Breast is Best

My youngest sister just called, she of the three-month-old baby. The hospital has been hounding her to bring him in for a follow-up hearing test, even though he passed his first one in the hospital, and my sister doesn’t want to do it.

Why? Because she has to not nurse him prior to the test, and she doesn’t see the point in driving a hungry, wailing baby across the city for a seemingly unnecessary test.

So the people who are pushing for the test told her that she is welcome to bring a bottle of formula to give to S-Man during or immediately after the test. And my sister was all, “Oh, I don’t give him formula, I just breast feed.” And the nurse there was HORRIFIED, she gave my sister a little lecture about how she MUST give him formula as a top-up, and however was her baby SURVIVING on breast milk alone.


This is my sister’s second baby so she was all, “Whatever, crazy lady, now go away,” but I think you can see how a first-time mother might be swayed by a member of the medical profession saying something like this. It totally smacks of this post that I just read a few days ago at Captial Mom — the same thing happened to her, and it was so upsetting.

I do not understand how the message that “breast is best” is totally getting through to Canadian mothers…and yet not to Canadian doctors and nurses. Something is wrong with our system, isn’t it?

I now wonder why I chose to breast feed in the first place. Was it the internet? Was it parenting magazines? Maybe the What To Expect books push nursing? I know it wasn’t my family – none of the women had nursed a baby in generations. It wasn’t my doctor, who bottle fed both her babies and was not interested in nursing.

And lordy, it wasn’t the staff at the hospital. I can’t count the number of recovery ward nurses who pushed me to bottle feed, who said that my baby was crying because I wasn’t making enough milk, who warned me that my kid would never thrive without external milk. For shame! After Little Miss Sunshine was born, I was randomly selected to complete an exit survey, and I waxed on at length about how the recovery nurses required a course in breast feeding, both so that they could provide adequate instruction and support, and so they wouldn’t fill new mothers’ heads with nonsense. For heaven’s sake!

I guess it just shocks me that in this day and age, when almost every new mom I know is either breastfeeding or at least making the attempt, that the medical profession is still so full of anti-breastfeeding propaganda. That a medical person could be out there spreading information that is simply not true, that the majority of mothers know is not true.

One of the hardest things to learn as a new mother is to trust your instincts; that you know your baby the best. That doctors are only people with opinions, and they aren’t always right.

Thank heavens my sister already knows that. SHEESH.

28 thoughts on “Breast is Best

  1. wow, reading this situation twice in a week is crazy! the hospital where i delivered the bean was totally on the breast feeding band wagon. they had posters everywhere and the nurses worked with my trying desperately to get the bean latched and feeding. i don’t know if it was because i was with a midwife that they tried helping extra hard, but i have heard other stories about the mat ward at this hospital and they all seem to be along the same lines. what is it with these nurses and doctors? i HAD to go to a bottle, and it tore at me completely, but it wasn’t before my doctor, midwife and i tried everything under the sun. and trust me, i did!

    1. I have a few friends who have been in your shoes, and it’s so tough to go through — so stressful and so gut wrenching. I hope your midwife and doctor were super supportive when you decided to go with bottles — it was definitely the right choice!

      1. they were very supportive. it was actually my midwife that fianlly said, OK, we’ve done everything and this little guy needs food. poop thing was miserable for the first three weeks of his life! for the first 5 months it was espressed milk, so at least the bean got breast milk for as long as he could. i did feel like bessy the milk cow being hooked up to a pump for 5 months though!

  2. betsy mae

    Like smothermother, the hospital where both of my children were born pushed breastfeeding. Thank goodness I didn’t have any problems breastfeeding because I can imagine those who did have problems might feel badly (and they shouldn’t).

    BTW, the hospital forgot to give my youngest a hearing test at the hospital and I got a notice afterwards telling me that I needed to go. I remember thinking it was a real pain because I had a two year old and I wondered if it was necessary. My pediatrician eased my mind and said that unless I wanted to tow both kids with me that I could just skip it!

    1. Man, what UP with my hospital?? I can only hope that they’ve taken my advice and handed out a little breastfeeding training since I was there.

  3. nadinethornhill

    Interesting. In my circumstance (that Lynn is aware of, but I won’t divulge to the rest of her blogging public), breast feeding would have very, very difficult for me. However, that didn’t stop a myriad of doctors and other health professionals from pressuring me to “give it a try” and framing my decision to bottle feed as though it were the Worst. Thing. Ever. for my baby. At the same time, I’ve heard countless stories like that of Lynn’s friend who have not found support for their breastfeeding choice. Maybe there’s a secret medical mandate that professionals shouldn’t support mothers, no matter what their feeding choice.

    Three years later, I can count the number of colds my son has had on one hand. He’s never had an ear infection. Not a single allergy. I say this, not to negate the statistic in favour of breastfeeding, but simply to point out that following my instincts seems to have worked out. I’m sure it will for your sister as well.

    1. Hee hee…I love the idea of your secret medical mandate. It explains SO MUCH. You are on to something!

      I’m so glad to hear that you stuck to your guns and made the right choice for you and your son. I feel so strongly that the phrase “Mother Knows Best” is a truism.

  4. I commented on Capital Mom’s blog so figured I could here as well…

    The doctors, nurses and all the staff at the OGH were really supportive of feeding and getting moms & babies on the right track. The Mother/Baby unit nurse got me started on a pump the first night when our little guy ended up in the NICU on breathing machines and the NICU nurses stored all the pumped bottles in the industrial freezer for me (I had enough for twins!) and helped me get him nursing once he could be taken out of the incubator for extended periods.

    However, it was the transitioning to having options where I ran into problems. All the medical staff were great, but all suggested getting advice from a lactation consultant for best results in both bottle (with breast milk) feeding and from the breast.

    Few to none were supportive. Many judged me for going back to work despite it made the most sense for my family, instead continuing in a role that would support the “best” option for my child – nursing. One person asked how I could rob my child of that bonding experience. Most of the time, my infant who was a champion nurser, wanted none of cuddling or bonding, he wanted to eat as fast as possible and go look at the world.

    I reached a point where I was ready to finish nursing but kept going and it took me a while to realize that the only reason I was continuing was the societal pressure to nurse.

    1. Fascinating. I can’t believe the incredible range of stories and experiences I’m hearing about. I personally experienced so much pressure from friends, family, and even doctors to *give up* nursing before I was ready.

      I feel like we need to get together and write a book called, “Everything is okay, you are doing just fine, you know what to do, don’t listen to anyone else.” Not that catchy, but true!

  5. Like everyone, I am surprised to here this is happening in this day and age, in this society. It sounds like depending on your doctor, and the hospital at which you gave birth, your situation and the support you are given varies drastically.

    I was so, so lucky to have wonderful midwives and home births for all three of my kids. I had minimal problems nursing and had a midwife on call for assistance 25×7 to help me for six weeks. My family doctor is also a woman, and a young mother, and was very supportive and positive about nursing. It was just fantastic, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

    p.s. I skipped that hearing test too. Although my six year old seems to have “selective” hearing when I ask him to pick up his clothes off the floor, I believe his “actual” hearing is just fine. 🙂

  6. You raised a great question Lynn. Why are women being told that breast is best and some of the medical profession still don’t believe that? The nurse I had a problem with was older so I don’t know if she was from the “old school” but still, that is no excuse for not supporting a new mother. What she said really threw me.

    There were lots of times that I wanted to give up nursing in those first few months with both kids. It’s hard. Your life is pretty much on hold and you don’t get a lot of time away from the baby when you nurse. But once I got over those first few months it was a very positive experience.

    I think if I hadn’t had the support of my midwife and husband I may have stopped. I don’t know where my interest in breastfeeding came from, I wasn’t breastfed. The husband also was a big supporter. His mom did breastfeed until he was 6 months old, and then she was told by her doctor she should stop.

    Things like this always catch me by surprise. We think we have come far in being supportive of breastfeeding but these attitudes still linger.

    1. Yes, this is exactly what I was trying to say, but you said it so much better :). I find it interesting that so many nurses and doctors seem to feel that they know the absolute truth about what should be done, and aren’t open to other ideas. Maybe they have to be that way, otherwise it would be tough to stand behind their decisions and feel confident about their treatments, but still. I hope the new attitudes are slowly spreading out throughout the industry.

  7. I don’t know. I think the only thing I’m sure of is that there are buttheads on both sides. My father-in-law — a doctor — blinked in surprise when we said something about Angus only being happy as long as we gave him all the boobs he wanted (“oh, right — I was thinking in terms of bottles”). My sister’s friend had mastitis and was told to stop nursing immemdiately — which was the worst thing she could do for mastitis, of course. But I had Angus at the Ottawa General, and it was filled with breastfeeding advocates — including a psycho-bitch lactation consultant who went hammer-and-tongs at my poor roommate. No matter what the received wisdom of the moment is, there are going to be opinionated people in roles of authority who think they know better. Or is that just me being wishy-washy again?

  8. I can’t speak for other hospitals, but at Women’s College in Toronto, the nurses were very supportive of either choice. Their motto is: Do whatever is best for you / whatever works.

    When Alex and Zach were born, Alex had to spend a night in the NICU, so we were separated from him for about 12 hours. But the nurses in the unit actually called up to the room to ask us if we were okay with them feeding him a bottle of formula. We were fine with it, but if we hadn’t been, they were prepared to bring him up to try for the breast. I was impressed that they put it totally in our hands, and gave us advice when we needed it.

    So perhaps I am the minority, but I have nothing but glowing stories about the nurses we dealt with.

    1. This is EXACTLY how I think all hospital experiences should be. It’s what I would want for myself and what I was hoping for at the hospital where our kids were born. Unfortunately the care there was pretty uneven, but I was confident enough in my choices to handle it.

      Next baby, I’m going to Women’s College!

  9. At my hospital in Markham, I don’t think I felt pressured either way. When my kids were born the nurses asked if I was planning to breastfeed or bottlefeed. Once I told them I was planning to breastfeed, that was that–I don’t think bottlefeeding was mentioned again.

    A few days after my daughter was born she suddenly rejected the breast, which put things into a bit of a tailspin. I remember being so scared…scared that she was losing weight, scared that people were going to force me to bottlefeed, scared that if I did bottlefeed I would be guilt-tripped by breast is best advocates. It was paralyzing. When I visited the pediatrician I was sure she was going to tell me to formula feed, so I was so relieved that her first suggestion was to pump & bottlefeed until the baby started feeding on her own.

    It took 6 weeks until she finally successfully breastfed again, and I felt so exhausted by the whole experience. Ironically, what helped me through that was having friends and family who had breastfed their kids say to me that it was great that I was working so hard to get BFing to work, but that if I felt at the end of my rope it was okay to try the bottle. I was not a failure if I did that. That may be an obvious statement to many people–it is to me NOW–but at the time, with my hormones going crazy, I really think I would have seen it as a failure. I never did need to switch to formula, but knowing that people would support me if I did helped me stay calm enough to get though it all.

    In York Region the public health unit has free lactation clinics, and that helped a huge amount. My initial interaction was not that great, partially because I was a prickly hormonal mess, but partially because the first consultant I dealt with was somewhat lacking in bedside manner. However, I found them to be a huge help in subsequent visits, and even came to like the consultant who had me in tears the first time I went. It all turned out okay, so I’m all for forgiveness. 🙂

    1. I think this is a great story. Even though your first few weeks were so stressful, I love it that everyone around you was so supportive of whatever choices you made. That’s the way it should be!

  10. Over here in England the total opposite is true. The midwives in the hospitals are so pushy for breast feeding! They’re like BOOB STALKERS, I’m totally not joking. You’ve got midwives, “Lactation Consultants” and after being discharged you even get home visits from the lactation brigade (up to the baby being a couple of months old) to give you advice, support, etc.

    I had a breast reduction when I was 20, so with both my kids I struggled somewhat with breast feeding — I had to top up with formula because I simply didn’t produce enough milk to sustain the wee babas.

    I remember a few days after Ben was born, a midwife came out to the house to check on the healing of my stitches and saw a bottle of formula on the table where I was sitting… she was all, “WHAT! is THAT?!?!?” and even after I explained to her about my boob-snip-op she looked right down her nose at me.

    I think if you want to breast feed, totally fine. If you want to bottle feed, also totally fine. If you want to mix and match the both of them, you guessed it: also totally fine. New mothers (or even 2nd or 3rd time around-ers) have enough on their plate to worry about without pressure from any camp about how they should feed their babies.

    At the end of the day, we all know what is right for our own babies, right?

  11. adding more of my 2 cents.

    not being able to nurse, i had ENORMOUS guilt, because of the whole “breat is best” thing. i felt like a total an d complete failure as a mom. but with supportive family and friends and a couple of trips tot he therapist (!) i finally worked through it. i did what i could for as long as i could. i wish people would see that the parents decisions are not taken lightly, and should stop shoving their personal edict down new moms throats.

    * i say new moms because they tend to be the most insecure.

  12. I too went through this craziness when having my kids here in Ottawa. Although they have the “breast is best” posters up everywhere, the nurses there certainly don’t promote it. And they don’t seem to know what they’re talking about.

    With our son (our 2nd born), the nurses were literally pushing his head onto my breast and smothering him, all because he refused to nurse at first. I was so upset and tired of it, I left the hospital that day.

    Like you said, mothers need to follow their instincts, because we know best. However, for new moms, it’s so very hard, because oftentimes you just don’t know.

  13. So much been said already so I won’t repeat. My son was a nursing champ. I struggled to nurse my daughter and we muddled through for about 6 months. Later I learned that she has a partial tongue-tie which made it hard for her to make nursing work. If I had known from the beginning, we could have dealt with it and spared ourselves the frustration. Lactation consultants were all very supportive but didn’t ever suggest that this may be why we were struggling. Hind sight is 20/20 I suppose.

  14. your sister rocks! it’s hard to go against the almighty nurses and docs, not to mention family and friends … i do it all the time … regarding induction, family bed, breastfeeding forever, homeschooling, you name it.

    proudly nursing for 8.5 years straight (5 kids; not, i’m not nursing my 8-year-old!!!!)

  15. Hooray for your sister!

    I’ve run into the full gamut of responses from health professionals. With my first son, I knew I wanted to breastfeed, read books about it while pregnant, etc. But then he had trouble latching. The nurses weren’t knowledgeable about breastfeeding, and one caused me to dissolve into tears when she asked (in a very condescending tone), “In your heart, do you really WANT to breastfeed?”, as if I secretly didn’t want to! I’m still angry about that.

    The story has a happy ending – we left the hospital, met with a fantastic lactation consultant, and my son and I both did great breastfeeding after that.

  16. And THAT is the biggest reason I went with a Midwife and birthing at home. I was more afraid of some crazy nurse destroying my bonding experience with my baby than I was of having them at home. And if I had topped up my son with formula, I would be terrified to think of how much bigger he would have been as he grew a pound a week for the first three months as it was!

  17. I think it has less to do with the hospital and more to do with the actual nurse on staff when you are there. But I could be wrong. I will admit that both my hospital births I was pushed to formula feed my boys. And I didn’t know any better and went ahead with it. Know, in hind sight I dont’ know that I would have started formula quite that fast, how can you tell if the nursing is working if they are peeing formula… My 3rd was with a midwife (in hospital but we discharged 3 hours after he was born). The nursing went perfectly… Hmmm

  18. whoa, i had the total opposite experience. i opted not to nurse and the nurses really tried their darndest to make me feel like the CAS might take my babies away because i was obviously the worst parent ever for making this decision. they sent lactation consultants to me to try and change my mind. strange how we all have such different experiences. maybe they just go out of their way to make you feel awful, regardless of the decision you make?

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