We Are Both Right

Breastfeeding: First a Choice, Now a Must

When I started off, I never expected to feel so passionate about breastfeeding. In fact, I don’t even remember making a conscious decision to do it.

International Breastfeeding Logo Mothering Magazine  © 1997

International Breastfeeding Logo Mothering Magazine © 1997

The first of my friends to get pregnant and, like my husband, the eldest child of a mother who didn’t nurse, most of the knowledge I gleaned came from books (we didn’t really have good Internets back at the turn of the century). Everything I read did a good job of pretty much bopping you over the head with the message “breast is best,” so I’m sure my thought process was something like — “OK, well breast is best. Best is good. I’ll do that.” I don’t ever remember giving any thought to logistics or if it would be difficult or if I would have any problems. I made the decision to breastfeed, I figured I would breastfeed. Easy peasy right?

Heh. Aren’t first-time parents adorable?

The thing was, not everyone embraced and supported our decision (yes, my husband and I decided together). We got a lot of grief about it, which surprised me. Comments and questions constantly followed me about our choice, some curious and some downright combative — one relative remarked that it just “doesn’t seem natural” to not feed a baby out of a bottle (!) while another predicted I would find the whole process too difficult and give it up rather quickly.

But these dismissive judgments just made me dig my heels in even more. Usually I’m pretty placid and patient about things, but I don’t know, even in my naive new-mommy-to-be state, I somehow sensed that my decision to breastfeed was IMPORTANT and something I should stick to.

And, I quickly learned, it wasn’t easy. Due to some complications on my end, C. was whisked to the NICU within a minute or two of being born. I left the hospital before he did. Not ideal in any situation, but certainly not for an emotional, hormonal new mom who didn’t know how to do much of anything and who was completely overwhelmed by the thought that I was the sole provider of nutrition to this sweet, precious newborn. I quickly learned about the importance of hospital-grade breast pumps and football holds and the value of a Boppy.

Somehow though, we made it through. And for that, every day I am grateful.

As it turns out, breastfeeding is something that I’m awesome at — a marvel to me, a person who normally has absolutely no control over my body.

I cannot catch a ball, nor can I throw one or hit one with a bat (or golf club, or tennis racket). I’m not ashamed to say that I’m the “girl” they are talking about when people make derogatory remarks about someone’s physical ability.  My dancing moves would embarrass Elaine Benes. When I used to wrangle my way out of gym class in high school, my fellow students sighed in relief. I was never able to turn a cartwheel.

Effortless is not a word you would use to describe my bodily prowess. In fact, I think the word I’m looking for is unmitigated.

Basically, any activity that requires my body to take the lead ends badly. Except for this one.

Even with our delayed start, after a bit of a learning curve, C. took to breastfeeding like a champ. And nursing my daughter A. was easy — she latched on as soon as I brought her to my breast, minutes after being born — the ultimate reward after all that laboring. Six years later, when my son S. was born, once more, I was unable to nurse right away (he was a big boy, and they needed to do some blood work to rule out any issues), but once he was cleared to eat, we did just fine.

So, suffice it to say, I am a lactivist. I will encourage every pregnant woman I meet to breastfeed, and I will offer emotional support to anyone who chooses to nurse and has a question. But I’m not one who is shoving facts and studies in statistics down your throat. We’ve all read them, all been exposed to the research (my favorite, in case you were wondering, was a story I read in The New York Times where after reviewing another benefit nursing gave to infants, a doctor was actually quoted as saying, “So for God’s sake, please breast-feed.”) — breastfeeding adds IQ points, lowers risk of SIDS, blah blah blah — yes, these are important, and true, but you don’t need to hear more of that stuff from me.

Because for me, ultimately, breastfeeding was never about the science. There’s a really important factor that scientific research doesn’t account for — one that you will never find in a book or a study or an article in even the most revered journal. Human emotions.

On an acute level, breastfeeding is a very basic relationship between two people and two people alone: mother and child. Deciding to breastfeed, hands downs was one of the smartest, most wonderful decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

There is nothing like the strength of feeling that rushes over you when baby latches on to your breast and begins to suckle for the first time. The sense of calmness that overcomes you as baby drinks the milk that your body so lovingly prepared. No matter how crazy things get when you are caring for an infant, breastfeeding makes you stop. And relax. And focus on one thing. Your baby.

I found that after I nursed my little ones, my head was much clearer and I was a lot more refreshed and energized. And the babies always came away from it relaxed and content as well, always a good thing.

So no, all those years ago, I never expected to be so passionate about breastfeeding. But I feel so blessed that I am.

Suzanne formula-fed both of her kids and her now 8-year-old son is almost as tall as me, so I think she’s doing just fine in the baby-feeding department.

Originally published on October 23, 2010

14 Responses to “Breastfeeding: First a Choice, Now a Must”

  1. nicole rock holtmeyer says:

    Amanda, very well said, I completely know the feeling and could not agree with you more!

    • amanda says:

      Thanks Nicole. I think sometimes if they played up the emotional connection and how good breastfeeding makes you feel, I think more women would consider doing it!

  2. Romy says:

    I am the breastfeeding cheerleader at work. I have a copy of the nursing mother’s handbook that I have passed around to about 10 women in my building and even one guy who brought it home to his wife. I treasure the memories of my alone time nursing with both boys … even at three in the morning. and again at 4. and again at 5. I had hungry ones!

    • amanda says:

      I too will totally encourage someone once I learn they are pregnant in what I hope is a non-obnoxious way! And like you, breastfeeding all of my children make up some of my most precious memories. Was always being the one to wake up tiring? Sure, sometimes, but honestly I truly do miss that bonding, special time!

  3. Kate says:

    Amanda…my sentiments exactly! There’s something just absolutely wonderful about nursing. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    • amanda says:

      I feel so blessed that not only that I was able to breastfeed, but that I decided to do it. Breastfeeding is one of my most absolute favorite things about being a mom. And I know we aren’t the only ones who feel that way!

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