The Dark Side of Breastfeeding

In February 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics published their updated policy on the subject of breastfeeding, quoting in their introduction, “The AAP reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.” Note here that they recommend nursing for a year or more, as mutually desired by mother and infant. The experts aren’t saying that we aren’t “mom enough” (to quote the infamous Time magazine cover from May of this year), should we chose to stop at a year or less. They simply recommend that we give it a good try, because the benefits of breastfeeding are clear and widely acknowledged. Some medical reasons to breastfeed, according to the AAP’s current policy include the following:

-Breastfeeding lowers the risk for hospitalization due to lower respiratory infections by 72% in infants who are exclusively breastfed for the first four months of life (this is key for my son with cystic fibrosis).

-Research shows a 64% reduction in gastrointestinal tract infections in babies who are breastfed (also helpful for a baby with CF).

-It also reduces the risk for allergies, obesity, diabetes, and childhood leukemia and lymphoma.

On a can of Enfamil formula: “Experts agree on the many benefits of breast milk.”

Because of all of the above benefits and more, I breastfed my oldest son until he weaned himself when he was thirteen months of age, and I plan to breastfeed my currently two-month-old through his first year as well (or as recommended by his CF dietician). However, I realize that not every woman is able to or chooses to breastfeed, and I feel that supplementing with formula is perfectly fine, and you are doing your baby no harm by doing so. In fact, I want to bring to light what I refer to as the dark side of breastfeeding, which may or may not have some moms reaching for that can of formula as we speak:

  • As I recently discovered, when you miss a feeding session, your breasts will swell to ridiculous proportions. This “engorgement” is probably as close as I will get to knowing what it feels like to have breast implants, and I sincerely feared that they were going to explode.
  • Babies have uncontrollable bodily functions, including burping and spitting up. They are capable of doing both while attached to your breast.
  • Unless you plan on being with your baby twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for all 365 days of his first year, you will need to incorporate pumping. Pumping milk from a human is exactly like pumping milk from a cow, and it makes you feel not unlike said animal.
  • During growth spurts (which occur at day three, week one, week three, week six, month three, month six, and month nine… give or take), don’t plan on doing anything but nursing your baby. All day. Around the clock. Baby on breast.
  • When your baby nurses-or when he cries, or when another baby cries, or sometimes at the most inconvienient times, completely unrelated to your baby’s feeding schedule-it causes the milk to “let down.” Have you ever had your foot fall asleep? Or been stabbed by dozens of tiny needles all at once? That is what “let down” feels like.
  • One word: teeth.
  • Venturing out into the world with a baby who breastfeeds takes creativity. You’re either on a strict time crunch to be home before your baby needs to eat again, or it takes some serious hunting for a private place to nurse him. Common places to breastfeed in public-without having to be stared at or judged by strangers-include the backseat of your car, dressing rooms, or those private nursing rooms, should you be so lucky. That’s typically it. I recommend using your right to breastfeed anywhere your baby happens to be when hunger strikes, use a cover-up out of respect to others, and fling those dirty looks right back at any strangers who might object to that.

While some of these issues may sound quite appalling and may turn you away from the idea of breastfeeding altogether, I should leave you with one additional thought: Not only can breastfeeding provide your baby with all of the previously mentioned benefits, but it also provides you with a feeling that I can barely describe. Without a doubt, you can bond with your baby during the feeding of a formula bottle; I have given a bottle of formula occasionally to each of my children, and there is nothing wrong with that. And yet there is nothing in the world like the deep, pure, and tender connection that comes from nursing your baby. If you are ever so lucky to have the opportunity, let yourself and your baby have that skin to skin contact, looking into each other’s eyes, his fingers holding your finger, as your body provides him with every ounce of nourishment that nature intended him to have. That feeling will brighten your world in an instant and keep the dark side of breastfeeding at bay.


9 Comments on “The Dark Side of Breastfeeding”

  1. Great post and so true! When my daughter was born 3 months premature I was determined to breastfeed her as long as humanly possible, She was too tiny to feed from me so I spent the next 3 months expressing and freezing my milk and daily driving this vital motherly nourishment to her. I was 18 years old and yet I knew how important it was. You have no idea how many times I cried myself stupid in the middle of the night from waking to an alarm clock and a breast pump, instead of my beautiful baby girl. When I could finally feed her myself I was overjoyed! It helped us bond as we had missed out on so much of those precious bonding moments as she wasn’t in me very long and she couldn’t come home with me for those first few important months. I ended up feeding her for 12 months until I got ill and my milk simply ran out. I thank God for the determination to stick with it through all the difficult painful and as you call them ‘Dark Times’ as nothing is so wonderful in all the world! It makes me quite irritated when I hear a mother claim to want to feed but it is just to uncomfortable or inconvenient for them so they give up after a week or two. (Certainly not talking about those who genuinely Can’t Feed) Choosing to be a mother means we will be inconvenienced and have to endure pain, it goes hand in hand with decision to bring forth life! It does take a bit of sufferance but it is such a shame and such a waste of God’s beautiful and perfect design, to give up so easily, however inconvenient or uncomfortable. I pray God gives strength to us to value and persist with all his designs for us as parents. Blessing to you.

    • I definitely think it is worth every bit of inconvenience and discomfort. That’s an amazing, admirable thing that you did for your daughter, and it is the best thing for every baby, but especially special little premature ones like her and sick ones like my son (although you would never know his body was sick… He’s so happy.) 🙂 Blessings to you and yours as well. ❤

      • I’m so glad he is happy! What a little blessing! My daughter is as well, always has been, I think the ones who have to fight that little bit harder than the rest than seem to have to best attitude towards life. Every child I have come across who have had to battle through something like ours just seem a little bit more special, in a way hard to put into words, they have a different spirit, if you know what I mean. God Bless your little guy. 🙂

      • I know exactly what you mean. They take nothing for granted, as we tend to do as human beings in a modern, privileged world.

        Blessings right back to you! 🙂

  2. Chris says:

    I breast feed my daughter exclusively until she was 2 1/2 years old, and plan on breast feeding my next child;) I chose not to introduce bottles or pacifiers. It was challenging and required me to nurse on demand around the clock for the first 9 months. I definitely experienced some downsides, engorgement, frustration at times and ultimately made many sacrifices to provide the absolute best for my child. I definately has my moments where I felt like weaning as early as 6 months but every time I looked into my daughters eyes while she nursed as she strikes my cheek, I decided to wait as I knew it was best for her and me. It is one of the best gifts you can give your growing child, and well worth the challenges and sacrifices! Breast feeding also helped me lose my pregnancy weight quicker, helped me postpone postpartum depression and created an eternal bond with my child! I realize I was fortunate to be able to breast feed, as many Namas struggle. I commend you and every Mama for breast feeding as long as possible! Thank you for such an informative post:)

    • Chris says:

      Sorry for all of the typos…Typing on iPhones are the pits:)

      • Haha, the iPhone thing… I can relate!! No worries! 🙂

        That is so wonderful, and I agree that it’s an amazing gift that you can give your child, that doesn’t cost a thing but your time and dedication, for those who are able.

  3. I never re-post my blogs, but I did a blog a while back about breastfeeding an older child. Another perspective on the whole breastfeeding thing. Enjoying your blog.

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