As a fellow double-mastectomy breast cancer survivor, I was so happy to hear that actress Christina Applegate and her fiancé Martyn LeNoble welcomed a baby girl, Sadie Grace, into the world on January 27th. What a healing gift after staring down the barrel of a devastating disease, potential death, and the loss of two breasts! Reading about Sadie’s birth in People Magazine brought tears to my eyes.
Self-conscious about her chest since being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and opting for a double mastectomy, Applegate had kept her hospital gown securely fastened even as she neared her 18th hour of labor on January 27th. “I don’t let anyone see my top half,” says the actress, who has undergone reconstructive surgery. “That whole area has remained very private.”
But that all changed the moment an exhausted Applegate, 39, gave one final push and watched as her daughter Sadie Grace was born. Without hesitation, she let her gown fall off as the nurses placed her baby on her exposed chest. “It was such a liberating and beautiful moment,” she tells PEOPLE. “I didn’t care. It didn’t matter anymore. Not only was she the most beautiful thing that’s ever happened to me – but she saved me too. I got to abandon resentments that I’ve held on to in that vicinity for years because [my chest] is where she feels the most comfortable and where she’s the happiest.“
Of course I relate to Ms. Applegate’s self-consciousness, and I am just overjoyed for her, that she was able to overcome it and allow her baby to be placed on her chest, skin to skin. Kudos to the nurses who knew to give Sadie and Christina their “magical hour” — that important time of bonding and mutual discovery and attachment, that can get parenting—not just breastfeeding—off to the best possible start. The actress also reveals her feelings about breastfeeding:
“I am sad that I didn’t get to have that with her, you know? It’s the kind of thing I always thought I would have. That special bond that mom and baby are the only ones that can share.”
Obviously, losing breasts to cancer eliminates breastfeeding. And it has always seemed the most ironic turn of events for me — the “boob whisperer” – to have lost both of mine to breast cancer (my disease was bilateral and the decision to remove both not elective). I have given much thought over the years to what I would do if I ever had another child –to the replacement strategy for feeding I would use since nursing would not be an option– and in doing so have stood in the shoes of Ms. Applegate and women like her, who really can’t breastfeed. I know that I would have chosen donor milk since it is the undisputed next-best to breastfeeding. But I also know that the process and the experience of feeding is a form of love to a baby — which is why even without breastfeeding, it is still possible to provide your baby with an experience that satisfies their nutritional and emotional and behavioral needs by enjoying skin-to-skin, feeding at the breast/chest, and keeping your baby close to your body so they are secure, warm and soothed by familiar sounds. We admire Ms. Applegate for overcoming the pain and suffering of breast cancer, for going on to celebrate life, and for sharing with us her own way of feeding with love and connecting with her daughter so intimately. After reflecting on not being able to nurse, she says:
“But then we do this”, she says, kissing her daughter’s head and nuzzling her. And we sleep like this for hours.”
Pure bliss! Hooray for mama and baby, and we wish them all the best! We are here to cheer ALL moms on, whether they can breastfeed or not, to do what is ‘Best for Babes’–making informed decisions, achieving their personal goals, bonding, and nurturing themselves and their babies, and all around getting the support they need to be the best PARENTS they can.
For moms like Christina Applegate, who can not breastfeed or supplement at the breast, here are some helpful tips.
Tips for Bottle-Feeding Moms
1. Start with the Magical Hour and Continue to practice lots of skin to skin: There is nothing better for you and your baby than snuggling skin-to-skin. The first hour after birth is incredible falling-in-love time in which an instinctive dance between ALL healthy babies and mothers unfolds and should not be missed. Thereafter, enjoy as much skin-to-skin time as you can, especially during and after feedings. It stimulates production of the hormone oxytocin (the “love hormone”) which relaxes mom and speeds recovery. It gives your baby security, perfect temperature warmth, and stimulates healthy, natural feeding instincts.
2. Baby wearing: Using a sling or wrap-style baby carrier can give your baby security (they cry less!) and keep them “organized” — babies are used to be being tightly packed in the womb and wearing them eases the transition, plus it makes it easier for you to go about your life, all while having your baby close, which eases your transition to motherhood too, and satisfies your protective instincts! There is a reason women have been baby-wearing for thousands of years–it is best for baby and best for mom. To learn more about the amazing benefits, click here, and to practice safe baby-wearing, click here.
3. Feed on cue: Christina Applegate worries about giving her baby “too much or not enough formula”. Whether you are choosing to feed your baby with donor milk (preferably) or artificial baby milk, it is important to follow your baby’s cues. Kellymom.com has a great section on bottle-feeding, and references Dr. Sears’ page on bottle-feeding and formula feeding also. Bottle-feeding that mimics breastfeeding is best for your baby. It is also important to prepare & sterilize bottles safely, especially when using formula; see the World Health Organization’s guidelines on safe preparation of infant formula. Note: we are not a fan of any hands-free bottle holders because it is easy to get distracted and not watch your baby while feeding from a bottle. It is important to watch your baby bottle-feeding to make sure the mouth placement and flow are adequate and that the baby is not choking from a fast flow, plus it enhances bonding.
4. Consider donor milk: Prescription donor milk from a human milk bank is best (and is life-saving medicine for preemies) but can be prohibitively expensive–though we believe it should be covered by insurance when it is necessary! Many mothers are making informed decisions about any potential risks and using eatsonfeets.com or milkshare.com to obtain donor milk, which has also been a life-saving gift for babies, especially those that can not tolerate formula. We know breastfeeding advocates will wonder why Ms. Applegate chose infant formula instead of donor milk; it is quite possible that she doesn’t even know that donor milk exists, or that it is far better for babies than infant formula. Regardless, we ask that you respect Ms. Applegate’s decision and cheer her on! We will not publish any disparaging comments about Ms. Applegate and her decision to feed infant formula.
5. Let go of guilt: Even breast cancer survivors feel sad and guilty about not being able to breastfeed. We are telling you now, regardless of your reason for not breastfeeding: let go of the guilt and put your best foot forward! Whether you suffer from the rare but valid condition of low milk supply, or were prevented from breastfeeding by the booby traps, nothing takes the place of your mothering and loving this baby. (We do suggest that you get to the bottom of your breastfeeding difficulties because too many women blame themselves erroneously when they were truly prevented from succeeding, and finding out the cause of their inability to breastfeeding can be liberating and healing. We recommend you see an excellent IBCLC). Babies are resilient, and most of all they need security and love. You are worth it, babe!
Congratulations again to Ms. Applegate and Mr. LeNoble on the birth of their beautiful daughter, and our deepest thanks to them for sharing their intimate bonding experience, which is a powerful example for all moms, whether they breastfeed or not.
What bonding tips do you have for moms who can’t breastfeed?