Thursday, March 18, 2010


Let me begin this post acknowledging that breastfeeding is not for everyone. Some women have medical problems that prohibit breastfeeding, others have emotional issues that prevent them from having a successful time breastfeeding. Still others are just uncomfortable with it, and that is absolutely fine - a happy mom, lovingly feeding her baby a bottle is far more emotionally important than a mom who is sending uncomfortable and unhappy signals while breastfeeding. So, please, upon reading this, realize I am not passing judgement on those who have chosen not to or cannot breastfeed - this is purely a post based on my point of view as a mother who has chosen to breastfeed for the first year.

Breastfeeding is one of those things that is viewed as uncomfortable in our society. A woman nursing in public, depending on where she lives, can be arrested for indecent exposure. Many people think nothing of sending dirty looks towards a mother who has chosen to feed her child while out and about. Other mothers get comments from their in laws, families of origin, or friends about "why don't you just use formula, it would be easier". In a society where the women on the cover of "Maxim" or the swim suit edition of "Sports Illustrated" pose in far more revealing ways, this absolutely confounds me. Surely, in a society where Mardi Gras is most famous for the beads given to topless women, it can't feel all that offensive to see a woman nursing in public.

It seems to me that nursing in public certainly takes some common sense from everyone involved. The mother ought to be aware of her surroundings. If she is in the middle of a restaurant, or perhaps at a place such as a baseball game, it would probably be prudent to use a nursing cover. However, if she is at a mom's only group, or her pediatrician's office, it would probably be okay to bare all if she desires. The people around her ought to also consider the circumstances. If a woman has a nursing cover on, and she is feeding her child - there is no need for dirty looks - does that person honestly prefer there be a screaming, and starving baby in the venue? Or if a mom is nursing in the back of her car, and a pedestrian peers into the car, there is no need to be offended - that pedestrian chose to look in the car.

But nursing in public isn't the only reason that people should be more comfortable with breastfeeding. For a society that is so largely image based, people neglect to remember that for some women, breastfeeding actually helps them lose weight because of the calories required to keep up a milk supply. A woman who nurses her child is actually less at risk for developing breast cancer than a mother who never has. Considering the expodential rate of cancers in our society - that seems to me to be reason enough to give it a try. While bonding with the baby is one of the perks, it a minor one because formula fed babies bond with their mothers just as well, but in different ways. It is also much easier in the first several months to be able to nurse the baby in the middle of the night than to have to make a bottle. Breastfeeding is virtually free compared to the costs of formula, bottles, and other accessories. The baby gets even more benefits - all of the immunities and antibodies that the mother's system creates gets passed along to the child. The hungry baby never has to wait for his meal or for a bottle to be the right temperature.

Mothers choose to nurse for different lengths of time. For some, the first week is enough, others stop at the 3, 6, 9, or 12 month mark or anywhere in between. Still others choose to do what is called "extended breast feeding" which is breastfeeding past the first year. Some mother's can take this to an extreme, while others go a little over a year to all the weaning period to be mutually desired by mom and baby. As a matter of fact, in many other countries, it is the cultural norm to breastfeed for at least two years, most probably because those cultures do not have very good formulas for, well, formula.

Breastfeeding poses many challenges as well. A baby may be allergic to a different number of things, from milk and soy to peanuts and citrus. Mothers must choose at that point whether it is more important to be able to consume those items themselves or if they will abstain from the allergins and continue breastfeeding. Breastfed babies are often vitamin D deficient because the mothers are. Babies who are breastfed may also have trouble keeping their stores of iron up if the mother is anemic. These problems are easily solved by giving the child a daily vitamin with iron. Supply is an issue for some women and it is best to contact a lactation consultant who can point you to the right suppliments and instruct the proper ways to increase supply. Breastfeeding moms and babies can contract a yeast infection called thrush, and it may take a perscription strength cream to clear it up. Finally, breastfeeding hurts for the first several weeks. Everyone says it is so natural, but the truth is, that while mom and baby are both learning, the mom is likely to be uncomfortable. Again, in that case, I highly recommend seeing a lactation consultant to find advice on how to survive those painful moments.

Why a post on breastfeeding you may wonder? Well, breastfeeding falls under the hippie, earth, and mama concept of my blog. It also is a misunderstood nutrition system in our country. But the reason it has been on my mind 11 months after having my baby is that recently I was taking medication that prevented me from breastfeeding. I had to pump and dump my milk while my husband had to feed the baby bottles. It was only at that point that we truly understood the wonders of breastfeeding. The entire household was disrupted for the midnight feedings where I would have to rock the baby until the bottle was made by a completely sleep deprived and dazed dad. The baby had to try to adjust to a new system of feeding, and mom had to spend 20 minutes every few hours pumping instead of spending time with the family. While I dare say it was during this time that my hubby truly started to understand the incredible toll sleep deprivation takes on me, having finally experienced it for himself, it was also during this time that I realized that soon, the baby will be weaning himself, and all of these benefits will no longer be conferred upon us.

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