TORONTO - Deciding whether to nurse or bottle-feed babies may be a personal matter, but the backlash faced by Canadian supermodel Coco Rocha for her choice reveals how divisive opinions can be about how infants are fed.
Rocha spoke out on social media against the "unwanted advice" she's heard about her decision to feed formula to her infant daughter.
"Not that this is anyone's business — I loved breastfeeding Ioni for the first five months of her life and then one day my milk went dry. It happens to every mom at different times," the Toronto-born, Richmond, B.C.-raised Rocha wrote in an Instagram post alongside a photo of Ioni bottle-feeding.
"This is not a democracy, everyone doesn't get a say," she added.
Breastfeeding is recommended exclusively for an infant's first six months, and can be continued for up to two years or longer with supplementary feeding, according to a joint position statement by Health Canada and other national organizations.
The Nutrition for Healthy Term Infant recommendations also recognized that infants many not be able to nurse exclusively. Parents "who have made a fully informed choice not to breastfeed" should be counselled on using breast milk substitutes.
Parenting blogger Jennifer Pinarski said she's spoken with other women who, like Rocha, found their milk supply "wasn't sustainable."
"The assumption is that if you are formula-feeding that there is something wrong with your body. That's already a personal attack on a woman," said the mother of two, who lives outside of Kingston, Ont.
"But in terms of formula being a choice as well ... there shouldn't be anything wrong with that."
Registered nurse and lactation consultant Cindy Leclerc said one of the most common reasons women discontinue breastfeeding is the belief they don't have sufficient milk for their little one.
"A lot of the time, women actually do have enough, but their breasts may not feel as full or the baby might be fussy for other reasons. And women are quick to doubt themselves," Leclerc said from Saskatoon.
Early skin-to-skin contact between mother and infant helps both with milk production and when babies are struggling to latch to the breast, Leclerc said. Using a hospital-grade pump to stimulate milk supply as well as hand expression can also be key, she noted.
Pinarski said she had considerable trouble breastfeeding her first child, Isaac, who fell asleep every time she tried to nurse him. She pumped her breast milk, but said she was made to feel bad for doing so by a public health nurse sent to help her when she resided in Manitoba.
"She was really quite horrified that I would do anything (other) than give him milk directly from my breast. And I didn't see what all of the fuss was about because he was still getting breast milk," recalled Pinarski, 38, whose son is now nine.
"I also had a stash of formula cans in my pantry and she said: 'You don't have formula in the house, do you?' And I didn't tell her. I was too embarrassed to admit that I also had formula in the house in addition to pumping for my son. She made me feel bad enough."
Public health nutritionist Becky Blair said while formula is a viable alternative, introducing it regularly into an infant's feeding routine could likely lead to a decrease in the volume of breast milk moms produce.
Parents will also need to consider whether they'll be able to afford and have regular access to formula if the make the transition, noted Blair, who represented the Dietitians of Canada in creating the Nutrition for Healthy Term Infant recommendations.
"When women decide ... that they want to stop breastfeeding — which is absolutely their decision — it's our role to help them prepare and store infant formula to give their babies, because infant formula absolutely does support growth and development," said Blair, who works for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit in Barrie, Ont.
Leclerc said she continues to help mothers work towards the recommended goal of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, but noted support for women is critical regardless of their choice.
"No one knows what another mother has been through."
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