So for a few months now, I’ve been struggling with a decision. If you’re of the male persuasion, this may be the part where you’ll want to avert your eyes. Because I’m talking about breastfeeding.
I guess I never gave it a whole lot of thought before I got pregnant. I’ve always known it’s the healthiest way to feed your baby. It was impossible to grow up with my mother (who nursed my sister and me for at least 18 months each) and not know the benefits of breastfeeding and the evils of formula. I always assumed I would probably breastfeed my child one day.
But now that I’m about a month away from the actual event, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and talking to various people I know, and I’m still really torn about what to do. I really do know all of the advertised benefits of breastfeeding. And of course I want the lowered risk of allergies for the baby and lowered risk of cancer for myself. There is definitely the convenience factor for night feedings, of not having to get up out of bed at all (we’ll be using a co-sleeper infant bed). There’s also the added benefit of not having to pay for formula and sterilized water (we’re way to lazy to boil water and wait for it to cool).
However, I don’t really want to breastfeed. Of course I want all of the benefits, without actually having to do any of the work. But I find that I’m just not one of those people who feels a burning need to nurse their child. And no, it’s not because I think it’s icky nor am I embarrassed that I have boobs. Although I dread the idea of having to use a breast pump at work. Our setting at work is less than ideal, and though I’m not embarrassed about the boobs, I don’t exactly like the idea of drawing attention to them in front of all the pervs that seem to populate my office. The biggest con I have about breastfeeding is the fact that Rob has expressed a desire to help in the feeding equally, from the beginning. And when you have a husband willing to take on some of the night feedings so that you can get more rest, why would you want to turn that down? It would also give him an opportunity to get over his fear that he might break the baby, allowing for some important bonding time. There’s also the added peace of mind that would come with knowing that Rob would be able to care for our son easily, whether I’ve had time to pump milk or not.
Lately, the more I read, the more offended I become by so much of the breastfeeding literature. There’s of course the pervasive guilt factor: that if you don’t breastfeed, you’re a selfish mother. And then there’s the advocating of “exclusive breastfeeding” (no use of bottles or pacifiers). That may work out really well for the women who don’t have to, or don’t wish to go back to work six weeks (the standard maternity leave in the US) after giving birth. But it’s simply not realistic in this day and age. And besides not being realistic, I think it excludes the father in an unhealthy way. What’s the point of dual parenting if you can’t share equally in the tasks?
Some of the other pro-breastfeeding propaganda that bothers me:
Increases bonding between mother and baby. I don’t doubt this is true, but does that mean women who don’t breastfeed don’t bond with their babies? It seems that the act of feeding and cuddling your baby is how we bond, regardless of what that food source is. And when the father is also able to share in the feeding, he’s able to bond with the baby equally.
Formula Feeding is associated with lower I.Q. Possibly. Or not. According to this recent study, “Breastfed babies are smarter because their mothers are clever in the first place, not because of any advantage of breastfeeding itself, a study suggests. Researchers found breastfeeding mothers tended to be more intelligent, more highly educated, and likely to provide a more stimulating home environment.” And I can’t help but noticing that my formula fed husband, though not as smart as I am of course, definitely has stronger math, and geography skills than I do.
Breast milk contains immunities to diseases and aids in the development of baby's immune system. That’s probably true, but then I was sick so often as a child, that I had my tonsils out and tubes put in my ears (due to the numerous ear infections) by the time I was four years-old. My formula fed husband, though a seasonal allergy sufferer, still has his tonsils and tube-free ears.
Formula feeding increases risk of children developing diabetes. Yeah, so does McDonald’s and sodas and our sedentary American lifestyles. Statistically, kids in this country are getting fatter. We all are. I refuse to blame this one on the formula.
Formula feeding may increase risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). And that’s one scary reason right there, isn’t it? But then again, they’re still not sure what causes SIDS at all. According to this excellent article, there’s some evidence to indicate that the reason breastfed babies are at a lower risk of dying from SIDS is due to the fact that they’re more likely to be sleeping in the same room as their parents (thus having their breathing monitored). That seems to advocate co-sleeping more than nursing.
Formula-fed babies are more at risk for obesity in later life. Oh yeah? Have you seen me lately?
Breastfeeding is easier than using formula. Except for the fact that breastfeeding infants feed every 1 ½ to two hours, whereas formula fed babies feed every three hours or so. I don’t know about you, but that extra hour of sleep nearly clinches it for me.
Facilitates proper dental and jaw development, less money spent on corrective orthodontia. I don’t buy that for a second. That part is all genetics. I spent $3,000 on orthodontia for my breastfed self.
Basically, the whole thing makes my brain hurt. I do believe that breastfeeding is best, I really do. But I also don’t believe that the millions of mothers who have to, or choose to use formula are horrible people who don’t care about their baby’s health. If I do end up breastfeeding, it’s very likely that I would only do it for 3-6 months, not the one year or more that the American Academy of Pediatrics advocates. But whatever choice I make, it’s going to be because that’s what Rob and I decide is best for our family. And I hope people are respectful of our decision.
Edited to add: Interesting article from a formula feeding mom.