How To Give Up Breastfeeding And Not Feel Guilty About It: Part 1

A few days ago I posted the intro to my breastfeeding series. Then I got into an car accident and I’ve been busy with car repairs. So that’s why there was a delay in my follow-up post. My sincere apologies.

But anyway…

Breastfeeding. It’s supposed to be the epitome of motherhood — of womanhood. It’s what the educated woman does. The informed, conscientious mother offers her breasts to her newborn to give the milk of life and health.

I’ve experienced this with two of my babies. I was blessed with the ease of breastfeeding. My nipples seemed to form to their little newborn mouths perfectly. There was only brief pain in the beginning. The only challenge being that my first child was attached to me constantly for the first four weeks of his life — so much so that I looked at the formula samples in my cupboard with envy. What if I had my husband feed him just this once? Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a little break?

No.

I was told formula was inferior.

Not just inferior — practically poison.

bottle with green ring

Only “uneducated” moms fed their babies formula. I knew some moms had genuine difficulty breastfeeding — that sometimes there were health issues involved that prevented breastfeeding. But I had it in my smug little head that such situations were rare. And besides — if they really wanted to breastfeed — they could pump — or go to one of those breast milk banks. I mean, WHY would you give your baby something inferior unless you were — I don’t know — uneducated or misinformed?

I know this is a story that’s been told a million times. The breastfeeding story. But I strongly feel that you can never offer your fellow sisters enough encouragement when it comes to breastfeeding. Next to abortion, it’s one of the other major female dilemmas of choice. But it’s a dilemma of choice that we should have — and a choice that we should not be ashamed of making regardless of the decision we make.

The difference between the choice of abortion and the choice of breastfeeding is — obviously — stark. In one, you’re eliminating the zygote or embryo for your own human physical and mental well-being — in the other, you’re offering your body for the physical and mental well-being of another.

But there are similarities. With abortion, you’re told by old white republican men what to do with your body. With breastfeeding you’re told by upper-middle class white liberal women what to do with your body. I’m speaking in generalities here, of course.

Women just can’t win.

English: WPA poster promoting breast feeding a...

My first two babies were champion nursers. I supplemented with formula with my first baby after I went back to work, but he mainly got pumped breast milk. My job offered my a very generous lunch break so I could run to my in-laws house and breastfeed my infant. With my second child, I exclusively breastfed. I don’t think she ever got a bottle. She went straight from breast to cup.

As it should be! — I thought.

I had friends who tried and “failed” at nursing. I heard various stories from them. It hurt too much. The nipples were inverted. The breasts weren’t producing enough milk. The baby had thrush, or the mom had mastitis.

I nodded sympathetically.

Yes, yes. Of course I understand. I would say. But just get through the first four weeks. Once you get over that hump it gets so much easier. You just need to fall into a rhythm. Just stick with it!

Of course I had good intentions and I don’t necessarily think that I gave bad advice. Didn’t all the research point to the fact that breast milk is the perfect food? Who wouldn’t want a smarter, healthier, disease – free child? Why would you switch to formula and risk your child getting diabetes later in life, or becoming obese, or getting a kazillion ear infections, or getting RSV, or — or — or — yeah. Like, shit. There’s a million things that can go wrong if you don’t breastfeed.

But I’m sure these women had heard those words of “encouragement” from all the lactation specialists, La Leche League, family, friends, blogs, etc. As a breastfeeder I was told that there is so much pressure NOT to breastfeed — that we must resist the evil formula companies, avoid pediatricians who support supplementing, say no to those formula gift bags that the hospitals send home with you — that the media is filled with mis-information about breastfeeding and we must avoid the negativity towards breastfeeding at all costs and stand-up for our rights as breastfeeding women!

A blog that I used to read and agree with whole heartedly was PhD in Parenting — a smart and educated blog about parenting and other subjects as they pertain to women and family. In this particular post, the author talks how she was disturbed by another mother’s comment that encouraged women to give up breastfeeding after 2 weeks it it wasn’t working.  The author, Annie, went on to say that she was saddened by this woman’s attitude. I see Annie’s point of view — and I know that breastfeeding women need support — but her comment drove me crazy:

A woman wrote an honest first person account of her difficulties with her attempt to breastfeed her baby. Her story is sad. She had significant difficulties breastfeeding. She got questionable advice. She had people judging her instead of helping her. In short, the cards were stacked against her and she was set up for failure. I don’t blame her. This happens to a lot of women and it is unfortunate. I can’t say for sure if she would have been able to breastfeed successfully if things had been different and even if she could have, hindsight is 20/20 and there is no point in rehashing that now. So while I was saddened by her story, I don’t judge her (or anyone) for choosing formula if they feel that they cannot breastfeed for whatever reason.

It’s this particular attitude that gets me. And I used to have the same attitude. It’s the idea that the woman was misinformed — she received “questionable advice.” Poor lady. If only she had the right information, she would probably still be breast feeding. Right?

I know this may sound terrible, but — who cares?! If she can feed her baby with a nutritiously sound alternative, then why not? And what if she gave up breastfeeding because — I don’t know — she wanted to — because it’s her body? Annie goes on to say:

I sympathize with the woman that wrote the original post and I know her heart is in the right place when she tells people they should give up at 2 weeks, but I don’t think she realizes that she is undermining them if they do want to continue and that recommendations like this can have disastrous results for breastfeeding rates and subsequently for our healthcare system.

With all the information that’s out there, with all the education that’s available for women — I hardly think that this type of attitude will affect breastfeeding rates. Women need to be given a bit — a lot — more credit.

But this does not mean I’m anti-breastfeeding. I’m just pro-choice when it comes to boobs.

On the other end of the spectrum, I believe women should be able to breastfeed in public without people throwing a fit — even uncovered. I think it’s good for people to see how babies can be fed, regardless if there’s a boob showing or not.

But I will tell you this — when I started supplementing formula with my third baby, when I stopped offering my breast when he was three months old, when preparing bottles with this so-called poison — this so-called “baby junk food” — became the norm for my husband and I — that’s when I felt it. The judgment. Not just my own feelings of failure — but the condescending nature of lactation specialists and breastfeeding mothers. Not directly. Not to my face. But the message was clear in mommy forums, articles, blogs like Annie’s, and books.

And the consensus was this — You didn’t have enough information. Did you read this such and such article that explains the benefits of breastfeeding? You just needed to stick with it a little bit longer. It’s not too late! Start pumping again and you can get your supply back! It’s so easy to give up in the current anti-breastfeeding climate.

Holy fucking hell.

I was filled to the brim with education on breastfeeding. I was very successful with my first two.

But on top of that — my boobs were on fire.

But I’ll get to that tomorrow in Part 2 — wherein my nipples become open wounds. And how I had a chance to continue breastfeeding — but decided to quit.

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5 comments

  1. Pingback: How To Give Up Breastfeeding And Not Feel Guilty About It: Intro « Porch Philosophy
  2. Pingback: How I Learned to Support A Mother’s Choice Not To Breastfeed « The Joy of This
  3. Pingback: A Tale Of Two Blogs « Porch Philosophy
  4. Pingback: A Tale Of Two Blogs « motherhood is magic
  5. Pingback: How To Give Up Breastfeeding And Not Feel Guilty About It: Part 2 « Porch Philosophy

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