Published on January 7th, 2014 | by Rachel Levin



I’m just going to say it, because—well, apart from Tina Fey and the French feminist Elisabeth Badinter and a few outcast commenters on—no one else in the real world, it seems, will: Breast-feeding sucks.

I don’t mean this in some politically charged, rah-rah feminist, F-U Bloomberg and your formula prohibition kind of way. I don’t care if moms post breast-feeding photos on Facebook or if Beyonce whips ‘em out in public or if five-year-olds still suckle. (Although, really, what’s that all about?)

I just mean that having a newborn glued to my boob is not my idea of a good time.

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 Sure, that very first moment— after my daughter found her way out of my body and into the world and “flanged” her lips and innately latched on like it was her job? Yeah, that was kind of cool. (Look at me! Breast-feeding! Like a real mom! A true mammal.)

But after, like, the twelfth time in 24 hours, I was ready to call bullshit on the whole bonding thing. At 2 a.m. and then again at 4 a.m… and again at 5 a.m., this was no longer a special moment-to-remember— it was a chained-to-the-couch obligation that, as the weeks progressed, I, honestly, wanted nothing to do with.

Except my pediatrician and people in breast-is-best cities like San Francisco made that very difficult. Today, 77 percent of mothers in the U.S. breast-feed. According to the CDC’s 2013 Breast-Feeding Report Card, in California, 91 percent of babies are breastfed at some point; 71 percent are breastfed for six months. Maybe I should’ve given birth in Mississippi, where only 19 percent of babies are breastfed for three months, 17 percent exclusively at three months.  I would’ve had a harder time losing the baby weight with all that fried chicken, but at least I would’ve found support from someone other than my overflowing friends who could have been wet nurses —and the lactation consultant I paid $100 an hour to try and make my breasts make milk.

“You’ve got to give it your all!” my pediatrician would cheer every time I went in to weigh my baby and the scale revealed that not an ounce had been gained. “But I have to feed her every two hours and that basically means every freaking hour because it takes an hour for her to eat and I haven’t left my apartment all week… and it’s not even working!” I’d sob, feeling like prisoner. Slash cow, hitched up to a humming Medela machine eight times a day to help stimulate production. “Just keep going,” she’d insist. “You’ve got to keep going.”


Wait a minute, why?? Standing in my kitchen wearing a double-pumping bra supporting two plastic funnels cupping my nipples, when our plumber walked in, I finally realized that there is an alternative. It’s called formula. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not poison. (Well, except for that time traces of melamine were found in several different brands. But hey, breast-milk sharing sites were recently busted, too, for selling salmonella-tinged stuff.)

Even my sweet but clueless husband dubbed our daughter a “Formula Baby” when I mixed up that first six-ounce-bottle of Gerber Good Start. As she guzzled it down, I wondered what would become of her. (So far so good: At 5-years-old she’s all smiles, barely ever been sick, and according to her preschool teacher “very smart.”)

I understand the potential health benefits of “liquid gold” —higher IQ, lower risk of obesity, asthma, type 2 diabetes, and the list goes on. Of course in developing countries breast-feeding is crucial to the survival of otherwise undernourished infants with no access to clean water. And I love that poor places like Nicaragua, have made major strides in promoting breast-feeding efforts among families who used to struggle to buy formula as a sign of status.

America is doing great things, too, to promote breast-feeding— we’ve got viral commercial campaigns and catchy TV sitcom songs; hotel chains like the Hard Rock Chicago even offering hospital-grade pumps to nursing guests. (Travel trend! Nursing-Mom Tourism on the Rise?). Best of all, otherwise expensive breast pumps are being covered by Obamacare.

It’s a fair question for affluent and low-income families alike: Why buy the formula carton for 30 bucks, when you’ve got your very own milk flowing out of your boobs — for free?


Well, so you can leave your house. Your baby. Your milking machine. And feel like a human being for more than two or three hours and, I dunno, go out for drinks. To the movies. To work. Whatever.

Because although breast might be best, here’s the thing: Formula Babies turn out fine, too.

Born in Boston, in the ‘70s (when only 24 percent of women breastfed) to a mother who smoked a-pack-a-day when she was pregnant, and poo-poo’ed breast-feeding as “something only the hippies did,” I volunteer as Exhibit A.

Okay, I have allergies, and can be kind of neurotic, but otherwise I’m, more or less, normal. I was even the fastest female runner in high school school. I mean, could I have been Usain Bolt if I’d been breast-fed? Maybe. Apparently he was for nine months. But at least I’m not obese. Or a moron. Or a murderer.

I am a mother who just wants to make her own choices without a major guilt trip.

The second time around, it was much easier, the whole breast-feeding thing. I was somehow a milk machine. My son ate smoothly and efficiently. So I actually did it for the recommended six months. (Supplementing of course, it was, after all, ski season.) Let the sibling rivalry begin!

But I breast-fed my second kid more out of laziness than anything else. Because as much as I hated cracked nipples and plugged ducts, I hated washing out those freaking multi-piece Born Free bottles a million times a day even more.

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About the Author

Rachel Levin is a San Francisco-based writer/editor. Her work appears the New York Times, Outside, Slate, Sunset, where she was a senior travel editor, and Ozy, where she is a contributing writer. She is thankful for her husband’s persistence and a faulty pill, because now she has two kids who she loves a lot.

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