I am breastfeeding my baby, almost exclusively, and yet I feel defensive about it. I think it's the right choice for me and Eve because I can, because I'm at home with her and because she took to it. Great!
But what if I couldn't?
The information out there -- blogs, books, hospitals, everywhere -- practically criminalizes the use of formula and I just don't understand why.
It seems to me that there are bigger issues in the world than whether or not I regularly stick a boob in my baby's face, but you would not know this from researching anything on the internets, ohmygod.
I guess it's just that I don't know why so many people care sooooo deeply about what I feed my baby. I ask in earnest: What is this all about? Do the strongly vocal "Nursing Nazis" (my nurse's term for herself, by the way, not mine) care equally about what, say, impoverished non-infant children eat? Does the La Leche League take a stand against Lunchables? (I'm pretty sure that Lunchables are far less nutritionally sound than formula.) Maybe it's just my own myopia, but it seems to me like there's some oddly misplaced ferver over encouraging women to breastfeed at any cost that would be better spent on, oh, I dunno, figuring out a way to ensure that all expectant mothers can afford to see a doctor regularly?
I'm not even anti-boob! It's just, well...
Once upon a time, when I knew virtually nothing about breastfeeding, I just kind of casually assumed I would go ahead and breastfeed when I had a baby. I thought breastfeeding was something that would come pretty naturally, and easily, and made sense, and gosh, doesn't everyone do it? Much like having babies in general, breastfeeding is something women have been doing since the dawn of humankind, so what's the big deal?
A few months into my pregnancy I decided, rather haphazardly, to look into formula-feeding versus breastfeeding. I realized I didn't really know anything about either. Oh, I knew it was cause for some debate on mommyblogs, but I assumed that argument was fairly innocuous, like arguing over what color you should paint your baby's room.
Let me illustrate what every website ever developed that has anything whatsoever to do with "breast or bottle feeding?" looks like:
!!!!!!!!!!!!!BREAST IS BEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!BRRRREEEEASSSSST IS BEEEESSSSSSSSSSSTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!
Forgive my politicization, but I feel like asking the internets what safe and healthy bottle feeding options exist is maybe a little like asking your Catholic priest what safe and healthy abortion options might be.
But before you jump down my throat about that comparison, don't get me wrong. The "BREAST IS BEST" movement is like this crazy omnipolitical rallying point, where people on the far end of the conservative and liberal spectra unite. Those ultra-conservative Christian moms who blog about serving the Lord and their husbands? They LOVE the breastfeeding. Those crazy wacko granola socialist commune dwellers (and their urban SF counterparts I'm so fond of)? They ALSO LOVE the breastfeeding! And the wealthy stay-at-home moms? You betcha! And the power-lunching Type-A corporate types? Yep! And everyone in between! (Well, everyone except moms who have to go back to work and aren't given time or opportunity to pump. But that's a whole separate issue.)
The point is, it took me about four minutes of internetting before I felt like a complete asshole for even considering formula. GEEZ, I guess I should breastfeed, I thought. And left the topic completely.
A few weeks later, however, I happened upon the (aforementioned) Atlantic article called "The Case Against Breastfeeding." The article isn't actually against breastfeeding, it's just the author's take on how breastfeeding isn't the only option, and that research has only proven that the breast is maybe somewhat better possibly than formula even though you'd never know it from all the current pro-breast hype.
I appreciated the article, because it helped put into perspective what I'd already started to feel: guilt. I hadn't even had a child, hadn't even really considered not breastfeeding, and yet I was already feeling guilty about considering using formula.
Well. As my due date drew closer, it occurred to me that "Geez, I guess I should breastfeed" doesn't actually count as being informed about it. So I started gathering information about the details of nursing. I had zero idea about any of it. What tools would I need? Do I buy bottles? Do I need a poncho? How often do you do it? Do I need a pump? When do you start? When do you stop?
And THAT is when I stumbled onto a very popular blog and a very popular blog entry that had something like 200 comments all about the travails of breastfeeding. The author and the commenters were all pro-breastfeeding, but the post was about how it had been so difficult for the blogger that she eventually had to go to formula...and felt miserable about it. I spent hours poring over every comment posted in co-misery.
I'd had no idea it could be so hard. Know why? Because the "BREAST IS BEST" articles do not like to talk about how hard it can be. They like to say things like, "If you have any trouble, there are tons of resources available to help you 24-7," and "There's no need to give up!"
Give up? I wondered. Why would you give up? What don't I get about this breastfeeding thing?
And then I read and learned. I learned two things in particular:
1) Breastfeeding is HARD. At least, it can be. I mean, holy hell. Women who were dead-set on breastfeeding were sharing their stories of how they tried for days, weeks, MONTHS (like, months and MONTHS) of painful, stressful, sad, humiliating experiences before it either "clicked in" or they had to give up entirely.
Until that point, I'd believed that women who didn't breastfeed chose not to because they didn't want to be inconvenienced. (Which, by the way, I think they have a right to feel.) But I did not know that breastfeeding is this life-altering thing, rife with potential difficulties and physical challenges.
2) The ultra-pro-breastfeeding folks can sometimes feel like a cult. To this VERY VOCAL group, it's not enough to want to breastfeed. You must want to breastfeed exclusively. You should breastfeed for a minimum of a year, preferably two. You need to beware all nipples that aren't sticking out of your own breasts (no pacifiers, no bottles, not even bottles with breastmilk in them). "Supplementing" with formula is a baaad idea. Your body produces everything it needs to nurture your baby, period, end of story.
And I got mad all over again.
Here's what it boils down to for me:
I wish the "conversation" about breastfeeding could be a lot more honest.
- Don't bombard me with all the reasons that breastfeeding might, possibly, potentially help my baby. Just say, "Hey, it's totally natural and clearly good for your baby." And if we engage in this conversation, maybe "...And here are some of the benefits that have been linked to breastfeeding."
- I don't mind if we all start out saying BREAST IS BEST, but let's not also say, in the same breath, that FORMULA SHOULD ONLY BE USED AS A LAST RESORT. There are benefits to formula feeding. Let's not completely ignore them.
- Let's not paint a false picture about how awesome breastfeeding is. Can it be awesome? Absolutely! Is it totally cool when it works and everything is in synch? Ohmygod YES! But it's not all nipple-sucking unicorns. There's engorgement and blocked ducts and mastitis and leaking boobs and nursing pads and pumping and trying to plan your day around on-demand feedings. And none of that is any fun. No, not every woman has problems, but many do. Let's TALK about how sucky those things can be (no pun) instead of pretending that they don't exist or that they're just minor inconveniences that women should just work through, la la la.
- And while we're talking about how challenging breastfeeding can be, let's also discuss how breastfeeding is not the same for every boob size. Women with large breasts can't use the same positions or carriers or methods of "discreetly" feeding that other women can.
- Let us be honest and sympathetic to women who can't breastfeed. I know several women who were physically unable to, and who were wracked with guilt because of it. Why make them feel worse by telling them -- at every juncture -- that they should really consider breastfeeding! And if they haven't tried it, breastfeeding is really the best way to go! And have you thought about breastfeeding?!
Side note: It's my personal belief that Eve and I have bonded because I am the one who feeds her whenever she gets hungry, not because the food comes out of my boob. I sincerely believe that bonding happens when the baby recognizes you as provider/nourisher, regardless of where that nourishment comes from. I also feel strongly bonded to Eve when she falls asleep in a sling, skin-to-skin. Which, you know, any mom or dad can do.
- Let's tone the conversation down just a bit. Some women will breastfeed and some won't and let's remember that one woman's decision doesn't have ANY IMPACT WHATSOEVER on YOUR decision. There isn't just one right way to do things. We're all trying to do the best that we can.
I'd talk more about my personal experience with it so far, but this post is long enough already and I haven't started packing yet and we're getting on a plane first thing in the morning, hoo boy. But I'm looking forward to sharing because I know some of you reading this are pregnant and worrying about what to expect and would probably love to have someone tell you that breastfeeding is no big deal and can be totally easy. Which is what I'm going to say.