Breast Is Still Best

Nursing Josiah

You’ve all heard the “breast is best” slogan, and perhaps it’s high time we as a nation started believing it.  The article When It Comes to Breastfeeding, We Can’t Handle the Truth had me knodding my head in agreement, and got me thinking of my own experience.  Despite having read much of the breastfeeding research out there and understanding its many benefits, I have always felt guilty for pushing “my way” onto other mothers and expectant mothers.  I think the idea of being tolerant has become so enmeshed in our society that we are seen as the enemy when we speak up on these issues.  Similar to telling people they shouldn’t eat sugar and refined foods; but in the case of breastfeeding, it’s a baby who can’t make that decision for him or herself.

Formula companies make money just like any other commercial food company, and it’s in their best interest to make their product look good.  And in a society of convenience like ours, it seems like such a good idea.  Doesn’t it?  This website has excellent information on the ingredients in formula, and how other countries have actually controlled its availability due to its harmful effects.  There may be instances where the giving of formula is medically necessary – and even then I question its necessity (hello breastmilk banks) – but we are doing our children a disservice by allowing it to be so widely available and not informing consumers of its true nature.  But if we aren’t told what’s in the food on our table, why should we expect it to be any different for the food advertised for babies?  

I believe there are instances where some mothers truly cannot – for whatever reason – nurse her child.  But this is the exception, not the rule.  And you can always find a story to defend your position rather than looking at the facts and statistics.  While breastfeeding may have many benefits, it’s not a cure-all. Kids (breastfed or otherwise) that are in daycare or some type of school environment tend to get sicker just by being around other children.  If you’re giving your older baby or toddler fast food or refined foods, or course she’ll have a tendency to get sick.  But as a rule, breastfed babies tend to get sick less often, and when they do get sick, it’s for a much shorter duration.  I can attest to that.  Don’t believe me?  Go to the La Leche Leauge’s website to read all about the benefits of breastfeeding.

I didn’t have an easy time nursing Gwendolyn, my first.  She was only a week early, but weighed just over 5lbs.  I came down with rH disease during my pregnancy with her, and had IUGR to boot, so everyone was concerened about her size.  She cried constantly, always wanted to nurse, and I thought my body couldn’t keep up.  Did I mention how much it hurt?  Here I thought nursing would “come naturally,” and I was in pain for at least the first three months.  I kept saying, No wonder some mothers give up!  My pediatrician wrote “poor growth” on her charts, harped on it with each visit, and I was devastated as a first-time mother – I couldn’t feed my own baby!  She kept talking about supplementing, which I was firmly against.  Despite the fact that my baby was healthy, she remained on the small side, so all I got was insistence that she was too small and I needed to supplement.  Well, I didn’t give in, and Gwendolyn is just fine.  Turns out this is just her genetic pattern – on the small side, in the 5th percentile according to the charts they’ve developed for pediatricians.  Charts, mind you, based on averages for formula-fed babies.   I wonder how many mothers just take their doctor’s say-so because they’re supposed to be the expert.  I did see a couple lactation consultants, and will honestly say they weren’t much help; when my babies were newborns, they didn’t have a good latch so I just had to work at it and give it time.

I went back to work part-time, and pumped so my daughter would have breastmilk.  I never produced much milk (I firmly believe this correlates so breast size!), so I would set my alarm and get up at different times at night. Inconvenient?  Heck yeah!  But I’m so glad I did it.  I ended up nursing her past a year, until one day she shook her head “no” when I went to nurse her.  I thought I would be the one pushing for her to wean – I wasn’t ready!

Nursing for me wasn’t quite like riding a bicycle – the second time around it took a bit to get back into the rhythm.  Now, with Josiah at 19 months, we’re still going strong.    And since a toddler nurses far less frequently than an infant, some people have no idea we continue to breastfeed.  I love nursing him, and will be so sad when he stops.  Some people ask why you can’t get the same intimacy with cuddling as opposed to nursing.  “Just cuddling” isn’t the same as nursing – besides the nutrition and antibody aspect, it provides an intimacy and comfort that can’t compare. 

I consider myself a private person – somewhat self-conscious and not the most comfortable in my own skin – so I try not to nurse in public if I can help it.  I’m perfectly comfortable nursing in the front seat of my car before I go into a store, and tend to be as discreet as possible.  Though I’m proud of breastfeeding, I’m not ready for the scrutiny and criticism, especially when breasts are seen mainly as sexual objects in our society.  Truth be told, I get scared off by stories of patrons told to leave a restaurant because they offended someone by breastfeeding their baby (nevermind the scantily-clad gals the next table over), people who approach nursing mothers and give them an earful.  You don’t have to be a tree-hugging, crunchy-granola mama who is comfortable baring her breasts in front of everyone to enjoy breastfeeding.  I love the bond it has afforded, treasure the calories it helps me burn, and feel wonderful knowing I’m doing one of the best things for my children by giving them the healthiest start in life.