Friday, September 16, 2011

Thoughts on nursing

I called my mom one day a couple of weeks ago, to make a confession: I was not enjoying breastfeeding. It was very important to me to nurse my baby, and I never was tempted to give him formula, but I felt like nursing was a drag, and I felt guilty about that.

My mom expressed surprise at first, but then said she did remember having some issues in the first couple of weeks, if she really thought about it. But she told me that that time period was so short, it only made up a tiny percentage of the time she spent nursing (1 year for each of her 3 kids), so she tended to forget the hard times.

My doula had similar advice. "Breastfeeding is so worth it," she said, "once you make it past the first couple of weeks." And that is what I wish more people would tell new moms. Breastfeeding advocates tend to minimize the challenges of breastfeeding, in my experience. I have a book on breastfeeding which has been helpful, but it says things like "soreness rarely lasts longer than 48 hours," which was not my experience, nor the experience of several people I've talked to. Even my husband, when doing internet research, commented that "all of these websites say that if you're sore you're doing it wrong...but then it also seems like everyone says they got sore." Yep.

Then, of course, there's the "formula is just as good" camp, which I totally disagree with. Formula doesn't even make that claim...look at the package. It says breastfeeding is best. I know that because I've been sent formula in the mail that I never requested or wanted. I think it's great that formula exists for those RARE instances where it is necessary, but I think it's crappy to try to get it into the hands of every new mom. Clearly the formula companies are trying to take advantage of frustrated new moms and get them to try their product. And that sucks (no pun intended).

Because, yes, for many women it is NOT easy or convenient in those first couple of weeks. Anton was in NICU for a day, where he was given a bottle and a pacifier. When confronted with my anatomy, which does not resemble those things, he had no clue what to do. I was given a nipple shield by the lactation consultants in the hospital (who were great - I wish all hospitals had LC's as knowledgeable and helpful as these ladies), and that worked, but it was kind of a pain to deal with, so I spent a few days weaning him off of the shield, with tears shed by both of us! And after that, I got really sore. I began to dread feeding him because it hurt so much. Then after that subsided, I started to get...bored. I don't like sitting still, and I was spending so many hours of the day nursing that I was getting a bit stir-crazy.

I stuck with it, because I knew it was the best thing for my baby, and thankfully I had a lot of people supporting me - Mom, Rene (my doula), my husband, etc. And guess what? I got past all of those hurdles. Now I love it! As Anton grows, both of us seem more aware of when he is hungry, how long he needs to nurse, etc.

As I mentioned in my birth story posts, I had really wanted to give birth naturally. I felt, based on the testimonials of women I know who have given birth naturally, that it would feel empowering for me. And I didn't get that experience. But now that I'm nursing, I get a similar feeling of empowerment - that my body can do this awesome thing for my baby.

Some people argue that it's not feminist to push breastfeeding, because women should be encouraged to make their own choices. And yeah, choice is great. And of course, there are some women who cannot breastfeed. But for those who can, it's important to recognize that these are not two "equally good" options. It has been well established that breast milk is superior to formula. You can find that info in about 30 seconds of research. Do more research, and you'll find more and more reasons why.

And here's my feminist take: this is something completely amazing that women's bodies can do. When you breastfeed, your body creates milk especially for your baby. If you have another baby, the milk will be different! How cool is that? But like many things associated with women, the awesomeness of breastfeeding is downplayed by our patriarchal society. Okay, okay, I know some people are probably rolling their eyes at that statement. Yes, I used the dreaded "P" word. But I stand by it. I have had doctors lecture me about setting time limits on nursing, to make sure my baby doesn't "use" me "as a pacifier." So let me get this straight: it's superior for me to put a piece of plastic (which is designed to mimic one of my body parts) in my baby's mouth? Now, I don't let him nurse forever, because, as I mentioned before, I get stir-crazy. But I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with it. It just strikes me as odd that this was such a big fear of the pediatricians. Pretty much anything seen as "a woman thing" is portrayed as petty and trivial in our culture. I really do think attitudes towards breastfeeding are another example of that (especially when you consider our culture's obsession with breasts as sex objects, and only sex objects).

In short, breast milk is best, women's bodies are awesome for their ability to make it (and for many other reasons), and though it is not easy at first, as my doula said, it is so worth it!

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