Breast is best. We know that. With all the campaigns, advertisements, and leaflets, it's difficult not to know the benefits of breast milk.
As great as these awareness campaigns are, they create a huge amount of pressure on mothers to focus on breastfeeding. Unfortunately, breast doesn't always work out, and in cases like mine, breastfeeding isn't even an option.
Has it actually occurred to anyone within the pro-breast campaign that some ladies may not be physically able to breastfeed their child? It certainly didn't seem like it when I was sitting in my prenatal class and the midwife called everyone forward to enroll in the next mandatory breastfeeding session.
I realize this applies to the minority of women, but I actually fall into the category of those who are physically unable to breastfeed. This mandatory course would be a complete waste of time for me, not to mention a massive kick in the teeth.
“So why can't you breastfeed?" is usually the invasive, blunt, and, quite frankly, rude question that follows my admission. Well, midwife/nosy fellow mums-to-be-I've-just-met-at-my-prenatal-group, I have a condition called Poland syndrome.
Never heard of Poland Syndrome? You're not alone.
My right breast developed but not in a “regular" shape. My left breast didn't develop at all. It was quite simply a nipple and that was it (you can imagine how amazing that was as a self-conscious teenager). My mum literally saved my dignity during my developing years by padding out my left bra cup.
When we realized nothing was going to change, my parents amazingly stepped up and paid for me to have surgery. I got an implant in the left breast, reshaping of the right, and both breasts had the nipples removed and sewn back into a new position. Obviously they tried to reconnect everything that should be connected to a female nipple, but there was no guarantee.
This brings me back to breastfeeding. Throughout my pregnancy, my breasts didn't change. They didn't increase in size and they weren't going to start producing milk in this lifetime. I therefore had to make peace with the fact that I had to bottle feed my baby from the start. This should have been a guilt-free moment for me but I cannot express how terrible I felt at the prospect of not being able to naturally feed my baby. I felt like a failure as a woman.
The judgmental looks I received when I pulled out a bottle instead of my breast made me blurt out the aforementioned explanation at any opportunity and that's wrong on so many levels. Why should I have to justify the way I feed my baby? Formula has been specifically designed by scientists to provide all the essential nutrients babies need to develop and thrive into healthy, happy little people. It is beyond annoying that we're judged, criticized, and often interrogated for feeding our babies this way.
I'm clearly not the only mother who bottle-feeds her baby so let's just take a moment to highlight some of the reasons I can think of that may prevent a mum from breastfeeding:
- She may have undergone breast surgery
- She may need to receive radiation therapy or chemotherapy
- Her baby could have a milk intolerance or the metabolic condition known as Galactosemia
- She may suffer from a chronic illness and her health may suffer as a result
- She may have an infection requiring antibiotics which are harmful to the baby
- She may end up suffering from post-birth complications
- Her baby may be fostered or adopted
And then we have the mothers that try to breastfeed. Really, heartbreakingly try. It brings tears to my eyes when I think about the amount of wonderful mums who have had breakdowns over their struggles with breastfeeding.
- Lactation issues; raw/split nipples, engorged breasts, mastitis, severe pain, and failure of the baby to latch
- Insufficient milk supply
- Postpartum depression
- And let's not forget, some women just hate the feeling of it or simply choose to bottle feed
I'm sure I've missed a million other reasons, too.
We know that in an ideal world, breastfeeding our baby is the best way forward. WE KNOW. So for those of you who enjoy vocalizing their distaste for bottle-feeding – and unfortunately there are lots of you out there – next time you see a lady bottle-feeding her baby, try not to jump to conclusions about her dedication to being a mother. You have no idea why she's using a bottle (which for all you know could contain breast milk, anyway) and to be blunt; it's none of your business.
I don't want readers misinterpreting my words as an attack on breastfeeding and the amazing campaigns surrounding breastfeeding support. Support for breastfeeding mums is so very important and should be encouraged through education, information and guidance. I also acknowledge that successful breastfeeders can have a torrid time and that it's by no means easy; they should be celebrated in their achievement.
Ultimately, we're all just doing our best, breast or bottle.
I encourage parents to share your fantastically beautiful photos of bottle-feeding your baby with the hashtag #dontjudgejustfeed.