The topic of breastfeeding joins sleep training and the work versus stay-at-home debate, as one of the top most divisive and useless arguments women can get into. Throw in sleep deprivation countered with excessive caffeine and the discussions can quickly devolve into a blood bath.
My belief is simple. Breastfeeding is a choice. The decision to breastfeed or bottle-feed should be rendered without judgment. I loathe the guilt and pressure inflicted on mothers. It makes me crazy. I also feel sad and angry hearing stories about women who really wanted to breastfeed, couldn’t, and were made to feel even worse. I feel the same compassion for moms who get crucified because they have no desire to breastfeed.
Reflecting on my personal experiences with breastfeeding culminated with one conclusion. Easy doesn’t mean easy. I want new moms to know that even if someone tells you it was “easy” to breastfeed, it still wasn’t. I have made the mistake of thinking I was being helpful using this term to encourage and now I feel guilty. I would never want a new mom to quit breastfeeding, if she wishes to do so, because it wasn’t as “easy” as promised.
I don’t really remember when I decided that I would breastfeed my babies. I think my husband and I agreed that we would try it until the negatives outweighed the benefits. I wound up breastfeeding all three of my kids for a year apiece. I originally thought that this plan worked because breastfeeding worked physically well for me. I now give my breasts only half of the credit. Instead, the success of my feeding regime should also be attributed to the people and support I had around me from day one.
What I really want to share is that the decision to breastfeed requires the presence of a village. If not for encouragement and assistance I would have packed it in early on for any of the following reasons:
Whether it is your first or third baby, the initial days of feeding feel like rattraps have been attached to your nipples. Having the right nurse assure me this was normal and would soon pass allowed me to push on.
Little newborns are the most vulnerable creatures. The thought of them getting dehydrated is enough to make a new mother cry even harder. When Josie, my first, was born she refused to pee on day two for hours. Only wanting the best, hospital staff circled with bottles of formula telling me that time was running out. My husband gently suggested putting her in a warm bath. This made her go instantly and I forgave him for eating all of my labour candy.
As a new mother, I had to get almost completely naked to feed my daughter. In my haze I could not position and get her to latch without the help of an octopus. I never figured out the football hold and the idea of feeding in a sling made my eyes cross with confusion. Without my family and friends to help me through those intimate moments, I surely would have thrown in the towel.
Spraying milk, kicking feet, a tiny hand pulling up the cape and weird, wet noises coming from every end. We need to be okay with women breastfeeding in public because not every wedding has a broom closet. I am so grateful to the men and women in my life who did not make me feel awkward when attempting to feed in open spaces. If I had been made to feel embarrassed by comments or negative body language it would have been really difficult and discouraging.
I have truly never been so starving, thirsty or weak as I was during those years. My amazing mom brought me gallons of watered down lemonade and insisted that I “build up my supply” through rest. My mother-in-law cooked and kept me company during those many hours I spent on the couch. My husband took the baby away after feedings so that I could sleep. Despite all of this, I looked like I had been eating a steady diet of heroin by month eight. If we want our mummies to be successful with their choices we have to feed, water and care for them.
To conclude, I resolve to remove the word “easy” from any further discussions involving breastfeeding or parenting in general. To you new moms, please know that I would love to come over, turn up your AC, warm your bottle, pour you a drink and squeeze your breast into the perfect latch position. Sadly, my parole officer says no. In response to any meanness you have experienced, I choose to quote my road trip self, “For God’s sake! Leave each other alone and help your sister!”