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3 B’s of Baby Feeding: Breast, Bottle, Both

Originally posted January 22, 2014.

What’s the best method of infant feeding?

Boy, have I been afraid to dip my toe into this arena! What a hot topic this can be! It pushes all sorts of buttons for moms and families, including mine, I admit!

Trained as a psychotherapist, I tend to see all sides of an issue.

There are alot of confusing and contradictory studies/opinions about the many levels (psychological, physical and emotional) about the infant feeding discussion. The studies, like our culture, tend to focus on reductionist issues, like focusing on small details, small issues of how many point .5 hours more of sleep does a mom get if she breast feeds?

How many more point .5 IQ points does a person get if they are breastfed?

How do we translate this into our lives?

Hmm, well, I was formula fed and so were my siblings. I’m very healthy, at 56 in better shape than a lot of younger people I know and pretty damn smart. My older brother is a well-known consultant who has testified in front of congress numerous times on high-level cases and can run rings around anyone with detailed data about the economy and politics, my sister is a well-known fine artist with public venues to her credit, and my other brother owns his own successful business. So, I don’t know, I think we’re all pretty smart.

So, I guess there were other factors influencing our intelligence and success.

Aha! I can feel the breastfeeding crowd getting annoyed with me!

Ok – Listen up! On the other hand, at 56, I still go to the Garden State Leche League conferences every other year. (Henci’s gonna be there this year – I ain’t missing that!)

And I chose to breastfeed my infant son for two years. I wanted to, I enjoyed it. It was great; it was hard. It was like anything else in my life, a mixed bag. So is a 23 year marriage, no? I breastfed for two years and I had long-term postpartum depression.

I really loved the times when we were together, breastfeeding.

But I never appreciated the awkwardness that I felt when people judged me for breastfeeding…this was a lifetime ago..he’s 19 now and away at college. (He’d die of embarrassment that I’m talking about this in public, so don’t tell him!)

And, guess what, this completely breastfed baby and child has allergies. So much for breastfeeding being protective of that. He was very ill for a long time for unexplainable reasons. It was a very big issue in our lives for a long time. He’s a lot better now. For years, we went to all sorts of traditional and alternative doctors; tried all sorts of conventional and alternative treatments. The only place that helped him was a team of oh, ten doctors, at Children’s Hospital in Pennsylvania. He’s well now.

So there were other influential factors on his health besides breastfeeding.

As a clinician, I find research on the topic of breastfeeding and maternal mental health and postpartum depression to be unsatisfying. I don’t find answers. One reductionist study says one thing, another says another thing, like breastfeeding is protective of PPD.

Not so in my case.

Hey, I had other influencing factors, such as a previous depressive episode in my lifetime combined with leaving a high-paying job and becoming a SAHM and a big physical move. I also had pre-existing emotional and physical sensitivity during my periods and terrible morning-sickness: both telltale signs of heightened hormonal sensitivity that occurred again when my body went through the enormous hormonal adjustment of pregnancy and birth.

So, how about that?

There are other factors, such as my individual, personal, emotional history, my individual physical make-up, my current life stresses that influenced how I felt after birth besides breastfeeding.

It takes at least three months, sometimes longer, depending on whether or not the mom is breastfeeding, for the pregnancy hormones to level out to pre-pregnancy levels.

And the women I see in my practice? Young women today often have well-developed careers as they move into motherhood. And very little time off of work. And pressure to pay the mortgage. And their husbands are working hard, too, commuting long hours. And they want to breastfeed, but end up not feeding their baby but feeding the breast pump at work. And they are pumping like three times a day, all alone in cold conference rooms or bathrooms.

Last year, I went to a lecture hosted by the Maternal Child Partnership of New Jersey. Dr. Patricia Dreyfuss, a well-known NJ obstetrician who was invited to talk about postpartum depression, commented that she wished she could throw all the breast-pumps into the ocean. She said she sees women being driven to feed the pump rather than feed their baby and that this causes alot of distress and upset!

When I hear my clients struggling, really struggling with depression, stress, and tight schedules, that thought sure goes through my mind as well.

How can a women have the warm feelings that encourage let-down and produce milk on such a stressful schedule? In Lean In, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s experiences of pumping in her conference room. Not many woman have the luxury of being alone in a conference room to pump..but even that sure sounds stressful to me.

The women I see in my office don’t have it all. They can’t do it all. They are exhausted from trying to live up to such high standards in the work and home arena.

And it’s not easy for families today, with two working parents and very little family leave, to be able to adjust emotionally and physically to a new baby.

So we talk about what does this individual woman really want? How can she feel better? What actually fits into her life? How can we can work together on a plan so that she is feeling better and her life works for her individual situation?

We explore her individual feelings and situation and try to come up with a solution that works for everyone in her family.

  • Sometimes she says, I just don’t want to breastfeed. Ok, we come up with a support plan for that.

  • Sometimes she says, I want to continue breastfeeding until xyz months. Ok, we come up with a support plan for that.

  • Sometimes she says, maybe I need to do both: breast feed and also feed my baby with high-quality formula. Ok, we come up with a support plan for that.

  • Sometimes, it’s just time to wean. Ok, we come up with a support plan for that.

I’m there to support new moms in whatever decision she needs to make to keep herself emotionally and physically well.

There are many ways to have a functioning healthy family.

If you need help in sorting out your thoughts and feelings about what works for you in your particular situation, I’m here for you in my Wayne, NJ office, by telephone or by ReGroup Therapy to support you in discovering and creating your own path.


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