I may have mentioned before that our library has moved a selection of parenting books to the children’s section of the library. This is useful to me, as now I have two places (this, and the new books by the front desk) where I can pick up books at the library with two babies in tow. At our last story time visit I was looking through this small selection, and after putting back three other books, came home with Suzanne Barston’s “Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t.”
I probably should not have checked this one out, as I could have predicted what it was about. The author faced serious difficulties in breastfeeding her son, and needed to use formula. Feeling guilt-stricken, she wrote a book defending formula feeding and, while striving to appear balanced, undermining the benefits of breastfeeding.
I know I am fortunate. I have seen many, many mothers who start out with a desire to breastfeed end up using formula. It wouldn’t occur to me to judge these people. I have adopted siblings who were bottle-fed. If I were a full-time working mother, or otherwise needed to pump exclusively, I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t — I don’t respond well to the pump, and I hate it. I feel like it (for me) interferes with bonding with the Actual Baby I am trying to feed. I’d probably resort to formula in that case, as well. I appreciate the fact that, for the most part, nursing has been pretty easy for me and my babies, and that I have a schedule that allows me to nurse with a minimum of effort. I admire people who go to great lengths to nurse their babies, and people who have to suffer through various difficulties to do so. And I understand why in some situations, some people may not be able to breastfeed, or may decided that ultimately, it’s just not the right thing or the right time for them to do so. Although formula is sometimes vilified, it seems clear that the blame lies with questionable marketing practices on the side of the companies — not with the people mixing the bottles. When problems stem from poor quality water being mixed with it, or from people adding too much water because they can’t afford enough powder, those problems are quality of life/distribution of resources/economic problems that the individuals involved are not responsible for.
As someone who moves mostly in “alternative/crunchy/natural/holistic/AP” parenting circles, I’ve known only a few mothers who use formula, either as the major part of baby’s diet or as a supplement. But outside of these circles, I see plenty of people bottlefeeding. Sure, sometimes it’s one of those Medela bottles which you might assume is filled with pumped breastmilk. But while nursing mothers are probably in the majority in my area, there are still plenty of bottle-fed babies out and about. It’s not so unusual to see a bottle that it attracts stares and gasps.
Yet, the author describes bottle-feeding as an experience filled with soul-crushing guilt and condemnation from other people. I feel about this the same way I feel about people who claim that they have been vilified for babywearing/nursing. It just seems a little … extreme. The book very much comes off as if it were written to make the author feel better personally. It addresses a few topics of interest — such as are laws mandating pumping rooms and time off to pump actually helping mothers, or making things harder by bolstering a work culture and larger society that doesn’t value parenting? — but mostly seems to just add fuel to the conflict among parenting choices.
The big question I come away from this book with, however, has little to do with any parenting or nutrition specifics. I have to wonder, upon finishing this book, “Why can’t we acknowledge that something is better/best, without qualification so that everyone can do it?” Not everybody is going to always be or have the best in every single aspect of life; but that doesn’t change the facts that one thing is better than another. We make the choices we can in life, and trade off various things based on our available resources and capabilities and priorities. Almost everything in life is a trade-off — and that’s true of parenting, as well.