Dear pediatricians, watch your language; infant bonding happens with a present loving parent not the way they are fed

 

Dear Pediatrician, 

I am writing this letter to open my heart to all pediatricians. I’m hoping that sharing my story will encourage them to watch their language when talking to parents about infant feeding.

As a parent, we naturally want to make sure our children thrive. We entrust pediatricians to care for our children with unbiased and evidence-based information. We rely so heavily on your assurance that we are doing right by our children. We need the “you’re doing great” or “maybe try doing this instead” to help guide us through the ups and downs of parenting these little ones that did not come with an instruction manual. 

Recently, I was at a pediatrician appointment with my second baby, who happens to be exclusively breastfed. Breastfeeding was easier for me the second time around, and my mental state is in a much better place. 

My pediatrician began to examine him. He starts to cry as he does with everyone that isn’t mommy, daddy, or big sister. She looks at me and laughs and says, “yup, he is definitely in the stranger-danger phase now. And I bet it’s even stronger because he is breastfed. Breastfeeding just creates this unexplainable bond.”

I stood there dumbfounded and in disbelief. My pediatrician knows my daughter was formula-fed, and she knows how emotional I was when switching her to formula. But even putting that aside, she is supposed to be a trained professional and understands that breastfeeding doesn’t create “an unexplainable bond” —bonding happens with an emotionally healthy, loving parent, not by the way a baby is fed. I don’t feel a stronger bond with my son than I do with my daughter. They are both my babies, and I love them both equally and unconditionally. 

Research has confirmed that a baby doesn’t bond with breastfeeding or formula feeding—a baby bonds and thrives on being fed with love and cared for by present loving parents.

I don’t know why I just stood there and nodded my head, other than that I was in shock. I didn’t have the courage to tell her I disagreed with what she said. I feel ashamed that I couldn’t tell her how I bonded equally by bottle feeding my daughter. Formula shaming is caustic and relentless, and while I was standing there at that moment, I felt like I had betrayed my daughter, and I lost trust in my pediatrician. 

 I never want to hear those words again from someone—especially my pediatrician—implying that I love my son more because of breastfeeding bonding—research has shown that the feeding method does not determine mother-infant bonding.

I know my pediatrician did not have any malicious intent from her statement. I’m sure she was only trying to “praise” me for being mentally stable enough to breastfeed my son. Still, I am not sure whether she is aware of the harm caused by such statements, especially to parents who are doing their best when nourishing their babies with infant formula.  

Here are a few examples of what false and harmful statements about breastfeeding can cause:

  • For the parent who is breastfeeding and isn’t enjoying it or isn’t coping, this kind of comment can leave them feeling pressured to continue with something that is hurting them. This can result in them not bonding at all.
  • For parents who have had a baby they didn’t breastfeed, it essentially tells them that by failing to breastfeed, they didn’t bond with their child optimally. This leads to guilt and shame, or worse.
  • For parents who are breastfeeding and loving it? It might not hurt them, but they may feel pressured to breastfeed future children even if they feel it is not working out for them this time. 
  • For children whose siblings have not been breastfed, or for those who have been, it can create confusion or anxiety over whether their mother’s love is conditional.

My daughter was formula-fed since her first week of life. She had been doing well with breastfeeding, but it wrecked my mental health—to the point that by day 7, I had broken down and cried at least five times every day since giving birth. At the end of that first week, I felt profoundly drained, exhausted, and mentally broken. My saint of a mother held my daughter and gently suggested trying formula for a little while. Honestly, after just hearing the word “formula,” I felt relief. That night I gave my daughter her first bottle. And from that moment, infant formula was our saving grace.

My daughter thrived on formula! She always met her milestones early, always maintained her growth curve, and most importantly, she is most definitely loved, fed, and happy! I never questioned our bond and never thought twice about it, because it is strong and fierce. My daughter is my mini and sticks to me like glue. 

My daughter and I created our “unexplainable bond” through LOVE, not breastfeeding. I love her more than words can describe. I do not feel that breastfeeding a child develops a different bond for one second. It is just one way we can feed our children. Love creates bonds, cuddles make bonds, engaging and interacting with our children creates “unexplainable bonds”! 

New mothers are deluged with recommendations to breastfeed, whether or not we are willing or able to do so. Breastfeeding pressure has become so all-encompassing that mental health professionals have noticed that it’s harming mothers. It can cause or exacerbate postpartum depression, due to the implication that you are not a good enough mother if you don’t or cannot breastfeed. Even total strangers, who do not know a mother’s personal history, believe they have the right to tell her what she should be doing with her breasts. Parents are told routinely on social media that feeding their babies infant formula is the bare minimum! It is pretty devastating to hear such comments, especially from healthcare providers you trust. 

Telling a parent that bonding while bottle feeding is not as strong as breastfeeding is cruel, especially if said in the presence of those children. 

Pediatricians, I urge you to review your office’s policy on the language used to discuss infant feeding with your patients, to avoid hurting and humiliating other formula-feeding parents with careless statements. 

Since I assume my pediatrician’s language was from a place of ignorance and not malice, I would like to share some research with all pediatric offices that they or their staff may not be aware of (please see attached links below).

Thank you for your attention to this critical issue.

-Chelsea Carvalho

 


 

Women’s Choice Regarding Breastfeeding and Its Effect on Well-Being

Is Breast Always Best? Or could we be sending a dangerous message

Did breastfeeding pressure lead a new mother to suicide?

Mother-infant bonding is not associated with feeding type: a community study sample

I ATTEMPTED SUICIDE FROM THE PRESSURE OF BREAST IS BEST

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN MOTHERS ARE TOLD BEING FED IS THE BARE MINIMUM?

WHY FED IS BEST: FROM ONE THERAPIST’S POINT OF VIEW

THE PROCESS OF HEALING FROM INFANT FEEDING TRAUMA, GUILT, AND SHAME: WHEN YOU WANTED TO BREASTFEED, BUT COULDN’T

My Inability to Exclusively Breastfeed Was a Constant Destructive Force in My Life After My Son’s Birth – I Had a Suicide Plan

Clinicians’ Guide to Supporting Parents with Guilt About Breastfeeding Challenges

Can Redefining Infant Feeding Goals Enable Families to Feel Confident About How They Nourish Their Babies?

 

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