In honor of national breastfeeding week, I have a few thoughts.
I have now been non-stop nursing at least one, at times two children for 3 years and 11 months.
This afternoon, tired from chasing two boys in the extreme heat, all I wanted to do was lay down. We were also in a hotel (read: no kitchen). My 13 month old was hot, thirsty and hungry and wanted to nurse.
Our two wants meshed perfectly.
As I was laying there I thought- I wish everyone knew how easy breastfeeding can be. I’d much rather be able to just take a load off and feed my baby than have to track down bottles, cups, milk, powder, water, a refrigerator, microwave, et al.
I was able to rest while I was feeding my child. How’s that for multitasking? I find it works particularly well for lazy days, while traveling, on a plane, at the park, anywhere.
I say this knowing full well the many many hurdles that can get in the way of a successful breastfeeding relationship. I have personally experienced mastitis over 7 times, plugged ducts, thrush, vasospasms, a baby with reflux from over supply, exhaustion.
And I’ve had friends who’ve experienced much worse- inverted nipples, tongue tied babies, severe blood loss during labor (breastmilk is made from the proteins, sugars, and fat from our blood supply), breast implants and reductions, nursing twins and triplets…and they have ALL endured and breast fed their babies. I am so proud to call them friends.
The truth is, breastfeeding a newborn is hard. I wish there were more PR campaigns devoted to acknowledging that fact. Do the powers that be think that if we moms know the truth- that it’s not very easy in the beginning at best, and downright brings many women to tears- we’ll choose to just not even try?
I think not.
We all know how hard pregnancy is/can be, and yet we embark upon that journey willingly, knowing that there is an end in sight- an outcome that will outweigh any discomfort, illness, weight gain, stretch marks, heartburn, round ligament pain, incontinence, swollen ankles, bigger feet, wider hips, and loss of brain cells. Yes- we endure all of these things for the joy of holding our babies in our arms.
There are also many women who know exactly how painful labor and delivery can be, yet choose to give birth without any anesthesia. It is worth feeling every single contraction and pushing with Olympic strength to bring a child into the world.
But it is NOT easy! It seems something as essential to the survival of humans as breastfeeding would just come naturally but it doesn’t. It is a learned behavior- not an instinct. We need to watch other moms breastfeed to learn how to do it, and we don’t.
I once watched an interesting video showing a gorilla in isolation with no idea how to nurse her baby, because she had never seen it done. She even held the back of the baby’s head to her breast in confusion. When she became pregnant again, the local La Leche League organized a group of breastfeeding women to show up at the glass of the enclosure to nurse their babies. They did this regularly, and by the time the gorilla’s baby was born she knew what to do and nursed!
She learned by example and fed her baby. She was not guilted into it or convinced by all of the studies proving the superiority of breastmilk. She saw it, so she did it.
It was never intended for us to just figure it out on our own.
Parenting is hard, and we can’t just walk away from it when the pain gets to be intense. My hope is that someday breastfeeding would be held in the same regard and that moms would be informed and supported enough in the work place, in the public square, everywhere inside and outside the home to the point that feeding babies anything other than human milk would be done so as an absolute last resort.
According to the American Association of Pediatrics breast feeding is a public health issue and should be treated as one, instead of a lifestyle choice. Since the majority of U.S. births occur in hospitals, there should be someone to assist the mother and baby with the very first breast feeding attempt.
In New York City when I gave birth in 2008, I kept asking for help from the nurses and I received none. “Just let us give the baby some formula,” said THREE different nurses. All the breast feeding classes I took while still pregnant did nothing for me in that moment- when I had a living, breathing, newborn baby rooting around at my breast.
So let me say it here, if you’ve never heard it before. Breast feeding will hurt. Your nipples will be sore. His latch might suck. You might feel awkward, nervous, embarrassed even. You might even get thrush or mastitis and your baby might be sensitive to the food you eat.
It gets better. Usually after the first 6 weeks, definitely after 3-4 months.
IT IS WORTH IT.