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mixed messages regarding breastfeeding

1 Feb

I recently had dinner with a wonderful new friend, also a medical student, also a mother of a small child.  After I asked whether or not she or her husband would mind if I whipped out a boob to feed my kid, we briefly got on the topic of breastfeeding.

She had stopped breastfeeding when her child was four weeks old.  She hated breastfeeding.  Her postpartum recovery had been brutal–weeks after delivery, she needed to be picked up after a brief walk to the drugstore, as the strain from the walk had ripped her vaginal lacerations clear open–and she strongly disliked the pain and complications that breastfeeding added.  She absolutely detested the constant feeling of fullness in her breasts.  I don’t remember exactly, but at one point she said something like, “I know, I know, I’m horrible!”

I was so saddened that she was made to feel this way, like it was her obligation as a good mother to breastfeed her child in order to ensure those extra 10 I.Q. points and the other supposed benefits derived from breastfeeding your young (fewer ear infections, allergies, and stomach illnesses, lower rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease).  A few years ago, Hanna Rosin offered this refreshing perspective, which called into question all the benefits as being merely associative, and inconsistent at that.

Recently, I noticed at the end of a yoga babies class (more on this later) that practically every mom was breastfeeding.  Can we say “confounding variable”?  These (or perhaps I should say we) are the women breastfeeding, those of us who have the privilege to not have to be back at work two weeks postpartum, who have the opportunity to socially interact with our infants and read stories and sing songs to them, who can attend a yoga babies class in an affluent suburb.

I kind of hit the jackpot with our 8 lb 3 oz babe born at 39 weeks 6 days who, upon placement on my belly, raked her way to the boob and latched immediately.  Compared to many of new moms I know (some of whom have dealt with MONTHS of their kids not latching properly, mastitis, breast abscess, significant nipple lacerations, and poor milk production), I’ve had it way easy.  But the first four weeks were still tough.  There were a few nights when we couldn’t get it together, and I was literally crying over my screaming, hungry child.  And then there were the couple weeks when her spit-up was purple from the nipple blood she was swallowing.

Right now, I breastfeed for three reasons:

  1. For now, it’s convenient.  I can prop her up on the breastfeeding pillow, wedge her between the table and me, and have both hands available to email or read for a good 15 minutes.  When I’m back in the hospital and needing to break away to pump every few hours, I doubt this point will make the list.
  2. There’s the hope of a thinner self.  I still have 7 lb until I’m at my pre-pregnancy weight; 12 lb to get to my pre-med school weight.  Breastfeeding supposedly helps burn off the calories (she sucks the fat right off), which is especially helpful considering I’m lucky to get 1-2 abbreviated “work-outs” in a week.
  3. I honestly enjoy it, and it seems like she does as well.  It’s hard to explain, because we could certainly have similar bonding through other activities.

I initially had the cost benefit of breastfeeding on the list, because formula is expensive.  However, considering how much more we’re spending on groceries so we have enough healthy produce to satisfy my constant hunger while not negating my weight loss efforts, I doubt very much we’re saving much in that department.

I’m already curious what my preferences will be if we’re lucky enough to have more kids later in my career…