Mothers don’t need your opinion on breastfeeding. We need the formula shortage to end—now.
My daughter gave birth to a daughter last month.
Reader, if you could feel the fullness of my heart, this entire essay would end with that sentence.
But since you cannot, let me write down my visceral gladness.
My granddaughter’s birth was rife with complications. It culminated in her being rushed to the hospital’s neonatal nursery for a frightening four-day stay, where her tiny lungs were cleared and stabilized enough for her to go home. Since my daughter lives in another state, I stayed with her and her partner for several weeks postpartum. As any grandmother probably knows, I was inundated with memories of my adult daughter as a newborn. As I watched my daughter become a mother, I was given insight into how my mother must have felt when I had my first daughter. I wish I could ask her about it, but she is gone now. I can only imagine that my mother also thought joy is too mild a word for this miraculous witnessing.
The formula shortage has caused some unlikely proponents of breastfeeding, many of them male, to opine on the subject in ignorant and unhelpful ways.
My granddaughter’s birth has coincided with a national crisis in the feeding of babies, which is a shortage of infant formula. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one-quarter of American babies are still breastfeeding by six months of age, so any threat to the supply of formula creates a dire situation for many children. Frantic parents who cannot find the specific formula they need to feed their babies do not much care that the reason for the empty shelves is a combination of a contaminated factory, corporate greed, restrictions on imports and an unholy monopoly on the production of infant formula in the United States. They just want the stores to stock this essential product at a sensible price. They just want to keep their babies from suffering or starving.
The formula shortage has caused some unlikely proponents of breastfeeding, many of them male, to opine on the subject in ignorant and unhelpful ways. Having nursed four children, and as a mother recently watching a daughter work so hard to breastfeed her baby successfully, I feel qualified to tell everyone who has not attempted to nurse an infant to shut it.
Conceiving a child is natural and birthing a child is natural and breastfeeding a child is natural, but the second two are typically way harder than the first.
I mean it. Conceiving a child is natural and birthing a child is natural and breastfeeding a child is natural, but the second two are typically way harder than the first. And men only physically participate in the first (fun) one. Women see their bodies stretched and distended, filled up and flooded with the insanity of hormonal commands, and that is before any baby is even born. Postpartum, we leak and bleed and heal. At the same time, we fall in love at first sight. We meet this helpless, soft-skinned, big-headed creature, who is entirely dependent on us for survival, and we find ourselves responding with a love that is so fierce and protective that it scares us a little.
Then we have to keep our little darling clean and warm and diapered and fed, and here is where some real madness starts. If we decide to breastfeed, we are committing ourselves 100 percent to milk production. If we nurse on demand, we are taking on a full-time job that requires 24/7/365 availability and nets zero pay. If we go back to work while breastfeeding, we do so with an industrial breast pump in tow, so that we can provide daily milk for our caregivers to feed our baby. Along the way, if our milk does not come in or if it does not provide adequate nourishment or if we decide to forgo breastfeeding altogether, we can be judged and labeled inferior to our milk-producing sisters. We may be criticized for our decisions. We may feel guilty. We may feel deficient.
Nobody ever said mothering was easy, especially not mothers. But pushing the merits of breastfeeding over bottle-feeding helps no one. Pitting mothers (and others) against each other is downright sinful. The only thing that matters, whether during this crisis or during times of plenty, is that babies are fed.
Pushing the merits of breastfeeding over bottle-feeding helps no one.
So before asserting that women should breastfeed babies the way God intended in order to avoid the formula shortage—which is ludicrous if babies are already on formula because breasts cannot magically instantly lactate or re-lactate—the righteous ones should pause before posting. They should take the time to consider their harsh words. They should reflect on the flux and nuance inherent in parenting. In other words, they should hush. Feeding a newborn is fraught enough without the verdict of strangers coming into play. Nursing is hard work. It is hard on the body and the spirit, especially if it does not go smoothly at first, which it often doesn’t, especially with first babies. But having to search for the formula necessary to a baby’s survival when there is none on the shelf is a terrifying prospect no parent should have to endure. There may be no use crying over spilt milk, at least according to my grandmother, but we must insist on an adequate supply of milk for all babies, whatever its source.
If we say we are “pro-life,” we can support the time- and calorie-consuming practice of breastfeeding at the same time we support an immediate and compassionate solution to the formula shortage. Every baby deserves to eat and grow and thrive. Every parent deserves a society that cares for families and aids them in their struggles. If we are truly pro-life—pro-life down to our toes, pro-life without the necessity of quotation marks—we will make this stand on behalf of all manner of families, no matter their race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, immigration status or any other factor that makes us gloriously different and yet all equal in God’s eyes, in God’s love. Reader, what new parents need from the rest of us is the milk of human kindness.
My beloved granddaughter is healthy and chubby-cheeked, thanks be to God, and my beloved daughter is nursing her, thanks be to a crackerjack lactation consultant. My daughter’s milk production is such that she is looking to donate her excess supply to a milk bank. Someday soon she will take her pump to work. I hope that, even sooner, the formula shortage will be history, a history never repeated for future generations of beloved, well-fed babies.