The Joy (mostly) of Breastfeeding

About 8-10 times a day, a snuggly, precious five-month-old baby nurses at my breast.  He follows suit after his two sisters did the same.  The difference in the breastfeeding experience between my son and my two daughters is that I went back to work when my girls were still newborns and, after pumping rather unsuccessfully, I eventually supplemented with formula.  However, I plan to exclusively breastfeed my son for as long as it works for us.

I'll admit it now: I love breastfeeding.  I always knew that I wanted to become a mother, and I always knew that I would breastfeed my babies if at all possible.  My mother and grandmother both breastfed their babies whenever they could, despite the fact that they were both work-outside-the-home mothers and that breastfeeding was not the norm years ago.  My grandmother reports that the maternity nurses bottlefed her first son in the hospital without her consent, and they chided her for wanting to breastfeed.  After all, formula feeding represented societal progress... even though the formula at that time usually consisted of equal parts evaporated milk, Karo Syrup, and water.  (I could go into a long novel about how glad I am to be a 21st century mom, but I digress.)

But every time I talk about how great breastfeeding has been for me, I always feel like I have to emphasize that my yay-happy approach to it does not indicate an indictment against women who either choose not to breastfeed or who cannot breastfeed (of course).  I think that mothers have been forced to take sides on this issue, and that is not fair.  Yes, it's been proven that breastmilk is the absolute best nutritional choice for babies under a year old.  Yes, breastfed children are shown to be generally healthier, and they tend to have fewer earaches, allergies, communicable diseases, and so forth.  Yes, breastfeeding is free (sans the pumping and storing implements), and it's ecologically sound.  Yes, breastfeeding promotes bonding, it's good for the mother's postpartum body, it's excellent birth control, et cetera.

But NO, formula feeding does not cause children to be unhealthy, unhappy kids. No, moms who choose to feed their babies formula do not love their babies any less than moms who choose to breastfeed.  You'd think that this was obvious, but in the Mommy Wars, nothing is taken for granted.

As for me, I am a believer in pragmatic parenting: go with whatever works best for you and your kids.  I've done both, and I personally found that formula feeding was a bigger pain.  Sterilizing bottles, going to the kitchen in the middle of the night, running out to the store to buy more formula at $15 per can - no thanks!  That's right: one of the reasons why I like breastfeeding is because I am lazy (and cheap).  Placing a baby at the boob is easy: no mixing powder, no heating water, and I can still have one free arm to multitask, like I am doing right now.  Not to mention the bonus benefit of not having a menstrual period for months, and the fact that it burns hundreds of calories without me having to do much.

Yet to show how this is a complex issue, I will share those times when breastfeeding has not been a joy for me.

First week: Breastfeeding can really hurt, especially at the beginning.  Newborns have a surprisingly powerful sucking reflex; after all, their lives depend on it.  With my oldest, I remember having tears in my eyes and scabs on my nipples from the bleeding.  (Please excuse the visual!)  But then the days go by and you eventually can't feel any discomfort whatsoever, like you went from wearing boots to bunny slippers.

Outings with baby: Many new moms already feel vulnerable and insecure.  That feeling can be intensified when moms need to nurse hungry babies in public places at inopportune times. I remember trying to nurse my youngest daughter at the circus, where it was loud, crowded, and dirty. She screamed every time I tried to cover us with a blanket for modesty, and the only private space around was the portapotty (yuck).  The more she screamed, the more she couldn't latch on, and the more she couldn't latch on, the more hungry she became, which caused more screaming.  At that moment, I was not a good poster child for breastfeeding.

Outings without baby: These days, if I want to go anywhere without the baby - a rare occasion as it is - I have to either pump milk (not always successful at this) or be sure to return within 3 hours.  I've been for a quick trip to the store and returned to find my son crying for me.  This isn't as bad for me as it is for my son and whomever is caring for him during my absence.  Don't forget the joy of having drips show through your shirt in public.

Teething: I am experiencing this right now.  My girls were fairly gentle, but my son seems to think that I am a chew toy.  He has no teeth yet, but when that day comes, I will be monitoring things closely.  Grinding is not a good feeling! 

Weaning: There is something bittersweet about having your baby grow up, and weaning is one of the big milestones for this.  I've cried over it.  Our oldest daughter, whom I weaned at twelve months old in order to increase my fertility, would have breastfed for years if given the choice, but our youngest daughter (ever the independent one) eagerly weaned herself from the breast at eight months old and wanted her bottle instead.  Our son seems to be the nursing type, so don't be surprised if we continue this for awhile.

Nursing is not always terrific, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.  It's been a great choice for us, and I am glad that we've tried to stick with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment!