The Myth Of “Because You Love Breast Feeding”

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The other day a (male) friend and I were talking when he commented on my breastfeeding blog. At first I wasn’t sure what he was referring to, until I realised he meant this blog. I was a bit confused, but then realised that I do talk about breastfeeding quite a bit, don’t I, so I must love it.

Here I am, mother to a 20-month old and still breastfeeding. I must love it, right?

I advocate for breastfeeding. I try to encourage others to breastfeed. I’ve said nasty things about formula companies. Which must be because I love breastfeeding, right?

And it’s easy for me to love breastfeeding, because my daughter latched on immediately, fed like a star from the start, we co-sleep so I had plenty of sleep in the beginning, I didn’t have cracked or bleeding nipples, I had a perfect home water birth  with almost no recovery time, and didn’t even have the 3rd day baby blues. I was all awash with hormones and everything was great. No wonder I love breastfeeding, right?

Vigeland Statue in Oslo, NorwayWell, erm. No.

While absolutely all of the above is true, that’s not why I love breastfeeding. And it hasn’t been easy all the way. At 18 months, for example, I was seriously considering giving up. I was in so much pain and my daughter was feeding so often, I started feeling like a prisoner. She’d wake up a few times a night and latch on and presumably stay there (I’m asleep, I don’t really know). I presume so, because my nipples started feeling partially digested. Like what happens to meat when you marinade it in coke.

There have been times when I simply no longer feel like it. I don’t want to be the only person who can give her milk (I express fine, and plenty. But she wont drink it by bottle or cup. Boob only for Ameli.)

There have been times when I’ve been entirely ‘touched out’. You know – when carrying her around all day (which normally coincides with an increase in nursing frequency, probably due to illness or some developmental spurt) and breastfeeding a few times a day and a large part of the night, have simply meant I cannot bare being touched, clambered over and clung to. By anyone.

There have been times that I’ve wondered if it’s due to the nursing that she’s so attached to me – again at 18 months, I couldn’t leave the room without her crying (which may also have been down to moving countries and leaving every relative and friend she knew behind, and I know she missed them.)

There have been times I’ve wanted to run screaming for the hills.

Times I’ve considered giving her a dummy in case it was teething pain causing the excessive need to suckle. Or just to soothe her.

Times I’ve just plainly and simply had enough.

BUT.

And it’s a big but.

I have no doubt that I’m doing the right thing for her.

I may not have felt the beautiful rush of emotion, the need to lie awake staring at her at 3am like I used to, or the overwhelming wow-ness of it all in some time, but I know I’m doing the right thing for her.

I know about the health benefits. I know about the emotional benefits. I know about her immune system. I know the savings to my family now, and in healthcare in the future. I know I’m giving her brain food. I know that breastmilk has incredible healing properties. I know it’s the right thing to do.

And like that song that says Love is not a feeling, it’s an act of your will, it’s devotion not emotion and it truly will fulfil, love in this instance can be substituted for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding beyond infancy is not about the feeling. It’s an act of will. It’s being devoted to doing so, rather than doing it for the emotion, or the kudos (there aren’t many!) of it – because sometimes that emotion can be a very negative one – and it truly will fulfil. I see that fulfilment as reaching my “target” of two years.

And the bad does get better. Sometimes you need professional help, sometimes just a bit of a break, but every bad thing does pass. (If I was to quit at 18 months, the guilt and sense of failure – for not meeting my own target – would have stayed with me much longer than the month or so that it was a real trial for.)

Added to which, I don’t know how I could wean her if I tried. It would involve many tears – for both of us.

So yes. I do love breastfeeding, but not because it’s easy, not because it’s simpler, not because it saves me money, not because it’s building my child’s immunity, not because it makes me a better mother, not because it makes me better than any other mother and not so that I can wear it as a badge of achievement but because I know the power of breast milk, and I know the value of the gift I’m giving my daughter.

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22 thoughts on “The Myth Of “Because You Love Breast Feeding”

  1. Thanks for your comment Nikki! It’s always nice to know we’re not alone, in the good bits as well as the bad bits! The good news is, it really does pass, and soon you’ll be grateful that you stuck it out 🙂

  2. Nikki Gibson

    I am so glad I stumbled across this as so much of it rang true! I have felt like a freak for thinking “everyone back off, get off me and do NOT touch me!” during periods of excessive feeding. I have felt tearful over the responsibility of being the only one my baby girl can get nourishment from and then resentment when my well meaning husband suggests he tries her with a bottle to give me a break. There have been times that I have guiltily admitted to myself that for that period of time I haven’t been ENJOYING breastfeeding and I have mentally beat myself up for thinking it when my baby girl so obviously loves me for doing it. But my baby IS still a baby (seven months old) and just like my three year old daughter, who breastfed until 14 months, she is shaping up to have an amazing immune system. Their bottle fed friends are constantly riddled with coughs, colds, chest or ear infections and tonsillitis but I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times my three year old has been to the doctors and my youngest (touch wood) has yet to have to visit a doctor for anything other than her standard baby checks. Their granddad is currently in hospital with pneumonia but despite seeing him every day before realising he was ill (thought he had pulled a muscle in his chest until his breathing got difficult) yet (again touch wood) they are in perfect health. This combined with the fact that even strangers see the way my baby looks at me and tell me “oh she is all about her mummy isn’t she!” means that I will take a deep breath and persevere through the times of stress and doubt, knowing that I would feel a damn site worse if I threw in the towel now. Sorry for the longwinded comment but it just feels so good to see how I feel written down instead of hidden in the darkest corners or my mind! 🙂

  3. I stubbled into extended breastfeeding more by not wanting to force my child to stop than anything else. It’s mostly been a good experienc (with low points too obviously).I do think it worth doing and with another child I would set out to do extended breastfeeding rather just falling into it.
    Erica Price’s last blog post ..Family Meal Planning and My Cookbook

  4. Lauren

    This is my story EXACTLY. And I love it. Very well said 🙂

  5. @Isil, thank you and thanks for commenting 🙂

  6. @Delena Silverfox, Oh Delena – I was thinking of you this afternoon when I was cleaning my kitchen with lavender and bicarb 😉

    I am so sorry to hear you’ve been going through such a hard time, and I’m so grateful that you took time out to comment so beautifully.

    I take so much comfort from what you said – but in a couple years she’s going to be so confident and secure in her relationship with you it’ll be amazing – because mother to daughter relationships in our family line aren’t exactly strong or enviable. It has always been my fear in having a daughter, but it is my hope that our choices in parenting will break that cycle, and you have given me hope.

    I wish we lived nearer each other (the same continent would be a good start). I’d love to just help you out and give you the biggest hug.

    Thanks so much for your open and honest comment.

  7. I am breastfeeding my almost 1.5 year old, and I don’t find it hard at all. (OK, I still nurse at night, that stinks, but I could stop it if I wanted.) In fact, breastfeeding allows me to actually sit down and relax. In the beginning, with both kids (my oldest was BF until a month before she turned three), I needed a lactation nurse, but after that, it was smooth sailing. My husband is very supportive. I did face some, “isn’t it time to quit?” questions from family (my non bfing sister and mom), but gradually they stopped. I do have a friend who quit bfing her 4th child at 6 months because it was too hard. I don’t know if it was because she was on the go and it was easier to give him a bottle while she drove (who knows right?) or maybe she wasn’t comfortable feeding out in public. (Me, I feed everywhere, without a cover. A cover seems like something else I have to carry around. I don’t wave my breasts in the air, I am discreet. I am lucky I live in a state where there is a law that protects my right to nurse anywhere.) I am probably the only person I know that bfs for the long haul. Some friends do it for a but, some try and can’t make it work, some don’t even try. That bothers me. But, who am I to judge? I try not too. And I try not to feel superior that I breastfeed or had a home birth. It isn’t for everyone. But, just knowing the benefits of breastfeeding, I wish every woman did it. Ecological, economical, makes the kiddies smarter.

    And attachment parenting… While that is a lot of work, my oldest is confident, well spoken, all around her own person. I attribute it a lot to AP. We’ll see when #2 gets a little older….. She is certainly her own person already.

    Thanks for the post and the lively debate!
    georgine’s last blog post ..Where O Where Has the Nice Weather Gone

  8. Fi

    Hooray! I’m glad you see it as not attacking as debate! So many get offended by my opinion on this very important subject. I’m glad you saw it as debate not attack! (I’m not an attacker- I’m a teeny 5ft!)

  9. Oi vey.

    Hi Luschka. =) Sorry for being away for so long. Maybe that’s part of the great example of just how NOT easy it is. I’m a single parent 5 days out of every week, trying to keep passing grades in school, bring in enough income with my freelance writing job to *not* lose our apartment, keep a very attached baby happy, maintain the housework, and if I get a shower twice a week, then it’s a good week. I don’t have friends who drop by to help, either.

    You’re absolutely right, dear. It’s not easy, not by a long shot. And I was one of those young mothers that had no education (definitely nowhere near what I had this time around), no support, plenty of sabotage, a huge load of baggage trying to get over emotional, physical, and sexual abuse while raising a newborn a thousand miles away from anyone I knew while my husband (now ex) worked double shifts to avoid me.

    Oh, it wasn’t easy then, either. The only thing I had was the knowledge that my own mother breastfed me until I was 18 months old, and so it was just something I knew –like I knew the sky was blue– that I would breastfeed. I didn’t know how, we learned by ourselves, and it was just as tough back then as it is now, even with all the education and emotional support I have now.

    You say you feel like a prisoner sometimes; I say I feel like a hostage, and it’s the same meaning. There are some days when I have to plop Lina down onto the floor and walk away no matter how she cries because at that moment, throwing myself out the window feels more appealing than being crawled all over for one more minute. She’s a boob-only baby, too. No way a bottle or pacifier is going into her mouth, no way! She won’t even allow me to express; her father has to take her away to another room screaming.

    I’m a Psychology major in school, and we studied a LOT about parenting styles and bonding and attachment in infants. Screaming when you leave the room –or when she does– while physically dependent upon you is a healthy sign she’s developing a secure attachment. She’s wildly dependent now, and shows extreme distress when removed from mama, but in a couple years she’s going to be so confident and secure in her relationship with you it’ll be amazing. Intellectually, I take comfort knowing that I’m raising my baby exactly how she needs; emotionally, it doesn’t help while in the middle of such Olympiad-like challenges.

    What gets me through the weeks of crazy-making difficulty are the moments –yes, brief moments– when I do still stare at her in wonder, when the miracle of her takes my breath away. Many days I feel like an absolute failure because the “only” thing I seem to be good at these days is keeping a baby happy; I’m drowning in everything else, and my poor boyfriend struggles on his own to keep a roof over our head. I do a lot of crying because there’s nothing else to do.

    But in the long run, Lina is going to be this small only once, and for such a brief, brief time. I’ll never forgive myself if I waste it getting too caught up in problems that will be there after she grows a bit more. I owe it to her to give her what I have, what she needs, and what makes her happy, healthy, and secure.
    Delena Silverfox’s last blog post ..HUGS!

  10. @Fi, oh, no 🙂 I didn’t feel attacked! Don’t worry (adding many smiley faces here) It’s nice to have a debate, but hard to do without body language, on what’s already an emotive subject.

    Statistically, there are few who ‘can’t’ breastfeed. 3-5% depending on whose stats you listen to. Which, I suppose in a world of billions, does add up to millions, but many MORE millions can. Of those many choose not to.

    CHOOSING not to breastfeed is – to my mind – a seperate issue as CHOOSING not to breastfeed won’t change with any amount of support, as you say.

    WANTING to breastfeed, and not HAVING support can lead women to choosing not to breastfeed, and that I don’t see as a real choice, rather as society/medical staff etc etc, failing women.

    Thanks for congratulating me on 20 months. It does mean a lot. Not in a ‘badge of honour’ way, but I do find that people can be so dismissive with their ‘but it must have been easy for you’ comments.

    I’m sure you had some of that with your homebirth – of course you say it’s wonderful, cause it was easy for you, it worked for you – As someone who went through 48 hours of labour, I personally find ‘but it was easy for you’ rather annoying! 😀

    I guess what I’m getting at is that putting in the hard work, the effort, the tears, the grind in every other aspect of life is seen as ‘nothing good comes for free’, yet in birth/breastfeeding (probably other aspects of child rearing I’ve not come across yet) putting in the effort and downright hard work that goes into it, aren’t given that same credit.

    Does that make sense?

  11. Fi

    I think you’re getting the impression I’m attacking but I’m not.

    I understand what you’re post is about which is why my comment started with congratulations on your achievement.

    I was merely trying to show you that despite support, help, love and care many women still choose not to breastfeed. Many can’t breastfeed.

    It was a point not an attack on your post and I’m sorry if you feel it was.

  12. @Fi, Oh, and about choice – I’ve always and openly said that if someone chooses not to breastfeed, that’s their choice – it makes no sense to me, i don’t understand it, but it’s their choice and up to them.

    What I advocate for – breastapo, if you wish – is those who WANT to breastfeed but aren’t supported, or are lied to, given bad information, or simply left to figure it out for themselves.

    I have no problem with choice, and that’s not what this post was about. Writing about BREASTFEEDING isn’t an accusation towards those who didn’t.

  13. @Fi, I don’t disagree with any of that, Fi. I never have. This article wasn’t about breast vs bottle or breast is best or anyone being made to feel anything for their choices.

    In fact, just as so many people get ‘bullied’ into breastfeeding, just as many are ‘bullied’ into stopping.

    My point in writing this is to highlight the fact that people say to me “obviously you’re a homebirth advocate/bresatfeeding advocate, it was easy for you”. It WAS NOT/IS NOT easy for me. It took work, and it took determination, and it took effort.

    This post doesn’t say anything about people who choose not to breastfeed. It talks about the fact that those who choose to do so, and do so ‘full term’ aren’t necessarily doing so because it was ‘easy’ for them.

  14. Fi

    Hi,

    I think I didn’t make my point clear- what I mean when saying ‘opposite effect’ is a failing to thrive baby (poor milk supply) depressed mum, and PND aggravated by a feeling of guilt.

    It’s not as easy as ‘support and No support’

    I’ve been doing this job for almost 20 years and I couldn’t breastfeed my first after 6 weeks. I’m trained in breastfeeding support.

    I think it’s very easy to just say ‘oh with support it’s easier and just keep trying’ like so many do.

    What if you don’t want to? Surely it’s about choice as with labour with pregnancy with anything in life?

    What about women who can’t feed for medical reasons? For physiological problems?

    Breastfeeding isn’t black and White – it’s not right or wrong either.

    Bottle fed babies thrive just as well, bond just as well and I have plenty of evidence (as do leading scientists) to back this up.

    I’m not denying breastmilk is best for babies in the first 6 months but I think breastfeeding is a matter of choice- nit flipping life and death as do many breastapo members make out!

  15. @Fi, Thanks for taking the time to comment Fi. I agree that breastfeeding is a choice – I’ve never said otherwise. I disagree that breastfeeding not working is the ‘opposite’ as you say. The nutrition, cost, health, and ease of established breastfeeding (which this post refers to) remain the same, whether people choose to use it or not. Breastfeeding ‘not working’ doesn’t change the facts around it. Choosing not to breastfeed doesn’t change the facts about it either.

    However, as you say, when a mother is not in an emotional or physical state to breastfeed, the problem, again, is RARELY breastfeeding ITSELF, but the SUPPORT that breastfeeding requires. It’s VERY hard to breastfeed when you’re doing it alone. For successful breastfeeding women need any one or more of the following: a supportive spouse/partner, an informative and helpful health care professional, someone who has breastfed that can physically help them, friends around to help around the house/with other children – support, support, support.

    (As someone who has never bottle fed, I really also don’t understand how NOT breastfeeding can be a solution to being tired and stressed out? What with the not having to prepare anything, not having to remember to carry things around, not having to get up to feed, and the ‘feel good’ hormone release that comes with breastfeeding. Not being fascitious here – I really don’t understand how bottle feeding can improve feeling tired and stressed?)

    When breastfeeding ‘doesn’t work’ it’s rarely the woman’s doing. More often than not, it’s the support that she needs that’s simply not in place.

    Compare it to gardening – if you keep sowing seeds and tending plants that drown, dry out, get eaten by birds etc etc etc it becomes demoralising, and becomes easier and better to just buy your vegetables. But, if it ‘works’ – with help from the garden centre, books, a friend who knows how, the previous experience of someone else – and your garden produces fruit, that becomes the much simpler, easier, preferable choice. And once your garden is established, it’s much easier to keep it going.

    It’s the same with breastfeeding (remember I am talking about extended breastfeeding in this article and not once criticize anyone for not breastfeeding). It’s damn hard to start with (I had amazing support) if you don’t have support. But even so, it’s never easy. But breastfeeding, and especially extended breastfeeding IS an act of will, a determination, and a choice.

  16. @Gwen, Well done Gwen. I agree – it’s not about making a point, but at this stage, it’s actually the easier of the options open to me! Why would I give up something that’s ‘easier’ for anything else. Thanks for commenting!

  17. Gwen

    So true! I feel the same about bf my 19 month ds, some people think I’m doing it to make a point but I just do it because he clearly still wants and needs it, and I want to everything I can for him.

  18. Fi

    That’s great that you like breastfeeding, that you still like breastfeeding and it worked for you but for thousands of women that’s not the story.

    Breast isn’t always best. While as a professional nursery nurse with two diplomas and a degree I’d argue of course breast milk is best, a happy, healthy mum thst is in good mind to care for her baby far outweighs all of that.

    I get over 50 emails a week from very tired and stressed mums and half of those emails are from mums who quite frankly bullied into doing something they don’t want to do.

    Breastfeeding is all the things you say it is- when it works. When it doesn’t it’s completely the opposite.

    I’m so happy thst you’ve had a positive experience, I wish everybody could, but they don’t and it’s not a simple lazy theory or selfish reason mums give up feeding or don’t want to- it’s their choice.

    Your body, your baby, your choice.

    Repect those that can, don’t judge those that can’t.

    Thanks for sharing your positive experience.

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