There’s been a lot of discussion online around the US formula shortage, and the petty, kneejerk, unthinking, callous response from many to “just” breastfeed. “What did we do before you pampered ingrates had (expensive, complicated, emotionally fraught) formula???” some sneered.
“Well, a lot of babies just died” was the understandably angry response.
Breastfeeding just isn’t that simple. Many parents don’t produce enough milk, or any milk, or their babies can’t take milk, or – especially in the US which has no mandated parental leave – breastfeeding simply isn’t feasible when you have to go straight back to work. And pumps are expensive and noisy and frankly become a hazard once baby is walking and grabbing and fascinated by anything that makes a noise.
But I’m not here to talk about formula today, as baffling and angry-making as it is that a country like the USA can even experience such a thing as a formula shortage (many have already made the “joke” that it’s weird how, once again, capitalism delivers all the bad things it warns us socialism would do).
I think I’m done with breastfeeding. And that word “think” is the first hard part of it. Some babies just wean themselves – one mama in our antenatal class had her baby flat-out stop at around eight months. Not mine; she would still be on the boob if she could, it’s just that when she does, there’s too much biting. I talked to a lactation consultant we know, who’s been really helpful in the past; she had advice for fixing baby’s latch. It might have worked, if going back to the office didn’t mean going down to barely two feeds a day – little opportunity and no patience for detaching her, letting her scream, getting her to open her mouth wide, tensing to see if I get bitten, lather rinse repeat.
I had some equanimity about it at first, because obviously, the key thing is that baby is fed – and she’s taken marvellously to solids – and of course, I could just keep pumping, and make sure that she got at least one bottle of my milk at the end of the day to send her off to sleep. Unfortunately, pumping has lost its effectiveness. One bottle a day became one every two days, stretching the “keep milk in the fridge for 48 hours” to its absolute limit (and if I’m honest, beyond) as I tried to scrap together enough 15 and 20 and 30mL sessions to make up a proper feed.
But as of today (when I’m writing this), it feels like the battle is lost. There’s no satisfaction in sitting and grinding out a meagre splash (other people who’ve pumped will know that “grinding” is exactly the right word), trying and forgetting and then regretting all the tactics that might work if you really kept them up for a few days, but just seem like too much work on top of everything else you’re doing. Add to that the aforementioned baby walking and grabbing and fascination with the loud machine that mama spends so much time with – it’s too much. It’s too difficult to go on.
There’s a bottle of milk in the fridge. And it will probably be baby’s last. And from then on it’s solids and formula – so we come full circle. She’s had formula on top of breast milk practically since day one, and I hated it, even though it was necessary, even though it’s perfectly good food for a baby. The message that breast is best is important – but on some level it also tells you that formula is failure. Not just “less good”, but “actively bad”. Even when you don’t have another choice. And it’s not. The problems with formula aren’t formula. They’re capitalism. But that’s a discussion for another day.
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding until age 2. And I won’t make it. And it’s so difficult not to feel like I’ve failed, even though we’ve gone well past her first year, even though she’s completely happy and healthy and bouncy and bright. Once again, I’ve done parenting Wrong, and as much as I can tell myself that these feelings are inaccurate and disingenuous and irrational, it doesn’t stop me feeling them. Not for a little while anyway. As with all the anxieties and pressures we’ve already been through, I know it will pass. It “just” sucks right now.