It’s Halloween, and I am in a major candy coma.
But I still wanted to take a minute and post Colleen’s excellent FFF Friday submission, because it raises such an important point – one that I’ll be keeping in mind when I speak at MommyCon tomorrow for the #ISupportYou movement. Colleen shares how her mind expanded after facing her own challenges with breastfeeding, and how this experience altered her world view. Policy becomes less black and white when you’re living and breathing it, you know? And this is why listening is so essential. If we were all open to hearing other people’s experiences and feelings, empathy would come far more effortlessly. It’s difficult to really understand something unless you’ve been there. But if we can take the time to think more deeply about all the what-if, if-thens, etc, maybe women will stop feeling so bereft and start feeling empowered. Or maybe it’s just the candy talking.
Happy Friday (and Happy Halloween), fearless ones,
I was a huge fan of breastfeeding before I actually breastfed a baby.
After all, breast is best, right?
At the time, I worked for an international humanitarian organization that supported many breastfeeding promotion programs in the developing world. The programs were truly laudable, but I had never even considered that there might be an alternative point of view – that, even in the developing world there might be situations where a mother might not be able to or want to breastfeed, and that in those situations helping her baby get a supply of safe formula might be the truly humanitarian thing to do. Now, I look back on myself refusing to accept donated formula during disaster situations (the organization’s well-intentioned policy) and wonder if this was really the best way to go.
I am also ashamed to admit that when a friend quit breastfeeding after a few months I secretly judged her, convinced that she hadn’t tried hard enough, and that she probably was ill-informed; someone who had quit because she just didn’t know about the benefits of breastfeeding for at least a year.
Then I actually breastfed two babies and had to change my tune. Unlike many mothers who struggle with breastfeeding, I didn’t struggle due to lack milk – but rather due to too much. I spent many weeks with engorged breasts, painful cases of mastitis and plugged ducts, searing nerve pain, sore nipples and other problems. I experienced both the “joy” of pumping at work and the “joy” that comes with being the parent responsible for nearly all the night feedings (after all, even if your husband is willing to help, you might as well be the one to get up night after night if you wake up anyway due to painful engorgement and leaky boobs). Were there some benefits to breastfeeding? Of course. I did like knowing that my children were receiving the health benefits that come with nursing. However, after reading the medical literature, I have come to believe that the benefits, although certainly there, are not nearly what the popular literature has made them out to be. I mean, is it not true that my husband, and millions of other Americans born in the sixties, never drank a drop of breast milk and turned out just fine? (The hairstyles they had in the eighties notwithstanding).
So, when my second child was seven months old I decided I had had enough. It was time to thumb my nose at the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, Dr. Sears, and all the other authorities who recommend breastfeeding for at least a year, and become a real live, honest-to-God “fearless formula feeder.” Well, maybe a “fearful formula feeder” – most of my peers breastfeed for at least a year, and often when I mix a bottle in a public setting I fear judgment. Of course, this is probably because my previously-thriving son has now become an obese, asthmatic infant with chronic ear infections. (Just kidding). Actually, my son is doing great and I feel physically and mentally much better. I feel strongly that quitting breastfeeding was the right decision for me – I am now a happier mother – and that it was therefore the right decision for my family.
My breastfeeding challenges have definitely made me more compassionate – if I ever go back to working in the international aid arena I will have a more nuanced view of what is “best” for babies, and I will never, ever judge a woman for her infant feeding decisions again.
I am so grateful to the FFF community for offering infant feeding support to all parents. Of course a breastfeeding mother should be supported, allowed to breastfeed anywhere she needs to in public, and given space and time to pump at work. By the same token, a mother who can’t or doesn’t want to breastfeed should also be supported and not made to feel like a terrible parent. Finally, we should acknowledge the fact that breastfeeding isn’t an either/or proposition –many, many parents “combo-feed,” breastfeeding sometimes and using formula sometimes.
It’s time for the health care, baby care, online parenting communities and various “mommy bloggers” to stop haranguing women for their infant feeding choices. What is right for one family might not be what’s right for another. Being a parent is hard enough, and we all deserve all the support we can get.
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