For World Breastfeeding Week, I thought I’d write about choice, and why I promote breastfeeding over formula feeding. It’s not for the reasons you’d think.
The reasons you’d think I’d promote it are the reasons health agencies around the world promote it (http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/breastfeeding/facts/en/index1.html).
- Breastmilk is the ideal food for babies and its components change with the baby’s age and nutritional demands;
- Breastmilk contains antibodies that help protect babies from disease;
- Breastmilk is always available and it’s free!
- Did I mention FREE?
- Breastfeeding is an effective method of birth control in the first six months postpartum;
- Breastfeeding protects mothers by reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes and post-partum depression;
- Adults who were breastfed as infants are less likely to be overweight or obese, and less likely to have type II diabetes themselves.
Those reasons are a big part of why I promote breastfeeding. If a person wants to breastfeed, I’ll pull out all the stops to help her. But the primary reason is not for all those reasons above.
So why do I promote breastfeeding?
Because breastfeeding makes life so much easier for parents!
Now I hear you… breastfeeding comes with a significant learning curve. At the beginning, breastfeeding definitely is not always — or even usually — easy. It can be very hard. For some moms, it can be pretty awful. That’s why it’s important to have excellent support in place to help you through those early days and weeks. Skilled people to help you troubleshoot. I’m talking about the months or even years beyond the learning curve, where breastfeeding shows its true benefits.
I once saw a chart that was very similar to this one. Only the formula line went straight across at ‘5’ and the lines crossed at about 3 weeks instead of 5 weeks. The charts are different because this is a very subjective measurement. But having the lines cross at three weeks… that’s pretty close to my experience with breastfeeding moms. It is hard, at first. And then, most of the time, it really isn’t. Usually, it becomes very, very convenient.
I tell people I breastfed my kids because I’m lazy. And I’m joking, because everyone who knows me knows I’m not lazy. But I am busy. So I’m not a person who loves doing extra dishes, sterilizing things, or spending money on things I don’t have to spend money on. I crave simplicity. The more efficient a thing is, the easier it makes my life, the more I’m a fan. I love systems that work well. And if it’s working well, wow! Breastfeeding is such an efficient system! But the getting there… the getting there can be hard. Getting to the point where you’re browsing around Home Depot while breastfeeding and nobody has a clue you aren’t just holding a sleeping baby. Getting to the point when your baby makes hungry noises in the night and you can latch them on (or they latch themselves!) without you even fully waking up. Getting to the point where you’re out visiting family and you can nurse a babe to sleep wherever you happen to be — in the mall, at a restaurant, wherever — while catching up on the latest news. Nothing to prepare, nothing to sterilize, nothing to warm, nothing extra to carry in the bag, no late night runs to the store for formula, nothing to spend money on…
That’s what I want for you. Yes, I want your child to have fewer illnesses, fewer allergies, lower risk of diabetes, lower risk of adult obesity, and I want you to have lower risk of various cancers and all the other health benefits that make breastmilk a biological marvel. It really is a miracle juice if you look at the science of it. I could geek out on this for hours.
But mostly, I want your life to be more manageable. I want it to be easier. So if you want to breastfeed, we’ll do everything we can to help you get there. We’ll visit you at home, we’ll help you over those initial hurdles, to help you get to ‘easy’. And if after doing your research you decide it’s not for you, we’ll support you in that choice as well. That’s what we do: support your choices.
Which is why, I suppose, I’m writing this: I see women give up breastfeeding, not knowing ‘easy’ is coming. It’s easy to think that breastfeeding in the first month is what breastfeeding is like, forever.
It’s not. Hang in there. Easy is usually coming.
Heather Mason is a midwife at Generations Midwifery Care. Learn more about her here and here.