we came home from the hospital after delivery… I can’t imagine how I would have done it without any help.

    As far as the formula lockdown, this is coming from the same guy who is trying to outlaw soda and sugary drinks. While I agree that the stuff is slow poison, legislating this kind of thing is quickly moving into nanny-state territory, and that’s not acceptable. That’s borderline dangerous, because it’s setting a precedence that can easily become a slippery slope. Same goes for the formula. Even though I have a very hard time with able-bodied women not breastfeeding just for convenience, it’s still their choice. And it still does nothing to help women with breastfeeding.

  4. I agree with your point of view on breast feeding, and that hospitals need to do better overall. At the hospital where my son was born I saw 3 different lactation consultants – and they only came by because I requested help getting my son to latch. The first one tried a couple times to get him to latch and when we weren’t successful, she gave me a nipple shield and quickly left the room. The second one came a day later and was great, and stayed with me until we got a solid latch on each breast using two different holds. The third one I saw as an out patient 5 days after his birth, and she was also fantastic.
    I think it’s really important to get off to a good start with nursing. The longer a woman goes with it being difficult, the harder it’s going to be to stick with it. It’s important to ask for help as soon as an issue arises and not try to just trudge along by yourself. It’s ok and normal to ask for help.

    1. Wow! I can’t believe the first lactation consultant just handed over a nipple shield. I mean, granted, it’s better to nurse with one than not nurse at all, and I nursed with one for a couple months. But, you’d think she would’ve tried a little harder. I’m glad you had a better experience with the next two!

  5. I was a first time mom who was so willing and looking forward to breastfeeding my son. We were in the hospital for 4 days and all seemed to be going well. I had an LC come to my recovery room on two separate occasions to ask if i needed any help…well, I hadn’t thought I was having any issues so in response to her question I just replied that everything seemed to be going great. She then just handed me some papers about breastfeeding and left the room. Long story short after we got home from the hospital I got extremely sore and cracked/bloody nipples as well, and my son was very unsettling. My whole family has formula fed their babies and had no experience with breastfeeding, so they suggested I may just not have enough milk and to give him formula. I was exhausted and gave him a bottle, and it was all downhill from there to 24/7 formula feeds…looking back on my hospital situation, I am GLAD that the LC came to my room to ask how everything was going, but in all honesty I wish she would have asked me more than that simple question…women most times (like me) have NO IDEA that they arent doing something the right way. I think it would be really helpful if they were required to check the latch and sit and watch your baby feed for a little while and talk with you about anything and everything. I suppose the main problem is there aren’t enough LC’s in hospitals to be able to give that kind of time and support to every mother, but there are PLENTY of formula containers and bottles available with simple instruction on how to feed where you can’t “go wrong”. I just wish hospitals were more caring and supportive of mothers instead of so institutional. Next time I will be going to a doula and a birthing center.

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