“There’s milk in your boobs. Your babe needs to eat. It’s time to get topless, and offer a teat!”
Excerpt from “The Places You’ll Feed,” by Lauren Hirshfield Belden, 2015
The above excerpt was taken from a book, written by Belden. I was ecstatic to see this read lining the shelves at Mommycon, Seattle. (For those of you unfamiliar with Mommycon, it’s like a Comicon where nursing bras and chewy beads are the Cosplay of choice.) I read the book, and was sold. It was silly, and I found myself able to relate to every page and rhyme.
But then it dawned on me. There is a reason I could relate. I was able to, and chose to, breastfeed my child. That path led me to many a challenge and victory. I have pumped at work, I have pumped at an actual Comicon, I have fed on a boat, on a train, with a goat, in the rain…you get the idea. Belden’s story was representative of my story in many ways–the joy, tears, the snuggles, the bloody nipples, and everything in between.
At this point, it’s worth mentioning that the push-pull between formula and breast milk is complicated. From a purely scientific perspective, breast really is best, for a lot of reasons. However, relationship between a mother and her child is not based purely on science. If nursing, for whatever reason, negatively impacts the mother-child relationship, breast may not always be best.
But let’s look at it through a historical lens. Formula was pushed into mainstream, produced by scientists in lab coats under the guise that they could one up nature (spoiler alert–they can’t. Don’t believe me? Read about oligosaccharides.) As the wet nurse fell out of vogue, the invention of the rubber nipple in the mid 1800’s opened up a world of feeding opportunities, and formula companies pounced at the opportunity. Formula was originally marketed as a means of sustaining babies that would otherwise starve. Eventually, it was toted for for its convenience, a means of feeding babe if mom was away. In the 1950s-70s, there was a shift, as commercial formula producers started making sweeping health claims about their product. Paired with a shifting social view, that perceived breast feeding as “unclean,” formula left the leaky boob in limbo for many families.
Fast forward. The mantra “breast is best” challenges these dollar driven trends, kicking formula in the family jewels, and “#normalize breastfeeding” is abound. But, this is one hashtag that is often met with controversy: many moms or dads who don’t, or are unable to, whip out the girls, reflect on socially imposed guilt. Companies like Similac (the name similac came from smooshing the words “similar” and “lactation” together) jump on this notion, fighting for their stake in the “mommy wars,” through fun videos that come off as supporting parents for whatever feeding choices they make, like this. A great message. But, don’t forget the source and their motivations—to be inclusive, of course, but to keep formula in the game.
I’m oversimplifying things, but hopefully you get the idea. Someone figured out they could make money off of simulating breastmilk, and now there’s a push-pull between breastfeeding advocates and those unable or uninterested* in participating.
*Really, I shouldn’t have to distinguish between parents who choose to not breast feed and those who are unable to breast feed—while there certainly may be a difference in what types of feeding support each party needs, in feeling the need to distinguish the two, I am in a sense perpetuating this idea that one ought to defend their feeding choices. This should be removed from the equation entirely.
Here’s where I stand. I’m all about informed consent. Make an informed decision about breast feeding and breast milk, and what it means to your family. Get all the information, in a non-directive manner–not just from a Similac advertisement–but see that whole picture. THEN decide. If your informed decision is to opt into the mantra “breast is best,” but you are running into hurdles prohibiting you from exercising your parenting autonomy, or if you just decide breast isn’t best for your family—does that make you bad at your new job description of “parent?” Absolutely…NOT.
The boob isn’t for everyone. Whether you are two dads who just added a happy bundle of joy to your family line up, a mama with insufficient glandular tissue, or a family that just decided it wasn’t right for you, then that book I started off with, “The Places You Will Feed,” isn’t a story you can identify with. I mean, clearly you haven’t put the time in, nourishing your child. You may even be less of a parent than me, with my now near prehensile boobs. Right?
So here’s my take at an incredibly valuable, needed, and worthwhile addition to “The Places You Will Feed.” Because if you are a parent, you will feed in all those places and more. No matter the means, it’s in the job description…
…But sometimes, it just doesn’t workno matter how hard you tryMaybe you can’t, because you’re a guyand when that’s the casethen formula you may buyOr perhaps you will hit up a milk donor siteOr whip up some goat milk, yes you just mightOutsource your need, seeking some extra supportOr borrow a little boob, biddy, bwa, booboo straight from a friendMaybe you’ll pump and you’ll mix and supplement to no endAnd if that was your planYou carry it out, rightAnd if you had other thoughtsYou adjust your sightOh the places you’ll feed…From boob, bottle, bucket or cup,The story will conclude in much the same shapeCause mamas and papas will play the right partThey nourish their babies, with all their heart.