EPISODE #31

How to Brag to Your
Mom Friends

EPISODE #31

How to Brag to Your
Mom Friends

Remember Kate Bowman-Johnston from episode 11? She’s the one who spent hours jiggling her daughter Adelle in her arm, with a finger in her mouth, in an effort to avoid having Adelle cry-it-out.

Kate & Adelle in the jiggling days

Kate & Adelle in the jiggling days

Kate & Adelle now

Kate & Adelle now

Last time Kate and I talked on the podcast, our girls were just barely a year old; now they’re four. And Kate has had another child—a boy named Jack. Kate and I have kept in touch over the years and become real friends. But all this time I’ve been keeping something from her. I haven’t told her how guilty I feel over the fact that in our last interview, I smugly said that I felt responsible for making my daughter Sasha a good sleeper because we chose to cry-it-out. In this episode, I finally fess up to Kate that I feel bad about this, and I make her tell me her parenting triumphs.

Turns out, she has two: 1) she was able to breastfeed both of her children—she is especially proud of her efforts with Jack, who suffered green, bloody poops because he was allergic to proteins in Kate’s breastmilk and 2) she was able to give birth twice without drugs or surgery. Guess which one was harder for me to hear? Hint: listen to episode 27.

Kate nurses Jack

Kate nurses Jack

Kate with Adelle just after she was born

Kate with Adelle just after she was born

Together, Kate and I tackle the question: Is it possible for moms to share their triumphs with each other without making the other mom feel bad?

Kate eating a celebratory cheesesteak, washed down with beer, after her breastmilk stopped making Jack poop blood. Does it get more triumphant than this?

Kate eating a celebratory cheesesteak, washed down with beer, after her breastmilk stopped making Jack poop blood. Does it get more triumphant than this?

Kate’s Resources for Green, Bloody Poo
The condition Jack had is called allergic colitis. Kate says that, other than her GI doctor and her lactation consultant, her resources to handle the stress of Jack’s bloody poops were mostly other moms. She also took Jack to this craniosacral massage therapist. She tells me she is usually a skeptic when it comes to massage therapies, but that it improved Jack’s latch and gut issues immeasurably.

Breastfeeding Throwing You For a Loop?
Please consider submitting a question for Nancy Holtzman, the lactation consultant joining us for our upcoming breastfeeding Google Hangout.

Dying to share one of YOUR parenting triumphs?
Tell us!

Black & white photos: Leah Hood

52 thoughts on “EPISODE #31: How to Brag to Your Mom Friends

  1. I also want to add that with all of our choices in raising children, there tend to be studies that show what’s BEST. But sometimes we just can’t make BEST work. Perhaps growing lettuce in my garden is probably BEST, but guess what? I can’t make that work, so I buy it in the store. Is the lettuce from the store poison that will kill me after dinner? No. And it is far better than that Twinkie that’s staring me down…. haha!

    I feel the same way about breast milk versus formula. Breast milk might be deemed BEST, but formula is a really, really healthy option. No one should be condemned for choosing to feed her baby something that’s perfectly healthy–best or second best option. It’s better than feeding her baby Twinkies, right?

  2. I’m chiming in as a formula-feeding mom to a 16 week old baby boy. I’m back at work now, but for many weeks, I went to a mommy’s group and listened in shock as I heard women talk about the pain, hassle, and emotional turmoil of trying to breastfeed when things aren’t going well. I wanted to hug them (or shake them!) and say, it doesn’t have to be so hard! Being a mom is about making sure you baby is nourished in whatever way makes YOU and the baby happiest. A happy mom leads to a happy baby.

    And I should know. I breastfed for a while at the beginning, but my son rapidly lost weight. They say breastfeeding is free, but I spent HUNDREDS of dollars on nipple shields, pump parts, and expensive lactation consultant visits (did you know many insurances double bill for lactation appointments? yup, they bill baby AND mommy. crazy). So no, breastfeeding is not free.

    I moved to exclusively pumping at about two weeks, and sunk into a deep despair. I wouldn’t call it all-out depression, but pretty close. Being chained to a pump was horrible. I couldn’t leave the house for more than a couple hours because I had to pump, and everything took twice as long: i had to pump, then feed my son the bottle. When I pumped, I’d pray he would sleep and not wake up, or he’d cry and I would struggle to hold him and not knock over the precious milk I was pumping. At night, I barely slept more than two consecutive hours due to needing to pump or I’d become engorged. What no one also talks about is how many of us suffer from clogged ducts and mastitis because pumping is not as effective at draining the breast as baby is.

    And all of this- why? Because I’d been brainwashed by the screaming hordes that tell women that breast is best. That I should do whatever it takes to get my son my precious breast milk.

    After I reached six weeks and his suck hadn’t gotten stronger, I decided I had to pull myself out of the sadness I’d fallen into and the imprisonment to the pump. I quit. It took three long weeks to wean myself from the pump.

    And you know what? It was only when I stopped agonizing over my failure to feed my son in the traditional way that I really woke up (maybe it was cause I started sleeping more too! having a husband feed bottles really helps, when you don’t have to get up to pump anyway). When mothering became about more than food, I fell deeply and madly in love with my son. I regret having beat myself up so long, and stressed us both out so much with forcing the breast on a baby who just is better with a bottle.

    One final thought: as a mom who has breastfeed, pumped, and now uses formula only, I do not believe that bottle feeding has any less of a bonding effect than breastfeeding. If you’re bottle feeding the correct way, you are still holding your baby and paying attention to his or her cues. You watch their lips, you pull the bottle back when they have had enough, and best of all, sometimes they watch you as you feed them, staring deeply into your eyes with love and attention. I never had that when forcing my baby to stay on the breast.

    Many of my friends have had no trouble breastfeeding, and so I believe that if it’s easy, it’s still the ideal. Not having to tote bottles and formula is easier, and rolling over in bed with a breast is more convenient than having to run downstairs to get a bottle at 4 am. But for those who don’t find breastfeeding easy, or whose babies have some reason it’s not working? Formula is FINE! It’s GOOD. My bonding has only increased since I’ve stopped fighting this battle, and made being a mommy about working with my baby and not against what is easiest for him. I encourage women to do their own research- the science, to me, doesn’t point to a strong enough reason to breastfeed if it’s that hard. Everything has a cost-benefit ratio, and for me, switching to formula has been the best decision I’ve ever made. My son is chubby and happy, and I just am so thankful that clean, safe water exists in this country so formula is a perfectly good choice.

    Sorry this was so long! I just feel passionately about my son, and wish I hadn’t missed so much happiness in the early weeks when I just worried about breastfeeding all of the time.

    1. I relate so much to all of this. Lara — your comment describes my experience to a tee. My daughter is now 6 months and things are going so well. But everything turned around when she became fully formula fed. I realized feeding is just one part if mothering, and as Lara points out, the snuggles and eye contact and post feed naps in my arms gave us a lovely formula feeding bonding experience.

    2. This was almost word for word my story! And we have the same name! It feels so good to read that someone went through the same experience, even if it was a year prior. Switching to formula was the best thing for our family. I beat myself up about it for a long time too.

  3. So I’ve breast fed both of my children exclusively but I feel fairly ambivalent about “breast is best.” I really appreciate the back and forth here and I’ll try to explain my ambivalence. My first was a dramatic C-section/NICU baby. He was very large and after hours of pushing, did not move one millimeter. My water had been broken for almost 24 hours, I’d been running a fever for most of that time, there was “pea soup” meconium coating his airways, his first APGAR was a 2. I think some of the NICU/meconium stuff also happened to Hillary. I didn’t even see my son beyond a drugged out kiss until 6-8 hrs later. Everything was out of my control, except breastfeeding and I clung to that like a champ. The teaching hospital where I delivered was very supportive: hospital grade pump in the room, check, multiple lactation consultant visits in first 24 hours, check, nurse waking me and wheeling me to NICU every 2 hours, check, husband to hold pump to my breasts after trying feeding, check. It was a tough couple days, I was not sleeping, on pain meds, my son was not a natural breast feeder, even as we were released from the hospital, my milk had not really come in much, I was using nipple shields because he preferred the plastic nipple. But the day we brought him home, all the pumping paid off and my milk came in hard, which converted my kid to a breastfeeder. He was a hungry monster, I probably have good nipple shape, our rough start worked out. If I ended there, it certainly wouldn’t explain my ambivalence around exclusive breastfeeding.

    But that’s not where it ended, my hungry monster kept eating, and eating, and eating. He was eating so much and so frequently that I was not sleeping. He was in the bed with me. Some people like babies in the bed; I am not one of those people. Co-sleeping with my son made me nervous, it felt risky, especially since I was so tired and with my husband kicked out of the bed in a separate room, felt even more isolating. At four months, my pediatrician intervened. He looked at me and said,”So tell me how are you doing,” and my answer was, “Terrible, I am in hell, will I ever sleep again?” and he advised me to cry it out, immediately. We did and nighttime sanity was restored within days. My son still used breastfeeding as a pacifier so fall asleep initially and getting naps under control took until maybe 6 months. I loved him, I loved breast feeding but I also felt a bit smothered, tethered, and isolated with no relief because I was the only one who could satisfy and soothe him. I’m sure Mandy is wondering, “Why did you keep going?” The answer is multi-factorial but honestly the major factor was that I worked so hard on breastfeeding in those first few days when everything else was out of my control that I was psychologically too invested in my initial triumph to give up. I believe there is strong academic psychology research showing that the more we pay for things, the more we value them. I paid heavily to breast feed, in time, effort, sleep, and sanity, so I valued breast feeding even more. I was also partly swayed by the fear of judgement and the sincere belief that medically “breast is best.” I’ve since come to be more skeptical that medically “breast is best.” By skepticism, I mean that I think “breast is best” is far too simplistic and completely ignores the psychological and physical price some moms pay to breast feed exclusively. A depressed, zombie mom, which I was for several months due to exclusive breastfeeding, is not really ideal for a baby’s health. BUT I am a scientist with an understanding of metabolism, microbiology, immunology, who knows that even the best studies we have so far cannot account for the biological complexities separating breast milk from formula for mom and baby so I cannot discount “breast is best,” but I also don’t fully embrace it.

    Another truth is that if I had to work, I doubt I could’ve breast-fed exclusively. I went back to work at 9 months and pumped at work for three months, hating every single moment of pumping but loving the freedom. My supply decreased but my baby was already eating solids so it didn’t really matter and I gutted it out to the 12 month finish line because I’d made it so far already with so much effort behind me, no way was anything coming between me and that brass ring!

    I guess I wish there was less stigma against supplementing with formula for the psychological health of the mother. Perhaps I am wrong but my female physician friends seem very matter-of-fact about supplementing with formula, much more so than the general population. I notice that these women are often significant bread winners in their families but have no paid maternity leave so must go quickly back to work and what is asked of them at work (the length of the work day, the intensity of the work, with almost no opportunity to take a break from patient care to pump, the necessity of being alert enough to not make mistakes) makes exclusive breast-feeding for a year impossible. My physician friends often started out exclusively breast-feeding, pumped as much as possible to bank it, did what they could do to keep supply up, while being forced to supplement. I think the example of female physicians makes stark that “breast is best” is not a deeply held belief in the medical community. If the medical community really felt, “breast is best,” female physicians would be given paid maternity leave and time and space to pump at work. That they aren’t just makes me feel like “breast is best” ends up being another cudgel to shame women in a society that devalues the work done by women. If our society and the medical community really valued breastfeeding, surely breastfeeding would be easier because we’d have programs in place to support breastfeeding moms.

    If anything I said seems ill-considered, it probably was ill-considered but not on purpose, as I typed this while juggling a 5 month old.

  4. Mandy, with all respect, I just don’t agree with you about the science being disputed on short-term benefits of breastfeeding (particularly to the infant). Do you have any links or citations stating that breast milk doesn’t have protective effects against illness during infancy including ear infections? Antibody transfer through colostrum doesn’t help anything? Are there studies out there stating that colostrum doesn’t have a benefits to an infant over formula? It seems to me the body of evidence is convincing (including epidemiological research) even if one can point to one study or another that calls something (which granted is perhaps an overstated claim of benefit) into question. Breastfeeding activists are not the only ones with agendas out there… we became an overwhelmingly formula feeding nation in the 50’s for some reason, right? Frankly unless one is doing randomized controlled trials, it’s very hard to sort out correlation v. causation but I simply believe that T-cells and immunoglobulins work in breast milk just like they do in our immune systems and they are there for a reason. The above-cited study (which again related to long term outcomes only a couple of which were health-related asthma and BMI, if I recall) did not necessarily deal with exclusively breastfed babies compared to exclusive formula feeding, but only those who had reported some breastfeeding in one sibling compared to no breastfeeding in the other sibling – meaning they might have been breastfed only a short time and then switched to formula, or fed both all along (confounding factor).

    (This is a total aside but I have a horse and have bred a foal and getting the foal enough colostrum is absolutely paramount within 6 hours of birth. Vets do blood tests to verify the level of IgG in the blood of the foal and if they haven’t gotten passive transfer of antibodies (due to poor suckling, or not enough colostrum, or not high quality colostrum), they boost it artificially with an IV plasma substance extracted from the blood of hyperimmunized horses to help ensure survival of the foal. Obviously humans have other methods to ensure survival and are in cleaner environments, but us being mammals as well, I believe that human colostrum serves a similarly crucial role in an evolutionary sense.)

    Have you heard of recent research about the microbiome in the body and the fact that babies born vaginally have different biomes that c-section babies? Vaginal bacteria colonize the baby’s body and result in different composition compared to babies born without this composition. It has been shown that this can result in significantly different microbiomes in the body of the child, even years later, and is hypothesized to have impacts on health. Certainly there must be a wide-range of “workable” human bacteria composition so it’s not to say that this will make or break a human being’s health. Certainly adaptability to a wide-range of nourishment and environments is a core asset to human existence. But looking at this more carefully might help enhance health for many. There is a currently ongoing study looking at whether swabbing vaginal bacteria from c-section moms and applying to c-section babies’ skin after birth has an impact on the resulting biome. This is certainly something that hasn’t been on the general radar until recently and scientists are learning more and more about the importance of the microbiome to health (see fecal transplantation as a remarkably effective way to heal IBS, for example). Given the importance of symbiotic bacteria to our digestion, immunology, etc. and the fact that we understand very little about it, I personally prefer to put forth the effort to breastfeed and trust my body more than a formula manufacturer here (particularly when it was pretty straightforward for me personally and I worked from home). It’s my understanding that formula manufacturers are actively trying to learn more about the immunological properties of breast milk simply to try to enhance their products, recognizing that that much more difficult to achieve than simply matching the nutrient mix.

    I do actually have first-hand experience with bottles and personally find them exceedingly tedious to wash. We used them with pumped milk whenever I was away from baby for more than a few hours for 18 months. Lucky for me, that didn’t involve a daily pumping regime, but merely stashing a few feedings worth in the freezer ahead of time. I had a learning curve for breastfeeding for the first 6 weeks, and then dealt with strong letdown on one side and had to navigate through that – as well as high lipase. All along the way I came across contradictory and confusing advice for breastfeeding, something I think could easily undermine successful breastfeeding. I know bottle feeding can be very intimate as well, so long as done with a close approach that promotes physical contact. While the expense of formula may seem slight to you, it doesn’t to me (but I didn’t buy any baby food (did baby-led solids) and cloth diapered to save money too, so maybe I’m just cheap!)

    I don’t wish to shame or judge anyone for formula feeding or formula supplementation, like I said above, I think humans are remarkably adaptable and can thrive under a variety of conditions. And I think there are many situations where formula is indicated or just what works best for a given family. I just think you are minimizing the properties of breast milk in your attempt to make your point. Your original premise (paraphrasing here) that the difference of formula versus breast milk is so slight that it is insignificant/meaningless to the health of the infant is a shade too far for me. It implied to me that women who choose to breastfeed are somehow masochistic – similar to the negative/dismissive views I hear expressed about natural childbirth e.g. “don’t be a hero…take the epidural”. Sometimes you want to do something just because you can. Why would anyone climb up a mountain when you can catch a ride to the top – because gee I have these legs and maybe they will work fine getting me there and I will struggle at times but enjoy the process at other times. Some people climb/bike/walk/drive or do a combo of all. Everyone can enjoy the mountain in their journey. It’s my experience, I get to choose.

    Concrete support for breastfeeding is still largely talk (look at the negativity surrounding the new workplace laws mandating a private non-bathroom location for pumping, or allowing unpaid breaks to pump) and women still face many obstacles – especially when returning to work, which I think is partly the reason breastfeeding advocates often feel they have to drive the message home and exaggerated claims can result. Given that only 38% of moms nationwide are breastfeeding at all by 3 months postpartum, I don’t think anyone is missing the fact that formula feeding is more convenient in many cases, even giving the chores of washing bottles!

    I think the guilt-tripping can go both ways, so many parents of breastfed babies being told they aren’t keeping up with the growth charts (which if they aren’t WHO charts, are based on unscientific data), or being told they need supplemental iron when there really isn’t evidence to support that. Moms seem to hold onto guilt about internalized messages – I felt guilty that my baby was born with a low birth weight (5 lbs 5 oz). I had internalized all the “low birth weight” messaging out there about all the things that can cause it, and even though I didn’t do those things, I still felt responsible somehow for doing something, somehow wrong. The only hint of explanation was a skinny umbilical cord, which is not decisive either. In the end my baby was absolutely healthy and latched on easily and we had no troubles, she was just small. She was a beanpole for her whole infancy and toddlerhood, clinging to the 15 percentile while being 75% in height. I am just grateful we didn’t get grief from pediatricians about her weight not keeping up with the formula babies.

    One thing that has become clearer to me as the mom of a 2.5 year old compared to the mom of a newborn is that you just have to figure out what works for you. I used to be much more convinced there was a “right way” to do it and if I just did it “right enough” things would fall into place, but this learning curve of parenting has thoroughly disabused me of that notion. Now there is just a “right for us”.

  5. I couldn’t agree more. Baby horses should absolutely be breastfed from birth, and I hope those horsey mamas are getting all the support they need!

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist just a bit of snark).

    The microbiome studies you’re referring to show that there are differences in the gut bacteria between babies that are born by c-section or vaginally, and babies fed formula and breast milk. But it does not show that these differences cause any problems, long or short term.

    There are two kinds of breastfeeding/formula feeding studies. One kind looks at developing countries, where clean water and food supply are in high demand. In these environments, babies do much better breastfeeding in the short and long term because their mothers often have to scrimp on formula and don’t have access to clean water. Formula fed babies in these countries often get sick and die. But they’re not dying from formula; they’re dying from poverty.

    The other kind looks at developed countries, where women of higher socioeconomic status are more likely to breastfeed. Working class women are less likely to breastfeed because, well, they’re working. Whatever your opinion on breastfeeding, we live in a society where right now it’s a privilege. If you’re working 18 hours a day at two or more jobs, you’re not going to stop what you’re doing and run somewhere to pump. The studies in developed countries show a correlation between breastfeeding and long term benefits. But again, babies here aren’t at a disadvantage because of the formula; they’re at a disadvantage because of poverty.

    Here are some folks for you to look up. They all explain this in much better detail than I can. Joan B. Wolf, Elisabeth Badinter, Hanna Rosin. You’re going to say, “but these women aren’t scientists; they’re sociologists and journalists!” Yes, but don’t just read their articles and books. Read the articles listed in their bibliographies. Read what they’re reading.

    So much of the advice given to mothers is cultural and subject to changes in political thought. There is no black and white here. And there are so many parenting decisions that are more important than this one. What worries me is that we are being led to believe that this is straight up black and white and also the most important decision we will ever make, that we need to do everything we can to breastfeed, no matter the risk to ourselves or our babies. Kate’s baby (remember Kate?) was getting sick from breastfeeding and formula made her well. The decision to formula feed should have been an easy one, but it left Kate wrought with fear and anxiety over the decision, to the point where she had to have a friend come feed her child for her. So many women are in similar situations, and that’s awful! If breastfeeding is working for you, then great! Carry on! But let’s change the conversation a little and educate women about the many, many benefits of formula. Because often formula is the best choice, and it really shouldn’t be a struggle for anyone.

    Getting back to Hilary’s initial question, which I don’t think I answered even though I wanted to … I don’t think you can brag about your parenting successes. Actually, that’s kind of rude. But I do think you can brag about your kids. My daughter has always been way ahead on all her milestones. I can’t take credit for that. Who knows if any of the decisions I made along the way did or didn’t make an impact? Taking credit for it takes away from the credit she’s due. I also love hearing other parents brag about their kids. All children are something to be proud of. And sorry, ladies, but no matter what we’re doing the credit is still all theirs, not ours!

  6. Mandy, you first asked why anyone (especially well-educated women) would breastfeed when formula is available. I answered your question. I’m not willing to take it on faith that all the breastfeeding research is wrong. I have read a lot on formula feeding as well, out of personal interest (and time to kill during hours of newborn breastfeeding) and have read the Fearless Formula Feeder blog, etc. Where I see the most important difference is in the immune system benefits and the support of the microbiome. All that research is new (so comparing outcomes is going to be quite tricky) but does point to some differences which may go on to help explain food allergies and other immune problems (again, look at the fecal transplantation example – people with heretofore incurable bowel problems getting cured by changing their colon bacteria.) Stuff that is actually present in 1st world countries in all social classes and does impact quality of life. You’re never going to have crystal clear conclusive findings because you can’t do randomized, controlled, double blind studies on babies and breastfeeding.

    My point about colostrum is that it has a mostly immunological job to do, and is not really about nutrition. I posted the comment about horses as an aside intentionally because I found it to be interesting to highlight the immunological role of colostrum. I wish I could delete it now because clearly it’s just a distraction from the point. I personally wish women would consider at least breastfeeding for a week or two before moving to formula for that reason.

    I agree that this is not the single most important parenting decision and is probably overblown. As a mom of a newborn almost every decision feels that way though, at least it did to me. But to dismiss any benefit at all is the same black and white approach you are decrying. I think how women approach this kind of decision has some to do with their personality. For example, some women struggle a lot with how they birthed their child and whether that was in line with their expectations. Others move on without lingering on it. I’m guessing the same applies to formula feeding.

    It’s been interesting to discuss with you but I think we won’t ever see eye to eye on this. Take it easy.

  7. I am so impressed by Kate’s story. My son had lip and tongue tie, and did not have bloody diapers, and I could not make it work. I still think I should have tried harder, but I did the best I could. Craniosacral therapy, check, surgery for tongue and lip tie, check, switch to formula, check, neverending pumping, check. He never caught on. You definitely should pat yourself on the back for your hard work paying off. I truly wish I had gotten to know comfortable pleasant breastfeeding after the challenges we went through. I won’t have another so I guess I’ll never know, but truly you are amazing.

    1. Hey lady – YOU are amazing, too. You fed your child and helped him grow healthy and strong. You are a committed mother who used all the resources at your disposal. Sometimes there’s no “try harder” – it’s all about doing the best you can, which you did. If nothing else, I hope my story can help each parent own their story a little more. Thanks for the kudos, but give yourself a pat on the back, too!!! :)

  8. I do not have a child, but have been listening through this podcast and really enjoying it! I just finished this episode and got to thinking about the role that luck plays in the situation. In combination with working really hard to do something the “right” way and being proud that you got through it and triumphed, isn’t a person also just sort of lucky too? Why can’t someone say “I used this method because I wanted to breastfeed my baby, and stuck with it and luckily that worked for me”? To my ear alleviates the implied, unspoken criticisms that are being discussed in this episode. Just a thought. Love the show!

  9. I just started listening to this podcast when I pump at work. I listened to this episode not knowing it included a story about allergic colitis. My daughter has the same symptoms that Jack had and I am SO encouraged by this story. I am powering through a very restrictive diet and thankfully seeing improvement. I am encouraged to keep going and hope that it won’t influence our breastfeeding journey to end early. Thank you for sharing!

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