Motherhood comes with a host of choices to make about what is best for you, your family, and your child. We at Alamo City Moms Blog have a variety of moms who want to embrace these choices instead of feeling guilty or judged for them! We are continuing our series, Perspectives on Parenting, and this month we are tackling the highly debated topic of feeding your baby. To breastfeed or to formula feed?
To read the other side of this perspective, formula feeding, you can find Taylor’s post here.
I’m super-into nursing. I nursed my now-four-year old until she self-weaned at 17 months. My now-two-year old hung on a bit longer, until he hit 21 months. I was fortunate that nursing came easy for me. Neither my children nor I had medical issues that got in the way, and importantly, my career as an attorney provides me the control over my schedule, consistent access to refrigeration, a private office, and sentinel assistant necessary to facilitate regular (and not-embarrassing) expression sessions.
That’s not to say that it was always easy. The learning curve was steep for all involved. Expressing and schlepping “nurse milk” was a pain, especially when I had to travel. I longed to cut feedings short–or outsource them completely–when I was pressed for time or just exhausted. And yet, I never once wavered from my decision to nurse both children. Looking back, I was almost frantic that we stay the course.
So why did it matter to me so much? I could point to studies that suggest that breast-fed children are healthier, or have higher IQs, but those weren’t the drivers. My babies existed in a clean, safe environment and come from reasonably intelligent stock. Any boost they’d get from nursing would be marginal at best. I could say that nursing promotes bonding, but so does any skin-to-skin contact. And, honestly? If I were that concerned about bonding with my newborns, I’d have joined them at eye-level for tummy time, not used that window to empty the dishwasher or try on my skinny jeans.
A few pro-nursing arguments did have my attention, though: that breast-fed babies have lower rates of obesity than their bottle-fed peers. And that nursing exposes a baby to new flavors and helps children develop broad palates. I was very into the prospect of burning up to 600 calories a day, and for the first (and only) time in my life, while nursing, I was able to eat like a longshoreman without gaining a pound. And let’s not overlook that the cost savings was impressive. I’ve seen what formula costs, and I was eager to avoid that expense. These nursing benefits resonated, but they didn’t carry the day.
It’s funny, but only in the last few months–after Thomas and my nursing relationship wound down–do I have enough perspective to put a name to why nursing mattered so much to me. Nursing a baby is an object lesson in the fact that mother herself is enough. Her body produces the perfect nutrition for her baby, at every developmental stage. Her instinct, attention, and physiological responses ensure that the baby is fed whenever necessary. Through her loving sacrifice, she takes single-handed responsibility for the primary duty of early parenthood.
But doesn’t bottle-feeding do the same? Of course. Formula is perfectly healthful, and bottles can be used for on-demand feeding schedules. And sacrifice? I imagine heating a bottle while your newborn screams at two in the morning is far more difficult than twilight sleeping while the baby enjoys what you have “on tap.”
To my way of thinking, the difference is stuff. Nursing doesn’t require anything more than a mother and baby. The near $50 billion global baby-care market wants you to believe you need a lot more. Spoiler alert: you don’t. The special nursing drape? Dress strategically, or use whatever blanket, dinner napkin, or towel you have at close hand. The Boppy or My Brest Friend pillow? Use a regular pillow for those few weeks before your baby can support himself, or figure out a nursing position that doesn’t require external support. The alarms that tell you when to feed your baby? You know how to tell when a baby needs to nurse? He’s rooting or crying, and your tatas feel full. The pump? I know those are useful, but manual expression is great as well. And if you do use a pump, consider whether you need to fall prey to the fear-mongering that causes more merchandise to jump into your hands.
My favorite absurdity is the notion that a mother must replace the tubing before using a second-hand pump. Seriously? Breast milk has antibacterial properties. In any event, the internal surface of the tubing does not come in contact with milk, and the outside is washable. Do they expect me to believe that a tube that was somehow a breeding ground for bacteria during its original tenure was benign in the hands of the first user and became a health hazard as soon as she passed it to me? And unless we hot-swapped the pump, it’s not clear to me what all the bacteria–mysteriously introduced into the inside of the tubing–used as a food source to stay alive during the days, weeks, or months the pump sat idle. I’m not the least bit concerned about tubing, but if I were, I’d stick mine in some boiling water or leave it in direct sunlight for a while to sterilize it. I would not fall prey to scare tactics that imprint the idea mothering is hard and scary and requires paternalism and consumer products to execute successfully.
It’s not that nursing is always easy. It isn’t. But neither is rearing a child. And it’s not that a nursing mother doesn’t need feeding support and advice from family, friends, and professionals. She probably does–far more than her bottle-feeding peers do. At the same time, because she’s dealing with her body and her baby, other people’s advice is not a substitute for her own observation and insight. And what a mother doesn’t need is a lot of product cluttering the relationship with her baby. All that stuff crowds out instinct and common sense, which is all I have to go on as a parent most days.
Nursing was important to me in part to prove to myself that I could do it and had what it took. Through nursing, I learned to scrape away the noise and take care of my babies my way. Perhaps I would have gotten there in time, even without the immediacy and physicality of nursing, but I can’t imagine another circumstance in which that lesson is so perfectly distilled.