Breastfeeding

I hesitate to write about breastfeeding because it’s so overtalked. But in addition to all the great (and not so great) resources out there about it, I thought I’d say a couple things.

To begin with, breastfeeding can be a great source of bonding. But it’s kind of like the greatest strengths are also the greatest weaknesses in that you spend hours feeding your baby, you have to hold them and stay still, slow down, and take care of yourself (i.e. you can’t start downing coffee after those sleepless nights or you will get one wired baby!). So as long as you are willing to make that commitment, you can trust that it is the healthiest and most intimate way to feed your baby. I’m all for it.

However, I’m not the kind of mom who boasts when her baby doesn’t have a drop of formula ever touch its lips. I simply don’t think that’s something to brag about. It’s commendable of course, because it means she cared a lot about her baby’s health. But so do formula feeders. To imply that formula feeders are doing something less than breastfeeders is at least rude, if not out of place. It definitely takes a bigger commitment to breastfeed than to bottle feed, but that doesn’t mean anything per se about the mommy’s heart behind it. Breastfeeding should not be the place for bragging.

Lots of women have to bottle feed if they decide to go back to work. I know it is all the rage to make pumping this trendy thing, but I always hated it. I remember one specific time pumping in a campus library restroom stall thinking, “Man, I hate this. I can’t do this much longer.” I pumped milk for about two months for my firstborn and just gave up. It was exhausting and annoying. My son took about thirty minutes to drink his whole bottle, and it took me about half and hour to pump an adequate amount, so that was an hour invested in every meal (except the middle of the night). When he was tiny and needing about six bottles a day, that was ridiculous. But I had been so propagandized that formula feeding meant worse mothering, that it took me two months to give in and just use formula.

If you can keep up the pumping, good for you! I do know one woman who pumped for a whole year. Wow.

But don’t let the Breastfeeding Nazi get you. Formula feed if you can’t stand the idea of breastfeeding or if trying to breastfeed is causing negative emotions for you towards your baby.

That said, try to give it awhile before you give up. Lots of moms go home with their newborns happily nursing. Lots of moms don’t. If you’re open to persevering, I would give it six or seven weeks before throwing in the towel. Most babies should get it by then if they are having trouble. And your breasts will get use to the “abuse” by about that time. Your postpartum hormones settle down and your body is largely healed, so that’s a good time to clear your head and make a decision about it. I was so moody the first three weeks, I couldn’t have trusted myself any earlier than that.

Breastfeeding is very physical. You should be prepared that it is going to be a physically-focusing season (much as pregnancy is) where you should be taking care of your diet, not trying to lose weight, keeping your wardrobe suitable (i.e. special shirts and bras), and generally sitting around with your shirt open a lot! If this weirds you or your husband out (or your older children if you have them!), you better get a private space where you are comfortable because you’ll be there A LOT. I actually found the physicalness of breastfeeding to be the hardest part about it. After the pregnancy, I was always hoping to gain my body “back,” and that just wasn’t possible. My husband was a good sport about it too, but I know he also enjoyed when the nursing was over and my body was no longer the subject of territorial space.

That said, also be prepared that no-one can breastfeed for you! Wherever you are, you are the only one that can take care of that need. Even when your nursing baby is older and can eat food, there will likely be times where he or she just wants to nurse and will fuss until you can get there. You can leave for longer amounts of time, but the return time will almost always need to be within four hours or so. And even though you can go this long, most people feel worried about being left with a nursing baby. Your husband might not want to babysit, and neither will babysitters! People are just weird about a nursing baby, as if they are different from non-nursing ones because there is just this fear that crops up when the baby cries like, “Well, I can’t feed you!” And they usually assume the nursing is what the baby is crying for.

I am not sure what I think about this. Sometimes I think it is not the nursing so much that the baby wants, but the Mom. It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy: people don’t bond as much with a nursing baby, so they don’t bond with others and they need Mom more. I am especially convinced with my fourth baby that she is clingy not because of the nursing directly but because of it indirectly–my nursing her has created a strong bond that other people cannot rival at this time. When I hold her, she’ll stop crying even though she doesn’t want to nurse, which tells me she was feeling insecure, not hungry.

So be prepared for that. We formula fed our first son after three months, and Dad did lots of feedings. He bonded to this child best and had a hard time bonding to the next two boys until they were weaned. Our oldest son is also bonded to Dad at least as much as to me, and not surprisingly, moreso than his younger siblings. So consider this aspect too.

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