Breastfeeding: what boobs were made for, after all…

I had my first dream about breastfeeding last night, and today seems like the right time to finally write this post about breastfeeding I’ve been cooking up for forever.  In the dream, I wasn’t having trouble with the mechanics of breastfeeding; I just kept falling asleep and forgetting to feed the baby for hours at a time.  A touch of anxiety, perhaps? 

A quick disclaimer: this post is about breastfeeding, which seems to have lots of weight and differing opinions surrounding it.  I’m not making any attempt at some major opinion on the subject, just reflecting on my current thoughts and feelings—as someone who has never breastfed (not even as an infantile recipient) but who will be in a matter of weeks.  It has been my experience that oftentimes, when confronted with plans, beliefs, or decisions that are different from our own, we often view those perspectives as calling to challenge our own.  This is not what I’m about, and that’s not what this post is about. 

As my due date gets closer and closer (like six weeks, folks!), I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading about breastfeeding.  At first, I had this assumption that there wasn’t much to consider about it—that it would just happen naturally and we’d go from there.  But then I witnessed someone having contractions for the first time in my life at our homebirth class last week (where we were, incidentally, learning about breastfeeding).  I’m not sure if these were Braxton-Hicks contractions or the real deal, but it later struck me as totally nuts that I’d never seen a woman have a contraction before.  I was only two and a half years old when my one biological sibling was born, so I certainly don’t remember seeing my mother in labor.  By the time I moved in with my aunt, uncle, and cousins, my aunt had already had all of her children.  And for various reasons, I have never been around my cousin-sisters when they’ve been in labor.  In a way, I’ve been sheltered from witnessing the birth experience and my own will be my very first.  This is by no means unusual in our culture, and I’m not really surprised, but I am a little saddened by it.  I imagine, though, that in many other cultures I would most certainly seen at least one woman in labor (probably even deliver) by the ripe age of almost 28.    

In a sense, the same goes for breastfeeding (I know, you weren’t sure if I was going to get back to boobs or not).  Sure, I’ve seen women, including those in my family, breastfeed both in public and in private spaces.  But I haven’t really SEEN them.  Many use blankets or cover-ups, making it totally impossible to see what’s going on.  And even those who do not use any cover are generally discreet enough that to truly witness breastfeeding would involve quite a bit of staring and neck-craning—not typically welcomed, or at least that’s how I imagine it.  Again, in other places in the world, I probably would have grown up seeing women breastfeed up close enough to be able to have confidence that I would know exactly how to do it when the time comes.  I would never have needed to attend a class on breastfeeding, because I would have had years’ worth of seeing it for myself.  Again, that’s fine, and I’m not wishing to be from somewhere else.  I read a blog post on Stand and Deliver about how more public breastfeeding could really help our culture in several ways, and I think she’s onto something.  And here’s a post considering some of the reasons breastfeeding is so unsupported in the United States.    

I find it interesting, too, that I’m much more worried about my ability to breastfeed without issues than in my ability to give birth.  Since way before I became pregnant, I’ve been 100 percent confident in my body’s inherent ability to give birth.  And I used to feel that way about breastfeeding.  But when I read about some of the problems that can disrupt breastfeeding, when I hear about friends having difficulty establishing or maintaining breastfeeding (for whatever reason and to whatever result), and when I have to go to a class to learn the “best” way to start breastfeeding, I realize that, although the desire and intention to breastfeed is inherent in me, the true instinct for actually doing so might not be.  Childbirth is not a learned activity, but breastfeeding is—and it comes with a learning curve. 

That’s not to say that I am not confident that I, ultimately, WILL be able to breastfeed.  I’m just trying to say that I’m learning to adjust my expectations about what that process—getting over the hump of the learning curve—will be like.  And a little adjustment never hurt anyone.  So, if you’re thinking of posting a comment telling me not to worry, I ask you to please not do that.  I think it’s quite fair of me to worry, and I’d rather be real here. 

I DO have plans.  I plan to breastfeed for at least one year, with the expectation that I will continue to breastfeed some beyond that.  How far beyond?  I don’t know…we’ll see when I get there.  My reasons: I firmly believe in all of the health benefits breastfeeding offers both my baby and myself; I greatly look forward to having that bond with my baby (one I didn’t have with my own mother—not that I’m reading too much into that); and I will do my best to never pay for formula when I can make breast milk for free, especially in THIS economy.  There are a number of variables that could impact this plan, and possibly for the worse.  But I’m a planner, and I feel good about this plan.   

 I’ll leave you with these few things that didn’t quite fit into this little breastfeeding essay, but that I wanted to share:

·         I hadn’t given much thought to it before, but after having a conversation with a friend who breastfed, I’ve wondered how I’m going to feel about my breasts as a sexual fixture (TMI?  Too late!) while I’m breastfeeding.  Maybe I’ll be fine with seeing them as serving both functions, but maybe not.  In fact, I even went so far as to ask Trevor how he’s going to feel about “sharing” my breasts with the baby, or even having to relinquish his “stake” in them temporarily.  Fortunately, he’s a good sport, and said he’ll be fine with whatever I need.  We’re called mammals for a reason…and it has nothing to do with foreplay. 

·         Here’s an interesting article from the New York Post about breast milk and milk that has been expressed for bottle feeding.  I’m not sure how I feel about this article.  I’m planning on pumping when I go back to work, because it’s the only way I could possibly continue to breastfeed at all after my maternity leave.  Sure, if we were in the financial position where I did not have to go back to work, I might not find the need for a pump, but it’s the best plan I can come up with.  I’d much prefer to feed my baby expressed breast milk than formula any day, if those are my choices. 

·         And this blog post is about Salma Hayek “cross-nursing” a sick baby in Sierre Leone.  Tres controversial.  I don’t have too much of an opinion on her particular decision—maybe I’d have done the same in that situation.  My book club and I had a discussion sort of about this a while back when we read a book containing a passage where one lactating mother swoops up her friend’s crying baby (in the prolonged absence of the baby’s mother and with nary a bottle in sight) and begins to breastfeed it in a restaurant.  Lots of interesting issues come out of this scenario.  Would I do it?  Probably not, but mostly owing (I assume—I’m not even lactating yet, so I guess I can’t really know at this point) to my fear that my friend would freak out like the mother in the book did when she returned.  Would I cross-nurse a friend’s baby if, for whatever good reason, she asked me to?  Possibly.  Would I be okay if a friend did it with my baby?  I think it would depend on the circumstances.  A healthy friend who I know takes care of herself and her own baby?  Possibly.  In a situation in which my baby is screaming bloody murder and I’ve been careless to forget a bottle (of expressed breast milk of my own)?  Possibly.  Just for kicks?  Um, probably not.  Do I think it’s too much different from sisters or close friends providing expressed breast milk to each other because one is having difficulties with supply?  I’m not sure.  But possibly not.  All interesting shades of gray here, for me.     

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