Breastfeeding. We all know what this is. Breastfeeding is nature’s way of providing the optimal nutrition that babies and toddlers need. It is also a bit of a hot topic in our society. Unfortunately, many mothers are unable to establish a long term nursing relationship with their sweet babes. Sadder still, the mamas who can’t often feel judged by those who can. Nursing in public is also somewhat controversial, driving some mamas and babies under fabric tents to avoid notice, or confrontation. Many workplaces do not support breastfeeding mamas, making it difficult to continue nursing after going back to work. All this drama for something that is as old as time. Today I want to explore the sustainable side of breastfeeding: Is breastfeeding a green idea? Is it worth it?
- Better for Baby – breast milk is nature’s perfect food for babies, and changes throughout the day, and over the weeks to meet baby’s exact nutritional and health needs
- Better for You – breastfeeding has been shown to reduce a mama’s risk of postpartum depression, diabetes, and some types of cancer. It also helps you lose all those postpartum extra pounds.
- Better for the Earth – no need for cans of formula, plastic bottles, hot water to wash bottles, and all the industrial pollution that goes with these things
- Saves Time – no time spent preparing, warming, washing bottles. Baby’s food is always ready!
- Saves Money – Formula costs money. Breast milk is free!
- Breastfeeding is not easy – especially in a society where it is not the norm
- Some families (and some parts of society) are not supportive of breastfeeding mamas
- Breastfeeding can hurt in those first couple weeks as your nipples toughen up
- Transitioning baby to a bottle can be difficult when going back to work
- The process of breastfeeding is full of “booby traps“, both cultural and institutional
I was breastfed as a baby. My mom breastfed all four of her kids. I’ve never really talked to her much about it, but I clearly remember her nursing my younger siblings. When I was a little girl, I would stick my baby doll under my shirt to feed, it’s hard plastic head cold against my skin. So really, there was never a question in my mind about how to feed a baby.
When I was first pregnant, I did a moderate amount of preparation to learn how to properly nurse a baby. I paid attention during breastfeeding week in my Bradley Method classes. I read the “how to breastfeed” book provided by my company’s corporate lactation program. I surfed around on Kelly Mom a bit. I had a little knowledge going into it all, but I was by no means an expert.
Luckily when my little guy was born, he knew just what to do. He latched on, and we never looked back. Aside from the initial
toe-curling-pain discomfort that occurs as soft skin starts to toughen, it was smooth sailing. He never wanted a pacifier, or a thumb, he only wanted to nurse. When I went back to work, he transitioned easily to bottles of pumped milk. We learned together than any bump, disappointment, or insult could quickly be nursed away. We nursed through his first year, and his second, stopping only when his sister was born shortly after his second birthday (his decision).
We were very fortunate that breastfeeding was easy for us. I naively though that breastfeeding just WAS easy, if you know what you are doing. It was so simple: cuddle baby, insert breast into open mouth. What’s so hard about that? Then, my sweet girl was born.
My daughter and I had trouble nursing from the beginning. Her latch was never quite right. She would fight and cry at the breast, and never could relax while she fed. I couldn’t relax while attempting to nurse either, which severely delayed my let down reflex. I had some nasty blisters develop due to her initial bad latch. When she was a month old she was diagnosed with a tongue-tie. Then I was diagnosed with over-active let down (imagine a baby trying to drink from a firehose of milk).
It was really hard. It was awful. I hated nursing her. I hated nursing. I cried a lot. I was at that place where a bottle of the white powder seemed like the easy way out from all of our misery. But of course, my difficult to nurse baby also absolutely refused to take a bottle. Not even a bottle of pumped breast milk. So we were stuck with each other.
I am so thankful in those first months that I had access to lots of breastfeeding help. I received regular calls from a corporate lactation consultant (free, thanks to my employer). I spoke with a dear friend who is also a La Leche League area leader. My midwife’s assistant was training to be a lactation consultant at the time, and offered her services for free. She came to visit us at home, which was HUGE! With everyone’s support and help we made it through.
Total honesty time here: I did not like nursing my daughter. Over the first few months she developed some bad nursing habits that never stopped. She pulled at the breast as hard as she could while nursing. She bit me. A lot. She was impatient and super grabby and rude. I stopped night nursing when she was 15 months because it was giving me the creepy-crawlies. I started limiting her daytime sessions at 20 months when my third pregnancy made it very uncomfortable. I completely ended it all (my decision) at 22 months when I couldn’t. stand. another. minute. of it.
So, nursing can be peaceful and beautiful, or it can be really tough. Why stick it out?
I think breastfeeding is the ultimate “Green Idea”. It is all-natural, real food, better for you, better for baby, better for the earth, saves time, and saves money. It’s a super health food that even helps you and baby sleep better! I haven’t run into any Green Ideas yet that meet all these criteria at the same time!
And for me, breastfeeding is my one thing. My “I insist”. Every mom has that thing she won’t compromise on, no matter what. To me, breastfeeding is the best thing I can do for my children. It gives them the best start nutritionally, protects them from germs all around us, aids in normal oral development, and is a great tool for calming an upset baby (depending on baby’s temperament, of course).
Because I’m a working mama, I also feel that breastfeeding is even more crucial, as it is our link when we are apart. Baby can still drink my good milk all day, and I feel like I am helping care for baby during my pumping breaks at work. (I am very blessed to have a very supportive workplace environment for pumping).
If you formula fed your baby, by choice or necessity, I do not judge you. I was there, on that edge of decision, desperate to end our nursing misery. I am so glad that there is another option for babies who cannot have their mama’s milk, for whatever reason. But if you have another baby, and in your heart you feel that breast is truly best, I encourage you to learn as much as you can. Get in touch with your local La Leche League. Read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Learn as much as you can from Kelly Mom. Educate yourself about our culture’s booby traps. And plan to succeed!
Did you breastfeed? What was your experience? I’d love to hear your story!