07 January 2015

another post about breastfeeding

I have similar feelings about formula as I do about medical interventions in pregnancy, labor, and birth. Succinctly put, it is amazing that we have the technology we do in order to deal with problems and complications when they arise, but it seems that the availability of that technology has made those choices the norm rather than interventions reserved for exceptional, necessary circumstances. I wish breastfeeding were more of a norm because I think it would make it easier for women to choose to breastfeed initially and to sustain it successfully. It doesn't help anyone to just say "breast is best." That only makes moms who try breastfeeding but experience obstacles and then give it up feel guilty and inadequate.

It's tricky determining the necessity of circumstances that require formula, just like it is tricky deciding when it is necessary to induce labor artificially, say. I read an article today called "Why I Chose to Bottle Feed" that I saw on Facebook. I had mixed feelings about the accounts I read. It made me feel a little sad. Not because these moms are giving their babies formula and I think they'll be scarred for life (they obviously won't), but because moms who want to breastfeed do not have the support they need in order to be successful. It is not just about the individual mom and baby--it's the whole system creating these structures that affect the individual. The system makes it way harder than it needs to be, so when women have problems, it makes total sense. They blame themselves, but really society has failed them. I have read or heard many, many accounts of breastfeeding being no longer viable for so many women who try, and I feel for them. I'm probably annoying to talk to about it though, because I feel like it is OK to bash our breastfeeding culture in response and also actively counter it in my behavior. Which is weird because I don't think of myself as an iconoclast. Becoming a mom does odd things to you. I've become one of those obnoxious women who see no reason to leave the room or hide my nipple when it is time to nurse, but it is totally obnoxious because that is socially unacceptable. I wish it weren't. My goal is not to make others uncomfortable. I just think, instead of adding more public-use rooms for mothers to go hide and feed their little ones, why can't we all just relax and respond the same way when a mom sticks a nipple in baby's mouth, whether it is attached to a breast or to a bottle, wherever and whenever?

I can also see that there are real advantages to bottle feeding. It really means that other people can feed and comfort your kid! It means you can feed an adopted child! (Though did you know you can nurse a child that is not biologically yours even when you don't start off lactating? And that it's possible to breastfeed after a mastectomy? The body is cool.) Formula is both liberating and, yes, even necessary at times. For example, I totally do not think I would breastfeed if I worked outside the home. Becoming a mom is the direct reason I don't work outside the home, in fact. It is hard enough to maintain your supply when you have a real baby on your breast, but an electric pump? Yeah, right. Plus, pumping sucks. Kudos to people who are committed to it.

But breastfeeding should be the easier option, I think, and maybe the expectation, but sadly, it just isn't unless X, Y, and Z. It is not a method of feeding your baby that is free of complication. After nearly three years of continuous nursing, I thought I would be pretty old hat with nursing the new baby. We are only a week in, but it has been surprising to me how different and not easy it is this time around. This newborn Maya is not newborn Shepherd, who latched onto my breast within moments of being born and seemingly never stopped sucking from there on out (which presented its own set of problems). This girl struggled to latch on and struggled to be satisfied with what she was getting out of my nipple for a few days. Now that my milk has come in, things are improving, but it's still a struggle. I can nurse lying down, but she can't latch on when I'm lying down, so we have to start every nursing session with me sitting up. (Sorry, perineum.) She is so sleepy and often is hard to wake for feeds, and is too sleepy to latch on without being fully awake. She has a hard time latching when I'm engorged. She just has a hard time latching, period. We took her to the doctor yesterday and she had lost even more of her birth weight than when she was last weighed on day three. Also she hasn't pooped since she passed through the meconium on day two. She's lost more than ten percent of her birth weight at this point, and I guess that's when most doctors sounding the alarm. "Give your baby formula or they will die!" (Maybe experts should say more often, "Keep trying and try not to stress. It will work out.") Luckily we saw a doctor who was not alarmist in nature, but that knowledge had me worried anyway. Is my baby not thriving? Is it possible I can't breastfeed her successfully?

Anyway, we're working on it. Sometimes it takes some troubleshooting and time. Sometimes it's harder than others. But it shouldn't be so hard that we're stressed out of our minds and traumatized by trying and overcoming the complications we face. Sometimes it doesn't seem to go the way that it "should," but that doesn't mean it is a failed enterprise. Wouldn't it be cool if we as mothers had this community of breastfeeding support in which people can openly share their different experiences, and where we have expertise readily accessible and available to help us work it out instead of telling us we're doing it wrong? That would be cool.

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