Anyone who spends, oh, I don’t know, maybe 5 minutes with me will find out that I nursed my two children. I’m pretty much a fanatic about it. As a matter of fact, I looked into becoming a lactation consultant, but I don’t think I would be very good at it. Not because of a lack of knowledge, but because I would probably tell my patients that they should put aside their ridiculous excuses and feed the baby. I’m sure I’d get results, but I probably wouldn’t be in high demand.
With the first child I made it until about 15 months, and the second about 18 months. Why is this extraordinary? Because most mothers don’t make it to even 6 months. Oh, everybody tries in the beginning, but most babies are on formula by 6 months (though this statistic is improving). At least most women try. But as Yoda says: Do. Or do not. There is no try.
One year is what we’re “supposed” to do — it provides the best health benefits. However, kids nursed for over one year haven’t been extensively studied. Why? Because, again, hardly anybody makes it that far. You can’t study something that doesn’t happen. So, for all we know, kids nursed for 2 or 3 years might be geniuses who can turn invisible or fly.
In any case, I wanted to make it to one year and I did. A nice, long estrogen break for me, and healthy food for my children. (Who are, by the way, geniuses.)
Now, notice I didn’t say it was easy. I can’t tell you if formula feeding is easier — I don’t know because I didn’t do it. What I do know is that I was desperate, DESPERATE, to breastfeed my children. All the evidence, and I’ll admit it is relatively scant, points to breastfed children being at a lowered risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Why? Good question. We don’t know. Probably because mother’s milk is the most perfect food for her particular baby. Maybe it’s because we evolved this way, so there must be something to it. Maybe it’s because there’s something non-protective about formula feeding. Like I said — we don’t know.
Now I’m going to tell you something about myself that you might not want to know. You can stop reading here, it’s OK. But, seriously, once you go on, there’s no going back.
Nursing was not easy for me because my body is not really built for it. It’s just how it is, how my body is made. One lactation consultant, viewing me topless after I came to her for help, said “Well, it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen.” She was able to help me, in the end. But I’m going to tell you right now, it took determination on my part. I went through 4 lactation consultants before I got the problem solved. (Five actually, but I disliked one so much that I discount her.)
I’m not looking for a reward. I’m certainly not a martyr. So I got to sit on my butt and watch Netflix while my baby nursed. Yes, sometimes it was at 3 in the morning and I had to get up and go to work the next day. At work I went into a little room and pumped milk and cried because I missed my baby and everyone knew what I was doing and I’m sure they talked about me behind my back. And I got full-blown mastitis twice, and narrowly avoided it several other times. My breasts hurt. My back hurt. The pediatrician told me to stop night feeding (I ignored him). Boo-hoo. I pulled up my big-girl panties and fed the baby.
(See why I’d be a horrible lactation consultant?)
I did it because only by virtue of being born with my DNA, my children are at risk for developing IBD. And breastfeeding them is the first and best thing I could do, could think of to do, to try to help them avoid the trap that is lurking in their genes. They probably won’t get it, the odds are actually on our side. But I’m their mother, and I worry about them every second of every day.
And a lot of people will say “oh, it’s OK, as long as your baby is happy and healthy, how does it matter how he is fed?” I think it does matter. I think it does matter greatly. And if I can breastfeed my children, beyond one year, with my physical limitations, with being a colonless wonder, with working full-time, with moving, with one baby being a late-preterm birth, with the family pet becoming ill and dying, with breaking my foot when my second was an infant…..and I could go on. That’s LIFE. Shit happens, but you decide how will you respond. YOU decide what is most important to you. And for me, it wasn’t how much sleep I got, how I looked, whether my friendships suffered, or anything else. It was getting that milk into those babies for as long as I possibly could. Until they lost interest in it, actually, when they became toddlers and could walk and stopped thinking I was their entire world.
So, I don’t have a lot of empathy for giving up. I breastfed my babies. And it was hard. And, ladies, so can you. So can you. So should you.