Before I had a baby, I thought all those people who said they’d breastfeed and then didn’t were wimps. I hated the idea of breastfeeding but was determined to persevere.
A few days into breastfeeding Louisette I thought all was well (had an 100% natural birth and immediate skin-to-skin contact including an hour of suckling), and was shocked to discover she was badly dehydrated because I didn’t produce enough milk. I combination fed from then on, and tried everything to increase my milk supply so I could breastfeed exclusively (I was on two types of meds – including side effects – and was artificially expressing exactly halfway between rigid 3-hourly feeds for weeks – meaning I couldn’t nap during the day, and could barely leave the house – and often had to pump with my baby screaming to be held because I couldn’t fit her and the pump on my lap at the same time). Nothing helped, and at 3 months she refused to breastfeed any more.
I’m still grateful for that refusal, and promised myself that if there were issues with breastfeeding the next baby, I’d just accept it and move on. (I felt a lot better about the whole experience when I was reading history books and found out that many babies died in the Victorian Era because their mums didn’t produce enough milk either – I’d thought my lack of milk was either my fault or the fault of modern society. Nope.)
TJ was and is terrible at feeding (worse than the usual somewhat-unco newborn despite his strengths in other areas), and it was immediately clear that even my pre-milk was unusually low (a midwife had a good go at my breasts, hoping to syringe the results into his mouth – she had a vigorous squeeze and got nothing). A few times among my many attempts at breastfeeding in those early days, we had a “good” feed – five minutes on and off. He was in danger of a blood sugar plunge because of my gestational diabetes, so after three failed feed attempts in a row I gave him a bottle, knowing it was likely to cause him to refuse the breast – which he did less than two weeks later. Seven weeks in, I’m still surprised and delighted to be off the hook.
I think most people are aware that breast is best for a million reasons, including benefits for the mum (faster weight loss and less breast cancer, to name two personal favourites). But mums – especially new mums – need to look after themselves AND their babies, or everyone loses. Metaphorically, a mum needs to put on her own oxygen mask before the oxygen mask of her child – because a mum who can’t breathe is no good to anyone. And also because we deserve to be looked after in our own right.
Despite all the myriad benefits of breastfeeding, it’s impossible to tell if a person has been breastfed or not. . . so after all the emotional arguments and general hysteria, does it REALLY matter?
Also, since we’re in disclaimer-town, let’s be clear: Anyone who ever makes a woman feel uncomfortable for breastfeeding absolutely anywhere, anytime is an arsehole of the first order. Babies need to eat, and they need to eat on THEIR terms – often uncovered, often on and off the nipple, and all too often in the unexpected RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. Mothers deserve to leave the house, and to stay in the public space anytime they feel like it. Babies are inconvenient. . . and that’s just the way it is.
So, because I believe in both honesty and reality, here are my top ten reasons not to breastfeed:
1. Because dummies.
We all have our “thing” that we do for comfort – eat chocolate, secretly watch “The Bachelor”, online shopping, scrapbooking. . . babies suckle. It’s their #1 form of comfort in a terrifying world. Imagine not being able to understand anyone, or make yourself understood – or even control your own limbs. Even babies get frustrated! Dummies aren’t recommended for at least six weeks while breastfeeding. . . but if your baby is on the bottle, it’s A-OK. For this reason, TJ has cried less than half as much as Louisette, which is better for everyone.
2. Because there is more than one carer.
Anyone can bottle feed, but only Mum can breast feed. Every time Louisette cried, whoever was holding her immediately assured me that she needed a feed, and if it had only been a few minutes, well, “She must be cluster feeding”. Guess how many times someone’s pulled that one on me with TJ? Once. And it was actually a question – “Does he need a feed?” They immediately accepted my negative answer, and soon the little man fell asleep. Because he was tired, not hungry. And if he DID need a bottle, someone other than me was perfectly capable of bothering to go fetch it – so they didn’t. And so I finished whatever I was doing, thanks very much, and the baby didn’t end up taking only 20mL of milk and ruining his appetite the next time he actually needed a feed.
Some mums like continuing to be the centre of their baby’s world post-pregnancy, with anyone else a dim satellite on the edges. Not me.
With a bottle, you know exactly how well your kid is feeding. It’s a huge relief – and a fast way of knowing when something’s wrong. (Best not to think about how much he/she spits up; it really doesn’t seem to matter.) The instant we gave TJ a bottle, we were allowed home from hospital; he was out of danger. Our kids gain weight slowly – but that’s fine, because we know just how much they’re drinking at every single feed.
When Louisette was a week old, I had a small but instructive psychotic break due to broken sleep. Luckily she was already partly on bottles, so I wisely had CJ take the next feed and I was mostly okay from then on (with a notable exception while travelling, when I had large-scale hallucinations for three days – the whole world was gently sloshing about all day, every day, and when I lay down I felt like I needed to hold on).
In the early days, breastfeeding usually takes 1-2 hours per feed, every three hours or more (counted from the beginning of the feed, which means you may have just one hour between feeds). There is only one thing more fascinating to new parents than poop, and that’s sleep. It all makes sense when you do the maths.
When you are young, you can stay awake for 48 hours and you’ll be more tired than you’ve ever experienced in your life. Then you sleep 24 hours and all’s well. When you have a baby, you do the same thing, but instead of sleeping 24 hours you only get 1-2 hours of sleep at a time for at least another six weeks (at which point, if you’re lucky, you get four hours at a time once or twice a week).
Sleep deprivation is an internationally recognised form of torture for a reason. You can literally die from it (that’s ACTUALLY literally). If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, that’s it. Too bad for you. If you’re bottle feeding, you can skip a feed. Or a day of feeds. You can even do what CJ and I did when TJ was a week old, and hire a babysitter for six hours during the day, just so you can both sleep. This has an ENORMOUS effect on your physical and mental health.
Pretty much everyone who breastfeeds will end up breastfeeding on the toilet – sometimes because you simply have to go (probably in an unpleasant way, too – yet another perk of being the child-bearer), and sometimes because you’re on the move and it seems like sitting on the lid in a toilet stall for up to an hour is your best option to avoid social complexities (see, “Anyone who ever makes a woman feel uncomfortable for breastfeeding absolutely anywhere, anytime is an arsehole of the first order” above – unfortunately, the world is not short on arseholes and/or people who are simply terribly awkward about boobs, as I try hard not to be). If you’re bottle feeding, no-one gives you trouble for daring to leave the house – and if you’re sick, you can call any idiot to take over feeds while you do what you have to do.
I was running errands the other day and had a time gap between two jobs, during which I sat in a fast food carpark and ate chips. It was glorious. That was when I realised that I need to be physically separated from the kids to relax (classic motherhood, and another reason to “accidentally” kick CJ in his oh so peaceful sleep). Because I bottlefeed, I can take real time out when I need to – which is hugely important in a job that’s 24/7 for eighteen years. AND I can actually talk to my husband without being interrupted, if I have some cash and/or a good friend to mind the kids for us.
Marriages take a severe beating as life changes drastically, gender advantages become painfully apparent (in order to produce two kids, my husband had a bunch of sex. . . and I have been in pain more often than not since the day Louisette was conceived. It looks like I also have three chronic medical conditions per pregnancy, at least half of them permanent), and no-one is sleeping or thinking straight. With bottles, we can briefly see each other as humans rather than the bizarre creatures we’ve become. We can even send the kids elsewhere and do married-people type stuff without the constant fear of interruption. And that kind of activity is extremely good for one’s health, happiness, marriage, and general cheerful smugness.
Breastfeeding hurts. A lot. During the first six weeks, pretty much everyone will have bleeding nipples just because they’re constantly at work (not to mention the pain of engorgement when milk “comes in” 3-4 days after birth – that can’t be helped, I’m afraid). The average new mum will have a sore back for three months. . . and the contortions one gets into (and stays in, because you gotta) for feeding are not helpful. There are loads of common extra problems, including blocked milk ducts, mastitis, and problems due to poor attachment (babies are born with sucking instincts, but that doesn’t get you too far). For many women, the body’s production of milk hurts every time for as long as they breastfeed – meaning plenty of pain between feeds – and pretty much every baby will bite his/her mum as soon as teeth come through, often breaking the skin (baby teeth are seriously sharp; even worse than lego). This often leaves open wounds – but of course the baby still needs to feed. Oh, and babies soon learn to love looking around a room while breastfeeding – pulling one’s nipple with them. Youch.
Bonding over a feed is very special, but it’s a whole lot easier when the kid isn’t physically hurting you with every swallow.
Oh, and unexpected leaking happens when you breastfeed – wetting the only clean shirt that fits, and/or enlivening trips to the supermarket. Woot.
Want to go back to work? Want to let your husband be a stay-at-home Dad? It’s a LOT easier to mix a bottle of formula than constantly pump breast milk for later delivery.
My body is mine (allegedly), and although I’ve had about forty medical people get extremely familiar with my private parts (yes, I lay awake one night and counted) in order to produce two kids, when it comes to breastfeeding I finally have a choice. Do I want to continue to deal with constantly being pawed/hurt/ogled?
Gee, I wonder!
Here’s what breastfeeding is like in the early days (it gets quicker and less routinely painful with time, so let’s say this is normal for three months) – I won’t ask you to actually do this, because WHY WOULD YOU???
Set an alarm for every three hours. Double the volume from your usual style, and choose something piercing if possible. When the alarm goes off go you have two minutes to prepare (toilet trips, snacks, etc), and you can’t turn the alarm off until you’re settled in place for the “feed”.
Sit in a chair with one elbow raised (you can have a cushion if it’s within arm’s reach when you sit – you are not allowed to get up and fetch anything; even a newborn is heavy when you’ve recently given birth). Tuck up or open your shirt and bra, regardless of who is present, and flick each nipple for five minutes, then punch your breasts once each every five minutes for one hour.
Roll a dice at twenty minutes and again at forty minutes. If you roll a 1, pour 20mL of milk onto your shirt. If you roll a 6, pour 30mL of milk into your shirt, pants, and hair – making sure to also soak your bra. Remember not to do anything about it (except possibly squirm out of the clothes – or change your shirt, if you have a spare within arm’s reach – along with drinks, food, TV remotes, books, your phone, a pen, tissues, a bin, and so on). If you change into your last fresh shirt and then roll another 1 or 6 – sorry.
During this three-month period, you are only allowed to wear two of your bras, three of your shirts (at least one must be desperately ugly), and two pairs of jeans/pants/skirts. The rest don’t fit and might never fit again. Congratulations.
Whatever path you take, it won’t last forever, and it quickly won’t matter to you or your bundle of poop. Joy. Bundle of JOY, dagnammit.
Aaaand, it’s time for another disclaimer, this time in picture form.
Despite all the crap (literal and figurative) of motherhood, I know how lucky I am. Just don’t make me try breastfeeding again.