Breast or Bottle? A Battle of the Moms

If you’re not a parent, or you are a parent who happens to live under a rock, you may not know who Dr. William Sears is. But have no fear, because I am about to enlighten you.

Dr Sears is a crunchy-granola doctor who has 43 kids (my approximation) and writes a ton of books about parenting. Not being the sort of person who tends to buy books on parenting -- save for my coveted Dr. Spock book -- I only ran across him when I was highly pregnant with my son Alex and scouring the bookstore for a book on breastfeeding.

After my complete and abject failure at breastfeeding my first son, I decided that I must find the most militant book, written by the most militant author, and read it cover to cover in order to be a proper breastfeeder.

And Dr. Sears was just the sort of militant breastfeeding advocate I needed.


It’s pretty safe to say that I was still pretty scarred from my inability to nurse my autistic son, Ben. It was obviously MY fault as an inept parent, and everywhere I turned, this feeling was reinforced. (Sidebar: what shocks me about parenting is how quickly you assign things as "your fault" rather than accept certain truths about your child. My Ben was a lousy eater. My Alex IS a lousy sleeper. That's simply how they are.)

My brother was born in 1971 to a couple of hippies in a country hospital where breastfeeding was treated as something that only savages did. The preferred choice was the far more sanitary option of baby formula, and despite my mother’s insistence that she nurse her son, she gave in after the nurses badgered her enough.

The backlash to this formula craze was so severe that even years later, when my first was born, I felt it. It seemed like no matter what I tried, no matter what excuse I had for why it hadn't worked out, someone else was there to tell me that feeding formula to my son was Wrong.

With a capital ‘W.’

Even the cans of formula I carefully saved up for chastised my choice with their message: “Breastfeeding is ideal.” It killed me to pay through the teeth to get the lip service from a can of formula.

Many of the parents I met assumed that my "choice" to not breastfeed Ben stemmed from my age, my inexperience, and furthermore, from my abject laziness. You know what? None of these are true. I tried desperately to nurse my son, but, I learned later, autistic kids hate to be touched! I've even heard the argument that formula ought to be available by prescription only.

Dr. Sears, whose book I did end up reading, succeeds in properly guilting anyone who dares put a pacifier near their baby’s mouth (nipple confusion!) or breaks down and feeds the child a desperate bottle so that Mommy can properly take a damn nap. Apparently, you should only use YOUR nipples as comfort objects! I mean, HIS wife breastfed their adopted children! What the HELL is wrong with you for not being able to do something SO SIMPLE?

Come on, people. Lighten up.

Sure, breastfeeding is best for the baby -- I’m not claiming that it isn’t. But having had one primarily formula fed (I pumped for the first month with very little output) and one primarily breastfed, I will tell you one thing: I preferred the formula experience.

I breastfed Alex initially to prove that I could, in fact do so (I could) and continued because I knew it was the best choice for him. Not because I loved it.

But what bugs me about the whole breast versus bottle debate is this: some of the breastfeeding advocates attack the formula feeders so militantly that I'm not sure I'd EVER want to tell someone that I dared formula-feed one of my babies.

Why should someone who chose to not breastfeed -- for whatever reason -- be treated like a leper? It’s not as though these people are giving their child apple juice and vodka. Breastfeeding is a deeply, intensely personal choice and -- like the epidural -- it’s not something that really makes or breaks you as a parent.

I’m not denying that breast milk is best, because it is, but so is buying everything organic, free-range, from a farmers' market rather than shopping at the grocery store. Hell, why aren’t you growing your own veggies and raising your own livestock while we’re at it? And shit, you should totally make your own non-sweatshop produced clothes! Because those choices are all “better” too.

No matter how carefully you control what your baby/toddler eats, that small one will grow into a child, then a teenager who will eat Cool Ranch Doritos at school for lunch rather than the carefully home-grown carrots you sent with him.

How do I know this?

EXPERIENCE. My mother was that crunchy person. And guess what I ate for lunch?

(Hint: It wasn't organic)

I guess I’m saying is this: Why can’t we all get along? Why does one choice have to disqualify the other as a viable alternative? Because seriously, if we could stand united without having to pick apart the choices of others, can you imagine all we could accomplish?


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