Breastfeeding is hard. Who knew someone so small could be so hungry? Who knew she could make me so sore and tired? I sure didn't, and the first few weeks of breastfeeding my daughter were very difficult for me. To shed some light on the situation, when my baby frantically tried to latch on to my sore breasts, I started singing "her momma is a moo-cow! A moo-cow moo-cow!" It seemed so ridiculous, I would laugh at the idea, and nursing eventually became a painless endeavor. Four months have passed, and I am still going strong, despite a few bumps (pun intended), not the least of which has been the attitudes of others toward breastfeeding mothers.
In fact, the more I think about our society's weird breastfeeding hang-ups, the more irritated I get. The CDC's national Breastfeeding Report Card for 2009 reports that I, and any other exclusively breastfeeding moms that make it to month four are in the minority. Nationally only a third of babies are exclusively breastfed at three months. In NC that number is even lower. What's this all about? The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months and continue to breastfeed for at least a year, so why aren't we listening? Well, my own experience so far tells me that a society that sees drug abuse, sex, sexual violence, murder, assault, and more everyday on the television is somehow really offended or embarrassed by the sight of a female breast in a baby's mouth.
My older sister, who lives in NYC and sees all kinds of vulgar and oddball goings on every day of her life, seemed more than a little abashed when I told her I was breastfeeding during a recent skype conversation. My younger sister informed me during a visit that she had "warned" her boyfriend that I was breastfeeding, but had assured him that I wouldn't feed my daughter in front of him. She was wrong. In a later discussion from the same visit, I asked her if she planned on breastfeeding when she had kids. "I might pump..." she responded hesitantly.
When I asked my mother how long she breastfed my five sisters and I, she said "I think the longest I went with any of you was three and a half or four months. I wasn't trying to make a career out of it."
One of my sisters told me she might breastfeed "until the baby gets teeth," at which point, it is generally understood that a woman would make the switch to formula. To me, what used to seem logical is now a mind blowing concept. Somehow, it makes sense to scores and scores of people that at a certain age you will stop feeding your baby the milk that hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have adapted to be the perfect food, and you will switch your milk out for the milk of another animal. Really? Is this logical? People, even my own family members, think it is weird if I breastfeed for "too long," past the teething stage, or make a career out of it, but the same people find it perfectly acceptable for me to feed my baby milk from an animal that grows to be over 1200 lbs and eats grass. It's bizarre how we come so far from what is natural and healthy. Even if you are religious and don't believe in evolution, then you believe that God made us as we are based on his divine and perfect knowledge, and that he gave women breasts to feed their babies. How can there be anything dirty or embarrassing about God's intent for our bodies and our babies? I personally believe in evolution, but when my husband asked how I would respond to criticism over public breastfeeding in our prudish, bible belt community, that was my response. He said, somewhat sarcastically, "Just ask them, do you think Mary fed Jesus formula?" My husband was being facetious, but he is right. Man or God, Jesus lived on Earth 20 centuries ago, and his mother fed him from her breast.
I told the sister who made the "I might pump" comment that I was writing this post, and what some of my feelings on the subject were. She responded, "It just seems like you are making it hard on yourself- no one else can feed the baby, and you can't be away from her for very long." Herein lies the secret to another breastfeeding and general parenting hindrance. Should I be making parenting decisions based on what is easiest for me? Should I have a child based on the assumption that I can just wrap her in a super absorbent diaper, drop her into a sling where I can't see her, and shove a bottle in her mouth when she cries? Shouldn't I expect my life to change, and perhaps even become more difficult with the understanding that the reward will match the difficulty- kind of like when I earned my college degree?
And to round out the "no one else can feed her" subject, I have even had people ask me whether or not I thought my husband was missing out on something because he could not feed our daughter. My response is, yes, to some degree, he is missing out on being a mother. I am missing out on being a father. Those are two different roles that embrace different responsibilities. I didn't make it that way, but it is that way just the same. Are either of us all broken up about it? No, I believe we are each too busy enjoying our respective roles and our beautiful daughter.
So how long do I plan to continue this breastfeeding madness? As the AAP recommends, I plan to continue breastfeeding for hopefully at least a year, and then for as long as we both are happy and comfortable with doing it. We'll see how it goes- I'm in no hurry to wean, and there is no mistaking how relaxed and peaceful my daughter is while nursing. Although I never expected to say this, I rather enjoy our breastfeeding relationship. Yeah, I'd like a martini and to sleep for 9 hours in a stretch, but there is plenty of time for that. I only have so much time to caress my little daughter and stare at her little content nursing face. I only have so much time to drop everything and give my full and undivided attention to nurturing her and fostering her sense of security, not to mention her lifetime health and wellness. I'm her own private moo-cow, and we're both okay with that.
In a final note, I will say that aside from my husband, I got most of my early breastfeeding support from an unusual source. My stepmother, who has never had children, assured me that I had an innate knowledge of how to take care of my baby, and she encouraged me to continue breastfeeding with a kind thought here and a quick email to say how much baby had grown there. She was right. Thanks Oma.