Monday, January 17, 2011

thoughts on breastfeeding


i am no breastfeeding nazi, although i definitely think it's too good for a baby not to do if you can. i definitely think it's an awesome thing to do for you and for your baby. there are, however, a million reasons why you perhaps CAN'T. some women just aren't comfortable with it at ALL, and that's reason enough, really. and god knows, it's a level of work and commitment for a working woman--well, for any woman, really--that i nearly stop having every third day. not to mention all the physical issues you can have too--inverted nipples, milk doesn't come in, baby won't or can't latch for a bundle of reasons, low production, infection, blocked milk ducts that can be horribly painful, thrush, yeast infections... the list goes on. all that aside, however, i am breastfeeding. i did with kieran, too, but with him, my milk supply was crappy, and we had to start supplementing almost from the beginning. finn, however, is a champion eater. i have noticed a bunch of small things that were wrong with how kieran was eating now that i have finn who is Doing It Right.

what i want to say here is that we, meaning myself and the women i know who have or who are presently breastfeeding, are a generation of women without teachers. there's this idea that, because breastfeeding is "natural", it comes easily to anyone who wants to do it. well--not really. in the past, you would have had your mother, grandmother, aunts, sisters, cousins, etc. right there to help you, and all of them would have had experience with breastfeeding. but our mothers? we were born to a generation of women who didn't do it, and for whon it was often not even a choice. with the introduction of mass-produced baby formula, NOT breastfeeding became the norm, marketed as it was to women of means and women who wanted to be "free" of their babies and the ties that quite literally bind mother to baby for a year or more. an assumption was made by many doctors during this time that women didn't want to breastfeed, and those who did had to often fight for the right to do so in a medical environment where drugs to dry up milk were given without consent or discussion before the baby's first feeding. for our generation, we have mothers who don't know what we're doing, or in many cases, why we are doing it. add to all that the fact that families are more spread out than they once were and the fact that so many more of us are single mothers than we used to be, and what you have is a generation of women trying to breastfeed without support. it's no wonder that so many women don't do it.

the other thing is--if you have a job, then you have no choice but to pump. and well, pumping sucks. pumping isn't the intimate, bonding act that breastfeeding is. it's purely pragmatic, sometimes painful, and just a bit yucky. thank goodness for it--it makes it possible to continue breastfeeding is you DO have a job. but it's work and not fun at all. it's also disruptive to your work day. you have to have bosses who understand and support your goals as a mother to be able to pull it off, not to mention that you need a place to do it. i know too many women who have been forced to pump in a bathroom because there's nowhere else. again--no wonder so many women choose not to do it.

you read all the statistics about women breastfeeding in this country, and how low those statistics are, and how much better it would be if more women did it, but damn. it's hard. it's work. and there's little support without going to a complete stranger and being willing to let that stranger see and handle both your breasts and your baby, not something everyone is able to do. the services of a lactation consultant are also far from free. most insurance companies won't pay for it, so if you can't afford it, then you are stuck. in my personal experience, it has also seemed that lactation consultants vary so wildly--some of them can make you feel worse than dirt when you are having problems, and others are like miracle workers--one must choose very wisely.

anyway. all i am saying is that i get why people choose not to breastfeed.

for me, i feel lucky that i've been able to do it as much as i have. with k it was about half and half. with finn, it's been all breastmilk, so far at least. and it's been fantastic to be able to do it! FANTASTIC!

one of my favorite things about my breastfeeding experience has been feeding finn in the middle of the night. he wakes up just enough to know he's hungry, and it's a contest to see if i can get him latched on before he actually starts to cry. i bring him into bed and lay on my side to feed him, and he curls into me like a soft little kitten with its mother cat. he pushes against my belly with his knees, and he pats my face with his little hand while he eats. it is not only one of the sweetest moments you can experience as a mother, there's also something very satisfying about the kind of care you are providing on a primal level. your body is doing what it's supposed to, and so is his. it's at moments like that when it's all worth it. all of it.

then there are all the benefits to mama no one talks about. i have dropped weight from breastfeeding like crazy! for a person who has had weight issues since forever, that's no small thing. i am still losing weight now, and finn is six months old and eating solids, too. in addition, breastfeeding helps you stop bleeding after your baby is born, it helps fight depression be releasing yummy chemicals in your brain, it helps you bond with your baby, and there are studies that say it reduces your risk of developing breast cancer, too. for me, with my family history of just about every type of cancer there is, that's pretty huge. but seriously, best of all, it helps you get rid of your big old pregnant butt. (of course, there's the downside that none of my pants fit, and that the babies mean i have no $ left after child care to go buy new pants. but i digress...)

so if you are breastfeeding, or trying to decide whether or not to do it, my advice is--give it a shot, and go into it with your eyes wide open. realize that there may be problems. realize that it's going to be a lot of work. accept that it's going to be something that kind of takes over your life for a year. then give yourself credit for every day that you make it--every single day you can do it is that much better for your baby, so go go go! but if you can't, for ANY reason, for goodness sake, don't beat yourself up about it, and don't feel guilty about it. as with all things related to parenting, i think you just have to do the best you can with what you've got. and, unless you are harming your child, no one--NO ONE--is in a position to judge your decision but you.


Anonymous said...

My thoughts on your thoughts.
It's interesting that even though we know formula is inferior to breastmilk and has health implications, we consider just not fancying it an ok reason. What if someone doesn't fancy using a carseat or fancies smoking near their kids, other things that carry health implications? When it doesn't involve boobs society is far less understanding.
What about if instead of babies and mothers needing to be taught and overcome all these barriers, instead baby was born with all the skills to feed but lots of common US practices hindered this and caused the problems? This is the reality. Previous generations managed not just because it was normal and everyone did it, but because interventions were nowhere near comparable to what they are today.

jackie said...

i don't disagree. i guess my point was that if you have major body issues to the point that rather than becoming a bonding experience, breastfeeding becomes something you dread or something that is only making your time with your baby unhappy, then it's more important to give you and your baby a positive experience than to get the breastmilk in there. does that make sense?

further, i know more than one woman who had legitimate physical reasons for not being able to do it, and who writhed with guilt and not being able to make it work in spite of hundreds of dollars spent on help that didn't help. i just don't think that those women should be judged as harshly as they sometimes are.

and lord knows, i COMPLETELY agree about the medical industry in the US--i think it's the source of many, many barriers you have to overcome to successfully breastfeed. you have to fight to get to your baby after you have him, especially if you have surgery or any complications at all. it's insane.

Anonymous said...

The amount of women with body issues so severe they cannot use their breasts for their intended purpose is a tiny percentage of women. Far more women CHOOSE formula feeding because it is sold as nearly as good, if you don't fancy breastfeeding don't feel bad it's fine. This is extremely misleading.

I dont see how this is judging women who are unable to breastfeed its two completely different topics. Over 98% of women can breastfeed when they get good help, so if you know several who physically can't perhaps exploring the qaulity of support or why that is in your area is important.

We can't make the women who cant do it feel better by pretending formula is as good.

jackie said...

i mention the body issues factor because i personally know someone for whom this was a problem. it may be a tiny percentage of women, but that makes it no less significant for those particular people.

and the lack of good help was one of my main points. i agree--there needs to be better help. there needs to be more support. but if a woman tries, spends hundreds of dollars on lactation consultants, and still can't overcome physical problems that keep her from breastfeeding, or if a woman gets 4-5 bouts of mastitis while the baby has thrush, or if a woman has no support, can't find or afford support, and gives up because her baby isn't growing and she is weeping through every feeding--well--those are cases where, in my opinion, it's better to use formula than to make your life a living hell trying to breastfeed.

you are right--formula is NOT equal to breastmilk. in no way am i implying that it is. however, as a person who has had the experience of being judged for giving my baby a bottle when i could not make enough milk for him to breastfeed exclusively, i feel like it's no one's position to judge another woman's decision until you have walked a mile in that woman's shoes.

jackie said...

i also agree with you about the marketing of formula being quite misleading. in fact, i'd say it's unethical, like most things in the food industry in america. that's a whole other separate issue than the point i was trying to make here.

Anonymous said...

I still thank God that I managed breastfeeding as a dumb 20-year-old, alone with a book and no support, in spite of society 36 years ago. Gave me the strength to do it again 22 years later, and not even question if I could pump at the prison - just do it! Yes, it can be hard, but well worth it, just as you said, Jackie. You KNOW I appreciate your efforts for those beautiful grandchildren:D