Why Formula Companies Love “Breast is Best”

My husband and I often talk to our children about marketing. We want them to be aware of how companies try to get people to buy their product(s), so that they can make more informed choices and don’t fall prey to clever marketing tactics (“Do you think those shoes can really make you fly?”).

I think this is something that we need to be aware of when talking about infant feeding as well. When I get into a conversation about formula companies, I often hear “Well formula companies can’t be all bad because it says right on their website and on the cans that “breast is best!”. This is very true. If you go to any formula company website, or if you look at a can of formula, you will see messages about “breast is best”. Does this mean that formula companies truly believe that and want all moms to breastfeed? The answer to that is a resounding No!  What it does mean is that their marketing division with their millions of dollars has determined that putting that message on their product won’t hurt sales. The formula industry is worth billions, and it is not against throwing it’s weight around to make changes to anything that it feels might jeopardize it’s profits. In 2004, they did just that when they opposed the new breastfeeding ads that the US government was planning to unveil. The ads were eventually replaced with a watered down version due to pressure from the formula companies. So if formula companies believed that putting the phrase “breast is best” on their websites and products would hurt sales, you can be sure that they would be making a fuss about it.

So why do formula companies love “breast is best”? Well, as outlined in Diane Wiessingers very insightful article “Watch Your Language“, “breast is best” frames formula feeding as the norm and breastfeeding as a nice extra if you’re able to do it. The message that parents receive has become “breast is best, but formula is OK too”. “Breast is best” allows formula companies to say “We fully support breastfeeding. See – it says so on our website and products”. It allows the companies to give the appearance of caring about breastfeeding while they go about undermining it. Breastfeeding is after all their main competition! I wonder what the reaction would be from the formula companies if they were required to put messages such as “Formula feeding increases your baby’s risk of obesity” on their websites and products?
Formula companies spend millions on marketing, and everything on their websites is designed to subtly turn mothers off of breastfeeding. The website for the new BabyNes machine from Nestle is a perfect example of their marketing tactics at work.

When you first open the page, you are greeted with a beautiful mother and her (formula fed) baby who are quite literally glowing thanks to the special effects on the page. Underneath, we see a woman breastfeeding her baby. Great that they’re showing breastfeeding right? Well, if we look closer at it, the breastfeeding mom is sitting on the floor, is barefoot, is half undressed and her dark roots are showing through her blond hair colouring (compare that to the beautifully highlighted hair of the formula feeding mom).  All of this is subtle, but it creates an emotional reaction (which is exactly what it was designed to do). The reaction may not even be a conscious one for many people, but it plays on the stereotype of women who breastfeed being barefoot “hippies” who just “whip it out”. It also plays into the fear of having a baby who ties you down and nurses so often that you can’t even get your hair coloured. Even the graph behind the mom with the downward slope to it produces a negative feeling about breastfeeding.

On the right is a picture of this same breastfeeding mom and baby with a doctor standing beside them.  The text surrounding this picture is talking about the service that Nestle offers where you can talk to their “experts” to get customized advice about feeding your baby. In using the image of the breastfeeding mother however, the implication is that breastfeeding is complicated and likely requires the help of a health professional.

Smack dab in the middle of these two pictures of the poor breastfeeding mother, is Nestle’s new “comprehensive nutrition system” to save you from having to expose yourself to the world, miss out on “you” time and spend lots of time at the doctors office due to those cracked and bleeding nipples you’re bound to have if you’re breastfeeding. A wonderful example of marketing tactics at work. Formula companies also use pictures of breastfeeding moms to convey the message that their formula is the next best thing to breastmilk. The breastfeeding mother in the pictures on the Nestle site is wearing white (which implies purity), and so is the formula feeding mom. The emotional message? Our product is just as good (pure) as breastmilk.

Along with the “breast is best” messages, formula websites often contain information about breastfeeding. This information is not placed there due to a desire to help breastfeeding moms however. The information is again designed to undermine breastfeeding. There is often talk of cracked and bleeding nipples, embarrassing leaks, the need to maintain a special diet etc. etc. When I gave birth to my son, I remember there was a “breastfeeding” booklet by the side of my bed (produced by a formula company). One thing I really remember was in the section on pumping where it started out with the  line “First, fully expose your breasts”. Who wants to pump if it means “fully exposing” yourself? Much easier to just go to formula right? It was a classic example of how the language the formula companies use is designed to make moms feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding, feel like it’s too much work or too restricting etc.

Formula companies spend a lot of money on getting their marketing right. To me, that means if the formula companies are happy to use the phrase “Breast is Best” on their cans of formula, then it’s definitely a phrase that we should not be using to try to encourage more moms to breastfeed. Breast is not best, it is normal.


The Truth Behind Common Breastfeeding Myths

There are many common misconceptions about breastfeeding, and they often cause damage to the breastfeeding relationship. Here are some of the ones that are frequently held by parents and health care providers alike, and the truth behind them.

Myth: It’s normal for breastfeeding to hurt. Truth: If breastfeeding  hurts something is wrong. Nursing may be a little uncomfortable during the early days as your body adjusts to a new sensation, but it should never be painful. Poor latch is the most common cause of pain in the early weeks, but there are other possibilities including sucking issues with baby from birth interventions or physical characteristics such as tongue-tie. If nursing hurts, get help as soon as possible. The earlier breastfeeding problems are addressed, the easier they are to fix. If you go to someone for help and the problem isn’t solved, keep trying until you find someone with the knowledge and experience to help.

Myth: Moms with small breasts can’t make enough milk. Truth: Breast size doesn’t matter.  Milk production has nothing to do with breast size.  It’s even possible for women with smaller breasts to have an oversupply of milk! Following your baby’s lead and nursing whenever your baby cues to feed will help to ensure adequate production of milk.

Myth: Many moms can’t produce enough milk. Truth: The vast majority of mothers can make more than enough milk for their baby (or babies!). It is estimated that only 2-5% (some believe this number is lower, closer to 1-2%) of women are truly unable to produce enough milk for their baby. Our species never would have survived if we weren’t able to provide for our young. Low milk production is usually the result of not enough stimulation of the breast from nursing or pumping.

Myth: There is no milk in the first few days. Truth: Colostrum *is* breastmilk! The small amounts are perfect for a new baby’s tiny stomach. Newborn stomach capacity: Day one 9-10ml (1/3 oz), day three 22-27ml (3/4-1 oz), day 10 60-81ml (2-2.5 oz).

Myth: Babies usually nurse every 3-4 hours. Truth: Babies often need to eat every 2 hrs or less. Babies have small stomachs and breastmilk is digested quickly. This is not a flaw in nature’s design, babies need to be held and interacted with frequently to aid in the development of  their brains. Frequent feedings help to ensure this!

Myth: Night feedings aren’t important. Truth: Prolactin levels (the hormone responsible for milk production) are highest at night, so those night feedings (or pumping sessions)  are important for milk production.

Myth: Breastfeeding mothers get less sleep. Truth: Recent research has shown that breastfeeding mothers get more sleep, and enjoy better quality sleep, than formula feeding mothers do. Another recent study found no difference in the amount of sleep that breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers get.  Giving formula at night to try to get more rest doesn’t work (and may make things worse if your baby doesn’t react well to the formula), and missing night time nursing sessions can have a negative impact on your milk production.

Myth: Breasts need time to fill up between feedings. Truth: Your breasts are continually making milk as your baby drinks. You don’t need to wait a certain amount of time before putting your baby back to breast.

Myth: There is no way to tell how much baby is getting. Truth: To know whether or not your baby is getting enough breastmilk, look at your baby! If your baby is gaining weight, having plenty of wet and dirty diapers, is content after feedings, meeting developmental milestones, outgrowing clothes and diapers etc, then he’s getting everything he needs.

Myth: If your breasts feel soft you don’t have enough milk. Truth: Many women worry that they don’t have enough milk if their breasts are soft, or they can’t feel their milk “let-down”.  After the early weeks, your body adjusts to your baby’s needs, and the full feeling that you may have experienced early on disappears. This does not mean that you don’t have enough milk, it simply means that your milk production is in sync with your baby’s needs. Being able to feel your milk let down is also not an indicator of milk production. Many women never feel their milk let down.

Myth: If your baby is nursing frequently, he’s just using you as a pacifier. Truth: Breasts are the original pacifier! Babies don’t nurse just for food. This often comes as a surprise to parents, but babies go to the breast for many reasons. They’re hungry, thirsty, tired, hurt, overstimulated, bored, lonely, in the mood for cuddles, etc. All are equally valid reasons to nurse. Believing that babies only nurse because they are hungry can lead to problems if parents try to hold off feedings because “he can’t be hungry he just ate!”. I’m sure most of us have heard someone say “Don’t let your baby use you as a pacifier. My response to this is “I’m not pacifying, I’m mothering!“ Pacifiers were invented to allow babies to satisfy their sucking needs when mom is not available, not the other way around. Mothers are not meant to nurse their babies only when a pacifier isn’t available.

Myth: Frequent nursing and holding will spoil your baby, make him too dependent etc. Truth: Research tells us that babies who are held and nursed frequently, actually go on to be very outgoing and adventurous children. Babies’ first relationships set the tone for all future relationships in life. By responding to our babies’ needs quickly, consistently and with love, we teach our children that the world is a safe and wonderful place. This gives them the courage to go out and explore because they know that they have a safe and loving place to return to.

Myth: If you let your baby fall asleep at the breast, he’ll never learn to go to sleep on his own. Truth: All children eventually learn to settle themselves to sleep. Babies fall asleep at the breast because nature designed it that way. Nursing is a peaceful and easy way to help our babies and young children settle to sleep during a time when they do not yet have the ability to self soothe.

Myth: pumping shows how much milk you have. Truth: The amount you are able to pump is not a good indicator of milk production. Many moms don’t respond well to pump, and a baby who is able to nurse effectively is far more efficient than any pump.

Myth: You have to drink milk to make milk. Truth: Cow’s milk is not a necessary component of anyone’s diet. We are the only mammals who drink milk past the time of natural weaning and yet every other mammal manages to produce milk for their young.

Myth: Eating gassy foods will make your baby gassy/breastfeeding moms have to be careful about what they eat/drink. Truth: Breastmilk is made from what’s in your bloodstream not your stomach. Most babies have no trouble with “gassy” or “spicy” foods, caffeine etc. Everything in moderation unless your baby’s behaviour is telling you otherwise. There is no need to unnecessarily limit your diet.

Myth: You can’t breastfeed if you’re taking medication. Truth: Most medications can be safely taken while breastfeeding. If you have questions about medications and breastfeeding, make sure you have accurate information by calling an IBCLC or the Infant Risk Centre.

Myth: you have to pump & dump after having x-rays, a CT scan or an MRI. Truth: Most scans (even those that use contrast dye) are safe while breastfeeding. Scans using radioactive isotopes are usually the only ones that require a temporary cessation of breastfeeding. If you have questions, check with an IBCLC or call the Infant Risk Centre for more information.

Myth: If you don’t have enough milk with your first baby, it will be the same with your next baby so there’s no sense in trying. Truth: Breasts usually develop more glandular tissue with each pregnancy, so if you didn’t have enough milk with a previous baby, that may not be the case with your next one. Also, most cases of low supply are due to not enough stimulation of your breasts through either nursing or pumping in the early weeks, so arm yourself with good information and support as you prepare for your next baby.

Myth: foremilk-hindmilk imbalance is a common problem. Truth: True foremilk-hindmilk imbalance is rare, and usually only happens in cases of oversupply of milk or timed feedings. Many parents are concerned about their baby getting the fatty “hindmilk”, but all breastmilk has some fat in it. When looking at fat intake, one feeding is not important. What is important is the fat intake over 24 hours. Fat content of breastmilk naturally varies throughout a feeding, and throughout a day. The emptier your breast is, the higher the fat content. So early in the day when milk volume tends to be higher, fat content will naturally be lower. Later in the day when milk volume is naturally lower, the fat content will higher. If you follow your baby’s cues and nurse your baby whenever he is looking for the breast, your baby will get what he needs.

Myth: Once your child gets teeth, can talk etc it’s time to stop nursing. Truth: According to anthropological research, the natural age of weaning for humans is between 2.5-7 years of age. Breastfeeding can and should continue for as long as is mutually desired.

Myth: Breastmilk is a dairy product. Truth: You’re not a cow! Breastmilk is considered a clear fluid.

Myth: Formula is just as good as breastmilk. Truth: Breastmilk is the biological norm for our species. It is a complex and living substance that scientists are still trying to unravel. Breastmilk has over 300 ingredients including white cells, antibacterial and antiviral agents etc. Formula has only 40 (non-living) ingredients.

Myth: After x number of months, breastmilk has no nutritional value. Truth: Breastmilk does not suddenly turn to water just because your baby has reached a certain age. Breastmilk continues to have fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamin and minerals, antibodies etc, for as long as your child is nursing.

Myth: Doctors and nurses know a lot about breastfeeding. Truth: Most doctors and nurses (including pediatricians) have little to no education about breastfeeding (unless they pursue it on their own) as it is not part of their curriculum in school. If you need information about breastfeeding, call someone knowledgeable such as an IBCLC, La Leche League Leader or breastfeeding peer counsellor.

Myth: many mothers give up on breastfeeding too easily. Truth: Most moms want to breastfeed. Breastfeeding initiation rates are high, but the numbers of women exclusively breastfeeding drop off dramatically in the first month. Most moms run into problems and eventually switch to formula feeding due to  lack of accurate info and a lack of support.

Myth: breastfeeding is easy. Truth: Breastfeeding is natural, but in today’s culture it is often not easy. Mothers don’t fail at breastfeeding, society does. In a society where doctors and nurses have little to no training in breastfeeding and are frequently handing out harmful advice, where birth interventions that interfere with breastfeeding are the norm, formula marketing is rampant and mothers are made to feel ashamed to nurse their babies in public, it’s amazing that any woman manages to meet her breastfeeding goals. You can even the odds by educating yourself and establishing a support network. We are not meant to breastfeed or parent in isolation, so don’t be afraid to ask to for help!

Baby-led Bottle Feeding

Unlike breastfeeding, we’ve all seen bottle feeding, and we all know how to do it. We’ve been surrounded by it growing up. If someone handed you a baby and a bottle you would know what to do right? Of course you would, but would you know how to do it without causing a stressful feeding? Despite the large number of parents who use bottles in today’s society (whether those bottles contain breastmilk or formula), there are very few who have actually been taught how to bottle feed their baby in a manner that is respectful of the baby’s airway and natural feeding rhythm.

Bottle feeding may seem like a strange topic for a lactation consultant to be blogging about, but I feel it’s an important one. Conventional bottle feeding methods can cause problems for both breastfed and bottle fed babies, and all babies deserve to be fed in a respectful manner. By “conventional” bottle feeding, I mean the method of bottle feeding that most of us are used to, which is baby more or less on his back, and the bottle being tipped up to ensure there are no air bubbles.

This baby is being overwhelmed with milk and is showing clear stress signs.

Although I work with breastfeeding moms and babies, I do a lot of teaching about bottle feeding. The moms  that come to me, are usually having difficulty with breastfeeding, and are sometimes supplementing breastfeeding with bottles of expressed milk or formula. There are of course alternate methods of supplementing (supplemental nursing system, finger, syringe or cup feeding) but many moms are either already using bottles when I see them, or find that bottles are simply easier to deal with because they are familiar.

I often hear from moms who are afraid that they aren’t producing enough milk because their baby will gulp down a bottle after breastfeeding. It’s important for parents to understand that with conventional bottle feeding methods, babies have no choice but to gulp down everything in their bottle in order to protect their airway. If you hold a bottle upside down (even one with a slow flow nipple), it drips. When a baby being given a bottle swallows, the negative pressure created draws more milk into the baby’s mouth, meaning the baby has to swallow again to avoid choking. This is stressful for the baby, and babies will often display stress cues such as splayed fingers or toes, milk running out of the corner of the baby’s mouth, trying to turn their head away, or trying to push the bottle away. The picture above is a good example of this.

It’s not normal for babies to gulp down their entire feeding in a few minutes. When you watch a baby breastfeeding, you see that they drink for a while then take a little break before drinking again (with the exception perhaps of oversupply/forceful let down, which is a different situation). Breastfeeding is the biological norm for infant feeding. This means that with any other feeding method used, care should be taken to mimic breastfeeding as much as possible.  I have seen conventional bottle feeding methods lead to overfeeding, spitting up, reflux, wheezing and  difficulty breathing while feeding, and even feeding refusal (due to feeding being so stressful). Bottles being given to a breastfed baby can also cause problems with breastfeeding. Babies suck differently from a bottle than they do at the breast, and babies can become accustomed to the faster flow of milk from a bottle, causing them to become impatient at the breast. The tips below can help to minimize some of the problems associated with bottle feeding.

Good positioning for bottle feeding, and a baby who is relaxed and enjoying feeding.


Tips for bottle feeding any baby (not just a breastfed one!)

1. Hold your baby sitting upright, and start by placing the nipple of the bottle against your baby’s top lip. Wait for your baby to open up before putting the bottle in his mouth. Never force a bottle into a baby’s mouth.

2. Your baby should be sitting up enough that the bottle is horizontal (parallel to the floor). Tip the bottle just enough to keep the tip of the nipple filled with milk (as the bottle empties, you will have to tip the bottle up more). It’s fine if there is an air bubble at the base of the nipple as long as the tip is filled with milk. This works much better with a straight bottle rather than an angled one.

3. If you are supplementing a breastfed baby, or pumping and bottle feeding in the hopes of getting baby back to nursing, it is beneficial to let your baby suck on the nipple for a minute or two without getting anything, and then tip the bottle so your baby is getting milk. When breastfeeding, babies have to wait a minute or so for mom’s milk to let down, and they have to suck to trigger that let down. Babies who have been bottle fed sometimes get used to the immediate reward from the bottle and then are impatient at the breast and don’t want to wait for let down. By letting baby suck for a short while without getting anything from the bottle, you are mimicking the process at the breast, and it can help with the transition. There is no need to worry about your baby taking in air, one end or the other it will come back out!

4. Watch your baby’s cues All babies, whether breast or bottle fed should be fed whenever they show signs of being hungry, and not according to any kind of schedule. During feeding, if your baby starts to show any signs of stress (splayed fingers and toes, milk spilling out of mouth, turning head away, pushing bottle away – see picture above) then your baby needs a break. Keep the bottle in your baby’s mouth, but tip the bottle so that the nipple is pointing towards the roof of the baby’s mouth. By doing this, your baby knows that the bottle is still there and will start sucking again when ready. At that point you can tip the bottle back up so that baby is again getting milk. It is frustrating for your baby if you take the bottle out of his mouth to give him a break because he doesn’t know where it has gone or if it’s coming back. If your baby is showing signs that he is done (turning head, trying to push bottle away etc), then respect those cues and end the feeding.

5. Alternate sides part way through the feeding to mimic breastfeeding and allow stimulation to both eyes and both sides of the body. This also helps to prevent the development of a side preference when feeding.

6. Find a nipple that works well for your baby. There are no black and white answers as to which bottle nipple is “best” for a breastfed baby, because all babies are different. For young babies, make sure you are using a slow flow nipple. Even with older babies a slow flow nipple may be best if your baby is struggling with the flow of milk. Don’t worry about the recommended ages on the bottle nipple packaging, watch your baby to determine what works best for them. Unfortunately, “slow flow” is not something that is standardized, and some “slow flow” nipples actually flow quite quickly, so again, watch your baby. I do not recommend the “Nuk” or orthodontic type nipples because mom’s nipples don’t look like that! (If mom’s nipples are pinched or flattened after baby feeds, it’s a sign that baby isn’t latched on properly, or some other issue is causing baby to compress the nipple). Your baby should be able to “latch” onto the base of  whichever nipple you use. Some bottle nipples that are advertised as having a wide base and being “more like mom’s breast”, are so wide that baby ends up being just on the nipple, which is something to be avoided. There are some good pictures of how your baby should look when latched onto a bottle nipple on this post from Best for Babes titled How to Bottle-feed as You’d Breastfeed, and more information at the website www.breastandbottlefeeding.com.

Things to avoid:

1. Never prop a bottle. It’s a dangerous practice that is stressful for your baby.

2. Don’t bottle feed your baby while he’s swaddled. You need to be able to see your baby’s hands to watch for stress signs, and your baby needs to have his hands free to participate in feeding.

3. Don’t feed your baby with him facing away from you. Feeding is an important time for the development of social interaction in babies. Make eye contact with your baby, talk to him and enjoy the feeding as a fun interaction with your baby rather than another task to get through as quickly as possible.

4. Don’t force your baby to finish a bottle by twisting it or moving it around in baby’s mouth. Let your baby decide when he’s done. Overfeeding can lead to an uncomfortable and unhappy baby!


More information about the baby-led method of bottle feeding can be found in Dee Kassing’s article Bottle-Feeding as a Tool to Reinforce Breastfeeding


Use of formula

Along with bottle feeding, I also do a lot of teaching about correct formula preparation because many parents are not informed about the dangers of giving powdered formula to young or ill babies, and haven’t been taught how to prepare powdered formula properly.

Powdered infant formula is not a sterile product and there have been cases of powdered formula being contaminated with the bacteria E. sakazakii which can easily be fatal for young children. Babies under the age of one year are at particular risk of infection with E. sakazakii, with the greatest risk being for those who are less than 28 days old, or who are preterm, low birth weight, or immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system). For these babies, liquid formula should be used because it is sterile.

If you are using  powdered formula it is very important for it to be properly prepared in order to kill any potential bacteria. Powdered formula needs to be mixed with water that is at least than 70 degrees Celsius (boil the water and let it cool for no more than 30 minutes before mixing it with the powder). It can then be cooled to an appropriate temperature for feeding or cooled and stored in the fridge for no more than 24hrs. You can read more detailed information about the proper preparation of powdered infant formula here.

If you are using liquid formula, make sure you follow the directions on the can closely. There are two types of liquid formula – ready to feed and liquid concentrate. The liquid concentrate must be mixed with the proper amount of water (as outlined on the can) before feeding. Failure to mix liquid concentrate formula with the right amount of water can have severe consequences for your baby.




When I was pregnant with our first child, I had a picture in my mind of what it was going to be like staying at home with our baby. I envisioned my husband coming home from work each day to a clean house, with supper ready and our baby peacefully sleeping. Reality was of course a far cry from what I had envisioned! With a baby who nursed every hour and a half for an hour at a time, My husband was lucky if I had managed to get dressed during the day let alone have a shower, clean the house or make dinner.

Looking back, my expectations were of course very unrealistic. I was the first in our family to have a baby however, and also the first of my friends, so I had no experience with the realities of motherhood. My expectations were based on what I had seen on TV, in movies, and in books and magazines. Those idealized images of “Supermom” having a spotless house, dinner on the table, and hair and makeup done all while caring for a young baby, were all I had to go on.

Because of this, the transition of going from working woman to stay at home mom was a difficult one. During the many hours that I spent nursing our son, I would often get frustrated by his frequent nursing. I had other things that I needed to get done. Whatever happened to newborns sleeping most of the day?! I was used to being on the go and busy, so spending most of the day sitting on the couch felt like wasted time, and I felt guilty when the household chores went undone. Other parents could manage a baby, house and husband, so why couldn’t I? My husband was very supportive, and certainly didn’t care that dinner wasn’t ready or that the house hadn’t been tidied up, but I did care, and I felt guilty for not being able to “do it all”.

By the time I was nursing our second child, my expectations were more realistic, however I still struggled with the difference between my expectations and reality (especially with another child to look after!). It was not until our daughter was much older that I came to the realization that during all those hours of sitting on the sofa nursing, I was actually doing something very important. The most important thing I will ever do in my life. I was feeding her, comforting her, stimulating her brain growth and development, and teaching her about trust and loving relationships (all by just nursing!). Once I came to the realization that nursing her was my job, and an important one, it became much easier to ignore the laundry that was piling up and the fact that we were having sandwiches for dinner (again) because I hadn’t had time to cook. I was able to adjust my expectations, and accept the fact that I was going to be spending a lot of the day (and night!) nursing. These days, I really miss those evening periods of cluster nursing when I had an excuse to put my feet up, put the TV on and stay there for 3 hours!

Unrealistic expectations can lead to a lot of problems. They can be damaging to the breastfeeding relationship, and can often lead to early weaning. When a newborn baby is hungry every 2 hours (which is very normal), the expectation that babies only need to eat every 3-4 hours can cause a mother to doubt her ability to produce enough milk for her baby. Expectations can be damaging to a woman’s sense of herself as a mother. It’s easy to feel like a terrible mother when you’re struggling (as I was) with an unrealistic view of what it’s like to be a mom. When you’re out in public and seeing mothers around you who look happy with their perfectly behaved children, you start questioning your abilities as a parent. Expectations can also cause unnecessary struggles with your children, when (for example) you are trying to get your young baby to sleep through the night because that’s what the books say your child should be doing.

Considering the fact that most of us have grown up in a society where detached parenting has been the norm, and the supermom stereotype is readily perpetuated, it’s not surprising that many of us do have very unrealistic expectations. Combine this with the fact that many women have never even held a newborn baby, let alone seeing someone else breastfeed or parent their child, and many of us are sadly unprepared for the realities of motherhood. We are not meant to parent in isolation. We learn from watching others, and sharing ideas and experiences. This is why it is so important to establish a good support system. In my early days as a parent I found a lot of support on-line, and eventually with my daughter, I found La Leche League. As friends and family started having babies of their own, they also became a valuable source of support.

As I grew as a mother, and saw those around me struggling with the same things I had struggled with, I realized that when you see those happy mothers in the store with their perfect children, there is something you haven’t seen. You haven’t seen that same mother yelling at her perfectly behaved children moments before they entered the store because she’s having a rough day and her children were fighting non-stop in the car. During my time as a La Leche League Leader, I would often hear mothers who were new to our group comment on how well behaved the children were and how relaxed the mothers were during meetings. Usually they were commenting because they felt like that would never be them, and they were feeling insecure about their abilities as a mother. That is why I used to make it a point during some meetings to talk about the things that we are less than proud of as mothers. Those were the times when you would hear about those calm mothers yelling at their children because they just can’t take the whining anymore, or the frustrations of constant tantrums. You would hear about the less than healthy meals that their children have had during those times when the moms are so tired from late night feedings, or being up with a sick child that they can’t find the energy to cook. You would hear about the piles of laundry and the fact that they hadn’t cleaned their bathroom for 2 weeks, and you would start to realize that you’re not such a bad mother after all!

There is no such thing as a perfect parent, and we certainly do ourselves no favours as a society by holding up an unattainable ideal for mothers. I still struggle at times with my own expectations of myself as a mother, but I have made a lot of progress. I have surrounded myself with a strong support system, I’ve learned to listen more to my heart and my instincts, and most importantly, and I’ve learned to be gentle on myself when reality doesn’t live up to my expectations.

If Only I Had Known

While trying to get started with my blog, I found myself getting really stuck with my first post. While struggling with my writing, I started to think about what my goals are with my blog. In short, my main goal is to try to provide parents with the information that I wish I had been given before having my own children.
During my journey so far as a mother, I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve found myself thinking “I wish I had known this when my children were babies”. The more I learn about breastfeeding, mothering and attachment parenting, the more I realize how little I knew when I first brought a new life into this world. When I was pregnant with our first child, I was working as an RN on the obstetrics unit of the local hospital, and I thought I was well prepared to birth, and care for a baby. I’m well educated, I had read the typical books, and taken a prenatal class with my husband. I figured I was ready! Time has taught me however just how wrong I was.
Breastfeeding seemed to go well with our son, although feedings usually took about an hour and he was feeding every hour and a half. Around 5 months, he started biting me badly at every feed. It got to the point that I dreaded feeding him, and eventually, we weaned him to bottles of formula (I know now that his biting was due to an undiagnosed tongue tie) .
Looking back, I find myself thinking “If only I had known then what I know now”. None of the resources I read before the birth of our son explained about the risks of artificial feeding. Everything I read or was told, suggested that breastfeeding was best, but formula was OK if it didn’t work out. At the time, no one told me that there are numerous risks to artificial feeding (the increased risk of asthma for example, which our son has) . No one taught me baby-led bottle feeding to avoid overfeeding, or that rice cereal isn’t a necessary first food and that it’s not necessary to puree everything. I didn’t know about the advantages of co-bedding or babywearing. I didn’t know about a lot of things.
We muddled through of course, and thanks to the fact that my husband and I at least trusted our instincts and ignored the constant warnings that we were holding him too much, our son is securely attached, and a very happy and outgoing child.
Looking back at the choices we made, I don’t feel guilty about the fact that I weaned him to formula, I feel angry. Angry that with all the evidence based information about breastfeeding and parenting that is out there, for some reason, it is not getting to the people who need it the most – the parents!
All of my information came from mainstream books and magazines that contained questionable information, booklets from formula companies that are designed to undermine breastfeeding, and doctors and nurses who had little to no training about infant feeding. It’s no wonder I didn’t make it past 5 months of breastfeeding with my son.
With our daughter, who was born 27 months later, I knew more, but we still struggled for the first four months of breastfeeding (undiagnosed posterior tongue tie). The only reason we made it to just over 3 years of breastfeeding was because of my extreme stubbornness the second time around. I was determined it was going to work, and it did, but the first few months were horrible, and would have been so much easier if only I had known….
So my goal at the moment is to try to make sure that the next generation of parents have fewer “If only I had known!” moments than my husband and I have had (and will continue to have, I’m sure) with our children.