I frequent several parenting forums and groups online, and an underlying theme I find throughout them has recently begun to bother me more and more. Tell me if you’ve ever heard statements like these:
“I gave my baby formula and she’s fine.”
“My kids never even rode in a car seat and they’re fine.”
“I did insert item here to my kids and they’re all TOTALLY fine!”
So what does fine really mean? Well, in example number 2, it means that the child never rode in a car seat, was likely never involved in a serious car accident of any kind, and survived and thrived into adulthood. I don’t see that as a valid argument to use a car seat improperly. If my kid fell out a two story window and survived with no injuries, I wouldn’t push them out again just for kicks and giggles.
But example #1 is the one that’s bothering me today. And here’s why. . .
I recently visited a doctor who took a very detailed medical history from me and unlike other physicians I’ve seen in the past, did not blow off my “minor” gastrointestinal issues as no big deal. Nothing I have is serious all by itself. I have a pretty bad case of acid reflux, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and a case of Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth as diagnosed by a mainstream gastroenterologist. All of these “syndromes” have been treated by the GI doctor to the best of his ability, but still they persist. . .and I’ve now been told that I just have to live with them. I also have a pretty moderate case of OCD and anxiety. My new doctor was able to offer me some long term lifestyle changes that will bring relief. . but that’s for another post.
What this doctor had to say to me made a lot of sense. As a formula-fed generation, (not saying everyone from that generation was formula-fed, but it was definitely the “in” way to feed a baby at that time), my parents’ generation started out with a less than ideal balance in their gut flora. A baby is born with a predisposition toward the gut flora in his/her mother. If that baby is also formula-fed, his gut does not get the opportunity to re-balance to a healthy flora level, and the problem gets worse. . with each generation it gets worse until breastfeeding a new baby helps that little one some by repopulating the gut. I’m not saying a nursed baby won’t have any digestive issues, but they are much less likely to suffer severely from GI problems than a baby who doesn’t get breastmilk at all.
Secondly, the doctor explained to me that 50% of our “brain” chemicals are produced in the gut, and 80% of our immune system is contained in our digestive tract. A digestive system that is not functioning well is going to have a hard time effectively balancing chemical production, immune function and digestion. That all makes sense, doesn’t it?
So I offer all of that information to say this. Yes, a formula-fed baby will grow and thrive and be smart and relatively healthy, just like a breastfed baby will. (Read about the benefits of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding here if you want more comparison/contrast information). . .but that doesn’t mean that person will be “fine” forever regardless of whether they nursed or not. I am 35 years old and my problems did not start in earnest until my mid-20s. So we really can’t know how “fine” our children are going to be. . .ever. . .because with any luck, they will outlive us and we will have no idea if they contracted cancer at an older age, or if that was in some way linked to the way they were fed as infants. The effects of much we do with our children AS children can be far reaching. . .beyond what we think about right now. And that’s okay. We can’t protect them from everything.
The real point of my post is this: Don’t encourage other parents to give their children less than their personal best, based solely on the fact that you did xyz with your kids and they are fine. If you chose to formula feed based on your risk/benefit analysis of infant feeding, that is your choice. If you were sabotaged by a doctor with bad breastfeeding advice, don’t give advice to a struggling nursing mother unless you’re SURE you know what you’re talking about. If you don’t, refer them to someone who does. But don’t just tell them what you did and how your child is fine. I think we often feel guilty in some way for our own choices and think that somehow convincing another parent that our way of doing things is “fine” makes us feel better somehow.
So. . .if you made a parenting decision of any kind with the best interest of your family at heart, based on all the information you had at the time, you are a GREAT parent. You love your kids and your family and that’s AWESOME. If you have regrets, do things differently when/if given another chance. . .but don’t selfishly offer advice to make other moms follow in your footsteps to assuage your conscience. Be a bigger person than that.