What If Breast Isn’t Best?

by Love, Play 18 Comments

For many of you, the Atlantic Monthly article “The Case Against Breastfeeding” by Hanna Rosin is old news. I’ve been meaning to write about it since it was published a few weeks ago, but … well, you know how things go. No explanations necessary.

I highly recommend reading the article (it’s kinda long), but if you don’t have time, here’s my little executive summary:

Despite all you hear, the superior health benefits of breastfeeding aren’t
proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. So why do we feel like we’re terrible moms if
we don’t do it? Ain’t no shame in the formula game.

The argument that breastfeeding may not be all that much better for babies than formula feeding was a new one to me. All I’ve ever heard is that “breast is best” and you’re shortchanging your kid by opting for the bottle.

That’s why I felt like such a terrible mother after my daughter was born and the whole BFing thing didn’t work out. The point of this AM article is that there’s no reason to feel terrible. BFing is great if that’s what you want to do, but formula feeding is perfectly fine, too.

With kiddo #2 due to arrive in July, I’ve been contemplating what I’m going to do this time around. I honestly don’t know where I’ll end up. The bad memories from last time still burn and make me want to reach for the nearest Enfamil can as soon as possible. But a lifetime of being told “breast is best” urges me to give it another try. We’ll see what happens. I have plenty of time to decide. But it is kind of nice to know that formula is OK and I won’t be a Bad Mom because I go that route. (I’ll have plenty of other opportunities to be a Bad Mom, as I discover on a daily basis.)

Susan Wenner Jackson

Susan Wenner Jackson is the cofounder and editor of Working Moms Against Guilt. She lives in her hometown of West Chester, Ohio, with her husband, two children, and their dog.

18 Comments

  1. I totally stressed myself out about breastfeeding with Baby #1. I was a bit more relaxed with #2. Being relaxed, like you are now, seems to help some. But, what I finally realized when #2 was about 4 weeks, is that I HATE NURSING AND AM NOT GOOD AT IT. So I stopped. I think everyone was a lot happier, and the baby was certainly a lot healthier, because she started gaining weight. And now she’s a perfectly healthy 19 month old. Take the pressure off yourself. Try it, but don’t beat yourself up if you have problems.

  2. Hey, I made it 4 weeks with my first. I have read the the biggest boots you can give your kids is in the early days – A lot of Anti bodies are passed on to the baby to hold them until their immune systems mature a bit.
    I would encourage you to try again for the first few weeks. I ended up nursing my second for about 5 months befroe he decided he prefereed the bottle. I did not enjoy nursing either but was encouraged I made it that long and happily switched to Formula.

  3. You do what works for you and your child. Don’t worry about what people say. You can always give it a try and if it just isn’t working don’t fight it and do what you know works.

  4. I kinda wish all this talk would go away. Let people make informed decisions on their own–instead of trying to sway people one way or another. “Breast is/isn’t best.” Blah. Whatever.

    The way we choose to feed our babies isn’t really anyone else’s business but our own.

    I don’t ask everyone in town what they had for dinner last night, and then critique them if they had too much dessert.

    For me, nursing was great. I’m glad I was able to do that for my child, and I think it did wonders for our relationship.

  5. I agree that this is one topic I’m weary of (not weary that you posted, Susan, but weary of the debate in general – much like the tired old “Mommy Wars” horse). Few American kids are malnourished, whether they’re fed formula or breast milk. I honestly don’t care what people think about how I feed my babies. I’ll nurse the new one until I decide it’s either not working or I want to stop. Got to about 6 weeks with my first one, and that was great. She’s a smart, healthy, well-adjusted 4-year-old now, so obviously she wasn’t deprived.

  6. My daughter recently turned 1 and is still breastfeeding. The first month was really tough but ever since then it’s been a great experience. I’ve really enjoyed it and I’ll be sad when it’s over, but I don’t agree with all the guilt-inducing “breast is best” pushiness. As moms we all have to do what works best for us and our babies. Good luck with #2 and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty one way or the other!

  7. i breastfed all three of my kids. my oldest for three months. my daughter, 4 months and my youngest..7 months.
    my step kids…
    were NEVER breastfed. ever. (which is a good thing because of how much pot she smoked!)
    but…
    my step kids…NEVER get sick.
    my kids…constantly sick. and 2 had to get their tonsils removed.
    so…i am here to say…
    i honestly don’t think breastfeeding is best. and if (god forbid) i were to have another child (please…never)i would breastfeed because i want to. NOT because i think it’s the healthier, more beneficial way to go.

  8. It’s Mom’s presence, as much as possible, that baby needs – whether formula fed or breastfed.

  9. You are certainly not a bad mom if you can’t or choose not to breastfeed. Since I also enjoy reading your other site, I will tell you that breastfeeding my daughter worked wonders toward losing my baby weight plus some extra pounds I needed to shed. In the past, I had struggled with weight loss, but with breastfeeding it was slow and steady without dieting, just eating healthy foods. It was so much fun watching my baby gain weight while I lost.

  10. I didn’t with my first son, he just wouldn’t do it froze up everytime I held him. We had just put our house up for sale, and the stress of keeping the house “perfect” at all times was stressful enough on top of trying to learn how to breastfeed a baby who didn’t like me much was way to much. I couldn’t not sell the house (my husband’s job was to far away) so I gave up and did formula. I felt HORRIBLE about it. I felt that way until I breasfed my second son (who is one and just weaned…I think) and saw little difference. The differences that are also just in their personalities. Ironically we were still trying to sell when he was born, but I had the hang of it by then (and we had like zero belongings left in the house to keep clean) so that stress wasn’t as big of an issue….although breastfeeding while waiting in the van across the street from my house while there were showings was….interesting to say the least.
    The second pooped and spit up way more than the first (which I told happend so much less with Breasfed babies)….I GAINED weight after having the second (oh you lose so much more weight I was told) and lost it (the baby weight and then some) no problem with the first.
    Yes I would say try it…..you may be surprised (like me) how much easier it is. But don’t think all those magical “101 reasons to breastfeed” will be apparent. Go with your gut, but don’t feel you need to make a decision now.
    I think as long as you are doing what you think is best and loving your baby in whatever way is right for you…..then you’re fine. Anyone other mother who dares to judge another in regards to this issue is….well…not a nice person lol.
    Babywearing also works great for bonding if you choose not to breastfeed…..weirdly I did it with my first….the second hated it!
    Oh and my first son finally kind of likes me now….it only took 3 years!
    oh sorry….I ramble

  11. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends it. And they usually don’t back something without extensive research. I think the article was incredibly ill-written and shallow. Yes, I read the whole thing.

    Breast feeding isn’t for everyone, so high heels are not for everyone either. And some research says that high heels help with pelvic floor muscles and posture too.

    I feel for the woman who wrote the article. She was drug through the coals for her article, nationally. I also feel sorry that she has found her circle of friends to be so shallow as to condemn someone else for their choices or what they feed their kids.

    You do what you need to do. Weigh all of the options and do what is best for you and your family and if someone should have the gal to question you – that’s what you tell them, “It works for me.”

  12. I can’t take one more article about breast vs. bottle cause no matter how informative or well-founded it may be, it just drives a wedge amongst us Mamas. I successfully breast fed P, I was lucky, but I’ve had dear friends (like Susan) that just couldn’t get it to work for any number of reasons. That not getting it to work part causes nothing but strife and stress for the mama, the baby, the whole darn family and for what? Just so you don’t have to worry about Super Mom judging you at the next potluck? I say do what you want to do with your body, your baby, your boobs. If breast works best for you – hooray, if formula works best for you – hooray, if mashed chicken mcnuggets work best for you – probably best to keep that to yourself. We need to pat each other on the back and cheer each other on, not put each other down and this breast vs. bottle seems to be our first weapon of mass destruction.

  13. I BFed with Jack and lasted 3 weeks… it was miserable and totally didn’t work. With Luke, we started with formula immediately: he was fed and happy while I was NOT in pain and happy.

    Mom has to be happy… or NO ONE is happy… including the baby! 😉 So whatever works out best for Mom and Baby is going to be a fine solution!

  14. given that I’m still nursing my almost 22-month-old, I suppose its obvious where I stand on the breastfeeding issue. As a mom and a scientist, I truly believe that “breast is best”. I also believe that most unsuccessful BF-ing experiences are the result of poor or unavailable information and support, not an inherent inability of those women to breastfeed.

    I think there are two problems with the BF vs formula debate. One is that women who want to BF often are not given the information and support they deserve. And two, there is so much confusing and conflicting information out there, that it is really asking too much of a brand new mother to wade through reports by the AAP and other organizations.

    Ultimately, though, the bigger issue is that new mothers only have so much time and energy. BF’ing advocates should do a better job ensuring that information and support are easily and readily available. But when it is not, every mother needs to decide for herself how she can expend her limited supply of energy. If BF’ing is requiring too much of her, than formula is the better decision for her and her baby. And BF’ing moms need to lay off and not compound what is already a difficult decision with more guilt.

  15. Bottom line is it is your choice! You can celebrate what is right for you and your authentic family! There will always be someone who will judge you no matter what you choose- this is because they feel guilty themselves. Don’t let their insecurities be your own.
    We need to support each other and celebrate our uniqueness as moms, be more compassionate and understanding.

  16. I also had difficulty breastfeeding my first, and then there was the thrush! Breastfeeding was easier with my second, but because I’m large-breasted, it was still never a simple thing. I figure everyone should do whatever works for best for them, whether it’s breastfeeding or bottle feeding. By the way, my siblings and I were all exclusively bottle-fed, and my brother’s a successful entrepreneur, my sister’s finishing her PhD, and I’m an accountant and a soon-to-be dentist, so I’d say we turned out alright.

  17. I was only able to breastfeed my son for 2 weeks…that was only partially anyways. It hurt a lot and still really drags me down that I “didn’t do more for him.” This article gave me peace of mind I had been searching for. He is a 100th percentile baby, slightly advanced on all his developments and didn’t even have the stomach flu until he was 10 months old! Only ear infection at 11 months. I am tired of other mothers making me feel like crap because I opted for formula (we took on the expense of organic formula on one income.) Instead of breastfeeding for 30 minutes every 2 hours, I read my son a book, or play a game, or make him a toy he will have forever and my husband can be involved in every second, just as much as me. It works this way for us. We are trying for number two and I have no idea if I will breastfeed. Every time I think of just taking on formula I still feel over whelming guilt, but the infections and cracking, and hours apart while pumping come back. Every mother friend I have has breastfeed or is breastfeeding exclusively, and I love them all for it! And think it is wonderful for them, but maybe just not for me and my family. It seems that when it comes to raising babies everyone has an opinion, what is important is the opinion of mommy and daddy. Thank you for having this blog!!! and for listening to be rant 🙂 I get scared to post things like this on my own blog for fear of the guilt ridden horrible mother me will be ridiculed…thank you for this blog.

  18. I had a really tough time with my first (milk came in on day 5, baby had colic), and did a combo with formula and bottles especially when I went back to work (hungry little guy. I think BF is great, but you have to do what you gotta do. I had to introduce formula, and guess what, we did both and it was fine. When number 2 came around I wondered if I was in for the same challenges. Wrong. My milk came in as soon as I got home, daughter took to nursing like a pro and it was wonderful. I pumped 8 ounces at work each day in 15 minutes. As a working mom, I wound up treasuring our feedings especially the one as soon as I walked in the door and the 2 am quiet ones. And because I thought this might be the last baby, I nursed for 18 months but not exclusively ( she did have bottles and solids too. I can still picture her in my arms after 15 minutes of nursing. She’d smile and the milk would dribble all over her chin. And without the bottle, I could see the smile. Also remember that nursing isn’t just about what’s good for baby (I was bottle fed and seem just fine, and my kids had formula too)its good for mom. Lost weight faster, was more mobile, carried less stuff around, and there is some research that links longer breast feeding with lowered incidence of breast cancer.

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