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Wednesday, May 5, 2010


So you can REALLY Decide

This post is going to be long. Because I really have something to say. (As opposed to all the other times that I just want to say something). Redbook recently published an article called "Breastfeeding Facts: You Decide," seemingly illustrating the pros and cons of breastfeeding. Posing the issue of breastfeeding as one that society supports, but sometimes your body doesn't. Therefore, which side do you take: that of society, or that of your body? This article might as well have been called "Even Though Your Peers Will Pressure You to Think It's Cool to Breastfeed, Think Again--It Can Actually Suck."


I understand the desire to educate women about all aspects of breastfeeding--the benefits, the challenges--and it's important that women who do encounter challenges and who ultimately decide that not breastfeeding is the best choice for their families not be made to feel guilty about their decision.


Posing the question as society vs. your body is misinformed, misdirected, and a mistake.

Breastfeeding is not a trend. It is not like getting the new, hip, off-roading, 4-season stroller and showing it off to your friends to ooh and aah over. It's not an issue that people should be "divided over" as the article puts it. Breastfeeding is:
  1. What women's bodies were made to do. During pregnancy and beyond, our bodies are filled with hormones that fill us with a life force that adapts and changes to our babies' nutritional needs.
  2. How babies are supposed to get their nutrition. It is recommended by the World Health Organization as the exclusive source of nutrition for a baby up to 6 months of age, and recommended along with complementary foods up to age 2 and beyond.
It's a fact. Breastmilk is the best source of nourishment for a baby. Yes, there are other options. No, not everyone can breastfeed. And women should not be made to feel that their children will suffer a long life of malnutrition and obesity if they cannot breastfeed. But why is it constantly posed as an issue up for debate? It's like writing an article about water. Health experts recommend that you drink 6-8 glasses of water a day. We don't debate this. It is not a devisive issue. People who don't drink 6-8 glasses of water are not shunned. Nor do they write articles lashing out at those who do drink the recommended amount of water. Well, health experts recommend that you breastfeed your child. If you decide not to, that's up to you. But it shouldn't be a constant source of debate that divides women into two camps.

The Redbook article actually offends me (as does the article linked to in the first sentence, whose metatags show up as "Stop Breastfeeding" in my browser--but don't even get me started on that one. Although please know that this blog post is also highly impacted by that article as well.) This article is not only posed in a ridiculous manner, it is written with an outwardly negative slant, using strong language that honestly feels a little like a slap in the face:

"It keeps mom hostage"
Seriously? I went out every day during my maternity leave. I knew I didn't need access to bottles or water or a refrigerator, so I felt free to visit friends, go to the park or go out to lunch. I knew that when Baby T was hungry, I could simply put him to the breast no matter where I was. At 2 months old, Baby T got fussy when we were waiting for a table at a restaurant. I put him in my ring sling, latched him onto my breast, and when our names were called, I walked through the restaurant. Baby T was still eating, no one had any idea, and I was seated at my table. At 3 months old, I participated in a protest in the middle of the summer heat, Baby T nursing away in the sling. Not only did I NOT feel like a hostage, I felt like I had freedom to meet with friends, where I had that mama support that I desperately needed during Baby T's first few months, when he was fussy and colicky and I wasn't sure what was normal. Being out with women who understood kept me from getting the blues and helped me realize that everyone goes through the roller coaster that is having a newborn. On the other hand, when I have a nonstop, stressful day at work, I know that I can come home, put up my feet, and take a breather while Baby T and I bond and relax.

"It derails your workday"
Derails? As in a train off the track, laying on its side, passengers flung about? That sounds to me like "There is no possible way you could get any work done if you are a breastfeeding mother. You might as well realize that you just shouldn't go back to work, or else just go to formula so you can get some work done." Yes, I am having to pump 3 times a day during my first year back to work. Some days I could get away with twice a day, and now I'm trying to wean off of the pump entirely. I have a computer and a phone in my pumping room, and answer customer service calls and emails while I pump. But it is also a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of the office and close my eyes for a second and relax. Please find me a new mom who is back to work, running on 2 hours of sleep, and tells you that she doesn't appreciate 3 breaks scheduled into her workday.

"Mom must watch what she eats and drinks"
Oh the horror. Guess what, moms? Now you're responsible for a life other than yourself. You can't just do what you want whenever you want. You can't just go out and pound 6 beers with the girls anymore. If you want to stay up late, lay off the 5 Red Bulls. No more Ambien to help you get to sleep every night, chased by the 3 cups of coffee you're used to in the morning. Guess what? As a mother, I have responsibilities to my child whether or not I'm breastfeeding. I'm not going to go out and pound 6 beers with the girls, because I need to come home and take care of my child. I don't want to take sleeping pills because I need to be able to be wakened when he cries in the night. Your life changes when you have a child. You don't act the way you did in college anymore, when you ate, drank, and did whatever you wanted. This happens whether you're breastfeeding or not.

"It's no magic weight-loss solution"
This is a con? Guess what, ladies? Walking is no magic weight loss solution either. So even though it's good for your heart and gets you up off the couch, there are a lot of other factors that go into determining whether it will actually make you lose weight. So think long and hard before you make that decision to get up and go for a walk.

"It lowers libido"
Gasp. You know what? Since I was 22, my libido has gone up and down. Being on birth control for 12 years didn't help. Coming home after a long day of work, sometimes sex was the last thing on my mind. And after having a baby, I can tell you that the fear of my 2nd degree tear didn't do wonders for my libido. Neither did Baby T's every-20-minute wakeups after 3AM. But some days, for no reason at all, my libido is on high alert. (I'm not really going to elaborate here since both my parents and Big T's read this blog...) But my point is, that there are so many factors affecting a woman's libido throughout her life. Can this really be used as a make it or break it factor in deciding whether to breastfeed?

"It can be extremely painful"
Back to the libido thing, so can sex after childbirth (be painful). For a very. long. time. But things heal, you take it day by day, and you get over it.  I am sure that there are women who never have sex again after having a baby, but I am also assuming that that number is very, very, very small. Yet, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 70% of new mothers initiate breastfeeding, 36% are breastfeeding at 6 months, 17% are breastfeeding at 12 months. If only 17% of women ended up continuing to have sex 12 months post partum, because it hurt too much, I can guarantee you that the divorce rate in this country would be sky high.

There can be challenges that come with breastfeeding. Just as there are challenges inherent in parenting. Just as there are challenges inherent in life. It's part of living and learning. Why do we have to be so judgemental in our debates? Why is the subject of breastfeeding so often framed as an opposition? As women, we shouldn't take sides on this issue. We should support the decisions made by educated mothers in preserving the health and happiness of their babies and families. This should include education and support from other mothers to get through the challenges of breastfeeding. Let's try to raise the breastfeeding rates in our country. Let's try to help each other get through it instead of framing it as an "us and them" scenario to lure people to our side. If there are no sides to take and no name-calling and ridicule, just healthy support and discussion, maybe more women would breastfeed. But if the challenges are too great for some women, let's embrace them and empathize with them instead of judging and criticizing. And then--because women need the support of other women to live and learn--maybe we can feel like one community of moms helping each other instead of two camps lashing out at each other.

Redbook, I'm honestly ashamed for you. And embarrassed that as a magazine for women, you are helping to create a divide between them instead of creating a global support system that is so important.


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