It seems simple. Have a baby/babies. Feed them. Repeat. Watch them grow, achieve, succeed and be happy. The End.
It seems like how and what you feed your child, from the newborn stage until they leave for college, has become one of the most contentious and heated topics in the parenting wars. And thus, it becomes one of those issues where parents can get caught up in the argument, or worse, lost and overwhelmed.
I had always intended to breastfeed my babies, and not just for the requisite 12 months, but until they politely asked me to stop. Just kidding. Mostly. I approached motherhood with a strong desire to breastfeed, exclusively (of course), for as long as possible. I was armed with books, classes, the internet and a supportive husband and circle of friends.
What I didn’t know is that breastfeeding is hard and for some women, impossible. You see they don’t tell you about that in the classes. Most books and websites use words like – “rarely” or made up statistics like “less than 1%” when referring to issues like low supply. I get it. From a public health promotion standpoint, you don’t want to focus on the negative. You want everyone to give it a shot. But, this false information has resulted in isolation and guilt if you happen to be one of those women.
For me, my story involves challenges, guilt and eventually coming to terms with my inability to breastfeed exclusively and redefining my success as a part-time breastfeeder (we do exist). You can read that story here.
For the record, whatever you feed your baby – breastmilk or formula – from breast, bottle, cup, tube or supplemental nursing system, and however you made that decision – by choice or necessity – as long as you are feeding your baby and they are thriving, you are doing it right.
But the battle doesn’t stop there. When should you start feeding solids? What kind? Cereal? Purees? Finger food? Recently on Facebook, an acquaintance described baby-led weaning – giving your baby small pieces of soft table food to feed to themselves, versus spoon-feeding them purees – as dangerous, unwise and even worse – trendy (/sarcasm). What?! How on earth do parents all over the world feed their kids when jarred food is not available or affordable? I lived in West Africa. There was no “baby food”. There was food.
Disclaimer – while we gave our daughter purees (homemade, organic purees of course!), we haven’t with our son. He is a table food connoisseur. BUT, do I think that people who feed purees or cereal to their babies are wrong? Nope.
And speaking of table food. I am a vegetarian and so are my children. I recently reflected that being a vegetarian is even more difficult than being an Atheist in the rural Midwest. Seriously, the conversations I’ve had with relatives, child care workers, co-workers, friends and strangers would make you think that we were slowly killing them by not feeding them meat. I wish I were being hyperbolic. I hear about once a week: “But, if they don’t eat meat, what do they eat?” The answer: everything else.
Every day, we learn more about what we should or should not be eating or feeding our kids. Organic, free-range, vegan and the newest – GMO-free. Countless activists, celebrities, websites and friends on Facebook demand GMO-free food and question the safety of our food supply if we can’t limit GMOs. Despite the fact that there has never been a single credible scientific study which shows that eating GMOs or meat from animals who ate GMOs is harmful. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone, but I honestly believe that GMOs could have the potential to end starvation.
Both of my kids are growing, healthy and happy. So far, they are both meeting all of the developmental milestones for their ages and even passing their peers in some areas.
It really is simple: Have a baby/babies. Feed them. Repeat.
And the parenting wars? They are fought by insecure people who are just trying to justify their own decisions. Let’s all try to remember that.
Beautiful kid and boob image credit: Steph, all rights reserved
Great post! I, like you, planned to exclusively breastfeed. I thought is would be easy. After all, it’s supposed to be natural. It didn’t tun out that way and we switched to formula. I still deal with the guilt even though Little One is a happy, thriving 16 month old. We’re also vegetarians as well and we haven’t really gotten any negative reactions that we’re raising Little One as one, too. Yet. Great article and perspective.
“What I didn’t know is that breastfeeding is hard and for some women, impossible.”
I think they should simply stop lying to us about this. When I had my second I joked with some friends that we should write a breastfeeding book. Because I think that in the end this “being positive” propaganda causes more harm than good. Because women find out pretty soon that it is hard and might require lots of effort.
With my firstborn I treid , and I believed in all the bullshit, but, surprise, it didn’t work. I didn’t have enough milk due to a dangerous dynamic. I have big boobs. Very. Big. Porn star BIG. My daughter was small and she couldn’t suckle hard enough to get the production going. So she lost weight, and became weaker, and couls suckle even less, and those godsdamn tits would produce less and so on and so on. And I nearly despaired. I was such a failure. Because hadn’t I learned that you always have enough milk? Apparently I was the only monster-woman outside of war and hunger zones whose baby starved at her breast. Thankfully I had a wonderful midwife (the sciency variation) who gave me formula and a pump. So we supplemented and I pumped, and the production got going and the babe grew nd gained weight and strength to empty the monster-boobs and then we could stop supplementing and then we could stop pumping and we became a happy breastfeeding team.
When my little one was born we ran into a similar yet different set of problems, because her mouth was too small for the monster boobs and she couldn’t latch on. Again, we needed formula, and a pump, and a finger-feeder, and those little hats you put over your nipples. But the big difference was that now I knew that these things happen and they happen often. And I was not the worst mother in the world for having breast-feeding problems. I saw a set of obstacles and chose steps to overcome them. We became a happy breastfeeding team, too, but more important, we were a great feeding team all along, with me being pretty relaxed and not worried and the little one thriving with a full belly.
YES to this whole article! We as a society seem seriously hung up on judgement, blame, and shame surrounding parenting choices – especially for mothers. It’s important to know that there are many different paths to the same goal. We all have ideas about how we want to get there, and sometimes reality steps in and forces you to make a choice other than your ideal – OR, (*gasp*) maybe your ideal doesn’t line up with mine to begin with! In my opinion, if your baby is healthy and you are emotionally doing all right you are good to go. (And if no to either of those, you get some help… it doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a parent).
It seems like no matter what you do, there are a gaggle of holier than thou people waiting in the wings to tell you how your choices will be directly responsible for the end of the known universe. I’m still breastfeeding my daughter and she’s almost 2. Baby led weaning made sense to me, so we skipped pureed baby foods. My family thinks I’m insane for doing both of these things and it used to be a major point of contention until I finally told them to stop bringing it up. My friend (who’s daughter was born 3 days before mine) bottle fed and used pureed baby foods – and experienced a lot of guilt for not breastfeeding early on. Now, both of our children are happy and healthy and of equal importance WE are doing well and able to continue to nurture them. I call that success!
YES, couldn’t agree more with everything you said.
The war over FF vs BF leaves a lot of hurt moms, and some hungry babies, in its wake.
but what do I know? I chose to feed my first baby poison, er formula, and EBF the second one. For no more reason than with DS I worked full time, and with DD I was home all day.