This is what not enough breastmilk looks like

breastfeeding starving 3

The image is horrifying. The story behind it is possibly even more horrifying.

It is featured in a BabyCenter blog entitled Giving thanks for formula during World Breastfeeding Week. Midwife and photographer Marry Fermont took the photo during an internship in Cambodia.

Fermont explains:

One day I saw a woman with two little babies who were both really upset, but one baby was much larger than the other baby. I didn’t understand how this was possible, because there didn’t seem to be 9 months between them, but neither did they look like twins.

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#7adfda”]Because the mother did not have enough milk, she only fed the boy.[/pullquote]

Fermont’s interpreter spoke with the mother:

…[W]e learned that it indeed was a twin. A boy and a girl, but because the mother did not have enough milk, she only fed the boy.

The mother was able to support twins inside her body, but not outside. In truth, both babies were starving.

“I could not bear to see the children so upset and begged the woman to latch them,” Marry went on to say while sharing her recollection of the emotional meeting. “Soon I realized, even though I had no experience with breastfeeding or babies, that they were not calming down, there was just no milk. The mother gave me the little girl to hold and all I wanted in that moment was that my breasts could give milk, right here and right now…”

The photo demonstrates that the claim that every mother produces enough milk is a cruel lie.

Yes, these were twins, and yes, the mother might have been able to support one baby, but not necessarily. We know that 5% of women simply don’t make enough breastmilk to support the normal growth of a baby. The photo indicates that this mother probably did not suffer from insufficient glandular tissue of the breasts. And the classic canard that mothers who choose not to breastfeed are just lazy certainly does not apply. She simply couldn’t make enough milk to naturally nourish the children she had naturally conceived and naturally nurtured inside her body during pregnancy.

It probably did not take this mother long to realize that she did not have enough milk for two babies, so she made a hideous choice. She chose to feed the more “valuable” child, the boy, and was letting the girl starve to death. She could not bring herself to do what other mothers throughout time have done in that situation, leave one baby exposed outside to die or be eaten by predators. It might have been better for the boy, if the mother had killed the girl outright since he hadn’t been getting enough milk either. Both babies suffered terribly and Fermont was deeply affected:

We went back to the city and bought loads of powdered milk and a week later we went back to take it to the mother. We were too late…not only the girl, but also the boy had also passed away…

Fermont reflects on how this has influenced her thinking about World Breastfeeding Week:

We live in a country where everything is available; we can provide what is needed for our children. We have the luxury of switching to powdered milk when breastfeeding is not possible, we have the luxury to choose powdered milk if we do not want to breastfeed and our child will grow up and will have all the chances in the world.

Yet it seems that we just make it hard for each other; guilt if you choose to bottle feed instead of the breastfeeding, guilt if breastfeeding does not work, discussions about feeding your child in public. Why can’t we support each other? We only want one thing: to raise our children.

She concludes:

I think it is important that mothers know all the possibilities and the benefits of breastfeeding. Not to condemn you if you make a different choice, not to make you feel bad if breastfeeding did not work out for you. Whatever you choose or have chosen, your child grew up with it, and that’s something we should be grateful about.

As I wrote yesterday, nourishing=flourishing, and isn’t that what we want for all children?

That means encouraging breastfeeding when it is possible AND working for both mother and baby. But it also means celebrating formula feeding if needed or preferred. To that end, we should devote our efforts to bring clean water to places where it isn’t currently available. Formula made with contaminated water can be deadly, but it’s the water that makes it deadly, not the formula. Formula producers ignored that brutal reality for years, and countless babies died because their mothers were convinced to abandon breastfeeding for formula. That is a scandal of massive proportions. Yet, it seems remarkably cruel to promote breastfeeding to avoid contaminated water only to let breastfed children die as preschoolers from the very same contaminated water.

Motherhood is powered by love, not by breastmilk. Honoring the fierce love between mothers and babies means honoring any feeding method that leads to a flourishing baby. Often times that’s breastfeeding, but often times that is formula.

World Breastfeeding Week is marred by a literally fatal flaw; some babies die if exclusively breastfed. Therefore we should not be celebrating a method of feeding; we should be celebrating healthy outcomes. If that’s what World Breastfeeding Week were about, there would be a lot less guilt and a lot more thriving babies and mothers.

Motherhood powered by love