Thursday, June 15, 2006

My Boobs. My Business.

Everyone seems to be talking these days about breastfeeding. After becoming a new mother recently, I was faced with the decision to give breast or bottle.

Thank goodness that the government was there to tell me what to do.

Apparently, the Department of Women's Health has taken it upon themselves to tell us all about the risks of not breastfeeding in an effort to guilt more women into breastfeeding. To boot, they're also suggesting that warning labels (similar to those on packs of cigarettes) be placed on cans of formula. Do they honestly think that new mothers don't experience enough pressure?

I've personally chosen to breastfeed my baby girl, but I also give an occasional bottle. I'm saying this so that you'll know where I'm coming from in this debate. My mother, a former nurse, is a breastfeeding Nazi. My mother-in-law, who sees me get frustrated from time-to-time, is heavily encouraging me to wean my daughter in the name of sanity. So I'm getting pulled from both directions.

Before I became a mother, I learned everything I could about both breast and bottle, but nothing compares to the real world experience I've gained over the past five weeks. I learned more in the first two days than I had learned within an entire nine months from doctors, lactation consultants, classes, books, magazines, and Internet. From what I've seen, most moms are the same in that they educate themselves beforehand and then at least make an attempt at the breast while in the hospital under the watchful eye of nurses and lactation consultants who can help us through those awkward first latches.

Here's what I was told compared to reality:

Breastmilk contains nutrients that formula does not. This is true, but there are also some vitamins that are not found in breastmilk. Get ready to either supplement with a bit of formula or give a vitamin supplement.

Breastmilk is digested easier. ...Unless you have a baby with colic partially due to reflux (like mine). Formula, at least certain kinds, actually stays in her tummy a little better and is harder for her to spit up. Sometimes, the only thing that soothes my colicky girl is a couple ounces of formula. And yes, I've tried expressing milk and giving it via bottle. It gets spit up after only a few minutes. But I always give breast with the bottle because of the laxative effect that breastmilk has. Otherwise, I could end up trading a cranky baby with reflux for a cranky baby with constipation.

Breastfeeding is safe. ...Unless you've accidentally ingested something that you didn't realize that baby was allergic to.

Breastmilk keeps diaper rash away. Who made up this load of bunk? Leave a diaper on a breastfed baby too long and see what happens. Not pretty. In my experience, frequent diaper changes and Balmex keeps diaper rash away, not breastmilk.

Breastmilk prevents against childhood illnesses and boosts IQ. This is true, although I know plenty of babies who were bottle fed exclusively and lived to tell the tale and graduate high school. My mother, a registered nurse, is one of them. At the same time, I was exclusively breastfed, and I have had more illnesses than my bottle-fed husband. My husband is also one of the most intelligent people I know.

Breasts provide an opportunity for your baby to suck. It's not fun being a human pacifier. The best $4 I have ever spent was on a pack of two MAM pacifiers and a clip at Wal-Mart.

Breasts are more convenient. Whoever said this has never been kicked out of an establishment for breastfeeding. Fortunately, some laws now protect us from this, but that doesn't mean that management can't search for some other b.s. reason to kick you out. Just ask my cousin, who was kicked out of a McDonald's because she was being "too loud" while eating a cheeseburger. There's also the factor of not being able to pump when you have a child attached to the breast 24/7. Pumping in-between is not an option when there's little to nothing to pump out. It can take what seems like forever to build up a milk supply that is sufficient for pumping what you need. And don't get me started on nighttime feedings. It's far less complicated for me to have a bottle of water on hand with a premeasure of powdered formula by the bed. Dump. Shake. Give to Daddy. Go back to sleep. The end.

Breastmilk is free. Like hell!!! $150 for a pump and bottles (if expressing), $5 for storage bags, $5 for vitamin supplement, $10-15 for lanolin ointment, $10 for nursing pads, and $10-20 copay (if you have insurance) each for a round of antibiotics after getting mastitis and a prescription for thrush. Not only is formula not as expensive as people make it seem, but it's even cheaper once you sign up for samples and coupons. WIC also covers the cost of formula for those mothers who can't afford it, and you would be surprised as to how many of us fall into that category.

Breastfeeding protects against pregnancy. Yeah, go right ahead and explain that one to your obstetrician once you're back in there with a second pregnancy.

Breastfeeding gives you enforced rest periods that you need postpartum. Rest? It can be relaxing, but breastfeeding is WORK.

Breastfeeding creates a stronger bond between mother and child. Honestly, there are those days when I want to throw her out the window strictly because of breastfeeding. If it weren't for the occasional bottle of formula, I don't think I'd be sane. Plus, there is the fact that my daughter seems to relate better to my husband. She looks at me in much the same way that a starving man would look at a bologna sandwich.

And the government's new phrase...

Not breastfeeding has risks. I hope that they didn't forget to mention that breastfeeding also has risks, both for mom and baby. See the mention of allergies, malnutrition, vitamin deficiency, mastitis, and thrush above. (I know one poor mother who ended up in the emergency room because of an unexpected peanut allergy. Her son almost died.)

There are other cons, too. I don't know how much she's getting from the breast. My nipples are in constant pain at times from bad latches. (Men, imagine having a blister on your penis.) I'm tied down. It's probably more than you ever wanted to know about me, but then, that's just how it is.

I'm still breastfeeding, though, probably for the same reason why most women who breastfeed do. I want to give my daughter the best. But I've lowered my standards to allowing the occasional bottle because, the way I see it, some breastmilk is better than none. All or nothing is no way to go. Had I chosen to exclusively breastfeed, I probably would have already weaned her. I enjoy breastfeeding for the most part. I think I'll even miss it when I'm done and the occasional bottle has allowed me to stick it out this far. Plus, my daughter is getting vitamins that she wouldn't get otherwise, she sleeps for longer stretches at night (sometimes a full night), and she's calmer-- all as a result of that little bit of formula.

But the thing of it is-- I'd feel extremely guilty if I weren't able to breastfeed. Most women do whether it is by choice or not. Add that to postpartum depression, which is very real, and you have a disaster on your hands. Yes, women are strong, but PPD is a very real condition, and breastfeeding advocates need to remember that. Downplaying such a condition a la Tom Cruise isn't the way to win hearts and minds among women.

Further, while women are strong, they are still human. Bottle feeding doesn't make you a bad mother, no matter what the government tells you. Giving your baby a bottle will not doom him to a life of disease and stupidity. Giving your baby the breast will not insure that she never gets sick and that she graduates from Harvard. Both methods are time consuming, tiresome, and expensive in their own ways. But both methods are also wonderful and rewarding in their own ways. The same can be said of parenting in general.

But then, I didn't need the government to tell me that.

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