Words matter. How we say them, when we say them, why we say them, and what the meaning behind them is, it all matters.
The act of feeding a baby is more vast than words can even begin to encompass.
Choice matters. Respect matters. Support matters. Being heard, seen, and understood matters.
Timely access to consistent, respectful, and evidence based support is not happening. Support is the key missing puzzle piece in how we feed babies.
Pitting choices against each other with intense all-or-nothing-I-am-right attitude leads to conflict. This conflict serves to divide. When formula was first created in the 1950’s women started to experience a backlash from doctors that science knew better than their bodies in how to feed babies. Now we are trying to find the delicate balance in trusting our bodies and babies in the art and science of breastfeeding. Being able to understand what to look for both in our bodies and in our babies to know that breastfeeding is going well, or not, is an important part of the dance.
I’m going to say this again, choice matters. We are lucky to live in a country where formula is a safe option, and in some situations can save lives. This is not a true statement worldwide. We know that human milk is the ideal food for human babies. This is not a judgment, this is fact. These facts however are only one piece of the puzzle, or one step in the dance, of feeding babies. Not the whole picture. Because choice matters, because what a woman chooses to do with her body matters, there are more pieces or steps to consider.
We know that most women will chose how they feed their baby in the middle of pregnancy. It is a human right’s issue that we get to choose where and with whom we give birth. It’s a human right’s issue how we feed our babies, and that the support to do so safely is available.
If a mother chooses to formula feed, I say great! If a mother chooses to breastfeed, again I say great! If a mother chooses to mix feed using breastmilk and formula, again that’s great! Do you get what I am saying? Choice is awesome and necessary! It is her body and her baby, body autonomy is a crucial part of my work.
If a mother that has chosen to breastfeed and then runs into a challenge HOW she is supported truly matters. It is never ok to tell her that “it’s just formula.” You know what that sounds like to me? Just get over it, get over yourself and feed your baby and don’t feel bad about it. Which is scarily similar to hearing that the only thing that matters in birth is an alive mother and baby. It’s not that simple. It’s more complicated than that! How does the mother FEEL about supplementing? She might be totally fine with it, or she might have deep feelings around it. Hearing her, seeing her, and supporting her can make the biggest difference.
How I support a mother who is struggling depends on what she wants, where she is at when I meet her the first time, and what she feels capable of. I work closely with my clients to create a plan that makes sense to them because it is their body and their baby. The plan always includes feeding the baby. One of my favourite take homes from LLL is the belief that the mother is the expert on her body, baby, and family!
Having a partner or friend or health care practitioner say “just give formula” can feel like a punch to the gut when a mom is really working hard on breastfeeding. She might not mind supplementing, but until we ask we shouldn’t assume it is no big deal. How we feed our babies, how we feel about our choices, matters. Before you say anything, please ask the mother “How can I support you right now?” Then listen and hold space. Hear how she is feeling, what she is needing, and work together to put a plan in place to meet those needs and feed the baby.