Let's get one thing straight. Breast is not "best". Breast is "better". Unless you think there are more than two options for feeding a new born of course. Pate de foie gras? Chicken biryani? Steak and kidney pudding?
I have breastfed all of my children. I did it because I believed, as I still do, that it is better for them and for me. L, A and S consumed nothing but breast milk for the World Health Authority's recommended six months and beyond that they had it combined with food. It was good for them. They grew and thrived and enjoyed it.
But M, who is now four months, is different. He is, clearly, enjoying it, and he is, equally clearly, thriving and developing. But he is still not, really, growing. At 19 weeks he's now about twelve pounds (I think), which is significantly smaller than a friend of mine's (admittedly very large) four week old.
He has, thus far, had nothing but breast milk. And if I want him to put on lots of weight, which he is not at the moment, there is an obvious plan of action. I can see it. I can virtually smell it (unpleasant isn't it?). Formula. Formula fed babies tend to put on weight quicker. They tend to be bigger. They tend, let's face it, not all to grow up to be psychopathic killers.
But I can't do it. I have been brainwashed.
I know, logically, that formula is fine. I have many friends who have either never breast fed, for whatever reason, or who have, again for multiple reasons, moved onto formula before weaning. Their children are all just as exasperatingly, infuriatingly, lovingly, brilliant as mine (well, not as mine, but as most other people's anyway...). I also live in a country where I am fortunate enough to have clean water with which to make up my bottles. Formula is not going to damage my baby. I know this.
But I don't feel it. And what's weird is clearly nor do the health visitors. I think part of this is that although M is small we are not, now, worried about him. He is growing - just not as quickly as most other babies - and he is tracking the bottom line on the authoritarian charts. He is doing all the things a baby of his age should do and he is happy and smiley with it. But while no one is worried, we are all agreed that it would be nice if he were a bit fatter. Yet when I wondered out loud about formula, I was met with looks of horror.
What is that about? How did we all get so scared of something which, let's face it, the majority of mothers in this country use from birth? How have we, intelligent women all, become so brainwashed?
How did I allow myself to get to the point where I feel that if I introduce a bottle, I will have failed. I will be that dread being, the bad mother? And how is it that I know I am not alone in feeling like this? Why am I ashamed by the thought of giving my baby a bottle in public? Why is it that I know if I were to do so, I would be judged, and found wanting? And, most importantly, how does that help the breast feeding campaign? Is this really what they would want? How is that better for mothers or babies?
I know that formula is not going to hurt my baby, and I also know that if I choose to give it to him it will be for all the right reasons. Surely that decision, whether made by me or any other mother, should be praised and not condemned.
There is, here, an added level, perhaps. For me, dealing with three other young and demanding children, the time I spend on the sofa or in bed, M on the breast, secure in a bubble of us, is the best and most focused time I can give him. He doesn't get much of me and this is something that I can do for and with him, and for him alone. More than that, it is something that only I can do. No-one else can (given the lack of wet nurses in the Yellow Pages) do this for my baby. That feels very important. I feel, somewhere visceral (or possibly mammarian) that I need M, in years to come, to know that I did this for him, that I loved him as much as his sisters.
But that's stupid isn't it? Because loving him as much doesn't mean treating him in exactly the same way. If formula is right for him then giving it to him is as much an act of love as breast-feeding him currently feels.
So I know all this. I really do. But despite that for the moment I'm going to hang on to my time with my tiny boy, and the experience that only we can share. It just feels, perhaps against logic, right for us. Maybe I really have been brainwashed.
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