This post has no citations, because I don’t have time to get my brain on “paper” and post citations during nap time. There are millions of websites, books, articles, and other sources of information about breastfeeding, so I’m sure you can find whatever it is you’re looking for. This is my experience, my decision, my understanding about the options. Feel free to ask questions if you’ve got them or chime in with your experience!
Formula & Pumping
Formula companies want new moms to give up early. Even if it isn’t overtly stated, it works in their financial best interest for moms to give up – or even better – never to try. They encourage women to have formula at home, even if they plan to breastfeed, just in case. Hospitals send mothers home with formula – not necessarily because the hospitals think that the mothers should formula feed, but because formula is given to hospitals by the truck-load by the formula companies, and it is generally assumed that babies drink formula in the same way that it is generally assumed that babies sleep in cribs.
I didn’t want to have formula at home. It would have been nice to be able to sit out a feeding occasionally, but I knew that if I wanted a break that badly I could always pump. Not using formula makes it difficult to be away from the Pie – I don’t pump regularly, and I have only a few ounces frozen. If I’m planning to be away from her, I need to plan to pump.
I was planning to pump only infrequently, so I didn’t spend the money on an electric pump. I have a small manual pump, and although it isn’t efficient and I have to sit kind of slumped over and use both hands, it gets some milk out. Using my pump is certainly more work than formula feeding, but for now it works.
If there were truly an emergency and I couldn’t feed the Pie and I couldn’t pump in advance, every grocery store and kwik-e-mart has formula. Someone could go buy some.
photo from babyearth.com
Choices & Information
I think every mother has the right to choose how to feed her baby. I don’t think that formula feeding is wrong, and there are millions of people who turned out OK after being exclusively formula fed. I do think, however, that there is not enough access to lactation experts, to good information for breastfeeding mothers, and that there is a subtle but very underhanded encouragement for mothers to formula feed, even when they intend to breastfeed. I think all decisions are valid – exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively formula feeding, bottle-feeding breast milk, or using some combination of formula and breast milk - as long as that decision is informed and the mother is comfortable with it. Many mamas don’t like breastfeeding, have been abused and don’t want to use their body in that way, or find breastfeeding inconvenient or painful. Make a decision that works for you, but make an informed decision.
Many mothers turn to their pediatrician when they need advice or help with breastfeeding – and in a way, it makes sense. The pediatrician is the expert on babies. But they are not nutritionists, and especially men or women who did not themselves breastfeed, are not lactation experts. They may not know how to support a woman who has questions about breastfeeding or who is having trouble. They may not even know where to refer a woman who has such questions. It’s important for mothers to find the support and information they need to continue with their decision, whatever it is. If you only turn to your pediatrician, you may find yourself formula feeding shortly thereafter because doctors are very “sensitive” to breastfeeding problems, will tell mothers that it’s OK if they can’t feed, and may even send moms home with formula samples.
I made the decision early in my pregnancy that I would breastfeed. I feel like it’s the healthiest, least expensive, most convenient method to feed the baby. I knew it would come with its own difficulties but I knew that with my dedication to giving my Pie the best start, and with the support from my mountain man, we could do it.
I think having support from a partner is so important, especially when it gets difficult, when nipples are sore or the baby isn’t latching well. It can be really hard to keep going. I didn’t have any real problems except working to manage my milk flow- there was a lot. Thankfully my mountain man encouraged me to talk to a lactation specialist. I learned about block feeding, and we decreased my flow until the Pie could catch up.
I decided to breastfeed. I was sure I would be able to do it, and thankfully my Pie was born with the instinct to hunt and eat her food. She had an insatiable need to suck. For us it was generally easy. We had some bumps in the road, but we were committed to making it work and we had support, information and the time to dedicate to making it all happen.
Breastfeeding has health benefits – it is engineered (by nature) to be the perfect food to meet the needs of human infants, just as cow’s milk is engineered to be the perfect food for cow babies. My body produces the right amount of water, fat, sugar, vitamins, nutrients and protein to meet my baby’s needs. I am able to provide my baby with immunities to whatever I’ve been in contact with (especially important in the first month), and I know she’s not eating something that I wouldn’t eat.
Breastfeeding allows me to be lazy. Her food is available any time of day or night, without the need for extra equipment, no washing, no mixing, no heating, no shaking. It’s nearly free – I eat a little more food than I normally would, but it’s far, far less expensive than purchasing bottles, bottle washing brushes and sterilizers, warmers and formula. As long as my baby and I are near each other, she can eat.
Breastfeeding makes babies smart & healthy. It’s been asserted that breastfeeding has a correlation to higher IQs, higher emotional intelligence, and healthy weight throughout life. (Note: correlation does not equal a causal relationship.) Babies learn to eat as much as they need and stop when they’ve had enough. They’re not encouraged to eat that last ounce because it’s in the bottle. They encounter different tastes depending on what I’ve eaten, which may lead to less pickiness in eating later on.
Breastfeeding has benefits for mom. As the baby eats, hormones encourage the shrinking of the uterus back to its normal size. It allows for a small degree of ease in parenting – no bottles to wash, no formula to keep in stock (hooray for lazy!). I don’t have to get up at night to walk into another room and make a bottle when the Pie wakes up. I can feed on demand, her food is always with me, always sterile, always healthy, always the right temperature and mixed properly. I never have to worry about whether I have enough food for her when we leave the house.
And finally, breast milk poop is generally easy to clean up and doesn’t stink too much. It smells slightly sweet, slightly sour – like buttermilk. Occasionally it smells more like sour cream. But it’s mild enough that we keep dirties in an open pail next to the changing table, take them out only once or twice a week, and the smell is never all that bad.
Breastfeeding can be hard.
At first it’s painful, while your nipples become accustomed to being worked. And then for a few weeks it’s like putting on a pair of birkenstocks. It hurts for a second when you first put them on, but then your feet just mold into them and you don’t even notice you have shoes on.
When the Baby Pie was eating every hour (and then every two hours) it was hard to imagine that I could manage to give so much of myself to the baby – that I could physically and emotionally manage this breastfeeding thing.
Now that she eats about every 3 hours, and is starting to get tastes of solids, I feel sad about losing the breastfeeding time. I know that introducing solids doesn’t mean that I won’t be breastfeeding, and I plan to continue breastfeeding as her primary source of nutrition until she’s ready to wean. But knowing that she’s making the first step into adulthood – eating food! - makes me both excited and a little sad.
I leak. One side leaks whenever she eats from the other, and if I haven’t fed her in a while I leak a little too. When we go 4 hours without feeding I feel heavy and have letdown. I’ve been caressed and snuggled, pinched, squeezed, scratched and bitten. I’ve been given wicked hickeys, but thankfully they aren’t visible unless I’m breastfeeding.
I really didn’t like the prickly, tingly letdown every time my Pie cried in the early weeks. I remember the first time I had a strong letdown, I was driving with my Pie in the backseat. She hated the car when she was little, so she just sat back there and wailed. My first letdown was so prickly and uncomfortable, I clutched my breasts while I drove and couldn’t get home fast enough. I still don’t like it, but it’s not as bothersome as it used to be.
It would be nice for other people to be able to feed my Pie, especially without having to pump and freeze, but i know she’s getting what’s best for her and what’s best for us.
I was once told (by another woman!) that breastfeeding while sitting in the back seat of my own car in a Trader Joe’s parking lot was offensive. I also caught a creepy guy staring at me, while I was feeding my baby in the back seat of a car at the Pike Place Market. There is opposition to public breastfeeding, but every time I do it in public I am being an activist for my right to feed my child when and where she needs it, and I am, in small part, working to normalize breastfeeding in our society.
I breastfeed. For me and my Pie, it’s the right choice. For others it may not be, but ultimately I wish that people had better access to support, encouragement and information from professionals. Trying to find answers to my questions online was overwhelming. Buying a book was sometimes not an option, or seemed unnecessary. The people we turn to for advice may not be the best resources. Marketing is working against breastfeeding moms.
I breastfeed in public. I’ve done it at the homes of friends, in restaurants, at the art museum, in the woods, in a church, at the airport, on an airplane, in Board meetings, in the car, and even while walking through the store - but that’s another post.
I will never, ever, ever feed my baby in a bathroom stall.
But I have fed her in the bathtub.