Thursday, September 29, 2011

Boob Juice considerations

I'm going to note, right off the bat, that my male readers might just want to give this post a miss. It's predominantly about breasts.

Wait, that probably didn't deter you.

Um, lactating breasts.


I've always expected that, should I produce some offspring, I would do what other mammals do and nurse them. It just makes sense to me. My mom did as much with her three children, and she's noted that it's easy and affordable - and also a nice bonding experience. DH's mom also nursed all three of her kids and has said basically the same thing. I recognize that I'm fortunate to have family support on the baby-feeding front... but some of that "support" has taken an ominous shape.

Over the Easter weekend, when I was still not even really showing yet, and DH and I were occupied with a long list of higher priorities like finishing grad school, finding a place to move, and other items of actual import, one of my relatives handed me an enormous book about breastfeeding and told me I should start reading it now and attend La Leche League meetings immediately - this was later backed up with "no later than July, really". Then my mother ordered me two more books about nursing which arrived at our apartment the next week. (Side note: you know that fun feeling when an Amazon box arrives at your door? Imagine it contains a book about nursing a baby. Still fun? Yeeah...)

So I suddenly had three books to read, on top of the couple of pregnancy books (thick, yes, but meant to be read piecemeal over the course of 40 weeks) and the stack of information I got from my midwife each month, and the weekly e-mail that pops up in my inbox. And, I don't know, the READING I WOULD LIKE TO DO THAT ISN'T ABOUT BABIES.

Look, I understand that the women in my family are being supportive. But this information overload was threatening to stress me out. I had thought that by planning to breastfeed, I was choosing the simpler route, but these people were making it into a research project, complete with deadlines. Will nursing suddenly not work, if I don't do all this reading? Can't I research this stuff my own way? Over the last, oh, five years, I've picked up plenty of useful tidbits from talking to other moms my age who have successfully nursed their kids and from reading the occasional blog post or article. I know my midwife has a lot of resources for new moms; I'll have a list of numbers to call if I need some advice.

And frankly, I don't want to join La Leche League. I never did, and I'm less interested in it now than I ever have been. They're entirely too dogmatic for my taste. I know a couple of League members who have told me that women who stop nursing "just give up too easily" or, seriously, are "failures". Because this is a test to pass or fail? I know there are women who tried valiantly and had to make the choice between nursing and providing enough nutrition for their baby to thrive, and so they turned to formula. Somehow their babies are still alive - thriving, even. The League doesn't want new moms to notice those kids. The League tells us formula is "poison". And what mother would willingly feed her baby poison?!?

I don't want to turn in to one of those moms who judge other mothers. And I don't want to nurse my kid out of a sense of stubborn correctness. That's not good mothering, it's sickness. I want to nurse my baby because... well, I already said it: it makes sense and I won't have to worry about running out, etc, etc. And of course, it's healthy for both of us. And it's cheap and we're on a budget. That's really great, and I'm willing to work hard to make it work (and to his credit, DH is willing to put up with a fridge full of breast milk and the hassle of warming bottles when I'm away at work). But if, for some unexpected reason, like I don't have ducts that work right or I have raging, violent postpartum depression or some other crazy thing happens, and the choice is between nursing and my child's health... well, this is a no-brainer. My son is more important than my sense of righteousness, and he's gotta eat something.

Frankly, the League fanatics overdo it so much that their rhetoric backfires with exhausted new parents. People like Marisa are led to believe that giving in to formula is admission of breastfeeding failure - there's no room for supplementing in the mind of the League. It's all or nothing. So for new moms who might need a little more time to get the hang of it, there appears to be no grey area - no actual choice - and they give up. Is that what the League wants? Why do they prioritize exclusive breastfeeding over the compromises some people need to make, like supplementing with formula while the whole process gets worked out?

I was also interested to see what Jenny recently wrote about her difficult (and exceptionally painful) breastfeeding experience, too - especially the part where she felt that pumping all the time actually took away from times she could have been bonding with her baby. I'm sure the League would disapprove of that kind of admission. In fact, it seems the League is unwilling to consider any emotions involved in child-feeding that aren't positive.

I feel like I'm not going in to this with illusions. I understand that breastfeeding is difficult, exhausting, and sometimes painful at the start, which is why I've been talking to my midwife and my friends and relatives and coworkers who've done it successfully, and why I'll have phone numbers of lactation consultants to call. I have the wonders of the internet, and I'm already on a message board that's been talking about this stuff. And, hell, I have three huge books now. So I've got resources.

It's also fair to point out that I've read plenty of articles and posts by women who had really positive experiences breastfeeding. Sherry at Young House Love posted in July about the 14 months she breastfed her daughter, and Emily at Oh! Apostrophe recently wrote about how breastfeeding managed to work for her and her baby even though she "broke all the rules" at the beginning.

It's almost like each one of these women, and each of their children, is different. And each of them figured out what worked for them and their kid. It's as if I'll have to do the same thing with my child.

If it takes some extra time for my milk to come in, or my baby has a poor sucking reflex, or whatever, I'm going to supplement with formula. I'm writing that out now and considering printing it off to hand to my League-obsessed relative. Maybe we'll have to do half-breastmilk half-formula for a while. That's OK. Maybe we'll have to do all formula. I'll be disappointed about the expense of that, but beyond the finances, I'd like to think I'll be cool with it. I'm disgusted by the "failure" language, and try as my relative might, I'm not going to buy into it by internalizing it, and I'm not going to attend a monthly League meeting where they'll tell me I'm doing it wrong unless I quit my job, co-sleep, and nurse on demand until my child is four years old. Because none of those things will happen.

In an ideal world, I would like to breastfeed my baby until he's a year old. Beyond that, we'll play it by ear. If we get that far, maybe he'll wean himself at 14 months like Clara Petersik, or maybe I'll have to wean him when he's two because he - like one of his uncles who will remain nameless - will "want to nurse until he's twenty". It's going to be up to him, to a large extent, and up to me and DH to pick up on his cues and figure out when we need to change what we're doing or ask for help from one of the many resources at our disposal.

At the end of the day, as long as our baby is getting nutrition and growing, I'll consider the test of early childhood feeding to be passed, no matter how we get there. And I solemnly hope that I won't turn in to one of the high-pressure "lactivists" when some mom-to-be asks me for advice in the future, because making a pregnant woman feel pressured about these things isn't actually being supportive.

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