For the baby shower I was given bottles galore, a bottle sterilizer, but no breast pump. At the hospital, I was sent home with piles of free formula and coupons for formula. I had a few friends swear cringe when I told them my plans and actually had one person say "as long as you don't nurse in front of me, you should do your own thing, but I'm just too modest for that". The invitation to spend time together was there as long as my baby wasn't hungry.
In a world where we are increasingly modest about our bodily functions, the thought of leaking and exposed breasts did give me pause. I'm here to testify that we survived, and it wasn't nearly as unpleasant as some of our sensibilities would indicate. There are a number of benefits to breastfeeding that set off any "gross" factors and actually prevent a few.
Have you ever smelled baby formula? It is nasty smelling stuff, based on modified cow's milk or soy. Not only is it nasty smelling, it's really unsettling the things that are put into it. From a 2010 Mother Jones report:
Infant formula has come a long way since chemist Justus von Liebig first patented a commercial cocktail of cow's milk, wheat flour, malt flour, and potassium bicarbonate in 1865. Today, Similac, Enfamil, Earth's Best, and other brands are fortified with everything from iron to the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, and most brands attempt to chemically match human milk as closely as possible. But even though artificial human milk is regulated by the FDA, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found last year that a thyroid-affecting chemical used in rocket fuel contaminates 15 brands of powdered infant formula, including two that accounted for 87 percent of market share in 2000. The CDC study omits the names of the top offenders, but a little sleuthing reveals (PDF) that they are referring to Similac and Enfamil, produced by Ross (now Abbott Nutrition) and Mead Johnson Nutrition respectively. (The Environmental Working Group handily includes phone numbers here for those and other infant formula companies if you're interested in questioning the makers of your child's brand.)
Evidence of a pathogenic role of cow's milk in many disorders has been presented - asthma, rhinitis, eczema, urticaria, serous otitis media, pulmonary alveolitis (hemosiderosis), milk-induced enteropathy in infants, eosinophilic gastroenteritis, gastrointestinal bleeding with iron deficiency anemia, migraine headaches, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and insulin dependent diabetes mellitus.
Soy based formulas also have their complications. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,
The safety of soy infant formula has been debated because it typically contains a class of compounds called isoflavones. Isoflavones are naturally occurring compounds found primarily in beans and other legumes, including soybeans, peanuts, and chickpeas.
... These isoflavones are referred to as phytoestrogens because they are found in plants (phyto) and because of their ability to act like the hormone estrogen in the body.
... it is recognized that infants go through developmental stages that are sensitive to estrogens. Therefore, infants are more likely than adults to be vulnerable to the estrogen-like effects of the phytoestrogens in soy. In some cases, the health effects resulting from a soy-based diet may not be apparent until years later.
It is Our Daily Green's opinion that the conditions above are a lot more gross than a leaking breast. I've included a link to a book that was one of my favorite resources when I was nursing. It was published when my second child was born but it reassured me and helped me understand a bit more about our choices.