Breastfeeding vs. Formula
This subject has been on my heart lately, and because I have a different perspective than most mamas I feel the need to share. It may be that I am ultra-senstive to this topic as I am up to my eyeballs in the newborn world again, but it seems to me that this debate is everywhere.
For the record, let me state that I began my motherhood career absolutely pro-breastfeeding. I nursed our biological daughter until she was over a year old. If I had never become a foster/adoptive mama, I would be wholeheartedly and firmly in the exclusive breastfeeders camp. However, that is no longer the case. Through many experiences caring for foster children and the boys we’ve adopted, my opinion has changed.
There is only one question I believe we should be concerned about when it comes to the way we feed our babies:
Are you feeding your child?
Period. Nothing else matters.
Yes, healthy food is important. I absolutely believe in whole foods and lots of fruits and veggies. But more important than that is the absence of neglect.
Our family has personally seen the trauma of neglect in infants as young as 5 months old. Our most emotionally draining foster placement was a little boy I’ll call D. D came to us when he was 5 months old; a darling but distant little guy. He had been left in his crib, unattended and ignored, for most of his young life. His cries for food had gone unheard for so long that he had lost the ability to communicate that he was hungry. Not only were his physical needs unmet, but he lacked the important bonding time feeding presents. He seemed unable to connect to those who cared for him.
Our first couple of weeks caring for D were extremely difficult. He had no reason to trust that his needs would be met; he was taken from the only enviornment he’d ever known and he didn’t know how to express himself. He cried like a wild animal for hours at a time. I’ve never heard anything like the sound he made. It was haunting and heartbreaking.
But after a few days of a regular feeding schedule (we went by the clock at first, because he had lost his hunger cues and would not signal that he needed to eat), D began to change. As I held him to feed him a bottle, he began to look me in the eye. Instead of arching his back away from me, he would lean in to snuggle. Slowly, he began to share his dimpled smile.
After just a couple of weeks, he was a completely different child. He laughed uproriously and played with Ellie. He started to whine when he felt hungry. His turnaround was the most miraculous we’ve seen so far.
Meeting his physical and emotional need for nourishment changed him.
Another placement, a 3 year old girl named A, also struggled with hunger. She was extremely articulate, as well as tiny and fragile. It took me a couple of days to recognize that she was bingeing at each meal. When she first came to our home, she ate and ate and ate. I assumed she was just exceptionally hungry because she had had a long and difficult day (again, being removed from the only home she’d ever known). But after we’d shared several meals I was sure she was purposely stuffing herself. We had a chat about her eating habits that went something like this:
Me: What is your favorite food to eat?
A: I don’t have a favorite. I just like every food!
Me: I can see that!
A: But I don’t like cat food. That’s yucky, but I eat it sometimes.
Me: Why do you eat cat food if it’s yucky?
A: I just do when I’m really hungry. We don’t have a lot of food at my house.
Again, it took time. But as A became more comfortable in our home we had more talks about food. We talked in depth about eating just until “your tummy feels happy”. It took several days of regular meals, and healthy snacks upon request, for her to believe my claims that she would not go hungry in our house. She would not have to eat cat food. A had felt the effects of neglect for so long that she may always struggle with food-related anxieties. But we helped her begin to heal.
Given that background, I think it’s easy to see why I think the breast vs. bottle debate is ridiculous.
Are you feeding your baby when she is hungry?
Are you holding him close and bonding during those quiet feeding moments?
Almost all of us are doing our absolute best as parents. Why all the fighting about this topic? How about we focus on supporting each other, and building each other up to face the challenges that parenthood presents?
Relax. Enjoy those beautiful, slow moments. Breath your baby in, listen to those adorable grunts he makes while he drinks. No matter what kind of milk you feed her, before you know it your tiny person won’t be so tiny any more.
These moments are fleeting.
Let’s ditch the guilt and just enjoy them.
**One of the really crummy things about being a foster family is that we don’t ever get to find out what happens to “our” little ones once they leave our home. We would have adopted either of these children in a heartbeat, but we have no control over where they end up. And we don’t even get to know where that is, in most cases.**