Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thoughts on Breastfeeding

I think about breastfeeding a lot... probably because I spend a lot of time doing it or pumping. It is a huge part of my life right now. I was enjoying Juile's post on breastfeeding the other week and reading through the comments and I saw one where the mom said that she didn't have problems doing it, but didn't like it and quit for that reason. But the part that struck me about her comment was that she said that feeding her child was just such a small part of being a mother.

I was really taken back by this. I mean, she's right. I am probably more obsessed with breastfeeding than I should be. But at the same time, regardless of your feeding choices, feeding, eating, and the interaction from those activities is still, I think, a pretty big part of parenting. Beyond the breast/bottle feeding time, many experts emphasize how important it is to eat meals together as a family, at the table, TV off. Cooking is so important, the act of teaching your children to cook itself. And think about the many cultures in the world, they are often defined by their food as much as their geography. Eating is part of our heritage. Even grocery shopping. We are having baby-wearing success these days with our sling and I was wearing Michael while picking out tomatoes the other day and I saw him watching me and thought to myself that this is so trivial but still so huge. Just watching me pick tomatoes is such an important learning experience for him. And last but not least, the health of a person is strongly dictated by the choices made here too. Our lives revolve around eating.

But back to the breastfeeding. It has always been a HUGE part of mine and Michael's relationship. First, the kid was a hungry baby. For the first couple months of his life I was always feeding or changing him. Sometimes he would actually want to play and I would feel a little lost because I didn't know anything to do with him that didn't involve the digestive track. And there were all the difficulties feeding him that had to be overcome and I still am very sensitive about all of that. Then he started daycare, it seems like we are always fighting to get him to eat at daycare (he's been doing better with his sippy cup the last couple of days in case you were wondering). And the pumping... so much of my self-esteem is centered around feeding him and a bad pumping day just about makes me want to cry even though I've probably produced enough milk for him. And the allergy issue... I have to think about everything I eat because of it's affects on Michael (that's going pretty slowly right now... so far it appears that ALL legumes and most tree nuts are causing problems). Yes, so breastfeeding = HUGE to me.

And all of my 6 months of experiences here definitely have led me to form a complicated opinion of breastfeeding. Without a moment of hesitation I will profess to loving it. And I really do, it is just so awesome in so many ways. I think nearly (emphasis on nearly, because I know there are lots of exceptions) every mom should try to provide breastmilk (preferably at the breast) for their babies. I think it is a baby's right to receive it (sorry if this offends people, but it's my opinion). That said, I definitely understand that it is NOT for everyone. I mean, did you read the last paragraph? If I didn't love doing it, I would definitely not be doing it. Feeding choices are important, but a happy mom and baby are the most important.

This makes me think of my 3 SILs:

SIL #1 - When I told her I planned to breastfeed she said, "Oh, you won't do it for long, it's really annoying." A couple of months into breastfeeding she made a comment that she "could not" (read: unable) breastfeed. So this leads me to think she had negative breastfeeding experiences, but I've never really talked to her about it.

SIL #2 - Could not feed at the breast and exclusively pumped for more than a year. Now that I pump at work, I'm in awe that she did that. Wow. I could not have done that, at all.

SIL #3 - Made up her mind that she wasn't going to do it and never tried once.

I respect SIL #3's decision but at the same time I wish she would have at least tried. I think they are trying for #2 right now and I'm kinda hoping that we don't talk about this topic because I don't think I can talk about it without clearly showing my pro-BFing, lactivist attitude. I want to tell her to do it and how great it will be and all the wonderful things about it... basically I don't think I can say much about it without showing that I don't completely agree with her decision on her first child. Another thing is, I don't want to sell breastfeeding to her and then her actually try it and not like it. Breastfeeding can be HARD! I don't want her to be angry at me because I sold her an ideal and then she tries it and isn't happy. But if she does decide to breastfeed, I want to be there for her and help her and be a resource that she feels comfortable coming to, even if it's to ask, "Do you think it's ok to quit?"

But mostly, I just get pissed off at 'society' when I think about breastfeeding. If it wasn't hard enough to begin with, it seems like 'everyone' is telling moms to breastfeed and not supporting them in the least. They make it taboo to nurse in public. So many people see BFing a child past the first few months to be ridiculous (not to mention the weirdo looks extended breastfeeding gets). Mis-informed physicians. Shitty maternity leave. It just seems that there are so many road blocks on the horizon. Of course, that's not to say that formula feeding doesn't have it's critics (and that's an understatement). I hate the a-holes that equate formula to poison. Formula is the appropriate or best choice for lots of families. But society wants mothers to breastfeed and then freaks when they see a nipple. Society can say they want moms to breastfeed, but it will always be more comfortable with a can and bottle.

I don't have a nice way to wrap this all up into a neat little package. Breastfeeding is complicated. Parenting is complicated. (Getting pregnant is complicated.) We are all fighting our own fight and doing the best that we can. How someone feeds their child up to that person. My hope is that more of them choose to breastfeed. I think it's everyone's responsibility to look out for the right of parent to make that choice and support them in it.


Celia said...

I do strongly agree that while we are all preached to about breastfeeding, no one seems to care about the logistics of it. My family that lives four hours away wants us to visit and there is no way I can think of to get us there. I will never be able to pump that much. And I am so sick of how Americans objectify the breast. I hate being made to feel like I have to hide in a deep dark hole so no one sees us.

I am going to do my best to stick with it till Pete is one. I don't think I would be able to do it if I had gone back to work.

Rebecca said...

I enjoyed this post - you are so right that like so many other things we ask of mothers/parents, there's a lot of guilt/expectation and very little support.

Do you read the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine's blog? There was a good post on there recently likening breastfeeding in the US to running a marathon without shoes:

Unknown said... have a way with words. Really - I could never right the way you do (hence all the pics on my blog :). I agree with you in many ways. I had a so-so experience with breastfeeding/pumping (baby eating every 30 minutes and an agressive eater at that, sever nipple infection the entire time that made them feel like razors were always scraping them, baby addicted to nipple shield, etc) and only managed to do it 4 months. Luckily I had supply and he got frozen breast milk up until 5 months. But I will forever feel guilty because so many criticize that I should have done it longer. It is so hard. I am not sure I will ever feel right about it even though I have a very healthy baby. Looking back over the past 6 months, it is the only thing that can truly bring me to tears.

Chelle said...

I am jealous of women that can breastfeed. I tried and couldn't for health reasons. I tried again when I was healthy and the girls were 4 months old to re-lactate and couldn't.

I put up with critisism all the time for not doing it and I know that you put up with critisism all the time for continuing to do it.

Seems like we are damned if we do and damned if we don't.

Michelle said...

I am one that did not try. For lack of positive opinions, and also everyone led me to believe that it was impossible to pump enough. (at the time I had planned on going back to work) I also did not do much at all online back then so I had no clue about all these support forums and whatever. All I had was friends/family who all were negative. Anyway, when my milk came in, and wouldn't dry up fast like it was "suppose to" i had commented to my mom and a friend that I regret my choice. And wondered if it was too late. They acted like I was some sicko to even suggest it. Goes back to the no support/positives on it, so I didn't try. It's one thing that I have always regretted. Obviously K was fine on the formula, but I often wonder if some of the other small issues now could have been different....

Anonymous said...

Great post! I agree with you on so many levels. Even though my experience with breastfeeding has been filled with challenges, I am so glad I tried (and continue to try and provide whatever milk I can without making myself crazy). I wish that society was more supportive of bf. I have been lucky in that my hospital was very supportive of bf from the start, and we have a lot of local resources. The fact that it makes some people uncomfortable makes me want to bf more and talk about it more.

I think you are so right that food and feeding are a huge part of life, and sure, babies can be fine on formula, but breast milk is best. I took Birdie in the baby bjorn to the farmers market yesterday and got a bunch of fruit and let her gnaw on the most delicious ripe peach. I so want to set her up with positive experiences with fresh, healthy food, because I was raised in a junk food family and it has screwed me up.