I blogged about our decision to not breastfeed when I was pregnant with Bean and I hated doing it then. Just like I hate doing it now. Man, do I avoid this topic like the plague. There’s so much judgment and advice and controversy around it that it makes me want to just hide in a hole. But I chose to blog about it before and I’m choosing to blog about it again because I feel like any educated decision you make as a parent is a good decision, whether you choose what I chose or you choose something else. Just the fact that you researched it, talked about it with your partner, and came up with the right decision for YOUR family makes it the right decision. And what I’ve found out choosing not to breastfeed is that there just isn’t a whole lot of information out there on what that option is all about. So, I’m choosing to give our reasons and our reasoning simply to put the information out there. It isn’t a judgment call, I’m not telling you that it’s the right thing for your family, I’m not making some statement about women or parenting or family dynamics or whatever. This is simply to show what our family went through to make the decision.
I said all of this two years ago when I posted about it and I still got a lot of harsh feedback. And I understand that. A lot of people feel much more strongly about this issue than I do and so their passion comes through in their remarks. But I’m going to ask that before you leave a comment on this post, you think long and hard about who is going to read it. There are thousands of people who read this blog and I don’t say that to toot my own horn. I say that so you realize how many people your comments will reach. And those people all come from very different walks of life. Some of them won’t physically be able to breastfeed and they can’t help that decision. Some of them have adopted children and aren’t able to breastfeed. Some of them have had traumatic experiences that makes the process of nursing seem overwhelming and painful. Some of them are new moms who are just trying to find the right path for their young families. So while I encourage comments that give information or share experiences about both the decision to breastfeed or the decision to not, I will not tolerate comments left with a harsh tone. Disagree, agree, give more info – whatever you like. But do it with respect for other people’s decisions. If you wonder whether your response is too harsh to post, then please just email the response to me instead of posting it for all to see. This is a judgment free blog. Always has been, always will be. Especially when it comes to topics as sensitive and personal as this one.
Now, having said that, let’s get to the boobs. Er…the bottles.
When it came to the decision for Chris and I as to whether I was going to breastfeed or not, there wasn’t even much of a discussion. Both of us were formula babies. Neither of us had too strong of an opinion on the subject. And so when we talked about it, I think it was really just a one conversation topic. There were several reasons we chose not to breastfeed. The first is, admittedly, pretty selfish. I am just about the most modest person I know and the thought of whipping my boob out – even in front of Chris – to feed my baby made me break out in hives. I should tell you that I have matured a bit in this area since having Bean and, especially, since having other friends who have breastfed their babies. I know that breastfeeding can be, and often is, very private and I know that just because you are nursing doesn’t mean you walk around with our boobies hanging out in public. But for me, personally, it was really uncomfortable to think about. Even the thought of just being alone by myself nursing make me a little squeamish. And while this certainly wasn’t a huge factor in the decision making process (I would have gotten over the modesty thing if I had to), it was definitely my first thought and the initial reason I started exploring the formula route.
The second factor was much more of an issue and a bigger influence on our decision. I was going back to work relatively soon after I had Bean and I didn’t have the kind of job where I could just step out and pump if I needed to. My days and my schedule were unpredictable and, often, not very flexible. I know women I worked with who did pump while working and they did it successfully and without problems, so I’m certainly not saying it can’t be done. But my job schedule was a big factor in our decision. As the main source of income at that time in our family, I couldn’t really afford to have my job impacted by having a baby. I struggled with the guilt about this, too. Was I choosing my career over my baby’s health? But in the end, I decided that Bean would be getting all the nutrients that he needed from a bottle and that I was still providing for him by not compromising my good-paying job. I should mention here that it is illegal for employers to penalize you for taking maternity leave or the choices you make as a parent. And even without the legal stuff, I never truly worried about losing my job over something like having to step out and pump occasionally. My boss and company was very understanding and supportive of families. To me, it was more of an issue about being able to continue working at the same level of commitment I had before I had Bean. That was important to me.
The biggest factor in our decision to use formula was Chris. By nature, Chris is a stand-offish person. If there are other people involved in the task, his tendency is to step back and just let them handle it. It’s not that he’s lazy, by any means. He just doesn’t really feel comfortable stepping up when others are staring at him. It was for this reason that we asked our family to give us the first week at home with Bean alone. I knew that if there was family around, Chris would have a hard time stepping up to diaper changes and feedings and holding the baby. He’d just stand back out of everyone’s way and neither of us wanted that during that critical bonding period. So, everyone left us alone for that first week at home and Chris was able to be as hands on as he wanted to be.
If I had chosen to breastfeed, Chris would have wholeheartedly supported that decision, but he would have also unconsciously chosen to step out of that whole part of parenting. I don’t blame him for that. I don’t judge him for that. I don’t love him any less for that. It’s just part of his personality. And I wanted him to be part of the process. When I was first pregnant with Gracie, I was going to the health department for my prenatal visits because I was unemployed and uninsured. When one of the nurses asked why I didn’t breastfeed Bean, I explained simply that I wanted Chris to be more involved. I didn’t go into detail or talk about the finer workings of his personality. I just made a short little statement that we wanted him to be just as involved as I was. And she said to me, “Let him change the dirty diapers. That’s how husbands are supposed to be involved in the process.” I was horrified and, though I realized her statement wasn’t a reflection of the thought process of all women, it just confirmed to me the reason why Chris’s involvement in feedings were so important to me.
I didn’t want him to miss out on any part of parenting. I didn’t want Bean to miss out on having that bonding time with his Daddy. I didn’t want Chris to default to clean up crew while I shared something so private with Bean that Chris couldn’t be part of. Parenting to me is communal in our family. There are very few experiences that Chris or I have with Bean that the other isn’t able to be a part of. And I know that as he gets older, we will probably start to value one-on-one events with Bean, but as a new family, a young family, we made it a priority that we were going to learn how to do this completely together. And, for us, that’s what formula feeding helped us to do. It put Chris and I on the same page with Bean. I had no frustrations that Chris couldn’t understand. He had no experiences that I couldn’t help him through. We were experiencing the same things at the same time together. And I love that formula feeding gave us that opportunity to grow together as a family.
The only hesitation that I had about not breastfeeding Bean had nothing to do with his health. I never worried about nutrients or if he was getting what he needed to grow up big and strong. There is no doubt in my mind that breastfeeding provides the most nutrients for babies. I’m not stupid enough to deny that. But I feel like formula wouldn’t be an option offered by the medical community if it wasn’t safe and healthy for Bean and so the health aspect of the decision didn’t weight any heavier for me than any other aspect. Good thing, too, because in the end, I have a healthy, happy toddler who doesn’t seem to be the least bit impacted by whether or not he had formula.
The most significant part of breastfeeding to me was the bonding that you always hear about. I worried so much that if I bottle fed, Bean would grow up to be distant and aloof around me for the rest of his life. I pictured him shaking my hand instead of giving me hugs and kisses before bedtime. I wanted to be as close to this baby as I could be. That was so important to me. And so my biggest concern about bottle feeding was the lack of bonding with him.
I cannot lie. At times, I felt like because I hadn’t nursed, Bean was closer to Chris than me. I still sometimes wonder about how different our relationships might be if I had breastfed. Chris and Bean are just so tight. So close. Bean doesn’t love him any more than he loves me, but he certainly adores his Daddy. And, it’s true. That could be because I didn’t nurse him. Or it could be because I had a c-section and so it was Chris who did most of the caregiving during those critical first few weeks. Or it could be because I’m the disciplinary in our house and Chris is the goofy one. Or it could be because Bean thinks Chris is cool. Or it could be his age. Or it could be because they are boys and I’m a girl. Or it could be because Bean loves me so much that he knows I’ll always be there, so he makes more effort with Chris. Who knows! It could be anything! And it could change at any moment. But why would I want it to?
The fact that Chris and Bean are so bonded is exactly why we chose not to breastfeed. It was to make it all equal. There wasn’t anything that I had given Bean that Chris himself couldn’t have given him, too. And because of that, Bean has grown up knowing both his parents can provide for him. Knowing both his parents are head over heels in love with him. One parent never had any advantage over the other.
Looking back, we had such a positive experience with formula. Bean slept for much longer periods of time than most breastfed babies I knew. He was sleeping in four hour chunks from the time he was born. Though many breastfeeding moms will disagree with me, I believe this was because formula feeding made it easier for me to tell if he was getting enough and so he stayed fuller longer. Because of this, we were able to get him on a schedule relatively quickly – which was good for everyone! Formula feeding also allowed Chris and I to take turns with nighttime feedings and some of our sweetest memories of Bean’s first few weeks at home were of sitting up with each other while one parent fed Bean. We all bonded during that period.
It was definitely more expensive to bottle feed and it required a little more planning than nursing would have. We had to figure out how to warm bottles when we were out somewhere and we had all this extra crap we had to carry around, as opposed to nursing mommas who pretty much have their “equipment” with them at all times… But ultimately, it was a really positive experience for our whole family and I have no hesitations about doing it again with Grace.
So, those are our reasons for choosing to not breastfeed. It wasn’t because we were lazy or selfish or irresponsible. Even good parents make deliberate decisions sometimes that aren’t popular. For us, we had our own set of priorities that were important to our family and we made the best decision that helped us keep our priorities centered. For your family, maybe you have different priorities. Or maybe you have the same priorities, but you have a different way of achieving them. To each his own. I truly believe that. But when you make a decision to breastfeed or not, make it with all the confidence that you are doing what is right for your family. Don’t make it out of guilt or expectations. Really think hard about the priorities and values in your family, then research what choices are available to help you achieve those priorities and values, and then hold your head high. Whatever decision you make is the right decision.