I forced myself to breastfeed my son for six weeks because I couldn’t bear the thought of putting my child’s needs after my own. While fighting the normal new mom fatigue, I was also fighting a terrifying battle with postpartum depression, though I didn’t know it at the time.
I cried sporadically and inexplicably throughout the day, and my blood would boil at the sound of my son crying again. It wasn’t until I slammed a bottle full of breast milk down so hard that the top broke and I cut my hand that I realized I needed help. The next morning I had a manic meltdown in my doctor’s office. She told me that she believed I would benefit from medication but that I couldn’t take what she wanted to prescribe me if I was breastfeeding. At this point, I decided it was more important for my son to have a sane mom than a sacred boob.
I had a supply of breast milk I had previously pumped, so I decided to start mixing formula in with bottles to ease the transition on his digestive system. I felt better almost immediately. The weight of being my son’s sole provider of nutrition had been lifted, and feeding him formula allowed me to receive the medical attention I so desperately needed.
I had to adjust to the idea that needing help didn’t make me weak, and for many weeks I still beat myself up emotionally over the decision to stop breastfeeding. Part of my struggle was because everyone was constantly shoving the importance of breastfeeding down my throat.
No one ever informed me that it was perfectly OK to feed my child formula — and he’s perfectly healthy and thriving now, two years later.
Well, times they are a-changing.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists has made some incredible alterations to its previous policy regarding breastfeeding. While ACOG strongly encourages women to breastfeed, the nation’s leading group of professionals providing women’s health care is finally recognizing that the unique situations of every woman and child aren’t always ideal to do so.
According to a new official opinion released by the ACOG Committee on Obstetric Practice and Breastfeeding Expert Work Group:
“Obstetric-gynecologists and other obstetric care providers should support each woman’s informed decision about whether to initiate or continue breastfeeding, recognizing that she is uniquely qualified to decide whether exclusive breastfeeding, mixed feeding, or formula feeding is optimal for her and her infant.”
Do you hear that, ladies? We’re qualified to make our own informed decisions when it comes to nurturing our own children. How about that? While it’s likely that all of us, including physicians, have known this all along, there never seems to have been a push to normalize formula feeding.
Physicians across the world all collectively agree that breastfeeding is the greatest source of nutrition for children, but it’s not all that often we hear about the complications that sometimes accompany lactation or the benefits of feeding a child formula. And we almost never acknowledge breastfeeding as a woman’s prerogative.
Changes like this in the ACOG policy pose as important strides in starting a bigger conversation about infant nutrition and women’s health. A huge part of women’s health revolves around not only their physical well-being but their emotional health as well. Had I had this sort of support when I was struggling with postpartum depression while still forcing myself to breastfeed my son, I might not have lost those precious first weeks with him to the emotional turmoil of PPD, and I definitely would have sought help sooner.
Sometimes formula feeding is a choice, but sometimes it’s not, for reasons that are really no one’s business but the woman who chooses to do so. Whether a woman is feeding her child by the breast or by the bottle is up to her, and she deserves our support no matter what.