27 Feb 2012

A Bottlefeeding Guide?

I just finished reading a depressing, inaccurate, misleading book entitled When Breastfeeding Is Not an Option: A Reassuring Guide for Loving Parents by Peggy Robin. I happened to see it in my local public library and checked it out on a whim. The book was published in 1998 and I was dearly hoping that it is unavailable or out of print somehow, but I just looked on Amazon.com, and there it is...

Robin goes to great lengths to downplay the benefits of breast milk, saying she doesn't believe the studies that show formula-fed infants to be at greater risk of diabetes, allergies, and a whole host of other problems. She uses anecdotal evidence to support her claims, noting that of all the infants she personally knows about, the formula-fed ones are not any sicker than the breastfed ones - nya nya nya nya boo boo, so there, and take THAT fancy shmancy "science" (ok, so she doesn't exactly actually say that last bit, but you get the idea). How did this thing ever get published???

 Robin emphasizes and exaggerates the few physical problems in parents and babies that can cause breastfeeding to fail, and she claims that feeding with a supplemental nursing system (SNS) is impossibly difficult. If you can't breastfeed exclusively, then don't do it at all, is her message. This is the exact opposite of Diana West's gentle and encouraging advice in Defining Your Own Success: Breastfeeding After Reduction Surgery. West insists that any amount of breast milk is beneficial and something to be cherished. As the proud user of an SNS for the past ten months, I must argue that after an initial learning period, it is really not so bad, and it does save the breastfeeding relationship. And to me it is worth any kind of effort to give my baby even a teaspoon of my own body's milk since it is exactly right for him.

Of course, Robin makes no mention whatsoever of the possibility of finding donated human milk if the parent's own milk supply is insufficient. Instead, she moves quickly to praising the ease and complete nutrition of formula (because you'd never heard of it before, right?).

Robin cites many bottlefeeding parents who have felt personally attacked by "breastfeeding militants." I am very sorry for anyone who has been given a rough time for his/her feeding choices. We should never make assumptions about why someone may not be breastfeeding or what he/she may have been through. Furthermore, in our culture we cannot blame individuals for low breastfeeding rates across North America - there is too much wrong with hospital care, breastfeeding support, and attitudes in general. Many parents don't get breastfeeding figured out, and this is a shame, but the last thing we need to remedy the problem is a bottlefeeding support guide.


  1. I agree completely! What we need is information and support for those who find nursing difficult or cannot nurse rather than a pat on the back and a "that's ok you baby can have formula". Human milk donations are a wonderful thing and should be used when necessary for sure!

  2. Yeah, the lack of support, especially where I live it seems, verges on criminal. We certainly can't turn around and tell people that they have "failed", but we also can't pretend that everything in our system is fine and formula is great for babies.

    1. Formula is fine for babies, there are babies who do better on formula than breastmilk for whatever reason. And, no, don't suggest elimination diets- some babies are actually allergic to things found in all breast milk and NEED the massively hypo-allergenic formula to thrive.

      Parents who bottle feed deserve support just as much as anyone else and deserve a guide. Not having a guide is putting babies at risk. This vitriol you have against anyone who feeds babies differently to you is absurd and off-putting.

      And, no, she doesn't mention milksharing- as it is incredibly dangerous and advocating it would likely have gotten her book tossed, assuming she doesn't simply have a problem with the idea of putting babies at risk of serious diseases like HIV and hepatitis by giving them milk that hasn't been tested. Even if the donors have gotten tested, they can still contract diseases after they've been tested.

    2. This is why I don't believe we need a bottle-feeding guidebook: Has any parent ever failed with bottlefeeding and been unable to feed an otherwise healthy newborn? NO. On the other hand, many parents fail to breastfeed after struggling with it, and then have to bottlefeed. You said that "Not having a guide [on bottlefeeding] is putting babies at risk." At risk of what? Every package of formula comes with instructions on how it should be prepared.

      I do believe bottlefeeding parents deserve support - of course they do! I don't think they need a guidebook that contains misinformation.

      You say, "This vitriol you have against anyone who feeds babies differently to you is absurd and off-putting." I don't understand how you found this in my post. My post says, "I am very sorry for anyone who has been given a rough time for his/her feeding choices. We should never make assumptions about why someone may not be breastfeeding or what he/she may have been through."

      Formula is fine for most babies and necessary for some, but in general, it is not as good as breast milk. No medical professional would ever debate that.

      Milk sharing is not "incredibly dangerous". Milk sharing has risks, and so does feeding formula. Parents should make an informed choice about what is best for their family. They might obtain donor milk through a milk bank with strict screening protocols, they might obtain milk from a family member or close friend who they know extremely well, or they might choose to pasteurize donated milk using a method that has been studied for its safety.

    3. It's my understanding that you have no experience with bottles, so it's a bit insulting that you're shoving your misconceptions on other peoples' experiences. Here are the problems I had with bottles due to lack of information:

      -We wasted a lot of milk from leaking bottles that had weird quirks to them that no one had warned us about and the instructions didn't make clear enough. Whether this is pumped breast milk, donor breast milk, or expensive formula- wasted milk can be emotionally difficult. I know people who had a hard time pumping and mourned every wasted drop, if they had to deal with leaking bottles it may have tipped them over the edge.
      -I spent over a month feeding my baby with a too-fast-flow bottle because no one told us about the nipple flows and the package didn't make it clear, neither did our midwives, pediatrician, nurses, or anyone else, resulting in vomitting after every feeding. My baby did not deserve this.
      -I spent over 2 months using regular (as opposed to anti-colic) bottles, that meant spending 15 agonizing minutes burping my baby. Anti-colic bottles stopped it immediately. If I had been told about anti-colic bottles, we likely would have just started with them and my baby never would have needed to suffer.
      -Our baby spent way too long suffering GREATLY on the wrong formula because no one will give decent information on finding the right one, and our pediatrician just (incorrectly) told us that no baby ever has a problem with formula.

      Let me guess, you're going to argue that it's my fault I didn't have this information. Gosh, if only there were a guide or something that made it clear what information is important when it comes to selecting a bottle and what isn't... Oh wait.

      I suppose this qualifies as a "success" because we now have a happy, still bottle fed baby, right? You might say it is. I say that multiple months of unnecessary pain qualifies as multiple months of failure. Not on my part- I did my damned best- on the part of the virtual desert of bottle and formula feeding resources there is out there.

      You define your own breastfeeding success, you shouldn't define other peoples' bottle feeding success. A baby suffering on the wrong bottle because no one will tell you how to find the right one qualifies as a failure in my book. Again, not a failure on the parents' part- usually they're trying desperately to fix it- but a baby suffering unnecessarily can NEVER be called a "success".

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