Finding the Balance

So you know how I’m training to become a volunteer doula? Well, last night we tackled a topic formerly filled with more-than-mild discomfort.

Breastfeeding.

Why did it used to make me uncomfortable?

Truthfully I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it had to do with the videos of milk exploding from the nipple that I had the ‘priveledge’ of seeing while previously working at a public health unit. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I was not ready to think of my boobs in that kind of a way. Maybe I was just immature – plain and simple. (Probably! … Note the use of the word ‘boobs’… haha!) But whatever the reason, I’m fairly certain it also had to do with the potentially fanatical approach that is sometimes associated with breastfeeding.

fa·nat·i·cal

/fəˈnatikəl/Adjective
Filled with excessive and single-minded zeal.

I’ve personally been present at a ‘sermon’ about breastfeeding. This woman was actually standing at her desk, as though it was a pulpit, preaching about the wonders of breastfeeding. At one point, she stated categorically that doing anything otherwise was not good enough for a child, and that doing so makes you feel ‘whole’ as a mother. Whether or not it was the intended message, the not-so-subtle undertones from that sermon were that breastfeeding = good mommy and formula-feeding = bad mommy.

Breast IS best!

Let’s all agree with the plentiful research out there. Breastfeeding has been proven to be 100% THE BEST option for you baby. A mother’s body was made to do it and breastmilk is a biological medical marvel. Did you know that it changes depending on the season? In the summer it contains more water, in the winter it contains more fat. AMAZING! Breastfeeding actually improves a child’s IQ, it helps them resist infections, it is always sterile (formula isn’t) AND best of all… it is FREE.

If you aren’t aware of all the benefits, you should really check out this list.

BUT what if your baby can’t be breastfed?

What if:
a) you physically can’t…
b) you adopted your baby…
c) you tried, and tried, and tried, and tried… and were just too exhausted and frightened each day that passed with your baby is losing weight…
d) you just don’t want to (shhhhh!)
e) other: ________________________.

I’ve seen and heard first-hand stories of women who felt shame and guilt because, for whatever reason, their child wasn’t breastfed. Guilt that they weren’t providing their child with the very best, and shame every time they took out a bottle of formula. Those aren’t feelings that go away quickly. For some, it can be an extremely heavy burden to carry for a very long time. A feeling of failure that hurts deeply every time it’s remembered.

So where’s the balance?

How do we as a society celebrate the miracle of breastfeeding while not excluding the mothers who didn’t breastfeed their children? How do I, as a doula-to-be, promote breastfeeding as being best for baby without making my client feel like a failure if it doesn’t go that way for her?

I really don’t have the answer.

All I know is that I am so thankful for the moms who have bravely shared the guilt & shame they felt (& still feel) from not breastfeeding their baby. I hope they all come to a point where they can be at peace with the way things went and to recognize themselves as strong, wonderful people. All I can do is hope that the knowledge of their private struggles will help me to be a better doula and also… a more open-minded person.

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4 thoughts on “Finding the Balance

  1. I find your balanced thinking on this subject is refreshing and I think you are hitting the right note with this blog! It is truly a matter of “horses for courses” and “mothers” do enough guilt tripping without having it added to by “do gooders”. Of course we would all like to do what is best for our babies/children, but sometimes it just can’t happen the way we envisaged and in the “ideal way”. Love is the most important food for a baby! And that is free too! I could go on and on, but I think you get the gist!

  2. It’s wonderful that they are teaching both sides of the story to doula-trainees rather than preaching breast is best and leaving it at that.

    Did they mention the Nestly boycott in your training? I remember when I was reading up on breastfeeding I thought it was pretty incredible how the unethical practices of a single company could lead to new international standards by WHO. Below is a good summary I found online for you but if you’re already familiar with it then of course ignore it… more info on wikipedia too.

    The Nestle Boycott

    In order to sell more of its infant formula in third world countries, Nestle would hire women with no special training and dress them up as nurses to give out free samples of Nestle formula. The free samples lasted long enough for the mother’s breast milk to dry up from lack of use. Then mothers would be forced to purchase the formula but, being poor, they would often mix the formula with unsanitary water or ‘stretch’ the amount of formula by diluting it with more water than recommended. The result was that babies starved all over the Third World while Nestle made huge profits from this predatory marketing strategy.

    In 1977, a world-wide boycott was launched against the Nestle Corporation, which was found to be the most unethical of the several companies selling baby formula at the time. Consumers all across the world stopped purchasing Nestle products. The World Health Organization drafted the International Code on the Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, which was signed by much of the world in the early ’80’s and finally by the United States in 1994.

    • Thank you for this summary… I had no idea about Nestle specifically.

      I do know – and am quite shocked, by the way – that there are very little standards when it comes to not only mandatory ingredients but also to the fact that there is no real guarantee that your dry formula is sterile.

      In fact, there is one formula – can’t remember the name – that recommends the water be luke-warm… which obviously can’t kill bacteria or germs, 2 things that they can’t guarantee aren’t inside their product.

      RIDICULOUS!

      Hopefully ethical companies will step up soon to give better options because right now it’s pretty scary!

  3. Last year we came across a booklet from when my dad was born (1950’s Alberta) with the “recipe” for his formula. Here it is: CARNATION MILK + CORN SYRUP.

    ***** INSANE! *****

    That being said, despite all the vitamin goodness that it was lacking, my dad (and I’m sure many others on this very rudimentary formula) turned out healthy (no major health problems so far and he’s almost 60) and brilliant (he’s one smart cookie).

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