Is Breastfeeding a Green Idea? A Thoughtful Review.

5 out of 5 leaves

5 out of 5 leaves (maybe should be 4.5 leaves cause bfing is HARD, but gotta give it a 5. Politics, you know?)

 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?

The Good

  • 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!

The Bad

  • 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

My Experience

My first hour as a new breastfeeding mama.

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.

The only pic I could find of me nursing my daughter. She was about 6 weeks old. Note how discreet nursing can be – no hooter hider needed!

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!

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32 Responses to Is Breastfeeding a Green Idea? A Thoughtful Review.

  1. Carol says:

    I breastfed all five of my children and loved it. I loved the bonding it brought and the little work involved. I was lucky in that it came easy to me and even my mother-in-law was astonished at how easily I put up with one of my babies constantly pulling off and on. Her words were, “You must have bloody tough nipples!”

    The only time I didn’t enjoy it was when my last baby didn’t want to give it up. We’d gotten to that point where I’d had enough of it, but she refused to give it up until she was nearly 2 1/2 years old. She’s nearly 3 1/2 now and still shoves her face against them when cuddling me. She loves it when she sees boobies on TV in underwear ads. She has spent more than half of her short life seeing boobies as a comfort, so she still sees them that way. At least she doesn’t pull my shirt out and try to shove her face in there anymore when we’re shopping.

    The worst experiences I’ve had from others is a friend’s boyfriend complaining that I breastfed my baby in his lounge room instead of in the toilet. Unfortunately, he did this after I’d left. If I was still there when he’d complained to my friend I would have said, “Oh, is that where you eat is it?!”

    The other was in a large upmarket department store. I often walked with my baby in my arms and a pashmina wrapped around both of us so no one saw her breastfeeding. (This is when shopping with hubby and our other kids.) An older female shop assistant kept giving me unappreciative looks. I thought it might have been because it looked like I was stealing stuff, so when I was near her I showed her the baby’s feet sticking out and assured her I was only breastfeeding, to which she replied in a haughty voice, “We have a room especially for breastfeeding mothers.”
    I said, “No thanks, I’d never get anything done if I sat around in breastfeeding rooms all day.”
    When she continued to give me the same dirty looks, I realised that it was because she thought I should have hidden myself away to feed my baby and not because she thought I was shoplifting.

    I also had a bottle-feeding mother take the only curtained alcove for provided for breastfeeding in the baby room, so I had to breastfeed out in the open in front of her husband and his male friend. Not that it worried me, having to breastfeed in front of strangers, but I thought it very rude and inconsiderate of her. Her husband gave me an apologetic look, so at least he realised how rude she was. I put it down to the probability it was her first child and she was not confident enough to bottle feed in front of others yet.

    I definitely agree that people should at least try it before knocking it and I feel terrible for those who really want to but are prevented for various reasons. Another advantage of breastfeeding is that I never had a period while breastfeeding – that was heaven!!

  2. Victoria says:

    Thanks for sharing Carol! I’ve nursed my babies everywhere in public and been fortunate to never have a single complaint. (Well, except for that one time my own sister exclaimed “you’re nursing him HERE?” as we sat at a restaurant. Another family member quickly pointed out that baby had to eat, as I asked where else she propose I feed him. I don’t think she’d been around many nursing mamas before that). I feel like the attitude toward public nursing is a little bit more relaxed in the Los Angeles area where I live, versus in the MidWestern United States where I grew up.

  3. Carol says:

    Great post ~ most natural thing in the world ~ some people need education ~ (A Creative Harbor)

  4. Nestra says:

    I am currently nursing my five month old son. I am a stay at home mom and cannot even imagine the difficulty of trying to bf when working! Hats off to any mom who manages to make it work.

    The hospital I gave birth at had a lactation center which I have called several times. I also love the LLL’s Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

    Although nursing is also for me a thing, I do not judge those who use formula. I think almost all of us are just trying the best we can.

  5. I had one that did great, but 2 of them involved several trips to the LC and many tears before we got it right. It was definitely worth the stress and effort though!

  6. Wonderful post. I don’t have kids yet but plan to breastfeed–because it’s so important for all the reasons that you list.

    I also wanted to mention that I had the exact same experience that you did as a kid. I was the oldest and distinctly remember my mom nursing my younger sister–which meant that’s also how I fed my baby doll. 🙂 I’ve wondered how much seeing breastfeeding as a child influences people’s perceptions later on. I always considered breastfeeding completely normal so was taken aback when I got older and learned that some people have issues with women nursing in public.

  7. Dea says:

    In 1970 when my daughter was born I embraced BF as the wonderful gift it is. She was diagnosed with a hernia at 4 months and I was told that when she had surgery at 8 months old I would have to leave her in the hospital. They reccomended that I wean her to a bottle, and I listened. So at 7 months, I weaned her, suffering through Mastitis and a fever of 105, antibiotics and wrapping. She was in the hospital overnight, and without me only 6 hours. By the time I realized that I had not needed to wean her, I had dried up. I feel that if I had gotten some support I would never have weaned her and we would have continued to BF until she was over a year old at least.

  8. I just love this post! When you consider the full cost accounting of growing, producing, packaging, shipping and shopping for formula, breastfeeding is the clear environmental choice if you can make it.

    I’d love it if you linked up this post at my new sustainable living link-up, Small Footprint Fridays!

  9. 'Becca says:

    Great article! Good for you for sticking with breastfeeding even when it was difficult. I had an easier time than that, but it did hurt a lot at first, and then just when my skin was finally getting used to it, my son bit me–of course he had no teeth yet, but he clamped down his bony gums unbelievably hard!!! Luckily my mom was visiting, came running in to see why I had screamed, and very calmly picked up the baby and told me to go lie down for a little while. I heard her telling him firmly, “Do. Not. Bite. Mama.” 🙂 After a rest, I was ready to try again, and feeling so supported in the idea that I did NOT have to put up with being bitten was crucial to my responding firmly and immediately the several more times he bit me over the next 2 years.

    Here is my article on breastfeeding while working outside the home. I found it pretty easy, but there were a lot of logistics to manage!

    • Victoria says:

      Yeah, biting is hard. Even before they have teeth. My daughter never seemed to mind an abrupt end to the nursing session, and thought it was great funanytime I yelped. (I know you’re supposed to stay calm and quiet when this happens, but COME ON! Someone just tried to bite my nipple off!). Turns out here personality is much the same today. She often deliberately disobeys or hits her brother with a big grin on her face, just to see what I’ll do…

  10. Nancy says:

    Great post Victoria. I would definitely consider breastfeeding a green idea. 🙂

  11. It’s so great that you were able to do it for so long! I appreciate how you’re non-judgmental, too. It seems like everyone that’s pro these days looks down their nose on those who either can’t or don’t want to. With my first, we had the blister problem, too. We persisted, but only with crazy medicated cream from my doc to help ease the pain. Then my milk dried up sooner than I wanted it to. There’s some women that go through extremely rough periods immediately following birth that disallow even their best intentions of breastfeeding. Thanks for showing some love and respect.

    • Victoria says:

      Thanks femme! Honetly, it wasn’t until I was in the wanting to quit boat that I finally, deeply, truly understood why people “give up”. Mama’s sanity is the most important input to a healthy baby!

  12. This is a great post! I loved bf but I know it can be hard for some moms!

    Would love for you to link up to Healthy 2day Wednesdasy with all you healthy posts every week from Tues 11pm EST to Saturday Evening!

  13. This is great! What is more natural or “green” than breastfeeding? We also had it pretty easy learning to nurse with a little stubbornness from my self, a great doula and the LLL book “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” which I personally thing every new mother should read at least twice.

    Thanks so much for this post! I would love it if you would share it on my new blog hop Natural Living Monday. I know my readers would too!

  14. Marina says:

    I just discovered your blog today and it is so helpful and inspiring. I felt a little pang of jealously because I wanted to exclusively BF my now 9month old son for the full 12 months but I had to start supplementing at 7 months with formula becuase my supply dwindled so much when i went back to work. I work 12 hours a day in a non BFing friendly environment. I had to stop using my electric double pump and use the single hand pump cuz all I had was a small bathroom stall to pump in. The stress of it all really took its toll on my milk. I still try to give him breast when we wake up together in the mornings but he is taking it less and less and biting me more and more!! Hats off to you for hanging n there with your daughter for so long even though she was a bit of a trouble maker! I still need encouragement, I want to keep giving him morning sessions at least till we get to the 12 month mark. I feel like I doing him such a disservice…

    • Victoria says:

      Keep going Marina – you’re doing great!! Even if you can’t pump at work anymore, I would encourage you to keep nursing at home for as long as you can. I’ve read that as your amount of milk decreases, the good antibodies, and health components increase. Even a couple ounces a day is better than none!

  15. sarah says:

    I am currently expecting my 5th baby, whom I will breastfeed as I have each of my children. It’s just a “thing” with me, too, even though I have had mastitis, I have blocked ducts for the first 4-6 weeks, I have overactive let-down, we’ve dealt with thrush, etc. It’s not easy AT ALL, but that sweet little milk coma look a babe will give you is worth it all. I am thankful, too, that with each baby I learn more tricks to make it a little easier. I nurse until the next pregnancy makes it too difficult, which is usually around 13 months.

  16. Martina says:

    i started BF twice with both of my boys and got talked of it twice, first by my mom and the second time from nurses of the hospital, who told me that because of the meds they gave me i should discard my milk, i am currently expecting our 3rd and nobody will stop us now (fingers crossed lol)

  17. Jessica Ogner says:

    Aww… Victoria, this post is so sweet it makes me cry. Thank you for sharing the intimate details of your nursing experience and such beautiful photos of your babes in action. I love your views on mommyhood. I hope someday I have the opportunity to try and be as great a mama as you are. So much love <3

  18. Granny Smith says:

    I nursed all of my kiddos — 11 total — lots of nursing overlaping with subsequent pregnancies and then tandem nursing infant + toddler. Lots of benefits, lots of days of wondering why i was putting myself thru it all! But overall, a wonderful experience. Eldest turned 26 a few months ago and youngest ds weaned the same month (he was 3 yr 8 mos), with only a 4 month break during those years (kids are all 2- 3 yrs apart). The days of mastitis, blistered nipples (thank God for Lansinoh!), milk-stained shirts, etc are gone and I’m into the next phase of life — but it snuck up on me so gradually that I only just noticed it! I’ve spent more years of my life nursing than not, which I had *never* planned to do! But worth every minute.

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  20. my 3 year old picked up her baby doll the other day and gave it a pretend bottle; then she stopped what she was doing, thought about it for a minute, then lifted up her shirt to ‘nurse’ her baby doll (she has a 6 month old sister).

    I love breastfeeding, especially the added bonding with the hit of oxytocin! I also love that I don’t have think about bottles etc when leaving the house; I’m already packed! I find it bizarre though that I feel comfortable nursing in front of strangers but not in front of most of my family members…

    • Victoria says:

      My two year old does the same thing now with her baby doll. I couldn’t be more proud!! And I know what you mean about nursing in front of family members. Why is it harder? Perhaps because we don’t care what strangers think, but our sisters and mother-in-laws will always tell us what they think whether we want to hear it or not?

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  23. Louise says:

    …Just a quick trick I was told to use with a biting baby is to gently pull their heads towards your breast. It blocks their little nose and causes them to let go, plus they don’t really like it, so it does seem to be efficient at stopping the biting. It is hard not to pull when bitten, but it is definitely worth a try! When my son got his front teeth at 5 months, I was terrified of them! 🙂 An older mom told me the trick.

  24. it all, IMO.However, you’re actually correct in saying he has lied about his record in the past. His first season with this system (It was still called the 99 System back then. Eastman and Jeff Smith both used it, each giving it their own unique twist.) actually hit at an unheard of 83%. Since he knew no one would EVER believe that claim, he did in fact lie by saying it hit at 70%.