Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The One and Only

Even though I told myself I would not do it, I will write my one and only post on breastfeeding. With baby number three on the way and a recent post from a friend, I thought I needed to finally write out the blog post that has been building in my head for weeks now. I don't like to expose myself in this area, it is a touchy subject for me and I have been afraid that I might offend someone by my comments or that it would just look like I was trying to justify my decisions. But, I read this article in Melissa's post and thought that if I used it as a springboard, maybe I could plead my case.
I had every intention in the world to breastfeed my first two babies. And, I am heading into baby number three with the same intention. Even though the first two attempts were unsuccessful for various reasons, I still want very badly to have a successful breastfeeding experience with my last baby. Why? Let me start by stating why I am NOT so well intentioned about breastfeeding. I do not believe, despite the studies that have been done, that my children will be healthier or smarter because I breastfeed. When I was struggling with breastfeeding Jesse and debating whether or not to discontinue, my well-meaning medical school husband did some research for me to ease my fears that I was going to cause my little baby to become this sickly, stupid little kid. He pointed out that all the studies that have been done about breastfeeding are not accurate, while they may hold some truth, breastfeeding is just a hard thing to test. You have to consider the IQ and health of the parents. You need to consider the home environments of the children. You would need to rule out any other activities that parents engage their children in that may boost IQ (like reading a TON of books, signing with your infants, minimal TV watching, etc.). You would need to make sure that all parents that breastfeed feed their toddlers and young children purely organic diets, no fast foods, no preservatives, ever. And science aside, over the past 4 years or so I have conducted my own studies of observation. While my two formula fed babies seem to excel their peers developmentally (and intellectually, not as a means to brag) and with the exception of a cold here and there, are very healthy. I look at the breastfed kids I know and wonder if their mothers feel jipped. I mean we are talking food allergies, allergies in general, asthma, eczema, chronic ear infections. My kids are probably the only kids who are consistently in the nursery and Sunday School every week b/c they are NOT sick.
The other reason I am NOT breastfeeding is because I think I will bond with my babies more if I do. When I fed my babies bottles, I held them in the same position as I would have if I breastfed. I looked longingly into their eyes, stroked their little faces, talked to them, cradled them. The only difference is that they were sucking on a bottle and not a part of my body. No, I will not deny that I probably missed out on some hormonal connection, it is quite obvious that breastfeeding is a very hormonal and natural thing. But, I do not think I am any less bonded to my children than a woman who breastfed. There is no way it is possible, hormones or not. That would be like saying a mother who adopts can't have the same maternal bonding or a woman who had breast cancer and is unable to breastfeed can have the bonding experience. Do we really want to go there? Is that really a fair claim to make? Not to mention that their are many ways to bond with your baby other than breastfeeding.
So, why am I going to try for a third time to breastfeed? Because I want to. I want to experience what my body was naturally made to do. It was always hard for me when I stopped breastfeeding my other babies to have my milk dry up. I always felt like there was something unnatural about it. When I wasn't in agonizing pain, the first few days, I really enjoyed that I was the only one that could provide food for my baby, I was doing what I was born to do. I would also prefer to feed my baby what comes naturally from my body rather than something made in a factory. And, after washing and preparing bottles for two babies, I want to stay as far from the extra work as I can! It is such a pain to have to make a bottle for a screaming newborn in the middle of the night and then bring it to the right temperature. Not to mention the extra cost of buying the formula (and my other two babies needed the twice as much money hypo-allergenic stuff) and then making it. It is just a pain, and while breastfeeding has it's inconveniences, it seems like a much easier solution for a third baby.
So, I have pleaded my case. I am hoping this time around to surround myself with as much support as I can. I am using a midwife for this birth who I feel will be a lot more supportive. She has already given me the number for a lactation consultant who I plan to contact in the next few weeks to come up with a plan. I have taled to several friends to help get me through the painful first few weeks. And I think that my husband is a little more motivated to kick me in the butt because he really does not want to pay for formula!
All that being said, I do need to mention what I think is the underlying issue with the breastfeeding controversy. I think that sometimes as moms we tend to lose sight of the big picture of parenting. We minimize breastfeeding as the golden ticket to good parenting. I know a mom who was very insane about strictly breastfeeding her infants, only to feed her toddlers soda and have them sit in front of the TV all day. I would look at this and wonder if she thought that if she breastfed strictly for a year, it would cover her bases. I think that we often miss that parenting is more than how or what we feed our infants. It's how we bond with them, how we nurture them, how we educate them, how we discipline them. The truth is, while the extent of the actual health benefits may be in question, we know for sure that breastfeeding has no eternal consequences. We can still be good parents and not breastfeed. I remember talking to a friend when Jesse was over a year old. She did not hide her shock when I mentioned that I was doing the Super Baby diet with Jesse (a healthy, organic, make your baby food book). "Really??" was her response. After she picked her jaw off the floor she followed up by saying, "But I thought that bottle fed babies were picky eaters." Now I had to pick my jaw up off the floor, did she really just say that? I think that we need to not let breastfeeding divide us as parents. I have felt very isolated from all the moms in my church that breastfed (I was the only one that didn't). I have known other moms who just plain old didn't like breastfeeding and couldn't wait until 6 months so they could stop. I was the only person they would dare tell this to b/c I wasn't breastfeeding, they were afraid of what the other moms would think.
We have all heard the mantra, "Breast is best." Maybe it is, and if it is, how much better is it? Maybe we need to start redefining what "best" is and not let that be a standard for good parenting, for everyone. And we definitely need to stop judging each other as mothers. Parenting is a natural self-justificating venture. Every way we turn, we are trying to make ourselves feel like good moms by the things we do and we want others to see that we are doing a good job too. Let's encourage each other to look at ourselves as Jesus does, not as other moms do and to raise our kids to do the same. Because, in the end, that's all that really matters.


emily said...

Well written sis! I am proud of you...I know this has always been a sensitive subject for you and your words were very clear and kind! Well done! I think you should make your own bumper stickers...can't stand those breastfeeding ones- I cringed every time I see them.

meliisa f-b said...

Bravo, Jane! I wish you would write more like this. AND I wish YOU had written the article for Atlantic.

emily said...

oh, jane - i hope you don't mind that i read and commented on this post. I just wanted to say that I thought this was well-written and that you made some excellent points. There is so much more to the decision than all the arguments that are flying around. Your experiences, positive and negative, are good to hear. I have a friend who will be formula feeding her new baby, and I hope she's able to feel as supported and loved as my friends who breastfeed.

Sullivan's Mom said...

I appreciate this. I actually pumped with Sull for 6 months and in retrospect I should have formula fed him. I wholeheartedly agree that one has to be open to the fact the lifestyle of the family in general is just (sorry) MORE important in the well-being of children. Because the little man was in ICU and never even had a drop of milk pass his lips for 8 days, I am a firm believer that nutrition is nutrition. I do think that the benefits of breastmilk are valuable, especially in the early stages of life, but in the future I think I might pump for a month or so and then move on. David and I both got to be involved in the care of the child in a way that we wouldn't have been able to if I'd been nursing...for us especially that bonding seemed more important. Again...choices should just be respected. The fact that we call people breastfeeders or formula feeders is just silly. Sorry. Did I just start my own post?? oops.

Leah said...

Thank you for this wonderful post jane!!!!

Daisy said...

I agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote. It is important to remember that we are all different, and what is a good choice for one person, may actually be a bad choice for another (I know someone who had post-partum depression until she stopped BF at 6 months). If the mother doesn't like BF, and is resentful and unhappy, then Breast isn't Best for her, or her baby. As for me, I LOVED breastfeeding my babies, and was so sorry each time when that first year was over!