Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Competitive Breastfeeding: How Long Did You Nurse?

Before you had a baby, you might have heard a new mom talk about her big leaky boobs, or witness a baby quietly nursing under a blanket, but you didn't really know what was truly involved with breastfeeding, right?

Then, BAM!  You are in the hospital, holding your tiny baby for the first time, and immediately asked if you are ready to try nursing.  You are then pressured to room-in with your baby, again to encourage breastfeeding.

You come home from the hospital, exhausted, depleted, and eager to keep the baby alive, and people start asking how the nursing is going.  How long you'll be nursing.  And for the love of God-- 'when your milk came in.'

Welcome to the world of competitive breastfeeding:  one you didn't know existed until you entered the realm of Motherhood.

You'll need an electric pump, a breastfeeding pillow, nursing tops, lanolin for chapped nipples, and leak guards to stuff in your nursing bra.  Don't even think about stocking your pantry with formula:  it's for the Devil.

My heart thumps as I type all of this.  The pressure.  The anxiety.  The contraptions.  Who knew?  

I will admit it: I didn't love every minute of breastfeeding.  I did it for a while with both of my children, and usually enjoyed it, until I couldn't take the feeling of being penned in any longer and at the mercy of the constantly ticking nursing clock.  The one you hear when you venture out for 45 minutes to get your first post-baby haircut.  The one that haunts you when you have to hurry home from dinner to pump or feed the baby.  I especially felt the pressure to make sure the baby was "well fed" before going to sleep at night (Implication being: if you are good at breastfeeding and the baby eats well, he will sleep longer).  So the ever-precious commodity of sleep was tied to my body too.  Awesome.

What bugs me-- or maybe saddens me is the better word-- is the competitive undertone when some moms casually ask "how long you nursed" and "if you exclusively breastfeed."  They are often the same mothers who manage to slip in how many months they did it, especially if it is over a year, as in "Oh me? 14 months."

Yes, surely breast milk is healthier than something you find in a can.  It would be impossible to truly replicate with chemicals something produced by nature.  But isn't it only the healthier option insofar as the mom (and baby) is doing well?  Meaning, if a mother is completely worn down because of issues feeding the baby, the lines become blurred as to whether nursing is truly the better option for her and her baby.

I did feel guilt when I switched over to formula.  I also felt an enormous sense of relief and empowerment.  I could be a mom, and I could also be a woman.  I could wander the mall with a latte and enjoy some alone time without the imaginary clock ticking away.  I could relax and read a book at night without wondering if the baby had 'gotten enough milk' to sleep that night.  I could enjoy a rare date with my husband without dreading the pump when I got home, tired and ready for bed.

And here's the big one:  I swear both of my babies were happier when I switched to formula.  Maybe it was because I was happier.  Maybe it was because they were getting more to eat than they did with me.  Either way, I loved snuggling with my sweet little ones to give them a bottle before bed.  For me, holding my baby with a warm bottle was bonding without the pressure I had previously felt.

                                                                    (Image from Viewpoints.com)

People judge us constantly on the decisions we make as mothers.  People will judge me for writing this.  How you feed your baby is one of the first big decisions you face as a mom, and my hope for any new moms out there is to feel comfortable with whichever choice feels right for you and your baby-- whether that means nursing, or... doesn't.

~Frantic Mama

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