Enabling the Mommy Milk

I’m a breastfeeder.  I’ve had two kids, so far, and they have both been happy to partake in the milk a great deal.  For reasons too numerous to count or list out, I like breastfeeding, they like breastfeeding, and it works for us.

I wouldn’t call myself a ‘lactivist’ or that awful term ‘breastfeeding nazi’.  I do like to advocate breastfeeding and encourage those near and dear to try it.  I recommend books.  I’ve let a couple friends watch me breastfeed.  I’m open about my own experiences – the troubles I’ve had, how much I’ve enjoyed it, good comeback lines when faced with stupid people.  I hope I’ve helped where there have been successes, and I’m very happy for the people I know who have successfully breastfed their children.

And unlike the ‘nazis’ out there, I don’t think formula is evil.  I think it’s stupid that it’s called formula — I’d love to see a truth-in-advertising law passed that made the formula companies call their product “artificial human milk” since that’s what it is.  But many women cannot breastfeed, due to medical, physical or emotional issues.  Many women get bad breastfeeding information which creates insurmountable hurdles in the breastfeeding relationship.  Some babies just cannot latch well and get the food they need from a breast.  There are zillions of pumps available, but the best pump in the world simply cannot maintain a milk supply as well as a baby, so for most women it is really impossible to exclusively pump for long.  Plus, pumping sucks.  I’ve had to do it when I worked full-time, and it sucks.  It takes a ton of time, it’s impersonal and weird and awkward and messy and just ugh.  Plus there’s the situations where there simply isn’t a lactating mother around.  A lactating mother dies or is imprisoned.  A baby is adopted.  Mom gets sick with cancer or something else awful and has to take meds that are incompatible with breastfeeding.  So, for these and a bunch other reasons, formula comes in very handy.

And yes, someone more militant than me could come along and refute everything in that last paragraph.  I could refute a lot of it.  But at the same time, I simply can’t pretend to know what it’s like to have a baby that refuses to latch, or to have been sexually assaulted and to hate my own body so much I cannot get comfortable letting a baby nurse from my own breasts.  So to any breastfeeding advocate who would take such an insensitive position, screw off.  You’re not wanted here.

That said…

I know someone who just had a baby.  Actually, she’s a very dear friend.  She tried breastfeeding, ran into some minor issues (most women do) and I guess decided it wasn’t for her, and soon enough the baby was on formula.  It’s not unexpected – she was never very committed to the idea of breastfeeding, and her older sister, who is very much a role model for her, did not breastfeed her daughter for long.  I’ve had to spend some time figuring out how I feel about it.  Am I disappointed in her?  Do I think she didn’t try enough?  Do I think she should have tried harder?

Really, I guess I don’t feel much of anything about it.  The breastfeeding relationship I have with my kids is super special, I love the intimacy and closeness it provides, and I hope for my friend that even absent that aspect of her mother/daughter relationship, she’ll find ways to achieve that closeness and intimacy.  I am a little disappointed, I guess.  Formula is a perfectly adequate food for most babies, but the reality is that breastmilk is superior, I can’t ignore that, which I guess where the disappointment comes from.  But, I hope my friend’s baby will be one of those that her mother can say, “Well, she was formula fed and she doesn’t have a smidge of a health issue.”  I am also just a little worried that the baby will have a health issue, and that my friend will question herself or have guilt because of it, wondering if it would have not happened if she’d breastfed.  I don’t want my friend to feel guilty.  I want her to spend every ounce of her mothering energy loving her gorgeous daughter.

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