Breastfeeding advocates say they have to be one-sided because the whole world is in the grip of Nestle and is pushing formula-feeding. This wasn’t my experience at all – none of my medical providers so much as mentioned formula, and none of my friends with babies have said anything about using it. When we tried formula with Lily, we actually kept it secret for fear of upsetting our family.
The studies showing that breastfed kids are smarter are mostly based on correlational data, not controlled studies. Mothers with more education and higher IQs are more likely to breastfeed, and also more likely to have smart kids. (Obviously the adoption studies one might hope for don’t work, because adoptive mothers are unlikely to be able to breastfeed.) The one big randomized controlled trial of 17,000 kids did show an IQ advantage to breastfeeding, but that was before they realized DHA was important for brain development and started adding it to formula. I suspect a study done now would show less difference than that one did.
“I hate breastfeeding” has 33,700 hits on Google, as I found out on one of the harder days. (To be fair, “I love breastfeeding” has far more hits.) Pro-breastfeeding websites say things like, “It’s too bad that less than half of moms are breastfeeding at six months! Those of us who are still breastfeeding found it got a lot easier!” Er, that’s because the ones who didn’t find it easier already stopped.
Breastfeeding might be the hardest thing I have ever done. You do not get time off when you are sick. You cannot sleep a full night, even if someone else is bottlefeeding the baby milk you pumped, because you keep making milk and you must feed the baby or pump. When my daughter didn’t gain weight as fast as expected, we went to her pediatrician, two lactation consultants, an ear, nose and throat doctor, and two different breastfeeding support groups. They diagnosed her with everything from a high palate to a tongue-tie to a tight labial frenum to “nothing.” We never did figure out what was going on. And I didn’t even have the difficulties some moms deal with: cracked skin, a premature baby, etc.
. . . but now that we have the hang of it, it is kind of magic. It’s pretty cool that my body, having made a human being, can now continue to make exactly the food she needs. My favorite facts about breast milk:
- Human milk is very high in lactose compared to other animal’s milk. The larger the brain, the more sugar needed to power it.
- It takes babies a while to start making their own sleep hormones. Breastmilk’s tryptophan content peaks around 3 am.
I knew there was a debate about public breastfeeding, but I didn’t understand what the big deal was. I made myself one of those nursing covers. Moms should cover up while feeding, I figured, and then no one could reasonably object. This belief lasted all of five days, until I realized how difficult it is to get a squirmy baby to latch on under a sheet tied around your neck. It’s possible to be very discreet if your baby is cooperating, but entirely different if she’s not.
In the words of Bunmi Laditan’s enjoyable rant:
Statistics show that human beings love being in confined spaces. Babies are on their way to becoming full humans, so this applies to them as well. I personally eat many of my meals under a loosely draped fitted sheet in my bedroom and find it quite enjoyable. . . . Do not be fooled, the importance of air circulation has been exaggerated by politicians. Ten out of 10 babies reported loving the sensation of breathing repeat CO2. There are women who can breastfeed without anyone knowing what they’re doing. If they can do it, so can you because all babies are the same.
(Also see Hollie McNish’s excellent spoken word piece on feeding in bathrooms.)
I still haven’t figured out what other mothers do when their babies get hungry while at a store. At a restaurant you can go to a bathroom (Laditan again: “Nursing standing up while trying to avoid bacteria and holding a wriggling child has the added benefit of strengthening your core muscles.”) When we’re out somewhere, there’s usually not much option but to sit down on the curb or sidewalk outside. But sitting on the street nursing a child smacks a bit of Victorian poverty. Recently I did so while watching Jeff’s bag in addition to my own, and the combination of two bags and a baby must have made me look like some kind of teenaged runaway because several people asked if I needed help.
I’ve never actually been hassled for feeding Lily in public, but I’ve heard of enough other cases that I’m a bit paranoid about it. But the only way for society to move forward is for more women to do it.
And then you go back to work. MIT recently held a breastpump hackathon in recognition of how un-user-friendly pumps are and how little they’ve progressed since the early 1990s. I’m hoping their improvements are on the market soon.
In the US, federal law requires employers to provide a private space that is not a bathroom for breastfeeding employees to pump milk. In my case, after a couple of pointed emails on my part, I was awarded the right to kick other people out of the staff break room and hang a sign on the door telling them the room is in use. Kicking my coworkers out of the break room every day at lunch would surely make me very popular, and the room opens directly onto an inmate housing area for maximum exposure on the inevitable day when someone ignores the sign and opens the door. I tried pumping in the shower area of the staff locker room, but it literally took three minutes for another woman to pull back the curtain and ask, “What are you doing?” So I am still pumping kneeling on the floor of a bathroom stall. Explaining what my pump is every time it sets off the metal detector at the front entrance just adds to the fun.
After six months of our adventures in feeding, I have a few conclusions:
- Assume other parents made an informed decision about how to feed their child and don’t give them advice. If you’re not their medical provider, keep out of it. (It’s one thing to share information you think the person might actually not know, but don’t be pushy about it.)
- It’s okay to interact with moms while they are breastfeeding – it shows that what they are doing is not embarassing and that people can still act normally around them.
- Anyone who’s having feeding problems is probably super sensitive about the size of their child. Comments like “She looks so small for her age – was she premature?” are another knife in the heart of someone who’s trying to coax every calorie she can into her child. I imagine it’s the same for parents of chubby babies. You are welcome to comment on how “beautiful,” “sweet,” “alert,” etc. a child looks. Comments on size are no more needed for babies than they are for adults.
- Lactation is neither here nor there medically – it’s not exactly OBGYN and not exactly pediatrics, so your and your child’s providers may not know much about it. If you’re having problems, see a lactation consultant (US insurance is required to cover it). If your first visit isn’t helpful, try another consultant – they tend to have different favorite interventions.
- My experience with the La Leche League was that they’re so extreme in their breastmilk-only stance as to give really questionable advice at times. They are lay people, not medical professionals. I was told that there’s “no such thing as an underweight breastfed baby,” which clearly isn’t true. But I know some people who found them really helpful.
- Whichever way you feed your child, find people who will support you in it. Fearless Formula Feeder and KellyMom for breastfeeding are both good for this.
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