Choose to Support New Moms/Mums and Dads

I’m all for women breast-feeding…or bottle feeding…or a combination of both. Yet I feel like I’m in the minority. I know this is a charged topic and I have waited posting this hoping somehow the right words would come through the heavenly blogosphere and onto the page — and it hasn’t happened. So I’ll make an attempt.

I haven’t posted for two weeks because I have been attending to a girlfriend who nearly bled-out giving birth to her premature twin boys. Fortunately after spending time in an incubator, the boys and their mum have finally been released home.

Courtesy of new parents

Since then her friends, family and husband have been taking shifts as she is having difficulty feeding and settling the babies; as well as feeding, resting and healing herself. Two nurses have come to her house to instruct her in how to feed, answer any questions and generally assess how she is coping. We are fortunate in Australia to have this sort of free service as my American friends do not.

But this is not the only difference. In the US, given that most women do not have paid maternity leave and/or have circumstances in which they need to return to work as soon as possible. Statistically American women return to work after 6 weeks leave. (I am not going to go into the political side of this issue.) My experience is that public breast feeding is generally frowned upon. Consequently women who do attempt to breast feed find it untenable. The bottle usually ends up being the norm, perhaps with breast-milk or more likely, formula.

In Australia we have 18 weeks of paid maternity leave and 52 weeks unpaid parental leave, with the employer obligated to keep that job open until they return. Most of my friends and clients take at least a year off work. We also have a very strong push from midwives, nurses and the Australian Breastfeeding Association to educate women on how to breast-feed. There seems to be popular understanding (maybe not support) of public breast-feeding as well as well-publicized information on the benefits of breast-milk over formula. So breast-feeding ends up being the norm…seemingly the only choice.

In the 60’s my Aussie mother-in-law was blasted under icy cold showers by the nuns when she could not breast-feed any of her 8 children. Last week my girlfriend was told by one of the nurses that she was a “bad mum” for not being able to breast-feed (though her body is struggling to heal an infection from the surgery that saved her life and is unable to produce).

Both women are scarred from this experience 50 years apart from each other. Like my mother-in-law, my girlfriend is finding it hard to accept that her body is letting her down and that somehow if she tries hard enough that she will be able to produce this elixir of life. She will be a “good mum”. The pressure on both women (and many others around the world) as new mothers is unbelievable and unnecessary.

I know that breast-milk and the experience of breast-feeding is scientifically proven to be better for both mother and baby. Not everyone has this option and I’m supportive of those that do. Instead of judging those who bottle-feed I try to look at a broader landscape:

  • First and foremost I look at fostering self-care and self-belief in women — we then support healthy moms and babies.
  • I look at the reality that babies need comfort and food from relaxed mothers, regardless of the method.
  • I look at the fact that stress limits milk production.
  • I look at babies whose mothers died giving birth, who have survived breast cancer or are drug addicts and cannot breast-feed them.
  • I look at the fact that we have clean drinking water, sterilization methods and safe bottles in the countries I’m comparing.
  • I look at my husband’s Aussie family and generations of Americans like myself who were fed formula — another generation later we are healthy.
  • I look at the possibility of quiet clean feeding and pumping rooms.  
  • I look at the practicalities of bottle feeding and see the opportunity for dads to be gratified by feeding their babies as well.
  • I look at shared parental responsibility which can begin at infancy.

And I think maybe there is an upside to bottle feeding too.

In my opinion my friend and her husband will be great parents. Their commitment to family, the love they share and have shown these boys and the sacrifices they have already made is evidence. They are not alone. There are many, many great parents struggling with what is the right approach to caring for and rearing their children. There is no one-size-fits-all to parenting.

Before you give well-intentioned advice, please remember: Even if we’re part of their extended family, we are not this family. Even if we are medical practitioners, parenting experts, mothers or grandmothers we are not that new mother. It is not our job or our right to put our beliefs on the “right way” for that family. It is their right to make choices that best suit their family. For those of us supporting that family it is our job to do just that – listen to their wishes and support them.

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4 Responses to Choose to Support New Moms/Mums and Dads

  1. Sendie-Lou says:

    I don’t know how to comment on the nurse remarks that your friend is a bad mom, there’s a cultural differences on how we perceive things. To me personaly that comment is rude and definatelly won’t help the situation and cause more stress. I can’t even imagine how your friends must’ve felt!
    I do both, somehow my body doesn’t produce enough milk that I also have to supplement. I tried herbal remedy, pumping and nursing regulary and it still doesn’t comes as much as I and my baby wanted and it stressed me out!! I wanted to breast feed exclusively so bad but then a good lactation advisor asure me that it’s okay to suplement and for me to stop feeling guilty. So instead of keep trying and let my baby go hungry with lack of milk, I made a decision to subsitute. After 8 month the milk just stop and both my baby was on formula exclusively. this happen to both my child and they are both healthy and grows accordingly.
    There’s an upsaide on both breat feed and bottle feed. I personaly think it’s woman choices – it’s our body. And those who chose not to breat feed doesn’t make her a bad mom, especially your friend who actually tried so hard but just couldn’t. The fact that she’s trying proven her effort. I’m guessing the nurse that said she’s a bad mom is from an older generation?
    For your friend, I wish her the best and I wish I can share with her my experiecne and asure her that she’s not a bad mom, not at all!!! Our body works misteriously and there’s nothing wrong with formula feed her baby. Her baby will still grow to be beautiful and healthy baby. It’s all about the love, that’s what baby need most from mothers.

  2. thedailydish says:

    I cannot say how sorry I am your friend has had to endure such difficulty. It’s hard enough dealing with labor & recovery and tending to premature infants, but the whole ongoing struggle with nursing?? That’s almost too much.. The nurse’s comment was completely uncalled forl. As long as your friend is caring for her infants, no one has the right to say what’s best for either her or her babies. There are indeed benefits to both breastfeeding and bottle feeding, as you have well outlined. I know this from personal experience.

    I gave birth to two healthy daughters, both full term, with roughly 3 years between them. My first daughter was breast fed. Being a first child you might assume I had issues, but from the start we both took to the process like seasoned pros. My second daughter, however, was not this way. She did not have difficulty latching on, rather she had suction power like a Hoover. By the time I left the hospital, I had open wounds on both my breasts. Consultation with a lactation professional did not help. I suffered for days in agony, literally bleeding into her milk. Due to the frequency of nursing, there’s never time for wounds to heal, despite lanolin treatment, etc. But I persisted, thinking I wasn’t doing her justice to quit. Finally my husband intervened. He went and bought formula, he made a bottle and as I sat sobbing, in agony, trying to nurse, he handed me that bottle and said NO MORE. It was the kindest thing imaginable. From that moment on my second child was bottle fed formula. And today, almost 8 years later, she is every bit as bright and healthy as her older sister. And I for one am grateful.

    Breast feeding is an amazing thing when it works for both parties. But it doesn’t work for everyone and no one can mandate what a woman can or can’t do with her body and for her child. Your friend should not feel guilty if breastfeeding isn’t an option. She is no less of a mother. Her children will not suffer. What a child needs is love and attention and nourishment. She will be providing those things either way.

    As an aside, my younger daughter who was bottle fed slept more soundly, as did I, because she was FULL. My older daughter woke me constantly through the night for months and months, because although I producing ample milk, it simply wasn’t as filling as formula. Not to discourage anyone from breastfeeding, but there is something to be said for adequate sleep, especially as a new parent.

    Another wonderful post, Tammy! Wishing your friends much health & happiness (and you too!)

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story and wisdom! I’ll pass along to my friend. I spoke with her before I left for the weekend and she said that hearing everyone’s experiences makes her feel better about her decisions. I was happy to hear how supportive husbands can be in these circumstances as both you and she have had some great input from their respective hubbies. I’m sorry that both you and she had difficulties with breast-feeding and grateful that there are people parenting like all of you.

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