Coincidental to this essay going up on the Washington Post today about formula feeding shaming, Joella over at Fine and Fair gave me a post affirming that formula feeders can, in fact, be attached parents. Thanks, Joella!
It's been a little over a year since I last attempted to do my part in helping to tear down the walls of exclusivity perceived to exist around the "Attachment Parent" (AP) label. My continued participation in a number of parenting related spaces has demonstrated that those perceptions, especially those surrounding breast feeding and AP, are entrenched in the parenting circles and related "Mommy Wars."
I see parents lamenting that they wish they could practice Attachment Parenting, but that they can't/don't/won't breast feed, and therefor, cannot call themselves "Attached" Parents.
Wrong! So wrong. So very wrong.
Before I proceed, here's some full disclosure. I breast feed. I breast fed my daughter well past her second birthday, and there is no end in sight to my nursing relationship with my 18 month old son. I, personally, have never given my children bottles (though my husband and other caregivers did). I try to help normalize breast feeding by talking about it, by confidently feeding my baby (now toddler) in public, and by offering my support and advice (when invited to do so) to friends who wish to breast feed. This is not coming from some sort of jaded formula feeder, if that's a thing. This is coming from a breastfeeding advocate, a, dare I say it? Lactivist.
There is really no room in this piece for the breast vs. formula debate. I'm not here to discuss the benefits or drawbacks of either. I'm not here to tout breast milk as superior. I'm certainly not here to shame anyone for not breast feeding, whether by choice or by circumstances. There are many reasons that people don't, can't, or choose not to breast feed. There are many reasons that babies receive their vital nutrition in a bottle, whether that's the mother's pumped milk, donor milk, commercial formula, or a homemade concoction that meets an infant's nutritional needs. This is not a place to list, or justify, or debate the legitimacy of, those reasons.
The bottom line is that one does not need to feed their babies with their breasts in order to practice attachment parenting. (See: attached fathers, attached adoptive parents, attached grandparents, attached nannies.)
I reviewed Attachment Parenting Internationals 8 Principles of Attachment Parenting in last year's "More AP than you Think".
The principle related to feeding states simply:
Feed with Love and Respect
There are, without question, ways to feed a baby with love and respect in the absence of a breast doing the job. Many aspects of on-demand exclusive breast-feeding are easily adapted to bottle-feeding, as follows:
1. Skin-to-Skin Contact
Skin-to-skin contact, especially with parents (yes, Dad too) has many proven benefits. Skin-to-skin contact can be had in many ways, (babywearing is an easy one), but breast feeding is largely associated with this integral piece of attached parenting. To achieve this while bottle feeding, the baby can be stripped down to a diaper, the feeder can remove, open, or lift their shirt during feeding, and bam! Skin-to-skin, sans breast. I'm not suggesting you do this in public (after all, my breast-fed babies did not get full skin-to-skin benefits when in public, either!) but if you can settle in at home for a nice skin-to-skin bottle feed, it will benefit both of you!
2. Following Baby's Cues
Learn your baby's hunger cues and feed according to them, rather than according to a schedule. (Obvious exceptions for babies who need to be fed on a schedule for medical reasons. Defer to your healthcare provider, not some random lady on the internet, in such cases.) Early hunger cues in newborns include licking or smacking their lips, opening and closing their mouth, and sucking on lips, tongue, clothing, fingers, toys, etc. Progressive hunger cues including fussing, attempting to maneuver into feeding position, and rooting around on the chest (or face, arm, ear, etc.) of the person holding them. Late hunger cues include quickly moving their head from side to side and crying.
3. Feeding on demand
This follows naturally with learning hunger cues. Feed babies when they are hungry, and stop when they are full. Don't try to force the baby to finish a bottle when he or she has lost interest; feed again the next time hunger cues are displayed. If you're concerned about wasting formula/pumped or donor milk/etc., offer smaller amounts to start with and then offer more if baby is still hungry.
4. Natural Feeding Position
When feeding by bottle, always hold both the baby and the bottle. Snuggle the baby close to your chest and hold the bottle against your breast (or where your breast would be if you don't have them). Switch positions from one side to the other to allow baby a different vantage point and mimic breast feeding. "Bottle propping," in addition to posing a choking hazard, doesn't allow for our next and final aspect, bonding.
During a feeding, make eye contact with the baby. Speak in soft and gentle tones, sing a soothing tune, or just quietly take each other in. Smile and vary your facial expressions. Stroke baby's cheek with your free hand; bend down to kiss baby's forehead. Even pacifier use can mimic comfort nursing by holding the baby when the pacifier is used, so baby associates their suckling reflex with being held, loved, and comforted by their caregiver.
Bottle feeding, without question, has a place in Attachment Parenting. These tips can be shared with grandparents, babysitters, older siblings, nannies, and anyone else who may be responsible for feeding your baby by bottle. Whether bottles are used exclusively or only when the mother is unavailable, following these suggestions can ensure that feeding times contribute to the development of a strong, secure, healthy attachment between baby and caregiver.