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The obsession with breastfeeding.


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I gave birth to a beautiful daughter on March 12, 2009.  Throughout my pregnancy, friends and family were constantly asking me whether I was going to breastfeed my baby.  I found it a little offensive that they would even ask me such a thing,especially since I am a very private person.  At first I wanted to respond by saying "What business is it of yours?" To be quite honest, I hadn't really given much thought to it.  I figured they would have me try in the hospital and if it didn't work, I would use bottles.  Afterall, I had seen some of the problems friends and family members had faced from failure to latch and low milk supply to milk sensitivity.  I didn't really think I had to make a definite decision in the nine months before my baby arrived so I simply would shrug and say, "I'm going to try and see how it goes."

I think many of us new moms would agree that there is tremendous pressure on us to "make the right decision" and to many people, the right decision is to breastfeed.  I can remember in the hospital, not even 15 minutes after my baby was born, the nurse telling me to go ahead and try to feed.  Thank goodness I had read a little on it because no guidance was offered.    I expected some sort of lesson or something but she instead just watched, told me things looked good and was on her way.  I started to think about it once she left and wondered to myself, what if I didn't want to nurse? I felt like I didn't have a choice in the matter.  It seems to be a no-exceptions rule today and I feared if I chose otherwise, an angry mob would be at my hospital room door with a scarlett U for "Unfit" for me to wear.

I sometimes find it a little horrifying that perfect strangers feel as if it is okay to have a conversation with you about breastfeeding.  People have no hesitation to spout off all the reasons you should as if they were a certified medical professional.  I usually take personal offense to this as I, myself, was formula fed as a baby.  I was born in the mid-70s and breastfeeding wasn't as widely practiced as it is today.  My mom often talks about this and says when she did see or talk to someone who was breastfeeding, she thought it was so strange that someone would choose to do such a thing. It seems as if it is the complete opposite today.  Instead of seeing someone who formula feeds as just strange, people see her as irresponsible and presume she is selfish.  Very few people stop to realize there may be various reasons for choosing to not breastfeed from medical to just plain personal preference. It doesn't stop just at your decision either. Once people find out that you are breastfeeding, they want to know if you are eating only organic, if you're eating peanut butter and nuts,if you drink alcohol, and whether you are avoiding dairy because "she seems to spit up a lot and may be allergic."  The countless prying never seems to end and I often wonder when this phenomena actually began.

I recently came across an article in The Atlantic titled The Case Against Breastfeeding  It is one mother's humorous account of her decision to wean her third child after a month or so of breastfeeding and the loss of her "playground mommy friends" as a result of her decision.  She blames the pressures to breastfeed on the countless propoganda in magazines, the waiting rooms of doctors' offices and there certainly always seems to be some study telling women how smart and healthy their children will be if they breastfeed.  She provides a fascinating history on breastfeeding and when formula began to be introduced to the world and why.  She is extremely objective as well as sensitive and has been on both sides of the fence.  It's highly informative and very entertaining.

I get together weekly with a group of first time moms in my neighborhood in Baltimore City. I can honestly say it has been a lifesaver to me. The group of us meet weekly with and discuss all sorts of issues surrounding motherhood.  By far, the topic that comes up most frequently is breastfeeding. We've talked often of the pressures we feel to breastfeed and problem solve when something doesn't go the way we want.  Often, the only hope is to persevere through and hope for the best. I think we are most concerned because if things go wrong, we feel like it is our fault and we are failing our babies.  After all, we are the source of their nourishment.  I feel like I am holding my breath each day that things continue to go well but it doesn't always work out that way. I haveseen the look of despair and defeat on some of the faces of my new mommy friends when their little ones hit a rough patch and suddenly don't want to nurse. Many have expressed great concern when their pediatrician is quick to suggest supplementing with formula because their baby is not gaining the weight that is expected. I know how exhausted I am just by being a new mom.  I can't imagine how much more exhausting it must be to have to worry about feeding issues and worse, what others might think if I had to give some bottles with (gasp) formula.  There are so many "rules" that we are expected to follow that we drive ourselves crazy worrying about sticking to them.  Each week in our group, we decide on one rule to throw out.  We've decided that we know best and that is what is most important.    
Ultimately, I decided to exclusively breastfeed though I am not in the clear as I am facing the next tough decision of how long I will do so for.  Truthfully, the decision to breastfeed was made for me.  She latched on right away and is thriving.  She's been gaining weight like a champ and I haven't had any major problems.  She is all too happy to come calling every two hours for her meal during the day and though I sometimes feel as if that umbilical cord is still attached, you can't beat simply lifting up your shirt and giving her a good feed.  Did I mention how cheap it is?  I definitely have felt that pressure that "breast is best" on many occasions but I will tell you about one encounter.  I attended a party a few weeks ago and was armed with a few bottles I had pumped so that I could indulge in a glass of wine or two.  I felt like I deserved that reward as I hadn't had any alcohol in at least two weeks and was working around the clock to mother my baby and also get our house ready to sell.  Normally I have my husband give our daughter bottles but he was having a good time socializing with people he hadn't seen in a while and I didn't want to break up his fun.  As the party was winding down, I settled down into an overstuffed chair and began to feed my daughter.  Two women I know were sitting close by talking.  I heard one say to the other in almost a whisper, "Do you know if she is breastfeeding?" and the other responded that she didn't know.  I immediately wanted to tell them I was and then defend my reason for giving a bottle of MY milk.  I resisted that urge but obsessed, for the duration of the feeding, about how I would tell them that I was breastfeeding.  Sure, I knew it was ridiculous and why should I care whether they know I am or not but I couldn't help myself.  When she was done the bottle, I made eye contact with them and let out a big sigh.  I said, "Phew, I'm really glad she took the bottle.  We hardly ever give them to her (lie) and the only reason I brought them was so I could have a glass of wine."  I felt stupid and relieved at the same time to have cleared this up. That feeling was short-lived because one replied, "People think alcohol only stays in your system for two hours but it really is much longer."  I thought, "Great, now I can obsess about how I will be poisoning my daughter when I get home and have to feed her before bedtime."

No matter if a woman breastfeeding or formula feeding, the choice is hers and the only thing that matters is that her baby is eating and gaining weight.  One of my mom friends said it best when she stated "if you want to remain sane, just make sure your baby gains.  It doesn't matter how you do it, it's the result that matters." For now, that is the only rule I am going to stick by.  No, I don't eat only organic. Yes, I eat peanut butter, cashews, almonds, and peanuts.  Yes, I drink the occasional glass of wine or beer, and no, I didn't give up dairy just because my daughter spits up a large amount from time to time.  What I do indulge in is loving my little girl with everything I have in my heart and doing what I believe is best for her, not anyone else. 


  • MarylandMama 5 years ago

    Anne, eventually you will develop a thicker skin and others' comments won't bother you as much. People really do mean well, though they can overstep bounds. Stay focused on your baby's needs and let the rest roll off of you. As far as weaning---if your circumstances allow it, let your baby determine when to wean. Some wean early, some later, you really can't nurse too long. (My son weaned at 17 months, my daughter at 24 months, and they're both normal kids.) You can also use some of the money you're saving on formula to buy some nursing tops & dresses--there are many stylish ones available & they make nursing in public much easier.
    Hang in there!