The Dark Side of BreastfeedingPosted: July 23, 2012
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.
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.