To the Woman Who Shamed Me For Not Breastfeeding My Baby

Breast or bottle, what we choose, and why we choose it, is nobody’s business.

I dumped two scoops of powdered Gerber goodness into 4-ounces of water.

Shake, shake, shake. SCREAM.

Four-week old babies have no patience, especially in a quiet corner of the public library while her toddler sisters climb bookshelves like trapeze artists scouring for a Daniel Tiger book we haven’t yet read.

With a burp cloth draped over my shoulder, I cradled my hangry newborn in my left arm and one-handedly pried the lid off her bottle in my other.

As soon as the bottle’s plastic nipple met her mouth, all was right in our calm area of the library.

Until that woman looked at me, that is.

We were sitting on a carpeted bench near the kids’ corner with puppets and bright-colored blocks between us. And through her thick-framed glasses, the middle-aged woman thought of a way to suck far worse than a hangry baby.

“You have a hard time breastfeeding?” she asked me pitifully.

With tired eyes, I looked at her. Perhaps I misunderstood.

She waited for me to respond.

“Nah, I didn’t even try,” I said.

As I muttered those words I saw dozens of books falling from the ceiling tiles. My two giggling toddlers – as if on cue – were tossing piles of paperbacks into the air like confetti.

I instinctively jolted from that carpeted bench while juggling my newborn, her burp cloth and bottle – with formula. I had no time to offer that woman an explanation. This multitasking momma had a paperback party to bust up.

When every Haitian-Creole, Hindi, and Japanese folk and fairy tale was returned neatly to their designated shelf, I walked back over to the corner of formula-feeding shame.

That woman – whoever she is – was gone.

I had no opportunity to elaborate why I chose not to breastfeed my daughter. And why I’m proud of it.

I wanted to tell her I didn’t think twice about inverted nipples or whipping out my boobs on demand.

I didn’t have to battle with insurance companies for pump coverage or figure out when and where I could pump-n-dump efficiently and comfortably in the office.

I didn’t bother shopping for nursing bras or scour the internet for tips to increase my supply.

I didn’t need to look up ways to ease the engorgement that housed my bulging jugs of liquid gold because the pain would leave as fast as it came on.

I didn’t buy an ass-load of nipple shields or creams or nursing pads or nipple balms.

I didn’t pencil in appointments with the local La Leche League or put out feelers for lactation consultants to help with latch problems or offer tips for surviving overnight cluster feeds.

I wasn’t concerned about developing plugged ducts or mastitis.

I didn’t pump around the clock to stock the deep freeze with breastmilk bags to last through my transition back to work.

I didn’t bother with any of this, because I simply didn’t want to.

So, to the woman who unapologetically assumed I had problems breastfeeding my daughter because I dumped two scoops of powdered formula in my baby’s bottle: I did not have any problems breastfeeding because I didn’t even attempt it.

And my daughter is healthy – fed and growing. That’s all that matters.

You Don’t Know Why I’m Bottle-Feeding My Baby

Breast is best. We know that. With all the campaigns, advertisements, and leaflets, it’s difficult not to know the benefits. But not every mother can.

Breast is best. We know that. With all the campaigns, advertisements, and leaflets, it’s difficult not to know the benefits of breast milk.

As great as these awareness campaigns are, they create a huge amount of pressure on mothers to focus on breastfeeding. Unfortunately, breast doesn’t always work out, and in cases like mine, breastfeeding isn’t even an option.

Has it actually occurred to anyone within the pro-breast campaign that some ladies may not be physically able to breastfeed their child? It certainly didn’t seem like it when I was sitting in my prenatal class and the midwife called everyone forward to enroll in the next mandatory breastfeeding session.

I realize this applies to the minority of women, but I actually fall into the category of those who are physically unable to breastfeed. This mandatory course would be a complete waste of time for me, not to mention a massive kick in the teeth.

“So why can’t you breastfeed?” is usually the invasive, blunt, and, quite frankly, rude question that follows my admission. Well, midwife/nosy fellow mums-to-be-I’ve-just-met-at-my-prenatal-group, I have a condition called Poland syndrome.

Never heard of Poland Syndrome? You’re not alone.

My right breast developed but not in a “regular” shape. My left breast didn’t develop at all. It was quite simply a nipple and that was it (you can imagine how amazing that was as a self-conscious teenager). My mum literally saved my dignity during my developing years by padding out my left bra cup.

When we realized nothing was going to change, my parents amazingly stepped up and paid for me to have surgery. I got an implant in the left breast, reshaping of the right, and both breasts had the nipples removed and sewn back into a new position. Obviously they tried to reconnect everything that should be connected to a female nipple, but there was no guarantee.

This brings me back to breastfeeding. Throughout my pregnancy, my breasts didn’t change. They didn’t increase in size and they weren’t going to start producing milk in this lifetime. I therefore had to make peace with the fact that I had to bottle feed my baby from the start. This should have been a guilt-free moment for me but I cannot express how terrible I felt at the prospect of not being able to naturally feed my baby. I felt like a failure as a woman.

The judgmental looks I received when I pulled out a bottle instead of my breast made me blurt out the aforementioned explanation at any opportunity and that’s wrong on so many levels. Why should I have to justify the way I feed my baby? Formula has been specifically designed by scientists to provide all the essential nutrients babies need to develop and thrive into healthy, happy little people. It is beyond annoying that we’re judged, criticized, and often interrogated for feeding our babies this way.

I’m clearly not the only mother who bottle-feeds her baby so let’s just take a moment to highlight some of the reasons I can think of that may prevent a mum from breastfeeding:

  • She may have undergone breast surgery
  • She may need to receive radiation therapy or chemotherapy
  • Her baby could have a milk intolerance or the metabolic condition known as Galactosemia
  • She may suffer from a chronic illness and her health may suffer as a result
  • She may have an infection requiring antibiotics which are harmful to the baby
  • She may end up suffering from post-birth complications
  • Her baby may be fostered or adopted

And then we have the mothers that try to breastfeed. Really, heartbreakingly try. It brings tears to my eyes when I think about the amount of wonderful mums who have had breakdowns over their struggles with breastfeeding.

  • Lactation issues; raw/split nipples, engorged breasts, mastitis, severe pain, and failure of the baby to latch
  • Insufficient milk supply
  • Postpartum depression
  • And let’s not forget, some women just hate the feeling of it or simply choose to bottle feed

I’m sure I’ve missed a million other reasons, too.

We know that in an ideal world, breastfeeding our baby is the best way forward. WE KNOW. So for those of you who enjoy vocalizing their distaste for bottle-feeding – and unfortunately there are lots of you out there – next time you see a lady bottle-feeding her baby, try not to jump to conclusions about her dedication to being a mother. You have no idea why she’s using a bottle (which for all you know could contain breast milk, anyway) and to be blunt; it’s none of your business.

I don’t want readers misinterpreting my words as an attack on breastfeeding and the amazing campaigns surrounding breastfeeding support. Support for breastfeeding mums is so very important and should be encouraged through education, information and guidance. I also acknowledge that successful breastfeeders can have a torrid time and that it’s by no means easy; they should be celebrated in their achievement.

Ultimately, we’re all just doing our best, breast or bottle.

I encourage parents to share your fantastically beautiful photos of bottle-feeding your baby with the hashtag #dontjudgejustfeed.

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The Battle of the Bottle

Getting this kid to give up the bottle is going to be a little like Custer’s Last Stand with a side of spilled milk.

History is full of ferocious battles: the Battle of Waterloo. Bull Run. The Battle of Britain. Custer’s Last Stand.

Trust me. All these wars pale in comparison to the battle we’re waging now with Kevin, our two and half year old grandson, over his “baba mook.”

In retrospect, with my own kids, weaning them off the breast or bottle was ridiculously easy. No terrible tantrums. No screaming, kicking, biting, or hair pulling.

Kevin is a different ball of wax. When it comes to his bottle, he brings new meaning to the word “resistant.”

I’ve consulted the internet experts and tried all their tips: ease the kid off the bottle gradually, introduce the sippy cup, praise the child for being a big boy or girl who doesn’t need a bottle anymore. Sounds simple, right?

Clearly, these experts never had to deal with a child as stubborn and as headstrong as Kevin. Truly, cement blocks are more malleable.

In every other respect, Kevin is a good-natured, sweet boy who dotes on his daddy and grandpa. He loves his toy trucks. He adores Mikey, his older cousin. He’s affectionate and loves to cuddle…mostly with his baba.

We know it’s way past time for Kevin to be drinking from a cup. The pediatrician gives my daughter the stink eye when she sees the death grip Kevin has on his bottle. 

“He’s too old for a bottle,” the doctor insists, as if she’s telling us something we don’t already know. We get it, but try telling that to Kevin.

Plus, Kevin has now discovered that he can bite into the plastic nipple with shark like precision and rip it to shreds. Then, he turns his baba upside down and gleefully sprays milk all over the place. One day he’ll make a great firefighter.

“Dir dir!” Kevin happily shouts as he points at the puddles. Yes, it’s cute as hell, but that’s not the point.

We started when Kevin was around eighteen months. We bought an arsenal of sippy cups: with straws, without straws, lids, no lids, all decorated with a dizzying array of cartoon characters and zoo animals.

No fool, Kevin batted all the cups away and swung his baba at us like a machete.

“You’re a big boy now!” we’d say.

“No big boy!” Kevin would respond through his gritted baba.

We finally decided to go cold turkey. Kevin screamed so loudly, I thought for sure the neighbors would call child protection services on us. After a few days, though, it seemed as if Kevin had gotten the message. He drank from his Lightning McQueen sippy, albeit grudgingly, and only got his beloved baba at nap time and night-night.

Just when we were ready to break out the champagne, the unspeakable happened. Kevin got sick – a cold, then bronchitis. Of course he wanted his baba for comfort. And of course, we gave it to him. Since then, Kevin has held on tight to his baba and he won’t let go, no matter what we try, say or do.

He’s extremely intelligent. He understands the concept of drinking from a cup. When I pour myself a glass of orange juice, he runs up, grabs it, and gulps it down. He’ll drink water, lemonade or apple juice with a straw – but the baba is never far from his sight. When it comes to his bottle, Kevin is like a heat seeking missile.

Appealing to Kevin’s better nature does no good.  He has a cousin due to arrive in a few months. The kid could care less.

“You have to give your baba’s to Baby Audrey!” we say.

“No Baby Audrey!” Kevin shouts, thrusting his baba at us like Jon Snow’s sword in Game of Thrones.

As a last measure, we packed up all the bottles and put them away in the basement. We told Kevin all the bottles were gone. Ha! That lasted maybe an hour (and I’m being generous). The flailing. The waterworks. The drama. It was an Oscar worthy performance. Kevin was exhausted. We were exhausted.

I keep telling myself it’s a phase. Kevin will give the bottle up when he’s good and ready. I mean, have you ever seen a college graduate accept his diploma with a bottle hanging from his mouth?

Then again, there’s always a first time.