Breastfeeding. Now that I have made you all uncomfortable, proceed knowing where I am going with this.
When I was pregnant, people constantly asked me, “Are you planning to breastfeed?” I’d say yes, blissfully unaware of the difficulty that was ahead of me. In reality, being a first-time mom, I was so terrified of labor that I didn’t really think anything after that experience would be hard. Afterall, my husband and I even went to the Breastfeeding Basics class at the hospital, where the mantra “If you are doing it right, it won’t hurt” was promised. Now, I realize I was clueless. As an unexpected exclusive pumper, I’d say labor was much, much easier than this experience.
Why do it then? Because it is what my baby needs. It is what is, by far, healthiest and best for him. Trust me, every day, I have been tempted to quit. I have even felt encouraged to quit and use formula by people around me. It seems like there has been an over-the-top push for moms to feel accepted and not guilty for doing formula, to the point of excluding moms who do commit to breastfeeding by diminishing the importance of it.
Here are the main comments I have heard from random strangers, friends, and family:
“Formula is not poison. Your baby will be just fine.”
Formula is not poison. My baby would survive with it. However, it is scientifically proven that breastmilk protects your baby against all kinds of illnesses. Breastmilk has shown to protect against stomach viruses, lower respiratory illnesses, ear infections, UTIs, and kidney infections. Babies who are breastfed even have a lower risk of SIDS, childhood cancer, diabetes, obesity, allergies, and high blood pressure later in life.
The most fascinating thing to me is how breastmilk changes based on the specific nutrition your baby needs as he grows. When our baby was a month old, he had his wellness check up. The doctor said that fluid was building behind his ears and that he would have a full blown ear infection by the weekend. This never happened. He has never been sick, and I believe a large part of that is because of breastmilk.
“No one will know if your baby was formula fed or not…it’s not on their college application”.
Well, maybe not directly. But, your baby will be smarter. In a study of more than 17,000 infants followed from birth to 6 1/2 years, researchers concluded from IQ scores and other intelligence tests that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding significantly improves cognitive development.
Another study of almost 4,000 children showed that babies who were breastfed had significantly higher scores on a vocabulary test at 5 years of age than children who were not breastfed.
“Happy Mama, happy baby. You need to do what makes you happy.”
This is where I have the biggest problem. At first, this sounds smart. How can I truly care for my baby well if I am unhappy? Breastfeeding, especially pumping, is extremely hard. From the physical pain, the limitations on your schedule, and the constant cleaning of supplies, it adds quite a load onto an already tired momma. But, if I am honest, there are several aspects of parenthood that don’t “make me happy”. The sleep deprivation, the piles of laundry, cleaning up a diaper blowout, the new norm of dry shampoo and unshaved legs, all are but a glimpse into a sound-of-music-kind-of-list of a few of my unfavorite things.
If am I concerned with my happiness, I am in for a rude awakening. If I make decisions about doing things or not doing things for my baby based off of what will make me happy, my baby won’t be happy.
I have to remind myself that I get to go through these “unhappy” things. I can’t remember the last time I have slept through the night. I do remember all of the middle-of-the-night cuddles and coos, when I gazed into the eyes of my Little Miracle, and he smiled at me. I wouldn’t trade anything for these moments. Being a mom is not about making me happy; it isn’t about me at all. It’s about sacrificially, unconditionally loving my son, even through the small things of losing sleep, my perviously, perfectly clean home, and my boobs.