Updated: Oct 15
My first child was legally adopted in Ethiopia at eight months and had been formula fed since two months of age. We chose to continue feeding him formula because I received information regarding induced lactation too late prior to taking custody of him, and I had no experience in nursing an infant. Furthermore, we were uncertain of whether or not he would want to nurse after having been institutionalized for 6 months. Nonetheless, he received adequate nourishment in the supplementation, and it enabled both my husband and I to create a strong attachment with him because of our ability to provide consistent care and feedings to him during our four month stay in Ethiopia. He has grown to be a strong, intelligent and very active boy.
My son is Ethiopian, and breastfeeding in Ethiopia is the most common method of infant feeding. Although formula feeding was essential to my son's survival, it was not an ideal method for infant feeding in a country where clean water is difficult to come by. In Ethiopia, high quality formulas are extremely rare to find, and sanitizing formula feeding equipment is beyond challenging due to water contamination- regardless of whether or not it is bottled or from the tap. Although formula feeding in Canada was not nearly as challenging as it had been in Ethiopia, I have since discovered that supplementation in Canada still needs to be done properly with adequate sanitization to prevent bacterial growth and gastrointestinal infections. For these reasons, I always like to ensure my client's and others know of the increased workload and expense involved in formula feeding when compared to nursing- particularly when travelling. Travelling while nursing an infant is significantly easier due to less concern about sanitization, luggage weight, finding formula while away and sanitation. Nonetheless, supplementation is a necessary choice for families to have in order to prevent starvation when barriers to nursing exist.
My favourite part of having a newborn baby was nursing. After years of never knowing whether or not we could or would have biological children, and a pregnancy filled with anxiety because of our previous losses, breastfeeding provided a great opportunity for myself and my daughter to attach and bond. I never feared whether or not I would be able to breastfeed, we just did it. The birth of my daughter, gave me an opportunity to experience the intimate bond of nursing and the inherent attachment through the hormone release that occurs within this unique relationship.
The support that we received from my family, particularly my husband, was critical to ensuring that we were both adequately nourished during our nursing relationship. He would always ensure that I had adequate nourishment and hydration when we were initiating our breastfeeding relationship, and took over the care of my older son and household chores. He was able to attach and bond with my daughter through bathing, cuddles, and co-sleeping.
Although there were times when my nursing relationship with my daughter was challenged, I believe that the ease with which our nursing dyad thrived was because of the support I had and the natural state in which I had been able to witness nursing in other countries. I had seen women in Mexico breastfeed anywhere and anytime. There were no covers used, and nursing was seen as an essential part of child rearing. My experience in Ethiopia was similar regarding infant feeding. In Ethiopia I saw several female members of a family bond with toddlers, when their mothers were away, through nursing. At the Guest House where we stayed, nursing and attachment was provided by any female with adequate mammary tissue- whether or not the breasts contained milk and regardless of the age of the breasts. Although, at first this practice seemed very foreign to me, after my daughter was born, it made perfect sense to me that families should provide comfort to toddlers when mothers were unable to be present. Nursing in both Ethiopia and Mexico was never considered something to be concealed or isolated and was a community event even into the late toddler years. Women would nurse each other's babies while nurturing one another by sharing the responsibility of infant feeding. All members of society embraced and supported the nursing dyad in these countries. It really does take a community to support the breastfeeding dyad and it is for this reason that I became an accredited La Leche League leader.
Finding the necessary support to ensure a strong nursing relationship is critical for any nursing dyad. The supports that I used most were family members and my local La Leche League group. When my daughter was two and a half weeks old she experienced her first growth spurt. I panicked during her 48 hour all day and night episode of cluster feeding and wondered if I would ever sleep again. I attended a La Leche League group meeting, which luckily was held 36 hours after cluster feeding began, because I was worried that my breasts would never be my own again, and genuinely believed there was something wrong with my child who would not stop demanding to be fed. The nursing mothers at the meeting shared that this was a normal behaviour for a baby at this age and that my daughter was trying to build up my milk supply as her feeding needs were increasing. Sometimes, normalizing the experience is really all that is needed for clarification and confidence to be returned in a nursing relationship.
I accessed La Leche League supports again when I developed a lump in my breast about the size of a mandarin orange. The leader I spoke to on the phone recommended I contact my doctor to make sure I did not develop something more serious and provided me with information regarding blebs, clogged ducts, mastitis and infection. I got a prescription from my doctor which I wound up not using because in the book, I discovered the cause was likely from a bleb, which likely occurred after a weekend of camping with my daughter where less attention was given to nursing. I followed the advice in the book and found almost immediate relief. Again, I received the necessary support that I needed from La Leche League, and my doctor.
Unfortunately, most people in Canada who choose to nurse their babies don't often have access to the support that they need when nursing struggles arise. Furthermore, public breast-feeding is often not supported culturally, and many families feel shamed for doing so without covering up or leaving a public venue. Even more frustrating is the reality that many doctors, midwives, and paediatricians do not have adequate experience or training regarding nursing concerns that commonly present and recommend formula use without connecting families to other community resources such as lactation counsellors, La Leche League leaders, or International Board Certified Lactation Consultants. Therefore, as a doula, perinatal yoga teacher and accredited La Leche League leader, I feel connecting families to resources and information is the best way of supporting them in their infant feeding needs- regardless of their infant feeding preferences.
Regardless of your choice to nurse or formula feed, support and information is needed regarding the benefits, risks, and problems that can be associated with either. Your family needs to choose which methods of feeding work best for you, whatever your circumstances may be. As a doula and La Leche League leader, I offer information to all of my clients regarding supplemental feeding options as well as nursing support. I am also more than willing to help you find additional support through other community resources should your feeding concerns be of greater need than my experience and knowledge. As a La Leche League leader in Leduc and birth doula serving Leduc, Edmonton, and surrounding areas, you can contact me if you require further assistance on your infant feeding journey.