Breast Is Best!
As frequent readers of this blog know, one of the most pressing issues for us since Frankie’s birth has been breastfeeding. We read many a chapter on its benefits and the “breast is best” mantra reverberated throughout the text, no matter who was doing the writing. Of course, we agreed wholeheartedly. It’s natural, it’s inexpensive, it’s wonderful for the kid’s health. Hell, it would be downright criminal not to breastfeed, right? Ah, naiveté. In retrospect, we should have been suspicious. The ratio of “breast is good” propaganda to practical instruction and “what ifs” was far from equal.
Over the course of the past two and a half months, we’ve battled empathy-free lactation consultants, slight milk production and (well, at least one of us) cracked nipples and sleep in three hour increments as to not disturb the pumping schedule. We happily supplied our boy with breast milk via gavage feeding and eventually by bottle. But when we were finally able to attempt breast feeding here and there in the hospital, it was a struggle. We used a breast shield, a small rubbery device the fits over the nipple making it easier for a baby to grab hold of (more bottle-like), and though this was somewhat helpful, Frankie still wasn’t thrilled with the entire process. The breast was too much work. He didn’t want to sit around and fight to get his food out of mounds of unruly flesh. He preferred the smooth aerodynamic design and easy flow of the nipple. Nipple confusion you say? Nope. Nipple preference.
In each baby book, the implication of the breastfeeding chapter was this: if you just work hard enough at breast feeding, you and your kid will “get it.” And if you don’t, you’re not trying hard enough (read: you’re selfish). The guidance on breastfeeding a preemie was exactly the same as that of a full term child: all is takes is a little elbow grease, ladies! But how many bouts of holding your screaming, red-faced son, who is pounding you with his tiny fists while you try and cram a mushy boob in his mouth are you expected to fight to “get it”? This was not how I wanted to spend our time together. I couldn’t stand to leave him hungry, upset and confused because I – and a group of baby book authors -- had a bucolic vision of breastfeeding that wasn’t working out. And so, I decided not to force it on him and continued to pump and store, while he peacefully drank breast milk out of bottles.
It sounds counterintuitive, but after Frankie came home, pumping every three hours became more difficult. I wanted to be with him, not pumping in the back room. We had errands to run, laundry to do, a baby to wash, feed and change. What little sleep I could get was interrupted by the infernal pumping of my sore nipples. I also had returned to work and trying to schedule meetings and conference calls around breast pumping, well, let’s just say, I don’t work at Whole Foods or Patagonia. This was a far cry from the days at the hospital, when pumping was a welcome respite from our bedside vigil. So, after two months of breast pumping, I made a selfish decision. I decided that I’d had enough. I spent a lot of time convincing myself that it was okay (and taking it out a bit on poor Dave in the process) because I felt like a horrible person. I peered out my window, waiting for authorities from the La Leche League to storm the house, carry me out by my hair and punish me.
What was most interesting about my decision was the advice I received from the Moms I knew. Suffice to say it was far different than from that of the books I had read. And by different, I mean realistic. Every single Mom – breastfeeder or non-breastfeeder – told me not to feel guilty over my choice and that I needed to do what I thought was best and only I knew that. They were aware of the practicalities -- like living your life -- that all the books seemed to ignore. Oh sure, they all have a paragraph on how you need to buy a breast pump and pump at work, but those ten sentences don’t exactly cover what’s really going to happen. Anyway, the Moms convinced me that Frankie was not going to die or be less intelligent or hate me because I’ve chosen to start feeding him formula. And so, I am publicizing this fact in an I am not ashamed! moment.