I just read a post over on PhD in Parenting that has me kind of fuming. My thoughts are far too long to include as a comment, so I’m writing about it here instead.
I have resolved a lot of my feelings about this over the last four years, but I’ve had this come up a couple of times recently and Annie’s post was enlightening in a way that no other breastfeeding information ever has been. This list of reasons (that are identified as myths in Annie’s post) why women are encouraged to supplement with formula in hospital that reopened the frustrated wounds of my failed breastfeeding experience:
- Your baby is hungry
- You were sleeping and I didn’t want to wake you, so I just gave him a bit of formula.
- Your milk hasn’t come in yet. We’d better get him on a bottle.
- Your baby has low blood sugar.
- Your baby is crying a lot.
- Colustrum has no nutritional value.
- It will cure jaundice.
- Maybe if he has a bit of formula, he’ll know what it feels like to have a full tummy and that will make him interested in nursing.
- Your baby’s blood sugar is too low.
- Since English isn’t your mother tongue, you should really just formula feed.
The three that are bolded? Those are all things that I was told or led to believe. Let me back up and tell you a bit more of my story interspersed with information I have learned since giving birth.
I have polycystic ovarian syndrom (PCOS). I was diagnosed 10 years ago after miscarrying my first child. (Wow…I would have a nearly ten year old this year if that hadn’t gone the way it did.) My GP who was caring for me until I got to 30 weeks should have been closely monitoring me for signs of gestational diabetes, including ordering the GD testing early - at 24 weeks or earlier instead of the usual 28/29.
I entered the diabetes clinic, was monitored for blood sugar regularity and size of the baby. At 37 weeks, when an ultrasound estimated that Brandon was about 9 pounds, I left the ultrasound clinic in tears, knowing that my doctor was going to recommend c-section. She scared me into it and that’s all I’ll say about that. Yes, my son was 10.5lbs at birth, but women CAN give birth naturally to large babies - it’s not the end of the world. I did not want a section. I was (and still am) terrified of surgery. Should we decide to have another, I will go for VBAC - no doubt in my mind.
Prior to giving birth or even being pregnant, I did a significant amount of reading about PCOS, the symptoms and effects on my body/life and how to manage it. Not once did I ever read anything about low milk supply. I have no idea how that significant and frustrating fact escaped me. It wasn’t until my pre-op, 5 days before my surgery that the nurse (also a lactation consultant) raised the red flag to me.
I went home in tears. I was having a c-section, which is known to complicate breastfeeding AND I had a broken body that may not work right. Talk about stress and frustration and bad timing!
Fast forward to nearly a week later. I’m blissfully unpregnant, staying as still as possible so as not to disturb my incision and my Friday night nurse makes a helpful suggestion. Brandon really isn’t getting enough to eat from me. He’s wanting food more often than every three hours (no mention of the possibility of breastfeeding on demand). She offers to help me with lact-aid. Brilliant! I can supplement and still get the benefits of breastfeeding.
We did this Friday and all day Saturday until the night nurse arrived in my room just after Matt left for the day for the regular feeding. She immediately started to tell me that I needed to decide what I was going to do when I got home because we couldn’t do lact-aid at home. Oh, did I mention that this was about 11:00pm? Yeah, her timing was awesome. Not to mention that she didn’t once tell us WHY we couldn’t do it at home.
She delivered this news while she also informed me that I was doing everything wrong, despite the fact that my son had latched like a champ for two days with no problem. She proceeded to put her hands in front of his face so I couldn’t see what I was doing to get him latched on. This resulted in repeated failure to get him situated. She even shoved the lact-aid tube so far into his mouth that she choked him once. He had his first screaming fit that night thanks to the nurse from hell. And I had my first breakdown.
After she left the room and Brandon was settled, I called Matt in tears. He returned to the hospital and found said nurse to have a little talk with her. Then he stayed with me until 2:00am when we were to do the next feeding so that he could handle the lact-aid without needing the nurse from hell to help. This didn’t stop her from barging in my room and delivering pamphlets on how to bottle feed and the process to sterilize bottles. I refused to say a word or even look her in the eye, I was so angry. Her audacity still amazes me. If I had a baby in that hospital today and she walked into my room as my nurse, I would tell her to go switch with someone else. I can’t believe someone like that is allowed to work in a birth unit.
The day after, shift change brought a kinder more level-headed nurse who gently explained that lact-aid had to be used with the supervision of a certified lactation consultant. Ah. Okay. She helpfully provided some formula samples and we packed up and left the hospital and made a trip to the drug store to rent a breast pump and purchase bottles and formula, which I hadn’t bought before because I hadn’t planned to use them.
Five days post-partum (and the day after we were released), I attended the hospital’s breastfeeding clinic where the LC recommended that I obtain some Blessed Thistle, Fenugreek and ask my GP for a prescription of Domperidone. I stopped at the health food store on the way home for my herbs and called my doctor right away. Her nurse practitioner called me back to say that she wouldn’t give me the prescription despite the fact that all eight OB/GYNs at the hospital I where I gave birth recommend it for helping with low milk supply. I never went back to that GP again.
I was able to obtain a prescription from my OB for domperidone, but not until a full two weeks post-partum. The herbal supplements had already helped, and I saw a difference with domperidone, but no one ever told me to just let the baby nurse as much as possible or feed on demand. I was told to feed him for 15 minutes on each side, then pump for 15 minutes. The process was exhausting and it really didn’t help my milk supply improve.
Little chronological side note: At my six week checkup, my OB saw something made her question me - it’s a symptom of my PCOS and I told her I had it. My GP had not informed her when she referred me to the OB. That cemented my decision to never go to that GP again. Lesson learned, though: Do not assume your doctor is doing their job well - they could be missing key steps that have a big impact. My OB needed that information while I was pregnant, not after.
I took domperidone for eight weeks. I didn’t risk asking for more than that because my OB was annoyed that she had to be the one to prescribe it. We rented the breast pump for eight weeks. But because we were buying more formula all the time, and the domperidone had run out, I returned it. I’d continue giving Brandon breast milk as long as it lasted and let nature guide me.
At just shy of three months, Brandon turned away from me for the last time, refusing my milk because there just wasn’t any there. The drip, drip of that faucet was quickly silenced and as much as I tried to tell myself I did everything I could, I knew there was probably more I could have done.
I wasn’t wrong, as I’ve learned in the years since. I may never have been able to build the milk supply needed to breastfeed my son exclusively, but I think the system failed me in a number of ways. It’s been a learning experience that will inform my decisions in future should we have another child, but it frustrates me to no end that I could have and should have had a better chance.
Maybe by sharing my experience other moms can learn from the mistakes I made in ignorance. But most of all, follow your gut. First time moms should have a voice that is every bit as loud and confident as second, third, etc. moms. If something is bothering you or you disagree, speak up. If your doctor or other caregiver isn’t giving you rational reasons for their recommendations, find another opinion and don’t put it off. Do your research, because you have to be your own biggest advocate in all areas of health - for you and for your child(ren).
This morning, something really horrible happened.
I swore that I would NEVER, EVER, EVER let this happen.
It was one of those things that - while I absolutely do not judge other parents for allowing (heck, some out there probably like it) - it just simply wasn’t going to occur in my home with my child.
I have been determined in this for twenty years - yes, more than half my LIFE! - ever since I first heard that song. The one many of us loved to hate.
Is it the end of the world? Of course not. Don’t be silly.
Is it the end of my sanity? It’s entirely possible.
So, what exactly happened?
THIS is what happened:
Just HOW did this happen? And WHO is to blame?
The real person to blame is the creator of the show. Seriously, I have no issue with purple or dinosaurs. I just object to annoying purple dinosaurs.
Matt has to share the blame, too. He just sat back and let it happen. How could he do this to me?
Lastly, I blame Netflix. Oh, they have their pretty little interface that showcases all those wonderful shows and movies and they make it super easy for even a 3-year-old to navigate around everything, finding “fun” new kids’ shows to watch and enjoy. Shows like:
The Backyardigans - I think it’s pretty cute. It’s only annoying when Brandon wants to watch the same episode over and over and over and over again. He’s three - it happens.
Arthur - I’m still trying to figure out what some of the characters are supposed to be. They just aren’t a discernable animal to me, but at least it seems somewhat realistic to life with children.
Franklin - It’s weird to me that a turtle, bear, duck, rabbit, beaver, fox and whatever other animals are in this show would play together. But at least it teaches some good lessons.
Little Bear - The music in this one is so calming to me. It also makes me want to give Brandon the biggest hug when he calls me Mother Mommy after hearing Little Bear call his mom Mother Bear. So cute. It is a little like Franklin with the whole “animals playing with their prey” thing.
Jimmy Neutron - Geekalicious kid movie. This is one even Matt and I really enjoy.
Clearly, children’s programming is so not my thing. Netflix seems to have every one of the 493,284 13 versions of The Land Before Time movies - EXCEPT the only one that’s good: the first one. Good thing we bought it a while back.
Those are just a few of the ones I can watch without getting too stabby. I keep trying to get Brandon to like Babar and Inspector Gadget. Unfortunately, he insists on watching shows that never should have seen the light of day, such as:
Caillou - Is there a whinier child on the face of the planet? Or wimpier parents?
Max and Ruby - WHERE ARE THEIR PARENTS!? Why is no adult responsible for these children!? I’m hoping their parents find them and stop letting them play on TV. This is a good solution.
Thomas & Friends - The constant sniping in every episode of this show grates on my last nerve.
I shudder to think what he’ll be watching in a few years. I might have to start scouring eBay and other sites to find some Belle and Sebastian, Transformers, He-Man, ThunderCats, Silver Hawks, She-Ra, Jem and Holograms, and other decent cartoon shows that I got to watch as a kid. Because, frankly, the stuff I see these days is just not that interesting.
Can you tell I was sandwiched between two boys based on my TV watching as a kid? :)
What are some of your favorite shows you wish your kids could see?
Recently, someone I know said something to me about hating formula.
Formula is an inanimate object. A food. It keeps many babies alive. Including this one:
Yes, my son was formula-fed and it was pretty much our only option for feeding him. I never planned to use formula. We had to buy bottles and formula on the way home from the hospital, in fact. My mother used to share stories of how special she felt her time breastfeeding was and I wanted that too. However, less than a week before Brandon’s birth I was told by a nurse/lactation consultant in my pre-op appointment that having PCOS could mean I’d have problems with low supply.
This is why the “I hate formula” attitude rubs me the wrong way - it feels so superior. I’m tired of the formula feeders versus breast feeders debate. As someone who had no option other than to give my child formula, it’s deeply disturbing to me to see the comments that some women make about moms who feed their children formula and the risks expose their children to for “convenience”. (Sorry, paying $30 a can wasn’t at all convenient!)
For well over a year of Brandon’s life, I didn’t know that there was a boycott of Nestle products that had been (and still is) going on for decades. I only found out when I saw this post go up in September 2009 and watched the flurry of tweets, comments and commentaries. Back then, I didn’t really understand the issue and it prompted a lot of questions - many that had to do with some of the things that were being said by some of the more militant supporters of the boycott - particularly when people like me raised questions. Fortunately, in addition to Annie, there are many cooler heads who will answer questions and concerns with patience.
Even after reading post after post about this issue on Annie’s blog for nearly two years, I still couldn’t bring myself to fully embrace the boycott. Though I used Nestle formula only once - when the grocery store didn’t have our regular brand - I still had the overwhelming feeling that this was a formula feeders versus breast feeders issue and I didn’t want any part of that. It was just too emotional for me, given that breastfeeding wasn’t even an option for me. I didn’t want to feel like an inferior mother.
When Annie wrote this post last fall - Is shame a barrier to social change? - it changed my view completely (and immediately). I knew I needed to read carefully after the first paragraph:
I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations over the past few days about shame, guilt, and social change. Without going into excruciating detail, I heard a lot of people say that calls for formula marketing to be restricted makes formula feeding moms feel shamed because if formula marketing needs to be restricted, then that means that formula is bad, which means that formula feeding moms are doing something wrong.
I can hardly begin to tell you how well I identify with this line of thinking. It’s how I felt for nearly 2 years.
Annie goes on to say:
We live in an imperfect world. We all make choices, on a daily basis, with imperfect information and in imperfect conditions. Every single day, I make choices that I wish I didn’t have to make. Every single day, I try to make better choices. It is a balancing act between progress and reality. No one is perfect. No one should be expected to be perfect. No one needs to feel guilt or shame for being imperfect.
So, here’s the revelation that I had when I read Annie’s post about shame being a barrier:
FORMULA isn’t bad. It isn’t the evil culprit it gets made out to be in so many posts that are advocating for better breastfeeding support or boycotts against Nestle for its marketing practices (usually in the comments - that’s where it can get really ugly).
Is formula the best thing to give your child? No - we can all agree on that and set aside the whole “breast is best” argument.
BUT I did what I had to do to keep my son alive, healthy and growing. Just like every other mother out there, I want what’s best for him. I want what’s healthy for him. In our circumstances, that turned out to be food from a can, whether I liked it or not. I felt a lot of guilt and shame for a long time after Brandon’s birth. He’ll be four years old this year and I still have trouble accepting what occurred.
My hope is that more breastfeeding advocates and formula marketing critics will use greater care in how they get the message out about their cause - much like Annie and Amber (and I’m sure many others as well). Hearing that breast milk is best for a child isn’t objectionable. Having the worst-case scenarios (low IQ, obesity, death, etc.) of feeding a child formula is highly objectionable. It also muddies the issues around formula marketing and leads to the question: Is formula bad or are the formula marketing practices unethical?
It has taken me over two years to get past the inner conflict of being a formula feeder to see that boycotting Nestle doesn’t mean I’m condemning my own actions.
I’m well aware that I have friends who are going to disagree with me about this. I’m not writing this to get into a full-fledged debate, though feel free to share your thoughts too. This is about exploring why I feel the way I do and to hopefully ask some pointed questions about why this is coming up, because I’m filled with questions, as you’ll see.
For the record, let me first say that I do not have a criminal record of any kind and, as a U.S. citizen living in Canada as a permanent resident and having also obtained security clearance with the government, my lack of a record is well-documented - including one or two additional checks for jobs and volunteer work with an organization a number of years ago. Since moving to Canada 11 years ago, I haven’t had so much as a speeding ticket. I’d love to say I haven’t had a parking ticket, but alas, it did happen once. Maybe twice. I can’t remember for sure.The point is that my motivation isn’t to hide anything from anyone.
But let me back up and explain where this is coming from. A friend of mine posted a link to a petition on twitter that is asking people to support a movement for Ottawa school boards to implement a blanket policy requiring volunteers to obtain a criminal record check before they can volunteer. My immediate knee-jerk response was no way, no how - that’s just a bad use of police resources. Why should the police be vetting parents of school children? Where is the trust? Oh, because children may be left alone with volunteers? I’d love to know why that is happening. In my thirteen years of schooling in Florida, I don’t remember a single instance of being anywhere near a volunteer without school staff being in the same room. Mind you, we didn’t have a ton of volunteers other than parents who chaperoned field trips. I don’t recall parents or anyone else ever being in the classroom with us on a regular school day. So, chalk at least some of this up to me being ignorant of Canadian schools’ practices - I’ll openly admit to that. I would not be okay with my son being alone with a volunteer for an extended length of time for an activity.
After putting in my knee-jerk two cents on twitter during my commute, I got to thinking about the debate more. One person pointed out that the practice is only overkill until you have a pedophile on a field trip with your kid. But is it? Would a convicted pedophile actually submit to a background check? And an unconvicted one who has never even been suspected certainly isn’t going to show up, so how does that mitigate the risk? Additionally, if said convicted pedophile is a parent of a child, it’s doubtful that courts would allow a child to stay in the person’s custody and that kind of background is surely noted in a child’s file. Are convicted pedophiles lining up to volunteer at schools these days?
Related question: Just how many non-parents volunteer in the schools? If these individuals are not the custodial parent or guardian of any students and are volunteering, then a policy of checking their background seems reasonable to me. But why custodial parents and guardians? The school has these children for 7-8 hours a day and the other 16-17, the parent(s) are responsible for them. Surely that deserves a little trust. But let me go at this from another angle because I simply can’t support something like this that is invasive and time-consuming without some really solid reasoning. (No, I have nothing to hide, but that doesn’t stop it being invasive and time-consuming.)
I can’t buy into the broad argument that it’s worth it to protect kids, because people will do bad things and a record check isn’t a foolproof way to stop it happening - note example above where the pedophile (or rapist, or murderer, or whatever other criminal act you think of) hasn’t been caught - or hasn’t offended yet. Additionally, as one person shared, they passed their record check 7 years ago and haven’t done a new one. Really? That’s as per policy? Things change in that amount of time. They change by the day. I’m not saying the person who shared about the 7-year gap has a record now that they didn’t previously have, but that potential is there for anyone who goes that long without an update. Doing this every year on the off chance (as it would be for me as a work-out-of-the-home mom) I’d be able to volunteer is not realistic.
I’d like to know the background information, such as: What’s the source of this trend? Why did the first school/school board implement this kind of policy? I can think of a few possible reasons: an incident occurred with a volunteer, liability insurance costs, a “great” idea from parents for protecting their kids.
If there’s been an incident I haven’t heard of it and, considering the uproar over the banned balls in Toronto last week, surely this would get some serious attention. Not to say it hasn’t happened, but where are all these incidents with criminal volunteers? And did they have a criminal record before they volunteered? Would a check even make a difference? I had a teacher who was arrested for molesting children - I was 8 when we found out. Obviously he got through his background check before getting the job. The point here is that a background check will not prevent an incident. By forcing checks on custodial parents and guardians, we slot them into the guilty until proven innocent category. And what happens when they do have a criminal background? What if their offense is a youthful mistake and irrelevant to the work? Are they barred from volunteering with their children because of it?
Liability insurance is an unavoidable expense. If schools have to reduce costs and background checks are the only way to do it, then it’s hard to argue the against it when the money can be diverted to buying books and other resources for students. But is that the motivation? I really doubt it. If it is, I haven’t seen that mentioned even once. I think sufficient holes have already been shot into the foolproofness of a background check. They are being pushed on parent volunteers under the guise of proactive prevention of something that’s unlikely to happen in the first place. I should also point out that any insurance company giving a break for background checks is selling snake oil, in my opinion.
If this idea was hatched by a parent/parent group as a way to safeguard children, then I think it’s another example of media-influenced fear and I, for one, do not want to raise my child to believe it’s okay to lump everyone into the “bad” category until he knows them better. This is a slippery slope. Do I need to get a background check before I send my child to someone else’s house for a play date? If I don’t, am I then negligent and culpable if something happens?
I’m a huge fan of Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy. I’ve talked about her work here before. When this came up, I decided to see if she’s addressed it because it seems to be the right kind of subject matter for her site and I was not disappointed. In her post about parent volunteers, she states “this whole “background check” deal falls into the ever-growing category of trying to make extremely unlikely events extremely unlikely” (emphasis mine) and isn’t that a shame?
Additional research led me to Google which led me to one story on The Telegraph from 2009 saying how checks like these are a deterrent from volunteering. No doubt that’s a shocking revelation. What disturbs me is that the article ends by seemingly endorsing this policy when it shares the CRB spokesperson’s comment that:
“Around 98,000 unsuitable people have been prevented from working with children and vulnerable adults in the past five years as a direct result of CRB checks.”
I’d like to know the context of “unsuitable”. Was it solely based on the criminal record? Was there some other reason? How many were parents of school children? How many were non-parent/guardian volunteers at a school? The media put out these stats and expect us to take them at face value, but there’s far more to the story. I want to know those missing parts.
Though The Telegraph article reported great support for these measures, that support seems to have waned in the intervening years and The Daily Mail says that changes are being made to “scale back” the checks on volunteers. I’m guessing people finally figured out this was beyond the bounds of common sense in many cases.
Ultimately, as my friend Lara says, the school (and by extension, the children) will lose out when parents don’t volunteer as often due to the restrictions put on them by these policies. Show me some hard facts and figures in the proper context to convince me and maybe I’ll buy-in, but until then this leaves me with far more questions than answers and I’m not going to blindly go along with something just because it gives the appearance of greater safety.