by Carrie Wells, Ed.D.
I can always tell if someone either breastfed or bottle-fed breastmilk, formula fed, or never had a baby. It's very simple; that person will ask the question "Is he hungry again?"
When Lydia was born, I didn't fully understand how breastfeeding worked. No one I saw regularly breastfed. I didn't ask a whole lot of questions before giving birth because I felt like breastfeeding was a natural process, and I would just figure it out. Breastfeeding is just using your breast to feed your baby, right? Well, fortunately, I did just figure out the dynamics of it quickly with Lydia. She latched on instantly from day 1 - She was a breastfeeding champ! What I didn't fully understand or know at first was the concept of 'feeding' on demand. I used to leave my daughter alone once or twice a week with my husband starting at around 6 weeks without a bottle of milk for an hour or two at a time. Sometimes he'd look like a crazy man when I would get home from the gym or store because Lydia would cry half the time I was gone. I didn't understand why he couldn't find some way to soothe her while I was gone.
When Lydia was around 2 or 3 months old, my formula-feeding friends and pediatrician said I needed to start scheduling feedings. Without any real knowledge of all the differences between true breastfeeding (I am not including bottle-feeding breastmilk because that, to me, is more like formula-feeding) and formula-feeding, I thought that this idea of spacing out her feedings made sense and would probably help her to be a better sleeper and would fill her up better. But then I realized that wouldn't work. When she cried, she wanted her mommy time. Was she hungry? I don't know. Was she eating too often? Didn't seem to be. Was she getting enough nutrition? She was gaining weight and appeared to be healthy. Did she just want to cuddle and feel safe? Isn't that my main job as a mother? To protect my child and make her feel safe?
People who formula-feed will often say things like "It doesn't really matter long-term" or "I've known breastfed babies who still get sick a lot" or "I was formula-fed and I'm just fine" or "My kid is really smart and he was formula-fed" or "There are so many other ways for parents to bond with their babies." Those may be true but are completely irrelevant to me. I can list endless research-based reasons why breastfeeding is beneficial...but it's not about higher IQ or better immunity or all the nutritional benefits. I don't need to be sold through logic. I do it for one reason: it just feels right.
So "Is he hungry again?" I don't know. "Is he actually eating right now?" Sometimes yes, sometimes no. "Didn't you just feed him?" Don't know if I 'fed' him but I put him to my breast, yes. "Is he eating too much?" Well, he's really big and healthy, so does it matter? Most of all, he's happy and protected and knows he's loved because he gets all of that natural skin-to-skin time with mommy.