A few days ago, I saw a meme pop up on a Facebook mom page: What is your parenting philosophy? I mentally tried to come up with my own and quickly came to the realization that I was stumped. And the fact that I was stumped bewildered me even more. I have five kids. You would think I would have a pretty strong parenting philosophy by now. A go-to, a passion, a phrase I could spout off at a moment’s notice that would tell the world my firm belief on how to raise a whole bunch of kids. And, well, not so much.
The next post, as is the usual in Facebook mom groups, was something about feeding. A mom of a newborn baby was having difficulty finding a formula that worked for her newborn, and she was seeking help from other mothers. A few helpful comments in, there it was: “Breastmilk is made specifically for your baby, you know. If you just breastfed…” The comments section quickly became filled with feisty responses, informative memes, and women begging others to just be polite.
And suddenly, it hit me. My parenting philosophy. It has been hanging in our pediatrician’s office for my entire journey as a mother, the words carved clumsily into a weathered piece of wood by our pediatrician himself:
FEED THE BABY.
I’ve run the gamut with feeding babies.
With my first baby, I experienced what could be considered by some to be breastfeeding failure. I arrived at the hospital determined to breastfeed. “Breast is best” had been ingrained in my brain from my first OB visit. A few hours after giving birth, with my premature baby laying in an isolette in the NICU, a lactation consultant told me it would be nearly impossible to breastfeed due to nipple shape and the baby’s premature suck reflex. We tried unsuccessfully to latch for a few days before giving up and becoming resigned to the life of a pumping mom. I pumped for the next three months, carrying a hospital grade pump everywhere I went. He had breastmilk for the first six months of his life, switching to formula when I ran out of pumped milk.
With my second child, I arrived at the hospital with a firm plan to exclusively pump. I received a bit of pushback from the maternity floor nurses for not trying to breastfeed, but I stood my ground. I once again pumped exclusively for 3 months and switched to formula when I ran out of pumped milk to feed him.
A surprise third pregnancy threw me for a loop. I experienced a pregnancy wrought with antepartum depression and anxiety. Mid-way through my pregnancy, when the mere idea of pumping brought me to tears, my husband gently suggested that breast is not always best, especially when it causes such strife within the mother. My daughter was bottle fed from the start.
With my fourth child, I decided to give breastfeeding another try. I bought a nipple shield and used it from the first latch. A floor nurse tried to prevent me from using it. She insisted it would cause my milk to prematurely dry up, but the wise words of a lactation consultant rang true — whatever you feel comfortable with is what is best for you. If you use the shield and it works, great! If you want help weaning him from it in the future, give me a call. If you want to use it for the entire duration of your nursing journey, great! He nursed for 22 months, using the shield for seven of them.
My fourth child stopped nursing when my milk dried up — due to another surprise pregnancy. (Yes, I am the mom who got pregnant on birth control. Twice.) My last baby, though premature, nursed flawlessly. And yet, he didn’t gain weight. After a barrage of tests and near-daily weight checks for weeks on end, he was diagnosed with an inability to absorb fat. Our pediatrician helped us to overcome this issue with a simple “old-school’ technique — a few drops of MCT oil with every feeding. He continued to nurse for 16 months, weaning himself when he was simply too busy to nurse.
With my barrage of feeding techniques, I’ve pretty much got my own breastfeeding versus formula-feeding case study.
So, what are the results?
I see no difference. At all. Nada. Zilch. Zero.
I have five gloriously weird, physically active, smart kids. The kids who had breastmilk get sick just as often as the formula-fed kid. I don’t have a closer bond with the ones who nursed. Nobody is overweight, underweight, or more picky of an eater than anyone else.
A few years past the breastfeeding stage, and I honestly see no discernable differences between my breastfed and my formula-fed kids.
It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and yes, breast is best for some people. Formula is best for others. Feed the baby, and don’t worry about what others say. In a few years, you won’t be able to gaze out upon the kids on the playground and figure out who was breastfed or who was bottle fed. You will simply see a group of kids gleefully shrieking that they found gum under the playground equipment. But, that is a story for another time.
P.S. Get your sprinting shoes ready for that day. And your hand sanitizer.