Unnecessarily, the decision whether to breastfeed or bottlefeed is a hot-button topic. Culturally, we haven’t handled the topic of breastfeeding very well… Women who can’t breastfeed or who choose not to are made to feel bad or inadequate. Do it for too long or in public, and you’re likely to feel judged, too. … A mom can’t win!
And for working moms, this can be an especially sensitive & downright political topic (tied as it is with issues of adequate maternity leave, the reality of pumping, the reality of working, & the reality that many jobs simply aren’t accommodating to breastfeeding moms). If you work outside the home, there are demands on your time & energy that are unique & that influence decisions on this front.
Up front, I’ll just say that I’m an advocate of breastfeeding & I strongly believe that with the right information more women would be empowered to breastfeed & to breastfeed for longer. That said, it’s also not really my business to pass judgment on whether or for how long you breastfeed your babe. (So if you want to read more about why you should breastfeed, visit La Leche League or Best for Babes… Aside from a few working-student-mom related points based on my own experience, I’m not going to hit you over the head with the reasons why “breast is best.”)
Given the thorny nature of this issue, I really appreciate how API approaches the topic … They frame the topic as “feeding with love,” which encompasses breastfeeding, bottlefeeding & family nutrition generally. Contrary to misguided belief (& I hope a minority belief), it is possible to foster healthy attachment & to not breastfeed or to not exclusively breastfeed. The API’s idea is that “feeding a child … is an act of love” & so long as you feed your child according to his or her needs (& not according to an arbitrary schedule… especially in the early days when “feeding” is as much about emotional & sucking needs as it is about nutritional needs) you are creating a healthy connection with your child.
For my family, this has meant a combination of nursing, bottlefeeding, & now finding nutritious foods to satisfy T’s selective palate (more on that last one in another post). And our experience has so far matched what API suggests — no matter how you do it, when you’re in tune with your child’s needs & feed her accordingly, things will turn out alright. T is attached & we have a great relationship despite the fact that he’s been fed a number of different ways, by different people.
For me breastfeeding was important. I admit I was lucky that I was a student during T’s early nursing days, before the weaning process started (& for me “weaning” means the long process that begins with the introduction of solids… a process that is definitely not over even at almost 27 months). We had a cushy 8 weeks to establish a nursing relationship & after that I was more or less available to nurse on demand. … I had to hole-up at points during the summer job I had after T was born & I had to be in class, but other than that I could take the time to nurse T if he needed it or if there was a shortage of frozen breastmilk. During the early days MFA Dad would bring him to me to nurse or I’d run home to nurse if T was having a challenging day. I was able to more or less fit my work around nursing, and that was truly a luxury.
Of course there were challenges. Despite reading about nursing I had no clue what I was doing. I freaked out before even leaving the hospital because it didn’t seem like my milk had come in & ended up fending off a well-meaning nurse who came at us with an artificial nipple & can of formula — while I knew next to nothing, I did remember reading about nipple confusion in the early days (& thankfully another nurse stepped in to show us how to use a tiny tube to feed T some formula while we waited for the milk to come in). Later, figuring out comfortable positions, dealing with biting, wanting my body back to myself… all the normal challenges presented themselves at various times.
But in the beginning, the biggest challenge was figuring out how to read T’s cues & trusting that he’d communicate his needs to me. I spent about the two weeks documenting every feeding (in true type-A personality fashion). I worried he wasn’t nursing enough or he was nursing too much. Only when I finally gave into the idea that there really was no schedule did I gain the frame of mind that allowed me to figure out how to respond to T’s cues & cries (though if I’m totally honest, I have to admit that I never could tell the difference between types of cries & I continued to second guess myself for a long while). And really, responding to those cues is really what it’s about; whether you breastfeed or bottlefeed that’s our job as moms & it’s in all those countless feedings that we help create a trusting & attached relationship.
And I certainly wasn’t the only one to connect with T through “feeding with love.” MFA Dad used the nursing pillow in the beginning & “bottle nursed” T, snuggled together. Later, the nanny sat with T & his playmate while they had their bottles, holding one of them when she could. … He has developed totally loving & attached relationships with MFA Dad (duh!) & his nanny, in part because they responded to his nutritional & emotional needs through feeding when he was an infant.
Which brings me to another challenge… I was not so lucky in that pumping was usually a painful & frustrating ordeal. Providing milk for those bottles was an onerous task. I massaged, I drank gatorade & tons of water, I took herbs, I ate steel-cut oats, I cried (sometimes over spilled milk & sometimes over the fact that there was no milk to spill). I would not have made it as long as I did without the support of MFA Dad, the other pumping moms I ran into around the pumping room, and a Yahoo! group dedicated to pumping moms (seriously, if you are even thinking about pumping sign up for this group now!). If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t be so afraid to try some formula to make up the difference.
(Warning: Here’s my plug for breastfeeding, for those on the fence…) Honestly, even though breastfeeding is intense & challenging (often, both mentally & physically), it was also the easiest (& shall we say, most frugal) choice I could make as a student & sometimes-working mom. When I was utterly exhausted from a long day of classes, breastfeeding was hands-down the easiest way to reconnect with my son. And when else during law school would I have an excuse for sitting in a rocking chair & doing nothing but relaxing with my baby? When we moved half-way across the country for an internship, I really think nursing helped T adjust to the move & to my new full-time schedule. We often still reconnect & unwind by nursing when I return from work. Oh, and lazy mom’s secret: nothing diffuses a toddler’s intense emotions quite like nursing.
So the take-away: Figure out those cues & respond to them. The rest will work itself out. And please, please (!) don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about your feeding choices.