We have some sort of Realities of Green Parenting theme going on this week! Check out our earlier posts: Erica Jong’s “Mother Madness”–Is Green Living Imprisoning Mothers and The Truth about Breastfeeding and Survival in Those Early Months.
I don’t write about breastfeeding much on the Green Baby Guide. It’s not that I didn’t breast feed my daughter (I did), or that I don’t think it’s important (I do). It’s just during the early days of motherhood, I felt an enormous pressure to be this perfect breast feeder, and I didn’t want to add to that culture of “breast is best,” which can sometimes translate to “formula is poison.” (A friend of mine was the recipient of that gem.)
But where does this pressure come from? I’ll admit that for me, it came from my own insecurities. Breast feeding came pretty easily to me; I never had problems with latch or thrush or mastitis. But Audrey was not gaining weight as fast as the pediatrician would like, and she recommended supplementing with formula. This made me feel inadequate and conflicted. Everything I’d read suggested that adding formula might turn my baby off breastfeeding forever! It was all or nothing to me in my mind, and I wanted to be one of those people who could brag about my daughter never having a drop of formula (as annoying as I found that competitive impulse).
The pressure also comes from a certain liberal, eco-minded community. In our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, Joy and I debated about how much pro-breastfeeding content we should include. There are whole books dedicated to breastfeeding, so I didn’t feel we should devote too many pages to the practice. Also, how many times can a pregnant woman read “breast milk is the most perfect food for your baby,” “breastfeeding is the greatest gift you can give your baby” before her eyes begin to glaze over? But Joy pointed out that the message was still important. After all, a large percentage of American women do not breast feed. Some are not physically able to, some may choose to bottle feed, and others may have missed the “breast is best” memo altogether.
Really, I just wish I’d given myself more of a break over breastfeeding. While ideally a new mother will enjoy breastfeeding for the nourishment, comfort, and bonding it can provide, I now realize I have mostly negative associations with nursing. I spent a lot of energy agonizing about it, reading about it, and crying about it. These negative feelings formed a thick gray cloud over the first year of my baby’s life.
What I really wanted during that time was not another article about how great breastfeeding is or how a mother suffered from every breastfeeding problem and triumphantly overcame it, but just honest admissions that while breastfeeding is great, it’s not the barometer by which you or others can gauge your worth as a parent. That there’s more to your baby’s first year than what you feed her or how you feed her. And that, years later, as your baby grows older and experiences so much more of the world, it won’t have the looming importance it did in those early days.