Without taking any polls or sending out surveys I can make the confident statement that no person has any concept of what they are getting themselves into by becoming a parent.
After a baby enters your world all the sudden phrases float through your head. Phrases like, “Why didn’t anyone tell me it was going to be like this?” “I don’t think I can do this”, “ If I don’t get some sleep my body is going to die.”
Of course the first few months postpartum are a bit hazy but I have clear recollection of many things. Breastfeeding is made out to be such a loving and natural endeavor that both mama and baby slip right into like a leaf floating on a gentle breeze. What a bunch of bullshit.
Even if you and the babe have no issues that make breastfeeding more challenging or an outright impossibility, it’s still incredibly painful and quite awkward in the beginning stages. There is no hope for a stealthy nursing session with your shirt still on and your body modestly covered. The entire shirt comes off in order to see what the hell is going on and there is sweating, lots of sweating. All the sudden being engorged, leaking, cracking, blistering, and bleeding from your nipples are all acceptable side effects. But here’s the thing that struck me hardest of all; you never get a day off, ever.
To breastfeed means you’re on duty 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Are you sick? Oh that’s a bummer; get to work. Do you have mastitis? Must be rough; Push right on through. Are you at work with no place to pump milk? Better find a closet or get cozy in the back of your car.
I became one with the breast-pump because our daughter had wonky mouth anatomy which rendered her incapable of properly drawing milk from me. I hated that pump. I hated all its parts that needed cleaning and sanitizing and I hated having to bring it with me everywhere I went. And what about the logistics involved with keeping milk cool while you’re away from home? Come on.
I was never able to make enough milk even with the assistance of every galactagogue out there. There wasn’t enough fenugreek or brewer’s yeast on the planet to get my milk supply up. Every single drop was a precious commodity. Truly. If one drop was wasted I felt sick to my stomach. My heart, soul, energy, lack of sleep, pain, determination, and maternal instincts went into that liquid gold.
Because I wasn’t able to produce enough milk myself I supplemented breastmilk from a milk donor. This route doesn’t seem to get talked about very often in our society because I imagine people find it strange but think about it. Do you drink cow’s milk? A container of cow’s milk houses milk from several different cows does it not? Remember that phrase “It takes a village”? This is part of why it took a village back in the day.
So I pumped my little heart out and supplemented half the milk supply in order to provide our daughter with breast milk. However, the commitment was intense while working full-time (and bringing her with me to work) and there was also the logistics of picking up the supplemental milk. But above all I felt like if I continued down this road I was going to lose my sanity.
There was no magical connection to the breast pump like there might be if one was actually nursing. I was being milked by a piece of machinery and I was over it. I lasted 6 months. 6 Months! I felt like there should be a parade in my honor or some esteemed ceremony where countless people acknowledge my profound dedication to the cause but no, nothing. I find it absolutely perplexing the things I have been congratulated for in my life by society, but this incredible accomplishment went completely unrecognized. Our daughter didn’t even seem to care.
At the end of weaning I mixed half-breast milk and half-formula for one week and finally I gave her the last bottle of straight breast milk worrying that it could potentially be problematic. Perhaps she would protest and refuse straight formula bottles. She could have cared less. I put an enormous amount of weight on my own shoulders because I wanted the best for our baby. But our baby would have been just fine either way and I could have saved myself time, effort, frustration, pain, and sanity by waving the white flag when I found out she couldn’t nurse. Is she healthier for what I did? Probably. But how will I ever know?
Breastmilk or Formula? Breastmilk is free while formula most certainly is not. But is it free if it costs you your sanity and a pain similar to running your nipples through a cheese grater for 30 minutes a stretch every 2 hours? I’m not so sure. It’s funny and yet completely true. Of course the average woman will acclimate to the “joys” of nursing and things will get better. Nursing will become less painful and potentially enjoyable. Which brings us to the weaning. I was lucky enough to avoid the complexities of weaning but I have heard the horror stories told by countless friends and all I can say is, God speed and good luck to you.
It sounds like I’m advocating for formula here so let me focus on the other side a moment. Formula is a baby’s first processed food. As previously stated it is expensive, especially if you’d like a formula that is not laced with corn syrup or genetically modified ingredients. You blow through canisters of formula like nobody’s business and head off to the store to buy another billion-dollar canister of powder. If breastmilk is a precious commodity then formula is a pure cut illegal drug that people can’t seem to get enough of. Supply and demand people, supply and demand.
Having breastmilk around is definitely to the benefit of any household. It is an age-old cure all for just about 1,000 ailments and it is nature’s most perfect nutrient complete food, so yes, in my opinion breastmilk is the best option but not if it’s at the expense of the woman who is creating it.
Every new mom who nurses, attempts to nurse, or pumps milk has their own set of challenges. I realize there are two camps, the breast milk camp and the formula camp. I was part of both and I would say don’t judge or make assumptions about what someone else is or isn’t doing. Trust that people generally want what is best for their babies. We don’t know everyone’s story at a glance so support your fellow baby producer! We’re all on the same team; the team of sleep-deprived maniacs trying to feed our babies in some form or fashion. Good luck to you all and may the odds be in your favor.