Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Breast is Best, Right?

The NY Times ran a piece yesterday about breastfeeding.  Not surprisingly, it has elicited a ton of comments.  The piece can be read in its entirety here.  I thought it made a lot of good points.

As any pregnant woman or new mom knows, the breast vs. bottle wars are alive and well.  Moms feeding their babies in public often are in a no-win situation- they either get the stink-eye for breastfeeding in public, or they get sneered at by the "lactivist" crowd for bottle feeding.  Yes, there are really people who describe themselves as lactivists.

The AAP recommends breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, and then for as long after that as is comfortable for mom and baby.  There is plenty of research that shows the benefits of breastfeeding, both for the mom and the baby.  Some of the reasons are pretty founded in good, solid research, such as the decreased risk of breast cancer in mom and decreased risk of diarrheal disease in baby.  However, other benefits are more nebulous- claims such as higher IQ and lower rates of obesity are less clear-cut. Other benefits, such as more "bonding" between mom and baby are even harder to measure.  A very good article regarding the conflicting research results can be read here.

What it comes down to is this:  every woman has to decide for herself how to feed her baby.  It's no one's business but hers what she is doing and why she is doing it.  There is not an official list of acceptable reasons not to breast feed.  I've created a list of breastfeeding myths that I wish I knew about before I had kids:

Myth 1:  Breastfeeding Is Easy.

  • It's not easy.  People think that because it's "natural," it's easy.  There's a learning curve for both mom and baby.  I tell new moms that if they want to breastfeed, give it at least six weeks before giving up.  It does get much easier.  It truly does.  However, those first few weeks are tough.  Very tough.  I remember with my first that when I would finally get him to latch on, I would freeze, afraid to move a single muscle lest he pop off.  
Myth 2:  Breastfeeding Should Never Be Painful.
  • It hurts at first.  It really does.  It almost always gets better after a few weeks.  However, it is normal to have soreness and cracked nipples and all sorts of other pleasant ailments.
Myth 3:  Breastfeeding is Free.
  • Yes, technically, it's free.  However, unless you are staying at home and are available for every feeding for the first six months of your baby's life, there are hidden costs.  The majority of women go back to work six to twelve weeks after delivery.  If you're doing that, you need a breast pump.  A decent one will run you over $300.  And, you'd better get a decent one if you have any prayer of pumping enough milk.  You might have lost productivity from work from time taken out for pumping breaks.  You still need bottles and milk storage bags. 
Myth 4:  All women can produce enough milk.
  • Not true.  It's just not.  I'll tell you my personal experience.  I breastfed my first son for one year.  I went back to work after 12 weeks and pumped for 9 months after that.  It was a pain, but really not that bad.  I had no supply problems.  I never had to supplement with formula.  With my second son, for whatever reason, my supply was terrible.  Pumping became torture, as I would spend 20 minutes pumping and have an ounce or two to show for it.  I saw a lactation consultant.  I rented a hospital-grade pump.  I drank the stinkiest teas imaginable.  Nothing helped.  After about 6 months, I just gave up.  It seemed pointless.  At least 7/8 of each bottle was supplemented formula.  Once I gave up, it was such a relief.  I was finally able to concentrate on enjoying my baby, rather than obsessing about how to feed him.  Now, think about it.  If I, a mother with breastfeeding experience, a job that allowed me ample time to pump, sufficient funds for a lactation consultant, fancy pumps, and stinky herbal teas couldn't make it work- don't tell me that all women can if they just "try hard enough."
Myth 5:  Breastfeeding is crucial for the "bonding experience."
  • I'm bonded to both my kids.  Adoptive parents are bonded to their kids.  There are so many factor in the bonding process.  It really doesn't always come down to what your kid is eating.

Anyway, that's my opinion.  I encourage breastfeeding, but if someone is having a lot of trouble, or hates it, or just doesn't want to do it- well, that's fine too.  I firmly believe that a more important factor in a healthy, happy baby is a healthy, happy mom.  Let's face it- we'll have countless opportunities to feel guilty about how we raise our kids.  This shouldn't be one of them.

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