For our WBW blog carnival on "Perspectives: Breastfeeding From Every Angle" we are pleased to host guest posts from various contributors. Today we are honored to share from Stephanie, mother and child-care provider sharing her perspective of breastfeeding from the other side of the bottle, be it breastmilk or formula.
I have been a caregiver to many children in the past 8 years. The children come and go. Some of the children outgrow me and head off to school and some simply move away. Each child has come to me as an infant and left as a toddler or preschooler. I have seen all kinds: the hard core breast only baby, the all formula baby, and the ones that have been a mixture of both. I have answered my door with a child at the breast and seen rejection, enjoyment, and loss in the eyes of the mothers whose children I keep watch over. These are the things that I have learned.
Some mothers genuinely enjoy breastfeeding. They relish the bond and enjoy the feel of continuing to nurture their child past birth. These mothers light up when their babies are near and quickly whisk them away when it is time to go home. They don’t linger on the way home or make detours. No unscheduled shopping trips for them. They are eager to be reunited with their child and clasp them to their heart. Some of these joyful breastfeeders have trouble keeping up their supply when they return to work. I have watched and offered support to these mothers as their milk slowly diminishes and they begin to supplement with formula. It saddens them to have to supplement but they still continue to nurse whenever they are able, even if it’s only once or twice a day. In these mother’s eyes I see joy and loss when they see another woman nurse her child.
Some mothers who breastfeed resent it. They don’t understand the loss that the joyful breastfeeders feel. Weaning to them is a relief and can’t come soon enough. I have often wondered why these mothers even bother breastfeeding at all. Is it so they can say that they weathered the hardships of motherhood? The sleepless nights, the engorged breasts, the biting, the sore nipples… What makes a woman breastfeed when she doesn’t like it? Have we come to the point in society where breastfeeding is the norm? I don’t think so. And any mother who has been asked to nurse in a restroom wouldn’t think so either. Is it because all her friends did it? If that is the reason then kudos to the friends that gave her such a fine example. Is it financial? Not necessarily because most of the reluctant breastfeeders have the most expensive pumps on the market. They have all the best breastfeeding accessories and seem to flaunt the fact that they DO breastfeed. The only conclusion that I have been able to reach is that they nurse for the glory. I do not understand these mothers at all but they are out there. I do not include women who struggle to breast feed in this category. These glory hounds have breastfed easily and pumped with ease. I am glad for their children’s sake that they chose to breastfeed though whatever their personal motivation. I have found that these type of mothers are the least eager to come and get their children and the ones who most often “need a break” from the demands of motherhood.
Next are the mothers who formula feed their children. With all the evidence that is available today why would anyone choose to give their children second rate food? In my experience it isn’t because these mothers do not love their children just as much as women who joyfully nurse do. I have found that it is a mental and emotional block that they themselves have, a feeling that breasts are sexual and not to be exposed to young children. Along with this feeling there are fears of inadequacy; they won’t have enough milk, the baby won’t eat enough and will starve, their partner will find them unattractive if they breastfeed, and the list goes on and on. All of the formula fed children I have cared for are products of families that have formula fed for the past three generations. It was good enough for their parents and themselves so it’s good enough for their children. To breastfeed would be an unspoken criticism of their mothers and fathers. “Why do you have to breastfeed? You were formula fed and you turned out just fine.” Choosing how you will nourish your child has never been more complicated than in the past 40 years with the resurgence of breastfeeding.
Many breastfeeders I know are first generation breastfeeders. I have been blessed to be a second generation breastfeeder. My mother chose to breastfeed myself and all 7 of my brothers and sisters. I was her first and she fell victim to the classic myth that her milk was no good and stopped breastfeeding after 6 weeks. With my sister she had a friend who saw her struggling once again to breastfeed. Her friend showed her the trick to getting a proper latch and how to keep the baby awake so that she ate. My mother is still a passionate advocate of breastfeeding. I learned from her the joy of watching a mother and child bond together and the closeness that comes from joyfully nursing your newborn. Two of my sisters have children and they too have breastfed their children. For us it wasn’t even a question because of the example our mother had provided for us. We knew that breastfeeding was the best way to feed our babies and that’s what we did. It is my hope that my boys will be supportive and encourage their wives to breastfeed when the time comes for them to have children. It is my fondest hope that we can so normalize breastfeeding that it is the primary way that infants everywhere are fed. There is no shame in feeding a child from a breast. Breastfeeding is not something that is dirty or sexual. It is the way nature intended for us to be fed. So nurse your baby proudly and don’t be afraid to share your love and support for the next generation of breastfeeders.