Updated: Feb 13, 2022
I had a lovely visit with a very sweet family yesterday. A beautiful 2 week-old girl came in for her 2 week well baby appointment. The goal of that appointment is simple. Gain weight. Easy right? But this peanut had other ideas.
I knew that this mama hadn't exclusively breastfed her older kids. But she really wanted to with this one. As we talked, it was pretty obvious that she just wasn't making enough milk. And that she was taking it kinda hard.
When I was a baby (and pterodactyls were swooping overhead), breastfeeding wasn't really common. Sure, people did it, but only in private. Because heaven help you if somebody saw a baby breastfeeding in public. Breastfeeding was inappropriate, deemed so by those who saw it as sexual.
Then there was this revolution. Women took back breastfeeding. And it was wonderful. Until...
we came to believe that breastfeeding was not just a good option, it was the only option. And every baby that wasn't breastfed was being deprived. All of the judgement heaped on breastfeeding moms in the 60's and 70's reversed, and now formula-feeding moms became the pariahs.
I have a general rule about parenting. It goes like this. Your parenting choices are your own, and everyone else can butt out. It applies to everything, including what you feed your kids. Your personal choice to breastfeed, formula feed, or some combination of those is entirely yours. "I don't want to" is sufficient reason not to breastfeed. No excuses needed.
But, I know the rest of the world doesn't work that way. So here's something you should know. We've been breastfeeding since the beginning of time. And that whole time, we were also supplementing our babies feedings when they didn't get enough nutrition. In the beginning, it was with cow's milk, unpasteurized, of course. Infantile listeriosis probably contributed substantially to the infant mortality rate, but that still might be better than starvation.
Later, we learned to pasteurize milk and that seemed like a great improvement. Except for one problem. All milk has lots of Vitamin C. And that Vitamin C is destroyed during the pasteurization process. So we turned our infantile listeriosis into infantile scurvy. To address this, food companies like Nestle engineered a cow milk-based formula that contained enough Vitamin C to prevent scurvy, and added Vitamin D and iron to prevent rickets and anemia.
News flash: the infant formula industry wasn't built to derail breastfeeding. It was developed to provide a safe support mechanism for breastfeeding moms! And formula has come a long way. It's now closer to breastmilk than ever before. It's safe, sterile, and is so highly regulated in the US that it's arguably our safest food source overall.
So, I talked to that very sweet mama about her options. She was doing everything right, and still not making enough milk. And I suggested supplementing with formula. She seemed a little surprised that I didn't push her to keep trying exclusive breastfeeding. But we found a schedule that will maximize her breastmilk production AND give her baby enough nutrition to grow. And as she left, I reminded her of 2 things. First, we've been supplementing while breastfeeding for millennia. And second, no single breastfeed or bottle of formula defines her value as a parent. The same is true of all of us.