04 November 2007

My Bottle-fed Babies

I use bottles because my body does not produce enough milk. This is a fact about myself that has been a thorn in my side, so to speak. If you really want to know how all of this began, you can read E.'s birth story. With E., I did try some alternative methods of supplementation. However, they were complicated, never felt natural, and I always used a bottle when feeding him in front of visitors.

With the girls, we decided just to use a bottle {after nursing, of course, this is why it is called "supplementation"}.

So, here I am, with three mostly-bottle-fed babies. I am still breast-is-best enough to cringe if I think about it too long.

Some of the cringing has to do with a sense of failure that I can't do it, a disappointment with God that my body doesn't do what it appears to be created to do. One of the reasons why I like organic, non-GMO, unpasteurized food is because it seems to be more in line with the way God created things, and I am very comfortable with the created order.

So imagine me taking a scoop of powder and shaking it in a bottle and then telling Baby it's time for her milk. I cringe, even now, after all these years.

But, really, I'm not writing this to talk about or complain about formula. It is what it is.

What I want to talk about is who feeds the baby.

One of the other reasons I dislike bottle-feeding is because people try to steal the baby. No one has the gall to walk up to a nursing mommy and suggest that she allow them to feed the baby so that she can "take a break" or let them "bond with the baby" for a short while. But bottle-feeding moms have to deal with this all the time.

Is a distant relative visiting your home? If you bottle-feed, chances are she will want to give the baby a bottle. Close friend? Relative? Baby sitter? Almost all of them will offer to feed the baby.

When I was a first-time mom, I usually said yes. I felt guilty saying no. After all, now that baby was bottle-fed, I was essentially dispensable. Everyone in the room was just as capable as nourishing the baby as I was. In fact, if I refused, I occasionally got the impression that some people viewed me as selfish. After all, I got to see the baby all day long, and they were only here for a short while.

Deep breath.

It's time to step back and look at that created order again. Mother's milk says a number of things about God's design. People often assume it says only one thing, but I think those people are mistaken. Milk does say the obvious, which is what God designed the baby to eat. And this is usually where the discussion ends.

But I would argue that mother's milk also reveals, among other things, who God designed to feed the baby.

And I think this is why it bothered me that people always wanted to feed my babies. Once the issue of what Baby should eat was up for grabs, who should feed Baby was, too.

And that, my friends, was part of my cringing. My "failure" to make milk combined with the general cultural idea that mothers are optional, that some sort of substitute was totally valid.

Does this mean that I never let anyone feed the baby? No. Even breastfeeding moms occasionally pump a bottle and let their husband or grandma feed baby. I am not about to make absolute statements about this issue.

However, comma...

To those moms who are bottle feeding {for whatever reason}, don't feel like you can't defend your territory. You are not selfish when you tell others that you will be the one to feed the baby. If you were nursing, this would be obvious, but the bottle sometimes muddies the issue. So you will have to make it clear.

What do I say? Now that I am on Baby Number Three, fewer people ask. There are so many other ways they can help. But, sometimes, if the person asking is close enough that they can joke about it, I say, "If your breasts make milk, you can feed the baby."

And they laugh. And I laugh. And we all get the point.

I am Mommy. No one else is. God's design is not for Grandpa, Grandma...or even Daddy to feed the baby. Mommy is for feeding.

Am I saying it is sinful for someone else to feed the baby? No! I don't think we need to go that far in order to have a discussion about this. Was it sinful for the Hebrews to have wet-nurses? There have always been a certain percentage of women who were incapable of making milk, or at least enough milk.

My point is about the design. The world has blurred a lot of roles that used to be so clear. The overwhelming acceptance of formula has aided this. After all, it is formula which allows Mommy to get a job and leave Baby with a "care provider." The bottle has done much in our society to separate mother from child.

If you are a bottle-feeding mom, and you are uncomfortable with how often other people want to feed your baby, I suggest you start saying no. Today. Right now.

I look back on life with my firstborn, and I wish I had done this. I wish I had insisted on being the one to feed him. But I was timid, afraid that others would take offense. Now I know that this is not an area for timidity, but for simply stating the facts. Namely, asking the question, "Who does God's design say should feed the baby?"

4 comments:

  1. This was a thought provoking post for me and I can really understand where you are coming from.

    As far as I know, I will be one of those women who can't breastfeed her babies. I say "will be" because a) I am not married, b) I don't have a baby, and c) unless I am mistaken about some medical information I have received it will be much better for my future child(ren)'s health to be bottle-fed.

    But anyway, your post really got me thinking. I can see why you would feel somewhat hesitant to let another feed your baby when you WOULD be the only one feeding her if you COULD do it naturally.

    That gives me the idea that perhaps I should adopt the same philosophy (albeit probably much too prematurely) since I will more than likely be bottle-feeding all my hypothetical future children. I never thought about how much bonding took place between mother and child during breast-feeding, but now that I read about it I can understand your thoughts. I feel kinda' silly as I write this since it seems so obvious but as I have never been a mother thus, I guess I am a bit slower in catching on. I always heard about that wonderful "bonding experience" between mother and baby while I was studying nursing and the brief stent I worked in Women's health as an RN but I didn't truly understand it. To me it was more like, "oh yeah, bonding. That nice, warm fuzzy feeling a mom gets when she holds her baby."

    Just so you know, you have some support out there. I think you are perfectly justified to not desire nor allow others to feed your babies. But maybe Daddy really would like to hold and feed baby sometime and maybe you could use the extra arms. Just a thought. :)

    As a side note: Did you know the simple act of holding a baby is known as "nursing" in Australia? I heard a rather humorous incident related of an Australian man who had asked a young American girl if she would like to "nurse" the baby. After she looked at him with eyes wide in shock he replied nonchalantly,"Well, okay then I'LL nurse the baby." Hehe. Needless to say, it had American audiences nearly rolling out of their chairs with laughter.

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  2. Lydia,
    Thanks for your reflections! I always appreciate them.

    I will say that my husband (and the grandparents) do occasionally feed the baby. I just try not to let that happen any more than a breast-feeding mom would (by pumping). And feeding the baby solid food is something I let anyone do anytime because I don't see any evidence of "design" to the contrary.

    Breastfeeding is a bonding experience, for sure. But just as adoptive moms can bond with a baby, so can bottle-feeding moms. Breastfeeding might help, but I think there is more than one road to the desired destination (being bonded). It is interesting to note, though, that some of the adoption literature suggests that the new mom and dad not pass the baby around until they are sure the baby has bonded with them. So similar logic still seems to apply.

    I had no idea about Autralia's terminology! Very funny story, and I'm sure you have saved me from future embarrassment. :)

    Also, if you ever wanted to talk about whether you can or cannot nurse your babies, I'd be willing to give you my take privately over email. Though the nursing of my babies has been limited, it has been worthwhile. Of course, if you don't want to talk about it, I completely understand.

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  3. "No one has the gall to walk up to a nursing mommy and suggest that she allow them to feed the baby so that she can 'take a break' or let them 'bond with the baby' for a short while." Actually, they do. In fact, I have heard many people say that breastfeeding mom should pump so other people "get a chance" to bond with the baby, as if it is only reasonable to expect this demanding, extra step. I have also had people ask my husband if he feels cheated that he didn't get to bottle-feed our children.

    True story - my husband has always been a protective, not-going-to-share kind of dad. A couple weeks after my oldest was born, one of the older moms came up to my husband at church and asked if she could hold the baby. She had her arms out, fully expecting my daughter to be passed over when my husband coolly said, "No," and walked away. It became kind of a joke among our church friends, but no one even bothered to ask him by the time our third was born!

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    Replies
    1. That's hilarious! I admire someone brave enough to say no when everyone expects a yes!

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