I’ve had a really rough few weeks.
Today, my mother-in-law fell at a family get-together and hit her head. We ended up about 2.5 hours from home with a 7 month old in an ER waiting room after driving her to get checked out for a concussion and so she could get staples. It was harrowing and we made it through. She’s doing well. I am sure seeing the baby, who was an angel, didn’t hurt.
However, about two weeks, ago, I ended up having a nightmare situation. I took R to a routine doctor’s appointment. My baby got a great bill of health. She’s now firmly in the middle of the growth chart even though she started at the top in height and only 13% in weight. She’s now a respectable 55% and 79% and has a huge head for her size. She is thriving. Then, our ped did a search of her groin and belly and thought he found a hernia. The next week would be emotionally difficult and would test my abilities to stay afloat. Just as the clouds seemed to clear, I was pulled back under. My depression has definitely been worse since. Although, I think I’m finally digging out again.
So, we drive straight to the women’s and children’s hospital and get checked in. I’m there alone. I wasn’t prepared for this. We have no stroller. My child doesn’t want to be held. It’s a fight. She’s being chipper but hyper. And I’m scared because the last time I was in a hospital like this, I was the patient. It was always a painful and awful experience in which I either had a surgery or was poked, prodded, and looked over because my breathing was so bad.
There was also a really stupid reason I was so nervous. I was worried we would be treated poorly because I wasn’t breastfeeding my child.
You see, we avoided this hospital when we gave birth. My husband’s ex gave birth to their children at this place. With the first, his ex was shamed about everything from her epidural to her questions about formula supplementation. For the second baby, they chose not to breastfeed from the onset. It had been incredibly difficult for the mental health of my husband’s ex. He insists that formula was hands-down the best choice for them and made a night-and-day improvement from day one. So, when we knew breastfeeding would not be in our future, we were thankful we were delivering at the non-Baby Friendly hospital. The other hospital has a well-ranked NICU. It has been wonderful for friends who chose to go the unmedicated route or chose to exclusively breastfeed (EBF) but it was not a good choice for us. If you are to have a baby there, you will not be allowed formula until you sign a waiver stating you are knowingly harming your child. You then must provide your own formula. I am 100% opposed to all of this treatment of moms. I pictured everyone treating me – and by extension – my daughter as lesser people. That was a very, very real fear on top of all the other fears – being in a hospital as the parent, worry about potential surgery, etc.
Still, our doctor was fantastic. He and his nurses loved on our baby and made our first appointment as pain-free as possible. So, I calmed down.
Then, it came to our appointment in radiology. I checked in and from the minute we started going over potential admission details, I was shamed. From the outset, I was forced to truck it out to my car for my marriage license with the baby and our regular stroller up and down a hill in the 88 degree sweaty weather – sun already beating down. Marriage license secured, I could now prove my husband and I were actually married and I was her mother. Her name being on my health insurance card was not enough. Me being the person paying for her care was not enough. In Missouri, this question comes up so much that, yes, we each keep a copy in our glove box. My concern is usually something to do with my stepkids, though, not my biological child.
So, things were off to a roaring start. With the admissions info, I asked if we could bring formula or if it would be provided (if we were even admitted, we weren’t sure at this point). It was like I opened pandora’s box. The woman acted befuddled.
“Well, we don’t really permit that,” she told me, “We support breastfeeding here.”
“I don’t care,” I replied, “Since I have a 6 month old and am formula feeding, I just need to know. I don’t care about your hospital’s policy with Baby Friendly. I just want to know how to feed my kid so if we are admitted, I can be very prepared.”
She then relayed that they refuse to provide formula (which was fine I am usually overprepared) and that they would just have to “look the other way” if I chose to formula feed. I was later told that my child needed surgery to save her ovary and tube. We were scheduled for less than 24 hours later. Intake would call me. I was reeling from my bad treatment at intake but hopeful that actual medical professionals would be better.
However, I got much of the same from the pre-op team I had to talk to. I was reminded again and again that formula was not safe and that I could have breastfed until she went in but that formula was banned after midnight. Fine, I replied, I understood that. But the information about how I wasn’t EBF and, therefore, doing something wrong kept coming. I was even told that I would not be able to formula feed while we were in the hospital for her procedure – as if I would be required to take her somewhere to feed her formula like the entryway or a bathroom. This suggestion for a mom who is EBF would be appalling, right? It should be. In the same vein, though, I should not be expected to hide in a bathroom for 10 minutes to feed my kid. I actually demanded to know in what world it was acceptable to deny a child nutrition. There was no answer other than “we are Baby Friendly and this is our policy”.
The thing is, I can’t magically start breastfeeding and, even if I did, my milk would still not be safe to feed. Hence, we chose to treat my mental illness and keep my baby and me safe rather than breastfeed and put my safety and the safety of our baby at risk. So, why was this happening?
A helpful friend who is a social worker got me the name of the children’s social worker we could work with and I reached out to her. In the end, she explained that Baby Friendly doesn’t apply here. I obviously can’t just lactate again. She also told me that, yes, I could formula feed my child. The social worker also said this was the improper application of Baby Friendly and that these staff members needed to be re-educated about the policies in the hospital. I explained to her that this was why we actively avoided this hospital and that I was concerned my baby would be treated differently.
The social worker set us up with our nurse and got us ready to go for our surgery. I did feel much better but there was always that fear there. It was perhaps a greater fear than my concern for her being in surgery. I trusted our doctor but worried about the people taking care of her before and after. I was asked by every nurse about our breastfeeding status. I simply said “We are not breastfeeding and I don’t want to talk about it. I have formula on hand.” They would drop it -sometimes with a very sour expression – and I always wondered “will this be the person who treats my kid differently because she’s not right?”
Thankfully, despite my worries, we ended up in good hands. If she was ever handled differently, I didn’t see it. Still, the fact that I worried about it was telling.
When I needed support the most, I felt like I was an object of disgust. Perhaps the policy is implemented “wrong” but, tell me, does it matter if a majority of your front end staff treat patients poorly and don’t respect clients? If the policy is based on shaming, how well do you think that translates to good outcomes? The reality is, I was being told “it only works that way for moms in labor and delivery”. So, “we only shame there but we aren’t supposed to shame here”. I don’t get it. If you can’t see why that is confusing, you aren’t looking.
I’m not the only person angry. If you good “shaming” AND “Baby Friendly”, there are gaggles of blog posts and articles out there.
And it’s not all anecdotal (you didn’t think I’d rant and not cite empirical evidence, right?). A study published last year in JAMA found that Baby Friendly policies may actually harm babies because moms exhausted from long labors, cluster feeding, C-sections, and who must only room in may be more apt to drop their babies or put them in precarious positions. That’s not very “friendly” to infants because no healthy mom, no healthy baby. The reality is that Baby Friendly is based on some really outdated science – it believes that supplementation will reduce breastfeeding efficacy and that nipple confusion is a thing so it bans pacifiers and feeding with bottles. New evidence shows that supplementation does not harm long term breastfeeding abilities and may improve them. Recent research also shows that nipple confusion is overstated and far less likely than previously thought and that newborns may have a reduced risk of SIDS if they use a pacifier.
So, Baby Friendly is an issue. But even if you whole-heartedly agree with what it sets out to do and think it should be in every single hospital in the world, you have to admit that if it is making moms like myself worry about the care a baby receives, it is doing something harmful and may actually violate the ethics of providing medical care.
Maybe these people should just be more educated about hospital policy. Fair enough. But if most of your intake people are shaming moms, there is no doubt something is wrong. Now, I worry if we ever have to go back there again before she turns one, we will get this question and it makes me shudder. I’ve been through enough. I worry as much as any parent and then some because of my anxiety but worrying about whether my child will get proper care because of my “choices” seems completely out there and unacceptable.