I really dislike it when people say it doesn’t matter how you birth, healthy baby, healthy mother. OK. Yes, that’s most important, but it should be HAPPY mother, HAPPY baby. If you are happy enough with how your birth turned out then that’s ok. If you feel traumatized then that’s valid and it’s more than OK to not want to be traumatized again. Shaming people for not wanting to be traumatized again (which I see a lot in the form of sneering at birth plans) isn’t cool. I went into my first birth with an intent to try natural, but with an open mind and basically ended up with a somewhat traumatic series of events where people were holding me down, lots of people were sticking needles in me, freaking out in general and saying stupid shit to me. I didn’t really feel a sense of failure at first because it all happened so fast. I mean, showed up to my tub birthing room and had the emergency button pressed within an hour of hospital arrival. But then people started talking about my failure, and how I could try again for a vaginal birth and it really got to me. And I wish it hadn’t. I tried to avoid the scary stuff with my second and mostly did, but still feel disappointed in myself. I’m saddened, but have pretty much tried to spin my last aspirations for birth into the lowest expectations possible, but I’m not happy about it. Sure, I’m glad we’re all alive, but I’m still sad and regretful. Not because I didn’t have some magical experience, but because I subscribed to a body image self view that put function over media dictated conventional attractiveness. And my body was not functional in a way that mattered to me.
Similarly with breastfeeding. Saying as long as you feed your baby completely invalidates how the mother is feeling. Sure, if she is happy or relieved to not breastfeed, or finds combination feeding to relieve her stress than yay. All good. If she finds it devastating to supplement or to have to formula feed then don’t trivialize her circumstances or lack of help. Or whatever led to that situation. Women are massively massively misinformed about how breastfeeding goes. Being fed fake facts like nearly all women can breastfeed, where the ‘facts’ don’t define what can means. In reality at least 15% of women/baby dyads will have major physical or physiological issues with maintaining an infant on exclusive breastfeeding (Niefert 1994 I think). That’s not even taking into account issues that arise from insufficient social or medical support.
People need to remember that some of the responsibility for breastfeeding success is on the baby too. If you think it’s ridiculous to hold a baby responsible, then consider that it’s at least equally ridiculous to hold a person responsible for a biological process. This sort of thing is not done by force of will alone. It helps, but it’s not all there is to it.
So instead commiserate. Be sympathetic. Take cues from the mother. If she says she’s devastated, don’t say, well at least you are feeding your baby. Something like, that sucks, and that’s hard, and it’s ok to be sad is more appropriate. Suggestions may be appropriate–if she asks for them, or she may have tried everything she thought was available, and just find your suggestion annoying. If she says she was relieved to use formula, then something like go you for feeding your baby is more appropriate, where suggestions intended to help manage the issue are possibly not.
And people who have these issues– our bodies don’t necessarily know what they are doing. If you think bodies are designed for this just wait until your baby starts teething. That’s a major design flaw if I’ve ever seen one. Ugh. Bodies have biological processes that go awry all the time. They aren’t necessarily designed for anything, and that sort of talk can contribute to feeling incredibly inadequate and flawed. Don’t think it’s your fault. There are ways to manage many issues. They can be far more work than you are or thought you’d be up for, and they can be manageable if you have support. It’s ok to be sad. Don’t let anyone guilt you into feeling like you have no right to be sad about how things turned out, or that you are ungrateful because worse things happen to other people.
I would also like to say fucking yay science. Did you know that in the 1940’s the infant mortality rate for under one’s was about 50% for *white* babies? It was closer to 85% for black babies. The primary reasons for that are milk safety, water safety and immunization. In about that order. On that topic, let’s talk about formula safety. Please don’t use water from your hot tap for making formula. http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm Also please DO heat your water before mixing it with powdered formula. Because formula protocol isn’t widely shared by medical professionals, people are left to following the can or getting tips from friends or relatives. Formula is not sterile, and babies under 3 months should have hot water added to their formula for optimum safety. Now, a few tips I learned– You can heat your water in the microwave IF you shake it before serving to eliminate hotspots. You still need to cool it down. However, a much better method is to make up formula in advance. Formula is fine in the fridge for 24 hours. Then you can pop it in a mug of microwaved water to heat it. Or some kids don’t mind it cold. But you know, just FYI. For all those that unexpectedly end up using formula and know nothing about it.