Is Breast Truly Best?

I was six months pregnant with my first child when their father  informed me that he hoped our baby would be breastfed for the first two years of their life. I point blank asked him if he intended on achieving that goal on his own. How could I commit to two years, when I had not even delivered the baby yet?

I knew exactly two people who breastfed their babies and to put it mildly, they had considerably more to offer than I did (blush). I did not believe that I could succeed and did not want to be faced with disappointment, or defeat. 

Our baby was born. Within moments, I had to decide, breast, or bottle. The nurses stared  at me.. I spoke, my voice a squeak barely audible above the din in the room. “Breast?” I wavered. 

So, it happened. Our baby was put to feed on my breast. I thought it was a miracle. Filled with confidence, I committed to two years. What was I thinking? 

To say that the first few days were a struggle would be an understatement. Left alone, I was not Mother Nature feeding her babe. Breastfeeding was not nearly as simple as inserting a full breast into a hungry baby’s mouth. It should be, but it’s not. 

The learning curve was steep and each person who tried to help had an opinion so varied from the next, we didn’t know who to listen to, or what to believe. All I knew was that my baby needed to be fed and I was at the point where that outweighed any promises that I’d made, or hopes that anyone else had.  

I did end up successfully breastfeeding my three children for over two years each. Interestingly enough, the opinions and judgments never dissipated. 

Every person that I encountered felt that it was their right to discuss how I fed my baby. 

Breastfeeding? Well, I had better cover up and hide away in the deep darkness so as not to be seen, or stared at! 

Breastfeeding? Well, I must be “crunchy” and connected with the spirits of the dandelion fluffs that fill the air with wishes. 

I was none of that. I was feeding my baby in a way that worked for my family. While it worked, it came with tremendous sacrifices on my part. I was the only person who was capable of soothing crying babies. I was the only person who could nourish a sick child. I always had to be within thirty minutes of babies, or they would cry that hopeless, helpless cry that no child should ever have to emit. 

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the cuddles, and closeness that breastfeeding provided. I simply wished that my babies would occasionally take a bottle of either pumped milk, or formula so that I could catch a breath once in a while. 

I’m aware of the fact that in a two parent family, many people are fortunate enough to have shared responsibilities, and many families make exclusive breastfeeding work while the non-feeding parent still plays a major role in soothing, and nurturing babies. I’m not saying that my partner didn’t TRY, I’m simply saying that efforts could have been stronger in order to get better results. I became the “default parent” because it was easier for everyone else. 

Of course, this created puddles of resentment, and jealousy. Being the default parent meant that I lacked freedom, a social life, and basic autonomy. The number of times that I held a baby on my breast while I struggled with stomach viruses is embarrassing. The number of times that I ended social activities to rush home to a crying baby was in need of my comforting abilities. 

Interestingly enough, my partner played a huge role in setting me as a default parent. Once I became the only one to soothe, or meet  needs, jealousy sprung up like an evil clown in the room. 

The situation bled into power dynamic struggles between parents, and children. One parent felt the need to be more lenient in order to gain attention, while the other felt the need to set boundaries, and rules. It continues to create some seriously messy situations. 

Breastfeeding isn’t free food by any means! I paused my career for YEARS in order to nourish our children. The time off, and reduced contracts set me farther down the pay scale than I deserve to be at. The financial dependency of feeling as though I am indebted to my partner for providing everything was demeaning. I felt as though I was in a constant state of asking permission, rather than making the adult decisions that I was capable of, and supposed to be making. I loved caring for my babies, but I felt oppressed, and stifled. 

Obviously, not everyone feels that way in their relationships. Obviously, there are myriad other issues at hand besides the very extended breastfeeding, but my point is, if a person decides to nourish their children with their breasts, a lot of things need to be considered. 

  1. Breastfeeding is NOT free! It’s time consuming. The feeder lacks tremendous amounts of sleep, autonomy, and privacy. Careers are paused, social lives are depleted. 
  2. Breastfeeding takes a tremendous toll on a person’s body. I wasn’t able to resume a diet that I felt was effective for my health because I needed to consume a ridiculous amount of calories in order to sustain healthy breast milk. 
  3. My breasts are now sad saggy balloons. I’ve always had confidence issues regarding their size; now I really dislike them. 
  4. While many people are able to pump their milk, that’s not always an option. I for one wasn’t able to produce any milk while pumping. My friends who did were often strapped to the pump for more hours than there are in a day. It’s arduous. 

There are a million pros, and cons to everything, especially the double sided coin of breastfeeding. 

Babies need to be fed. There are a plethora of reasons why a baby would not be breastfed, each and every one of them valid and should not be questioned. Tube feeding, or other alternatives come into play when breast and bottle aren’t possible and should be regarded as an amazing intervention to nourish a baby, rather than something distasteful, or unpleasant.  

I remember once meeting a mum of a 4-week-old baby boy. When I asked how she was feeling, and if she needed any help, the first thing she said was “Unfortunately, he’s bottle-fed.” 

I looked her in the eye and responded with “First of all, never give anyone an opportunity to judge you, or to make you feel like less of a mother. Secondly, why is it unfortunate that he’s bottle-fed? Doesn’t that mean that his father can take part in the feeding and bonding? Is it unfortunate that your son is learning how to trust other people in his life? Is it unfortunate that he’s growing and developing properly? No. Stop beating yourself up, and stop letting others beat you up. Next time you feel the need to discuss your baby’s eating habits, try ‘My baby is fed, healthy and happy. Thank you for caring about him.’ Instead.” 

 We, as parents, need to support each other, not judge, not tear down, or mentally scar each other. Feed your babies. Support your friends. Throw the judgement out with the dirty diapers, which by the way, don’t matter if they are cloth, disposable, or made out of the organic free trade silk that was hand spun by fairies riding unicorns’ backs.

4 thoughts on “Is Breast Truly Best?

  1. There are mothers who have a hard time of getting breast feeding going. Many, (me included) didn’t have a problem. Good on you for persisting. Apart from what gravity does to your breasts, it’s a wonderful connection and bond only a mother can experience,, I do have to ask, though, why two years? Six months each was all I could manage.🤭. You’re right, everyone has an opinion. Mine is that there’s no use wanting children yet resenting a pause in your professional life because you had them.

    Like

    1. I have many friends who were unable to breastfeed. Some didn’t produce any milk. Others required medications that made it unsafe for them to breastfeed, while others had babies with very complicated medical needs, and therefore required tube feeding. I’m a huge proponent of feeding babies however they need to be fed. Ours were breastfed for over two years each; one for nearly 4 years. To be honest, I’m not really sure where my partner came up with the idea of two years, but it was something that I was thrust into. Any discussion about early weaning turned into horrible debates, and they were all mute points because my children refused any bottles. They eventually took sippy cups, but at first, only with water, or chamomile tea. I don’t resent the pause in my career so much as I wish I had more flexibility in my own personhood when my children were younger. The constant on demand breastfeeding 24/7 for years was draining emotionally at times. I was always on demand. I needed respite that wasn’t available because I was the default everything at that point. No resentment, just exhaustion. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: