Tuesday, March 17, 2009

To_____or not to_______


Danielle shared on FFL's blog about a recent anti-breastfeeding rant in the Atlantic by a "feminist." This article reveals that the author has decided that breastfeeding has kept her from truly meaningful work, which is a huge slap in the face to those of us who feel that there is no more meaningful work than giving birth and raising children to become productive parts of society. On the other hand, there is an in-depth discussion about how breastfeeding studies are conducted and the faults that occur with them, which is worth reading objectively, especially if you're a mom who has had great difficulties with breastfeeding or is ONLY doing it out of guilt or pressure. Let me explain:

A few years ago, when I was pregnant with Shelby, a co-worker gave birth a few months ahead of me to a baby girl. She desperately wanted to breastfeed. First, because nothing the doctors could do would get her to dilate past six centimeters (her water broke and she spontaneously labored on her own), she was forced to give up her dream of a drug free birth and had a c-section. Because of complications due to her size (she was overweight long before becoming pregnant) she had to be put under for the c-section (doctors couldn't get the spinal or epidural into the correct place in her spine due to her size). This delayed starting breastfeeding as, of course, she had to come to before that could start. Then, she had a baby who just would not open her mouth well. Lactation consultants came in and finally little girl opened her mouth wide enough, but then refused to latch. Finally, just as the first 24 hours were coming to a close, baby was opening her mouth, and latching. And with the help of pumping, Mom's milk started to come in within the next 24 hours or so. But instead of baby's stool going from black, to brown, to yellow, it was bloody. And tests revealed the unthinkable, this little girl was allergic to Mom's breastmilk. It's rare, but it had happened. Devastated, this woman started her baby on formula. And to add insult to injury, she was derided by others for this. It wasn't exactly a choice, but that hardly mattered to a few of her new "friends" that she had met through a local breastfeeding class (not LLL) who felt that she had caved to pressure from the pediatricians and had not fully utilized the lactation consultants. This sent Mom into a funnel of depression that had to be treated medically as well. She told everyone that she felt like a truly horrible mother.

This was an unfortunate and extreme case. I was just two weeks from delivering my daughter when she told me and I cried. What would happen if I could not breastfeed? What would people think of me? I didn't have to worry, after all, I had this baby who was born to know how wide to open her mouth, how to latch, and how to be a great little breastfeeder. But I can understand how women can feel betrayed by breastfeeding experts and it have nothing to do with feeling as though their personal trajectory was interrupted.

While pregnant with my daughter, I dutifully read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and every other breastfeeding manual on the market. My mother went against the grain when choosing to breastfeed myself and my brothers. Her three sisters and two of her sister-in-laws followed suit. For me, it was nothing short of expected that I would breastfeed and I wanted to! It was a marriage made in heaven. The more I read, the more I was hooked on the advantages to my baby that would occur with breastfeeding. I took LLL up on a chance to meet with some of the local groups to "try out" and find what would work for me. One group heavily frowned on working mothers. I was out. One group disliked pumping for any reason as it would create a breach between Mama and baby. I was out. One group advocated a vegan diet. I'm sorry, I love red meat but more than red meat, I love fish, I wasn't going back. I quickly realized this was not quite the "support" my breastfeeding needed. I had encountered what my step-mother-in-law (a breastfeeder and breastfeeding supporter) had referred to as the "La Leche Nazis." And so I decided to go it alone. I was so excited to give my daughter all the advantages. And subsequently, my son.

When my daughter had her first ear infection at three months, I figured, okay, this could happen, breastfeeding decreases the amount of ear infections, but a month later she had another one and the following month. It wasn't pretty. My son still developed nasal allergies, in his first year. Turns out they were genetic from his paternal grandfather and great-uncle. (That took over eight visits to the pediatrician to decipher.) I slowly came to realize as I looked at my own kids and the breastfed kids around me, that breastfeeding was never going to be a cure-all. The real kicker was a friend with a six-year-old who exclusively breast fed for 12 months and then breastfed with solids until 2 years to prevent obesity. Her little girl was short and off the charts in weight. She was considered morbidly obese.

But everything I had read told me otherwise!

I stopped feeling guilty that at nine-months I had had to stop even non-nutritive nursing for my daughter because my pregnancy with my son had caused my milk/colostrum flow to stop and I was so sore with my first trimester that putting a bra on hurt. I stopped touting all the "medical benefits" of breastfeeding and started focusing on the bonding benefits and the convienence benefits. And I listened a lot more sympathetically to moms who couldn't breastfeed or stopped before they wanted to.

I never regretted my decision to breastfeed and plan to continue with Will. But, I have come to feel as though those of us who support breastfeeding need to stop judging those who do not for whatever their reasons.

No comments: