“Are you doing exclusive?”
Its a very simply question on the surface. But its really not as simple as it sounds. I’ll speak about my complicated response (since I try not to ask this question and thus can’t claim to know why people ask). When I hear this question, my mind just starts tumbling over itself. And it’s because I’m torn. Part of me wants to say ‘Yes’. Because I am exclusively breastfeeding and I am proud that I am able to. Another part of me wants acknowledgement of my effort and approval from the person that is asking. And then another part of me wants to be Voltron for other mothers and say ‘No’ to see their response. “So what if I am not exclusively breastfeeding. I dare you to then tell me that I am ruining my children’s lives with formula. Please, look around and tell me which adult persons you can tell were breastfed vs. formula fed. If you can’t tell, then please, keep that opinion to yourself”. But I bite my tongue and try not to prompt them to enter one-chance lol!
Meanwhile, many breastfeeding moms make breastfeeding look so effortless. You see, I never knew breastfeeding was tough. No-one I knew had mentioned it. It just seemed as though you have a baby, and when the baby cries, you just pop a boob into their mouth. Simple. But its far from simple. There are so many articles talking about the benefits of breastfeeding. Yes yes, “Breast is best” but lets talk about a few of the difficulties with breastfeeding because the choice to breastfeed or not is not always so straightforward.
- Babies with bad latches (whether tongue tied or not): While sucking is a reflex, babies don’t automatically know how best to position their mouths and tongues around moms nipple. So a bad latch can lead to sore, painful, peeling, cracked, bleeding nipples which you STILL have to use to feed the children lest they starve (that is if youre exclusively breast feeding)! WHAT?? It’s the mom equivalent of martyrdom. :s
- Delayed let down: So it’s not always so simple. Sometimes, a mothers milk may not come in until a few days after the baby is born. This not only results in a very hungry baby, but can cause frantic suckling which leads to bad latches…and you know what happens next.
- Breast tissue infections – Yes. Infections! Mastitis caused by plugged milk ducts when your baby doesnt latch properly or when bacteria gets into a nipple with broken skin (see above), and yeast infections. The broken skin, naturally occuring yeast and bacteria, constant moisture from milk and body warmth are the perfect conditions for a bacteria/yeast culture partay…though a severely painful fever inducing one. And yes, you still have to use that breast to feed your baby if your ‘doing exclusive’ BUT its not harmful for the baby.
- Depression – According to the NHS, 1 in 10 women suffer from postpartum depression within a year of giving birth and this can make it difficult to connect with and even nurse their newborns. Some women get depressed from breastfeeding and the stress of constantly being ‘on call’ for the childs sole source of nourishment!! Combined with delayed let down and reduced sleep hours, its a lot of pressure! Sheesh! Noone else can share the responsibility with you. You don’t get a break. And even if you choose to express milk so someone else can feed them, you still need to find the time to express! To top it off, many of these moms then feel guilty for feeling stressed as if they are supposed to be able to handle any and everything effortlessly (do I hear ‘Mommy guilt‘?!?). Moms you are super, but superman also had his kryptonite. Its okay to not be good at EVERYTHING.
- Performance anxiety: Yes. Women have this problem too! So its a vicious cycle where the baby cries cos they are not getting enough to eat, and the mom gets stressed and worried that something is wrong with her and her breasts because baby is not getting enough to eat, and she is not good enough (you know the drill) and this reduces her milk supply, and the baby gets even less to eat, and the baby cries more and on and on. So husbands think again before you stress your breastfeeding wife because now you know that stress directly reduces your childs food supply!
We put ourselves and our children at risk when we set inflexible standards for ourselves. If exclusive breastfeeding is not working, its okay you can mix feed (i.e. alternate breastfeeding with formula feeding) or just completely formula feed. There are nourishing alternatives for a reason. And worse, babies have been hurt because parents were too one track minded and/or pressured for too long to keep trying to breastfeed. I am not making it up. Babies have died or are malnourished and left with permanent defects caused by parents trying to ‘force’ breastfeeding.
Now who is with me when I say that those who will never experience YOUR OWN particular situation (and this means nobody else) should not prescribe ‘if’ or ‘for how long’ you should breastfeed? It’s your body after all. You just grew and birthed a child!! Yor body is recovering. You might be starting work. You have other children. You’re not sleeping enough. You’re worrying about your partners wellbeing, etc. Only you understands all these variables. The decision to exclusively breastfeed or not should be yours after weighing all the things peculiar to you. A good answer when people try to ask you how long you will breastfeed for is “As long as I can”. This keeps them guessing, and keeps you from putting yourself on high jump.
These are just some of the battles our supermoms have to deal with. Breast milk is good. Heck its great! But if it aint working, or you dont want to, a well fed baby is what matters. Fed with breast milk or any appropriate nourishing alternative, a full tummy is a full tummy. Fed is best. Period. Whether its day 1 of your child’s life, or 6 months in, or one year in. Remember. Well fed. All. That. Matters. How else should I say this? Are you hearing me?!?!
Meanwhile, my husband should really pay me the equivalent of the formula money I have saved him. It’s not easy.
Photocredit: Lactation 911