Tuesday 19 January 2010

Mother's Milk

I've always been very, very pro breastfeeding. It's just so obviously such a good idea. Baby cows eat cow milk. Baby monkeys eat monkey milk. Even baby dolphins eat dolphin milk. It seems like a bit of a no-brainer that baby humans should eat human milk. This is something I have never questioned. Occasionally, newspapers here run 'freak show' stories about women who are still breastfeeding their children at a much-older-than-normal age. When these stories were discussed, I was always the person saying 'more power to her!' rather than making grossed out shuddery noises. I was never in any doubt that breastfeeding was a Good Thing.

And then we decided to adopt.

When me made this decision, it felt like a big deal to me that this meant I wouldn't be able to breastfeed my baby*. I mean, how was I going to bond with the baby if I didn't get to experience this?For a while during the waiting, this was one of the things that could send me from zero to sobbing in about 10 seconds flat. But, onward and upward. Formula it would have to be. And when we got our referral I had so, so many questions about the best way to feed our babies. For example - what is the real difference between 'newborn' formula and 'hungry baby' formula? Would 'hungry baby' be better for malnourished babies - does it have extra calories? And what about 'follow on' milk? Is that the same as newborn, with added iron and vitamin D, or pretty much powdered cows milk in a fancy tin? How are the brands different? How do I know what teats to choose? Then later, after they were home, why does my child's poo smell like cat poo on one brand of formula, but not on another?**

So I asked my health professionals, and they were incredibly vague. Everyone seemed to think that someone else should know about bottle feeding, but it certainly wasn't them. I looked on the side of the formula packets. Information there? 'Breastfeeding is best for babies'. Which it is, of course, but what the? This is all the information you're going to give me? A health warning? I'm just trying to feed my children, I'm not starting them smoking.

So I did what any sensible girl would do, and googled. Put 'Formula Feeding Information' into Google, and the first link that comes up is the formula feeding information page at 'Ask Dr Sears'. This pleased me - he's a man who knows his onions, right? Well. Here's a snippet of what Dr Sears has to say:

One of our concerns is that even though formula-fed infants appear to grow normally, are they really thriving? Thriving means more than just getting bigger. It means developing to the child's fullest physical, emotional, and intellectual potential. We just don't know about all the long-term effects of tampering with Mother Nature.

Really, really staggeringly unhelpful. Because unless he wants to drive over to my house and donate some of his own breastmilk to me, formula is what these babies are going to be getting. And I was already unhappy about it - I don't need a lecture about it - I need to know how to do it the best I can, and that doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

I have, in the end, become rather tired of the moral posturing of the breast-is-best brigade, and nobody is more surprised about that than me. I'll spare you any more links, but the Sears page turned out to be typical of the information I found online about feeding with formula. It seems that a quick summary is always 'So, you want to know about how to feed with formula? Well, lady, here's why you shouldn't'. It began to seem like I might as well type 'information about feeding with inferior, nutrionless, baby junk food that I have chosen because I am selfish and a bad mother and want my breasts to stay perky' because that was pretty much all I could find.

I was already sad about not being able to breastfeed, and this kind of 'information' really wasn't helping.

And then something amazing happened. In a matter of weeks my babies went from this:
27 October
to this:
18 January
because of me, and this:
and I'm finally starting to let go of the assumptions I had about feeding. I am in no way anti breastfeeding, and I never would be. And I would never, ever encourage formula feeding as some kind of easy option - nutrition aside, all that sterilising and boiling is a total pain. But now, I am anti breastfeeding-as-a-moral-imperative. I am anti the idea that breastfeeding is the only way to have a happy baby, or be a worthwhile mother, and that bottle feeding is some kind of tragedy that must be avoided at all costs.

I was carrying around so much guilt about not being able to give my children this good thing. But I'm realising that just because one thing is Good, doesn't mean the other thing is Bad. I used to assume that feeding from a bottle would somehow be automatically less than breastfeeding, but now I just don't feel that way at all. I know I haven't ever breastfed, and apparently the hormones can be terrific, but I no longer feel like I'm missing something primal. Apparently, it's a wonderful feeling to know that you are the only person who can provide the nutrition that your baby needs. Well, I'm not the only person who can provide food for my babies, but most times I'm the only person who does*, and that feels pretty wonderful too. When I was grieving about losing the breastfeeding experience, I never realised that they would do that face-reachy thing with bottles, too, that she would grunt adorably or that he would love to run his fingers through my hair while he sucked. And I don't feel like I'm missing out at all.

I know that breastfeeding is nutritionally superior to formula milk, but no longer think it is somehow morally superior. I have come to believe that whether breast feeding or bottle feeding, it should be less about the adjective and more about the verb. I would have hoped that Dr Sears would have celebrated with me that my babies are thriving rather than... well, you read the extract.

I never would have thought it, but I've come to be absolutely content that my babies are fed with formula. It's not perfect, but like so many other things in my life, it's good enough, and that's good enough for me. Finally, I am happy to say that I am a mother. And drink up babies, because this is my milk.

*And yes, I know that adoptive breastfeeding is technically possible, but after researching (because I was pretty keen to do it) it became clear that women who have never previously lactated should not expect to produce significant quantities of milk. So it might be a nice experience, but it probably isn't actually going to be what feeds the baby. So we decided no.

**The answer to that last one is that she was on a high-fat formula and her pancreas couldn't handle it. Thanks to my Dad for explaining that one.

Except when J happens to be around at feeding time, and oh mercy me when they are twins involved I am SO glad I can hand one baby and a bottle to a man.


  1. did you ever find a good website for determining which formula is the most nutrition-filled or for explaining the difference? I, too, have been stumped as I wander through the formula aisles...

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this important topic! (Trying to de-lurk, but not able to come up with anything more profound than this today).

  3. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I have shameful feelings about not breastfeeding my bio son and not having toughed out the difficulties I was having with it. But I gave him all of his bottles and I agree with you, just because one is good doesn't mean the other is bad. And I happen to love the happy memory of him laughing with the bottle in his mouth and milk running down the sides of his face as he did so. A most complete and precious moment sans breast.

  4. Thank you! Thank you for this post! My husband and I are just beginning our adoption process and breastfeeding was a 'bitter pill' for me to swallow when we decided upon adoption. Like you, I've done the research on adoptive mother's breastfeeding, and like you we've decided it's not for us. That said, I've come to good terms with formula for our child and I was so thrilled to read your post and hear/see not only the progress your babies have made, but that you have made. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great post! And glad your babies are thriving.

    My sister has two (bio) kids, she had all sorts of trouble breast-feeding the first one and ended up switching to formula pretty early on, the second one is fine with breast-feeding so that's what he's getting. Different things work for different babies, no matter where they come from.

  6. GREAT JOB! I think I might write about this one day. Along with posting a picture of curly rows.

    You always give me so many ideas. ;-)

  7. Just had to stop in and say your babies are gorgeous and are obviously thriving on your love and care.
    I could see possibly trying to induce lacation for one baby with tons of lead time (as in months), but that would be very hard in the first place. With twins, no way would I even try.

  8. Oh Claudia, you are once again debunking the myths of motherhood. I think the propaganda around breastfeeding was started so stupid people would get the message that breast feeding was a good thing. However, it has been taken so far, that intelligent people actually have a hard time finding needed information. I have a 463 page book called "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding." I consulted this frequently during the first year of my daughter's life. It is only because I was sleep deprived that I didn't realize sooner, that the book could have been 462 pages shorter. The answer to each and every question I so painstakingly looked up was the same "Breast Feed More."
    Your babies look so healthy and happy. Let's all be grateful for the science and research that went into developing the amazing formula that is allowing them to thrive.

  9. I loved this line, "it should be less about the adjective and more about the verb." Bravo. AND you must be doing quite a number of things right. Your children look beautiful!

  10. Right on! You stopped by my blog when I wrote about this as well and I am still struggling with the guilt and messages in not breastfeeding my bio son. However, I am slowly but surely coming to a peace about it and no longer feel like I am feeding him fast food every time I put a bottle in his mouth. I know some absolutely brilliant and thriving kids and adults who were formula fed and after seeing them, I have to question the messages being sent by the anti-formula front.

    Obviously your kids are gorgeous, happy and well-fed. Isn't that what matters?

  11. This has to be one of my all time favorite posts! Serious topic, one that used to take me from zero to sobbing too, but lots of things change when you embark on this amazing thing called adoption. Your twins are clearly thriving and they are ADORABLE to boot! Take that Dr. Sears!!

  12. A beautiful post!

    There's just not much more I can say, except thanks for sharing :)

  13. This is a great post. Your twins look fantastic and are obviously getting every single thing they need to thrive.

  14. Thank you for putting so eloquently in words what I feel about breast vs bottle feeding. I've felt guilty about not breastfeeding for many years, but have finally come to terms that it was not the best option for me. And I still have a very intelligent, normal, and healthy teenager. Formula did alright by her. :)

    ...The babies, as always, are simply gorgeous!

  15. I work in a Nutrition dept, and I caught flack for not breastfeeding. Talk about guilt! But when Jacob came home he was in the 5% for height and he is now in the 75%. Thank you formula! Your little ones are clearly THRIVING, not just growing. Good work, mama!

  16. I've been on both sides. My two adoptive children were obviously bottle fed. I tried to find a formula that was the most similar to the one they were already on. My youngest was breastfed for 7+ months. Yes it is a great bond, but so is bottle feeding. There are definitely pros and cons to both, never have to mix formula or carry bottles, but have to find a private place to nurse etc. Plus my youngest has a food allergy, which may be to blame on my diet while pregnant and nursing. Who knows.

  17. This is a brilliant post. As a PAP who'd like to breastfeed I wrestle this over in my head again and again. And like you, my research on formula has taught me only that it's the devils milk. It's so frustrating when you know the people who want to do their best for their kids are the ones who can't get the information they need. I assure you, my cousin who went straight to formula so she didn't need to ration her cigarettes and bourbon anymore really wasn't interested in educating herself about the right type of formula for her kid. I think it's great that people like her are bombarded with messages about laying off the booze and giving breastfeeding a shot, but there really needs to be some information for when formula is the best decision for the family.

  18. Love this post, C. I plan to mark it for a good (hopeful) future reference. Thanks for doing all the research and for sharing so openly how you reached a beautiful resolution. Love seeing your little cutie pies!

  19. AMEN! just struggled through some very similar issues and was directed here. AMEN on the sleep post too! :)

  20. Wow. You are SO right on. I couldn't breastfeed my daughter and I felt like a total failure (at first) and people would try to guilt trip me all the time. As time went on, I realized that it was so VERY o.k., more than o.k., it was wonderful. My husband got to share the bonding/feeding times and they created a wonderful relationship from very early on (and I got to sleep an extra 10 min. from time to time). She (my daughter) never ONCE got sick her first year+ of life (debunking the breast milk will keep her healthier myth) and even now, she has colds from time to time, but really, is very healthy. And this little 3 year old is smart and funny and totally and completely THRIVING. So there! Formula rocks! That's what I have to say! :)

  21. As an adoptee, I cannot tell you how happy I was to read this post.

    In addition to being an adoptee, I breastfed all three of my children, and was a lactation consultant for LLL.

    In my opinion, (and almost every adult adoptee I know) adoptive mothers who breastfeed their adopted children are delusional.

    A mother's milk is produced for her OWN baby, not a stranger's baby. A woman who has not given birth to her own child will never be able to produce enough milk on her own, or via artificial hormones/stimulation to sustain a child.

    There is NOTHING wrong with formula fed babies.

    We all bond with our adoptive parents eventually, there is no need for adoptive mothers to do this. It borders on child abuse, in my opinion. NOT in a sexual way, but in a psychological way.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Over to you!