Heroic Vs. Happy: Notes on Not Breastfeeding

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Lago di Garda, Italy, 2010

As I shuffle around the house fixing things in the kitchen, I can’t help but notice the large sign on the baby-formula can sitting on the counter:

Breastfeeding is best for babies up to two years and beyond.”

And beyond?

Are they crazy? No way am I having a two year-old yanking on my sore boobs for 24 months, AND BEYOND!

I breastfed my firstborn for about 5 months before going back to the office, where it was too much trouble to pump milk every couple of hours while your officemates wait in line for the bathroom.

I remember, shortly after that, watching a local TV show, where some celebrity dad was going on and on about the benefits of breastfeeding. I was like, “Whatever, you don’t know anything about the pain your poor wife is going through”. I guess it’s not something anyone can understand until they have experienced themselves, having the baby attached to them every two hours, the uncomfortable breasts, the fever-like feelings if you are out and miss a feed, the bursting ducts inside, the general pain and discomfort.–Not to mention that you can’t wear normal clothes!

Breastfeeding is really an unselfish thing to do, and of course we know it’s best for our babies, with so many benefits for them. But recently, I’ve realized that there are many things we do unselfishly, just because we are told to, and society expects us to do them.

Breastfeeding is one of those things.

My newborn is only two months old, but since we started her on formula every few feeds (it seemed that my own milk was not filling her up), something else has happened:

I’ve become happier, and so has she.

Today, when I was home alone, she slept a total of seven hours straight, when previously, she’d only sleep for half-hour intervals before wanting to latch on me again. In those seven hours, I painted a giant canvas, ate a decent meal, played with my son, written and edited articles for work and this blog, and relaxed.

I’ve been feeling great.

On the other hand, there is always some sense of guilt—is it okay to do this, just because it makes me feel better? Because I am seeing so many benefits in my own life? Is it right to feel ok about being “normal” again, getting to sleep, being happier, calmer, stronger, less stressed?

If part of the point of breastfeeding is the bonding with baby, then let me say this: the time I do spend with my child now is more relaxing; I enjoy her more; I am bonding better. I am not in pain or discomfort.  I am able to go out without worrying that the errands will take more than two hours, or that I’ll come home sick, or that I’m failing my child by being away.

I know that as parents, we all want the best for our babies. But sometimes, that starts with finding what is best for you.

What makes you happiest as a parent is going to directly influence your child, and your home atmosphere.

If only society didn’t place guilt on mothers who also just want the best for their families. Like having a C-Section as opposed to natural birth; or taking the epidural instead of suffering and martyring through it.

Personal opinion: if you’ve tried and found out that breastfeeding isn’t going so well, it’s okay to relax, try the formula, and see how your life goes.

My eldest son, weaned off my breast at 5 months, is completely healthy and happy three years later. He is scary smart, and multi-talented. I am so proud of him.

It also helps to realize where there should be leeway for personal choice and our own happiness, so that we can move past those feelings of guilt and focus on loving our children, for all their precious childhood years—and beyond!

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Did you stop breastfeeding before six months? If so, what were your feelings when making that decision? Do you think there are other areas where we as parents allow guilt to hold us back from loving life?

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Disclaimer: In writing this, I’m not knocking those who desire to breastfeed their babies for longer, and who have made the personal choice to do so. I applaud them. And I support the government’s efforts to encourage breastfeeding in mothers countrywide. This post is simply for those mothers who could do without the guilt, with knowing that it’s okay to follow your maternal instincts, too. Your body knows best.

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