Friday, December 4, 2009

Breast is best

I am nearly done in my breastfeeding research. Once again I'm happy to be having a baby now instead of 15 or even 10 years ago.

It's taken a long time for breastfeeding to make a full comeback, to the point where you can find hospitals who support it fully. It sounds crazy to me, but for an entire generation of women and their babies, breastfeeding wasn't only a socially awkward option, it was also not the medically sanctioned one.

I'm sure there are still hospitals that go by the old routine - baby is born, taken to the nursery, given a bottle of formula on the nurses' schedule. It's just easier for a large institution to do things their way. They can keep closer tabs on the baby, and the formula fattens the kid up much quicker than breast milk.

I've talked to moms from my parents' generation who say that nurses talked them out of breastfeeding, and read about an era when only 20 percent or less of babies were breastfed. Even in recent years, you might have a nurse who supported breastfeeding, and a doctor who didn't - and you'd have them whispering in your ear, "don't listen to that other person, this is what you need to do."

Now, there is so much support. Our hospital's standard operating procedure involves couplet care, where the baby stays with mom the entire time, if possible. They encourage the baby to latch on to the breast within the first hour of birth, and have a lactation consultant on staff.

La Leche League is an international group that works both in the basic one-on-one support new moms may need and is the first to speak up for the rights of breastfeeding moms and their babies. Even if your hospital isn't supportive, you can find someone nearby from LLL who is.

People wonder why breastfeeding needs this much help. Isn't it natural, instinctual? The answer is yes and no. New moms from my generation may have never seen breastfeeding before. They may feel uncomfortable with the concept. Much of breastfeeding is in your head, and if you're not relaxed, it'll be much harder. Babies also have to learn it, and without the guidance of a mom who knows how it works, the baby also may be frustrated and unable to latch.

All of this is easy for me to say now, having never tried it. I feel rather confident in my abilities here because my mom had such an easy time of it. My pregnancy has been as easy as hers so far, so I'm hoping my luck and genes hold out. I did see my mom breastfeed while I was growing up and I don't think I have any hangups about it. I've read 3 books simultaneously on the subject so I already feel like I'm prepared. Yes, I'm keeping in mind that nothing is as it seems and I should be prepared for all eventualities.

I plan on discreetly breastfeeding in public as well. I registered for a breastfeeding cover, which is basically a cloth worn on a hoop around your neck, to shield the nursing baby and breast from public view but still allow eye contact between the two of you. Hopefully I'll feel comfortable enough to do this most anywhere. Personally, I wish for a world where breastfeeding didn't have to be covered up at all, but I'm willing to make concessions for a world still recovering from the silliness of anti-breast thinking.

Even so, I can't say I fall on the activist side of things. I think my upper age limit for breastfeeding is much lower than some. If I do have a hangup, it's that when a child can actually talk and request breastfeeding, it's kind of weird. I know that many moms feel differently and that's fine...and I just might change my mind, but that's my current feeling.

Some women boycott Nestle because they do their best to sell their formula to third world countries where the water supply is very dangerous to babies. Free samples go to new moms and the doctors get endless freebies and incentives to push the product. Yes, some moms can't breastfeed, but proportion of bottle fed to breastfed is extremely high, as is the infant mortality rate due to bad water. The reports on this are not good and I'm not happy about it...but I admit, I've never been good at full boycotts. I will say that I can never look at Nestle the same way again, and given the choice, I will probably buy something else.

In the end I treat it as a simple decision, not a political statement. Breastfeeding is preferable. I will try my best to make it happen. If it doesn't work, we'll try something else, whether it's pumping my milk for bottles or going for formula. As the books say, you do the best you can for your baby, and that is always good enough.


  1. Pirates and Small World are great for breastfeeding!


  2. Too bad the money saved on formula still isn't anywhere close to paying for an AP renewal. ;)

  3. FYI: Those nursing coverups can be good but can also be like a red flag: "hey, I'm NURSING over here!" Also older babies often like to pull them off so they can see the world. When I got better at breastfeeding I became able to just hitch up my shirt a bit and no one could tell what I was doing.