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Confessions of a Formula Feeder

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You generally don't hear too many complaints when female breasts appear in the following places: falling out of a bikini top; conservatively covered in a bra advertisement; or stuffed snugly in a Hooters t-shirt.

But for an awful lot of people, even the suggestion of breasts put entirely in the service of feeding a child is scandalous.

Mall security guards make up laws banning it.

The message: if you're not using your rack to sell bras or curly fries, then you really need to put those things away.

I personally don't like watching anyone breastfeed. It makes me uncomfortable -- not because I don't think it should be done in public, but because I remember how hard I tried to breastfeed and never could.

So it's about me.

I was ready to face the ire of mall security guards and restaurant managers to breastfeed my daughter. But I also live in Seattle, where not breastfeeding will raise more eyebrows than doing it in public.

Breast is best

My daughter was delivered early by C-section. After two days of life, her weight dropped to under 5 lbs. And I wasn't producing enough milk.

A nurse recommended formula, and I agreed.

Experts were called in. Two lactation specialists stood by my bedside earnestly and awkwardly trying to help me breastfeed better. (Anyone who's had a lactation specialist manhandle their mammaries knows how weird this experience can be.)

But then I stopped producing almost any milk at all.

And yes, it can happen.

Meanwhile, I researched whether or not my daughter would ever recover those 15 IQ points if I continued to formula feed.

A doula recommended wearing cabbage leaves to stimulate milk production.

Then she suggested fenugreek, a herb used in Indian food that's supposed to help with milk production. I ingested such huge quantities of it that everything I ate tasted like curry.

A doctor prescribed Reglan, which is an anti-heartburn medication sometimes administered off-label to stimulate milk production.

I've since learned it was a good thing I didn't take it for more than a week. In 2009, Reglan was given a black box warning. It can cause an irreversible nerve disorder. And yes, it's passed on to a child through breast milk.

Meanwhile, I kept trying to pump, while my daughter fattened up nicely on formula.

The milk of human kindness

And then I attended a "first weeks" support group at a local birthing center, one of those sharing circle meet-ups for new moms. The women were sharing birth stories and breastfeeding tips.

I hated it.

It seemed like everyone was breastfeeding. Except me. That's when I took out my formula-filled bottle and planted it in my daughter's hungry mouth. And then raised my hand to ask a question.

"I'd like to know if anyone else has had difficulty breastfeeding and whether they've used formula."

The moderator, a thin-lipped former nurse whose strained sweetness irritated me from the start of the meeting, replied, "We don't discuss those issues here."

I was stunned -- and ashamed and pissed. In that order. Who was she to judge me? It was OK to talk about successful breastfeeding, but not about formula?

I packed up my baby paraphernalia and went home.

Over the next few days, I rid my home of the fenugreek, the cabbage leaves, and the Reglan. My daughter was 3-weeks-old and doing just fine. Why was I doing all of this artificial stuff to do something that was supposed to be natural?

Even a lactation specialist I spoke with finally admitted that sometimes "we make too much of this," meaning the belief that breast is best -- and the only option.

And now when I read hostile messages on blogs, where some women condemn other women for not breastfeeding, I think about how petty this argument is, how small and unimportant.

Because once kids start walking and talking and having opinions of their own, like how awesome they look in a Hooters t-shirt, the last thing any parent is going to be worrying about is whether or not they breastfed their child.

This article was originally published on the author's blog, Not Those Kennedys.