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Andy Prest: A father's 'guide' to breastfeeding

A shortage of baby formula has put the focus on feeding, but as this father learned first-hand with his own family, the solution is not always as easy as it seems.
Breastfeeding Credit Getty
A father makes his baby burp after feeding. Breastfeeding and baby formula are hot topics these days with news of a formula shortage.

You wouldn’t believe the weird and wild stuff that leads some women to cover their breasts in cabbage leaves.

There’s slobbering, biting, clawing, screaming, crying. And yes, all of that is done by babies. Well, the screaming and crying could also be the mothers.

We are, of course, talking about breastfeeding. It’s a hot topic these days, given that there has been a supply shortage for some types of baby formula in parts of the United States going on for a few weeks now. It’s apparently leaking into Canada as well.

This shortage has led to plenty of discussions and opinions on social media – likely no demographic in the world gets more unsolicited advice than new mothers – with a lot of commenters arguing that the formula shortage isn’t a real problem because mothers can simply breastfeed their babies.

The esteemed Bette Midler, a typically well regarded famous lady, drew some ire when she waded into the debate on Twitter.

Yes, she used all caps. And yes, she spelled breastfeeding with three E’s.

Now let’s just stop for a moment before you all get really mad at me. Because I can feel it coming. I get it – I’m about to get really mad at me too. Is this middle-aged dude about to mansplain breastfeeding?!

And the answer is … no? I mean … a little, maybe?

Because I suspect there are many people out there, particularly men but not solely men, who either never knew or have long since forgotten what breastfeeding is like. I had no idea until I had kids of my own.

And I want to be clear that I don’t actually know what it’s like to breastfeed a baby – I’m not equipped for the job – but I know what my wife went through, and what many other mothers we know went through. And my wife signed off on me writing this column after seeing some of the things being said in this debate. Because breastfeeding can be incredibly painful and difficult, and sometimes even impossible for some mothers and babies.

It’s Bette Midler’s “available on demand” statement in particular that is not sitting well with my wife.

Both of my kids, when they were babies, had these cute/weird little recessed chins that made it hard for them to latch. Trouble latching can lead to trouble with milk supply. So breastfeeding, for my kids, was not always “on demand.”

One of my kids had so much trouble feeding that he stopped growing and started losing weight. We have pictures of him looking like a little Skeletor baby, and it is still hard to look at those pictures. It’s also still painful to recall the words of the pediatrician who said he was “failing to thrive.”

After that there were consultants involved, industrial-strength pumps, supplements – and no, Bette, none of those things were free – and yes, there was formula as well, which supplied our baby with needed sustenance, and supplied my wife with unneeded guilt. 

And there was biting, and scratching, and chafing, and cracking, and other things happening there that my wife won’t let me write about because it’s too gross.

One of the suggestions my wife got was to buy a head of cabbage, keep it in the fridge, and slap a big frosty leaf right onto the breast to provide some cool relief. That one actually worked!

This is all to say that for some, breastfeeding is a very sensitive subject, and we haven’t even gotten into the pure exhaustion of having to wake up multiple times a night for multiple straight months for feeding.

Anyway, I’d be very, very wary of trying to tell a new mother her business if you’re not a certified expert. And even then. …

We know the benefits of breastfeeding and encourage it. But we also know it’s not always that easy. And my little “failing to thrive” guy, whose feeding troubles years ago still give my wife guilt, is now a massive boy who towers over his classmates, throws a wicked fastball, and can chug a bottle of Gatorade in about 12 seconds. Impressive, I know. 

There are so many reasons why breastfeeding is not an option for some mothers, and so it is not helpful to minimize any parent’s concerns about how they are going to feed their baby. We would all do well to remember that, and give everyone a chance to thrive.

And apologies again for adding my man voice to this issue. If I’ve really upset you, feel free to throw your old cabbage at me.

Andy Prest is the sports and features editor of the North Shore News. His lifestyle/humour column runs biweekly. aprest@nsnews.com

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