That’s a shameless post title, I know. But the fact is, this post is about breastfeeding and breastfeeding — or at least the hang-ups involved — are mostly about boobs. (The babies typically know what to do and are pretty good at it.) For some reason, when we talk about breastfeeding things get a little crazy. It’s a “complicated” issue. It’s “controversial.” Etc.
So this is the post about babies and boobs.
First of all, I am breastfeeding my newborn baby. (Although, I just found out that technically “newborn” means one month old or less. So, technically she’s a 2-month-old, but that just doesn’t sound as good.) Lucky for me she’s taken to it like a champ. And my body is also producing a champion amount of milk for my little milkdud. So that’s great. So ends the uncomplicated part of this post.
As soon as I announced I was pregnant, I started getting a lot of information, advice and opinions thrown at me about the breastfeeding thing. Was I going to? It’s the best! For how long? You should do it for a year! Was I going to pump? That way your husband can do feedings — but bottles are problematic with the BPA, nipple confusion, gas — better scrap it… Was I going to be militant about no formula at the hospital? They sell little caps you can put on your newborn so no bad nurses give them formula! (This is true. They do sell those caps, even though I can’t find the link right now.)
You thought breastfeeding was just a simple, biological act in which you (or your babymama) feed your baby? Hahaha! You fool! Breastfeeding is one of those “personal is political” things. And sister, it’s personal AND political to a LOT of people!
On one side you’ve got, well, militant pro-lactation types. Sorry, but some of you can be scary. (My pediatrician actually used the word nazi, but I won’t go that far.) I think we all know these types of people. They are the ones who get red-faced about baby formula and fairly aggro about breastfeeding exclusively for the first year (and beyond). A friend of mine has a relative who was so adamant about breastfeeding that her child had to be taken away because he was malnourished. (Sometimes women, very good women who do many other things very well, just can’t make enough milk. It happens.)
On the other side there are those who are pretty skeeved out by the whole lactation situation. These are the folks who get red-faced when they see a woman feed her crying, hungry baby in a restaurant. These are the folks who rally for bans on breastfeeding in public spaces or prod a woman to go feed her baby in the restroom. (Which, by the way, is gross.) I always want to ask these types, “What is bothering you so much about this? Is it that her breasts aren’t sexual right now? Is it that instead of shaking her breasts for your objectification or pleasure, she’s using them for their biological purpose?” Sorry, prudes, but that is actually what boobs are for — for feeding babies! If you feel all squishy about it, maybe it’s because you are the ones with impure thoughts, not the other way around.
Me? I’m in the middle. And actually, I think a lot of women are in the middle. There’s a lot of pressure on women to breastfeed. To be fair, it is now universally considered the best choice for babies. And I don’t dispute that. Like many new moms, I was told by my doctor it was the best thing to do so I have endeavored to do the best for my baby. But circumstances are not always ideal. For instance, when my daughter was born she had to be rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I was not able to breastfeed her because my milk had not come in, yet. Her health was in danger. The best thing to do was to get her liquids and quick. So at that time getting her on formula was the best thing I could do for my baby. And every medical professional I spoke to at that time agreed that was the best thing to do. Once the crisis was over and my milk had come in, then we switched over to breastfeeding and that was that.
I think it’s unfair to put so much pressure on women to be held to a “perfect” ideal and at the same time there is so much pressure to not creep anyone out. You must breastfeed exclusively! But you must never, ever show (even accidentally) anyone any part of your boob (except the acceptable sexy, cleavage part)! So what if you’re feeding your baby? So what if the situation would be totally fine if it was a bottle instead of a boob?
It’s an impossible standard! Be the perfect, breastfeeding mom. But never let your boob get exposed, even if it’s to feed your baby?! This double-edged sword just feels like a way to make sure new moms never leave the house. (They’re probably fat and unsexy anyway.) That’s the only way you are guaranteed to never see a woman breastfeeding. But even then, you might have trouble. I have a friend, who is a good person, who is completely grossed out by seeing me breastfeed. When she comes over, I have to cover up or go in another room. Otherwise, she won’t come over.
But here’s the part that will probably get me the most hate-mail: I hate breastfeeding. It’s true. I do it and it seems to be going perfectly well. But I am counting the months until it is over! While it is nice to have the bonding during my baby’s feedings, I feel like it would be just as good with a bottle. And since my baby was on formula at the beginning, I know what that feels like. Truth be told, there’s nothing convenient about breastfeeding. I am not a prude, but I don’t enjoy popping my boob out every two hours. I don’t actually want strangers to see my boobs. (But I don’t think I should have to cover up in public or be shooed to the bathroom, either.) The problem with breastfeeding is it’s not just when you are feeding! When I hear babies cry, even ones that are not my own, my boobs hurt. When the milk “lets down” it hurts. It hurts to sleep. Taking a shower hurts. I constantly smell like sour milk. But mainly, for me, it hurts when I feed her. And it hurts every time. Every day. I’ve gone to see lactation counselors (who are great, by the way) and they all say that baby and I are doing it just fine. She is a perfect little feeder. My breasts are feeding champs. But unfortunately, for some small percentage of women, it’s just painful. After having one woman describe her experience with breastfeeding as “better than an orgasm,” I was pretty disappointed that my own experience has been so-so at best. (Although, I was a little creeped out to hear the word “orgasm” involved with breastfeeding.)
I feel like I’m in the minority on this whole not liking breastfeeding thing. Women tell me they loved it. They miss it. That it was a special time for them and their baby. But then when they almost universally tell me they quit early, usually when they went back to work. (And by early, I mean before six months, which is the recommended minimum.) I am not judging these women in the least bit. Sometimes I don’t know if I’ll make it to six months myself! But I wonder if some of those women would have made it either. Maybe it only seems like it was great because hindsight is 20/20 and they don’t feel like they had the chance to choose when they quit breastfeeding. I don’t know.
They only thing I know for certain is we need to stop putting such a mountain of pressure on new moms. Breastfeeding, formula, they are both viable and perfectly good options. There’s no reason to vilify anyone’s choices or needs. Just like there’s no reason to vilify a woman who has to pull out her breast to feed a baby. If you don’t like it, don’t look. Chances are she would prefer it that way.