08 August 2014

National Breastfeeding Week

This is National Breastfeeding Week! I just found out, so I thought share some thoughts about my experience before the week is out.

When it comes to feeding babies, I've done it all. In order of preference, I've:

-breastfed
-store-bought formula fed
-home-made formula fed
-pumped and given breast milk

Breastfeeding
Once I got past the first four weeks, I think it's pretty much the easiest part of caring for a newborn! I know I've only been doing it for almost three months, but so far, it's so convenient! No matter where I am, I can very easily feed Eleanor. No running out of bottles, formula, or water. No heating up (or cooling an overheated) bottle while a newborn screams. It keeps her quiet at church, restaurants, when we're hiding in a garage at a surprise party. I personally do not feel chained to my baby when I'm nursing. Maybe it's because we keep moving to states where we don't know anyone and don't have babysitters, but I am very use to strapping on my little ones and wearing them to law school events or Chicago museums or taking them along to my doctors appointments. Even now that we're surrounded by friends and family, it's no burden to take Eleanor with me grocery shopping or out to dinner with the girls. And no one has ever berated me for nursing in public (I do use a nursing cover, although it's my goal to one day be so awesome at breastfeeding that I can go without and not expose anything). And once Eleanor got a bit older/bigger/more head control, I figured out how to nurse at night and now it's no big deal.

Breastfeeding at home gives me two free hands, and once I master nursing in a sling, I won't even have to be sitting.

Store-bought Formula
If I couldn't breastfeed Eleanor, she'd be on Enfamil or Similac - whoever would give me the best coupons. I have found that this non-breastfeeding method is the most conducive to my sanity. When I'd go out with Abigail, I'd bring a few bottles pre-filled with water (or one bottle and a water bottle to serve as a canteen) and a few small tupperware with pre-measured formula in them. At home, I had enough bottles to get through a day and a half, so if I didn't get to the dishes one day, it wasn't a big deal, and I did have all the handy bottle accessories - bottle brush, drying rack, dishwasher caddy - they made the cleaning process much faster. And I tried to buy formula in large quantities so that I would have ample warning before running out. But it has it's downsides. Like how expensive formula, bottles, and new nipples are. And sometimes I'd think Abigail was fussy, so I'd make her a bottle, but she'd only take a sip or two before rejecting it. Once a baby starts sucking, they need to finish the bottle in a hour or you have to toss it. It's like dumping money down the drain. The other major negative is running out of formula when you're not at home. When Abigail was about six or so months old, I had an appointment that wasn't suppose to take more than 20 minutes, so I only brought one bottle with me. But we were stuck in the waiting room for over TWO HOURS. And it was not the kind of appointment I could reschedule. After the bottle, Abigail was sobbing and refused plain water. By the time we finally got called back, we were a disaster. And all the woman we came to see could say was, "I think your baby is hungry. I think she needs some milk." There is no need to record my response.

The only positive I found with formula feeding was getting the hubby to do night feedings. Even though walking up and latching Eleanor on isn't a big deal, nothing beats a night of uninterrupted sleep.

Home-made Formula
I did try home-making my own formula. I found all the same negatives as store-bought formula (expensive, has to be dumped if not finished, you can run out), PLUS it was more difficult to take bottles with me to the store, and it's crazy complicated to get all the ingredients. I never did the math to see if it was more expensive that store-bought formula because Abigail did not like it, but merely the research to try to find unpasturized goats milk in southwest Florida was enough to turn me off from making it a permanent thing.

Pumping
Pumping and giving a baby the breast milk in a bottle is, in my opinion, the worst of all worlds. All the expense and cleaning hassle of bottles, the difficulty of transporting bottles, plus feedings take twice as long. Feed baby, rinse bottle, pump, clean pumping gear. At night? It's awful. By the time everything was done, I'd get about 20 minutes of sleep before Abigail would get up and I'd have to start all over. I can only imagine how much more difficult that would be if I'd had a toddler running around while I tried to get everything done.

* * * * *

There are lots of things I'm way too judgmental about, but I can honestly say how people feed their babies is not one of them. Studies say that breastfeeding lowers PPD, helps baby's brain, and keeps baby protected from viruses, but I honestly view those impacts as being very minimal. It's not like you can look around, "Oh, that man was breastfed. That woman was given formula." It's not like your child's kindergarden teacher is going to sit you down at conferences: "Did you formula feed Susie? I can tell, she's just not as smart as her classmates." And I'm personally struggling with PPD and breastfeeding. Seriously, if you formula feed because your baby is allergic to too many foods and you don't want to cut them from your diet, if you've got twins, if you do feel chained to a baby when breastfeeding, if breastfeeding just plain grosses you out, don't feel guilty about switching to formula! Extra props to the woman who works and pumps the same way extra props belong to the woman who keeps her cool when her three year old throws a temper tantrum in a grocery store, but we shouldn't beat ourselves up over it.

There is a fine line between educating the public (Breast is best!) and berating them (You should be breastfeeding!) just like there is a hugely wide gap between judgement (What a terrible mother!) and complete tolerance (We shouldn't talk about breastfeeding for fear of offending the women who can't breastfeed). I think the best way to get everyone to get along is for everyone to hear where everyone is coming from. Only by actually hearing one another can we grow in wisdom, make friends, and convert people to our point of view. And only by hearing our neighbor out is how we can learn to love one another. And that, God said, is one of the top commandments.

And that, my friends, is how I turned a discussion about breastfeeding into one about religion ; )

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