I used to wonder why anyone would choose to breastfeed her baby over formula feeding. Don't you get the same results? Don't we all turn out okay in the end? Isn't breastfeeding more work? Embarrassing? And kinda weird, like hippie-ish?
When I heard so-and-so breastfeeds her baby, a vision of that person with a baby at her naked chest would immediately pop into my head. Why would anyone want to be pictured that way? At the same time, in the back of my mind I always knew that women are supposed to breastfeed, but only the most determined, strong-minded women were the ones that were doing it.
And then, by the grace of God, I got pregnant, and the question was presented to me. Are you going to breastfeed or formula feed? When I was asked this, I couldn't help but get a feeling that the question was posed more like, You're going to breastfeed, right? or Why wouldn't you breastfeed?
I honestly didn't know anything about the subject, but initially based the decision that I'd try to breastfeed on the idea that it was just the right thing to do. I emphasize the word try because I didn't think I'd be able do it. My plan was to do it a week, say I tried, and switch to formula, just like everyone else. I used to joke that my boobs were so small, they probably wouldn't make any milk anyway. Well, sort of joke. They were really small.
All I ever heard were stories from other new moms who gave up because it was too hard. Things like, it makes your boobs tingle. It hurts your nipples. It makes your uterus contract, like having menstrual cramps, every time you feed. (The uterine contractions were what scared me the most, I'm a huge wuss when it comes to anything that has to do with my period.) Not to mention there were so many other complications to learn about: Do you have to switch sides so your boobs aren't lop-sided? How do you use a breast pump, I've never even seen one? When do you pump and why? How do you know if there's really even milk in there?
Hearing about all the new moms who were defeated by breastfeeding made me lose a lot of confidence in myself; why would I be any different? But it also inspired me and made me want to be different, to be better.
Matt and I went to a breastfeeding class offered by our hospital to get the lowdown on how we were going to pull this off. How to get the baby's mouth on my nipple, make him drink, stuff like that.
We were met by a woman teaching the class who was major advocate for breastfeeding. She used the entire class to explain why breast milk is better than formula. One poor guy in the class asked her what the benefits of formula are, and when he was met with a horrified, evil look, Matt whispered to me, "She's a breastfeeding Nazi." Maybe she was a Nazi, but she said a few things that stuck with me and got me on board the breastfeeding boat.
She gave us a few statistics to start. Breast milk has more than a hundred nutrients that can't be created or found in formula. Formula fed babies have an IQ that's, on average, 11 points lower than breastfed babies. Breastfed babies have much stronger immune systems and get sick a lot less. Breastfed babies' poop doesn't smell as bad because it doesn't have the bacteria that formula does.
She put it all in perspective when she said that giving your baby formula is like giving him McDonald's. Yes, it's food, but it doesn't have the natural nutrients, antibodies to fight bacteria and build immunization and digestible properties of breast milk. A man once used someone's breast milk to clear up his pinkeye. Humans are supposed to drink human milk, not cow's milk. We watched a video showing moms feeding their babies; it was amazing to think I could really try that. I couldn't believe that my future baby would actually agree to suck on my boob.
She said when your baby's first born, you're going to be feeding him every two hours for a few weeks - a lot more than a formula fed baby. You won't succeed in breastfeeding unless you have a strong reason in your heart, a reason so powerful that it pushes you out of bed. This is why most women fail, they don't want it badly enough.
So, what was my motivation? After hearing all those startling stats, I decided didn't want to be one of the failures anymore.
I haven't used formula, but I haven't had to go down into my cold kitchen in the middle of the night to make a bottle, either. I'm not constantly washing and sterilizing bottles. I haven't spent a dime on Carter's food, but his thighs and cheeks get chubbier every day. I don't have to burp him because he's not swallowing air. I don't mind changing his poopy diapers, they hardly smell. To produce milk, my body burns about 500 calories per day. My boobs are bigger than I knew they could possibly get. I haven't gotten my period since before I was pregnant.
As for the nitty gritty ... I don't leak. My nipples have never hurt, and I don't feel my uterus contracting or breasts tingling.
I'm not saying breastfeeding is perfect. I'd love to have an endless supply of milk waiting for me in my refrigerator that I can just grab and go, because going out in public definitely has its limitations now.
It's not fun having to leave the room when I have friends over every time the baby needs to eat. Sometimes I do wish I could have more than one glass of wine or take some Excedrin for a headache. In the beginning, it was stressful trying to help him latch on while he was starving and screaming. Now it feels like second nature.
Now that I've been exclusively breastfeeding for three months, I've been really surprised by a lot of people's naivety on the formula vs. breastmilk subject. I can actually feel people wondering what I'm thinking.
Sometimes we have to turn down invitations to go places because we don't have enough milk stored in the refrigerator. Oh, can't you just give him some formula? No. He's a breastfed baby. Then silence. I can almost hear the wheels turning in their heads: What's wrong with that girl? Formula's not going to kill the baby.
I feel like if I attempt to explain statistics or that breastfeeding is what's in my heart, no one will listen or care. This is what I want for Carter. I can give up taking long trips or going out to dinner when I don't have a bottle pumped if it means supporting what I think is the healthiest decision for my son. He came into this world for me, I do this for him.