Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Breastfeeding - the decision to stick with it

When you are pregnant, you are bombarded with propaganda. From every angle imaginable, you get information coming at you. About how to labor. About where to have the baby. About what kind of diapers to use. About which car seat and stroller to buy. And about what to feed your child.

It's a topic a little close to my heart, as I have tried with each of the kids to exclusively breastfeed. And it almost worked. Aidan and Ashley never touched formula. Ally had one bottle in the hospital out of necessity. And then I had AJ. And we've gone through cans of it. When he was first born, it was because he had low blood sugar. Then, when he was older, over a year already, we didn't have a choice but to give it to him again. He wouldn't nurse during the day, but had trouble with whole milk. Again, not really a choice.

The problem with choosing what to feed your child is that so many people make it seem like it's not a choice. And, I suppose that it really shouldn't be one. The default should be breastfeeding. It's what our bodies were made for. It's the only food in the entire universe made just for that child. It really is the best. The trouble is that our society decided a while back that formula was just as good, or even better. And new moms believed it.

With formula feeding becoming more and more common, fewer moms nursed. Over a couple of generations, breastfeeding went from being the normal way to feed a child to a gross thing that shouldn't ever be done in public. It became the thing that got a woman and her child kicked off an airplane.

It went from the natural thing mothers did to something that hardly anyone knew anything about. The women of my generation haven't had enough women of older generations to rely on for help. There aren't enough people to ask questions of. No one to reassure us that everything would be just fine. No one to tell us that we would be able to make enough milk. No one to tell us that babies can do just fine without formula for a few days until your milk comes in.

When Aidan was born, I didn't have many people to ask questions about nursing. And it was hard. Really hard. All the books and the pamphlets and the pictures you ever see about nursing when you are pregnant tell you that it's natural. They make it look like it's just something that should come so easy. But then it isn't. He was early and sick and couldn't latch on right. I was sore and discouraged, but determined. So much so that I made it work.

I found that the people who were supposed to be the ones helping me, the nurses and the lactation consultants only made things harder. The people who really made a difference, the only ones who really helped, were other moms. The moms just like me, trying to figure it all out for the first time.

I was able to nurse my children, all of them, almost all the time. For some people, that isn't how it works. Sometimes life gets in the way. And for those times, formula is the answer. But before new moms go there, they should be given all the help and support they need. Before they give up trying, they need the tools to be successful. And we, as a society, need to stop believing that breasts are only sexual objects, and that there is something dirty about nursing. Breasts were designed to feed babies. And that is exactly what they are supposed to do. And almost all the time, with the right support, they can.
Truly the hardest thing about nursing is overcoming all that. Once you believe that your body can do exactly what it is designed for, you've won half the battle.

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