Friday, March 26, 2010

Breastfeeding with an Awkward Segue into Judgey Parenting

Recently two pregnant friends of mine took a lactation class. I was absolutely appalled by what they said they were told. They took the same class at the same hospital with different instructors, but it sounded like the highlights were the same for both.
· If it hurts you are doing it wrong
· The answer to everything is to breastfeed more
· No info for moms planning on going back to work who were going to pump
· Breast is Best!!!!!
Are you fucking kidding me?

Every new breastfeeding mom I’ve spoken to has said it hurts at first. Every single one. And it is the most unhelpful thing in the world to be told if your kid latched on correctly it wouldn’t hurt at all. It gets you thinking “This should be easy. I’m doing this wrong. There is something wrong with me. I should just give up.” Etc. etc. etc.

Breastfeeding hurt, actively hurt every single time until T was about 2 months. Now, in large part that was because we got thrush really early on and boy-o that shit is stubborn! My sister screamed in pain the first time she fed Gabe. He had a vigorous latch and it was unbearable for her. She pumped and gave him bottles for weeks until she got used to it. Another friend of mine who is a mother of three said that your nipples have to toughen up with every kid, yup it hurt with all three.

Now call me crazy, but wouldn’t it be more helpful to tell mothers to be that breastfeeding is the perfect food for your child, there is potential for some fantastic hardcore bonding, it contains antibodies that protect your baby against illness, it is free, it might help you lose pregnancy weight BUT it is really difficult and it does hurt. Not forever, but there is a learning curve. You might assume it would be completely intuitive but it is actually hard and frustrating work. Your baby might even lose some weight while you are both figuring it out but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a low milk supply. Don’t you think if more moms knew these things there would be a higher breastfeeding success rate?

If I was developing these classes I would make sure that there was always a new mom there to demonstrate feeding and to do a question and answer session. I bet moms would be thrilled to do it. We new moms are so excited when we actually figure something out about the whole parenting thing that we are more than happy to help others and share that knowledge.

But to stand there and repeat over and over “breast is best” and to say if it hurts you are doing it WRONG? That is a ridiculous waste of time and money. And an insult to all women’s intelligence.

Clearly I am breastfeeding. And after working through the initial difficulties, including having a precancerous mole that abutted my nipple removed and biopsied when T was 3 months, I am way into it. Part of the reason is that I tend to be a selfish person who avoids pain at all costs and I was ridiculously proud of myself for sticking with it even though I wanted to quit. I mean it was really hard for me, but I still did it for him. Also I’m a stay at home mom (and that my friends, is a whole other post) so I have the time to do it. So yes, I am proud of myself. Which is a pretty huge thing for someone with chronic self esteem issues.

But breastfeeding is a personal choice. The fact that I’m proud of my choice has nothing to do with what I think of the choices other women make. Everyone deals with a different set of circumstances. And yet it is impossible to be online as a new mom and not be aware of those breastfeeding moms who make those who are unable to breastfeed or who chose not to do it feel bad about their decision.

The crappiest mom in the world could breastfeed. The mechanics of feeding your child do not make you a good mother or a good person. And breastfeeding is just the tip of the iceberg. If you sleep train, if you circumcise, if you co-sleep, when you introduce solid food, all of these things are choices that need to be made for the individual child, but they seem to be fertile ground for passing judgment on moms by moms.

Yes, the superior breastfeeding moms drive me crazy, but when it comes to some of the other controversial parenthood issues suddenly the shoe is on the other foot.

Before I was a mom I remember being told that someone waited X amount of time before introducing solid food to her baby. And I was all “That is too long!” I knew absolutely nothing about babies or solid food. But I wielded that judgment like a pro. Life has a funny way of making a fool out of you and I remembered my mean and uneducated remarks when I decided to wait until T was 6 months to introduce solid food. And this little story is the tamest example of the many times I've been a judgey jerk about someone else's parenting choices.

A while ago I wrote a note for Facebook about sleep training and showed to Z. He pointed out that it seemed like I was apologizing for our choice and he asked if that is what I wanted to do. It most certainly was not.
[side note—Facebook, Facebook, oh wonderful Facebook. I know lots of people are ambivalent about it, but I unabashedly love it. Yes, there are sometimes awkward or mean interactions, but you know what? Those happen in real life as well. For someone who’s loved ones are spread all over the place and who is living in a new town it is a lifeline. I get that it isn’t all positive. I mean, constant social interaction without actually having to be in a social situation is a dream come true to an insecure agoraphobic, and I rely on it too much. But I can’t help it. I love it.]
The impetus for writing the note was my reaction to the responses to a status update Z posted about sleep training. Some women he was friends with begged him to stop torturing our son by letting him cry it out. Clearly these ladies had T’s best interest at heart, but I couldn’t believe they thought they knew what was best for a kid they had never met. I did not post the note.

I wish T was a good sleeper, really I do. If he was there is no way I would have resorted to cry it out. But he would cry for hours as we rocked him. Or walked around the house with him in the Ergo. Or had him in bed with us. He was miserable, Z was miserable, I was miserable. He just couldn’t figure sleeping out. And finally I realized that someone needed to take the bull by the horns and be in charge. So we got on a schedule for naps and bedtime. It took several weeks, it still isn’t perfect, and that first night that he cried for 2 ½ hours was terrible for all of us, but I truly don’t believe he was scarred for life. He now wakes up from the night and his naps with a smile on his face, and before cry it out that never happened. And here I am justifying again. I guess the reason I’m doing it is to demonstrate that we tried other options and that we are caring parents.

In our peer group I think it is safe to say we all are making tough and nuanced parenting choices. It might be right for one family to switch to formula at 6 months while another family chooses to continue with breast feeding until the baby is 2. Why does either choice need to be wrong? And why do we think we know what is best for other families?

I know I’m sounding all self righteous here, but I’m actually asking these questions of myself as well. Because I’m as guilty as anyone of judging other moms. I wonder why we do it. Do we really think we are all knowing? Or is tearing others down a way for us to feel better about ourselves? Isn’t this the time in life when we should be most supportive of each other? I’m really grappling with these questions and don’t have any answers.

What do the parents out there think?


  1. Yeah, it fucking hurt. And those words "it shouldn't hurt if you are doing it right" were a huge part of the emotional torment of those first few weeks. And every single time my baby's fist would brush past his mouth (be it 5 minutes or 45 from his last feeding) some bitch would say "oh, he's hungry, time for you to feed him" I would turn white hot with rage and my nipples screamed in outrage. See, I'm doing it again, and it's been almost 3 years.

    Before I had Otis, I never understood the concept of breastfeeding support groups. I was like "?, what, why do you need support?" I think it's mostly to hurdle those awful feelings of "doing it wrong" because you have a baby who sucks so hard you get a hickey if it's in the wrong spot, and gums down on the love bunches until they're bruised and battered, and a million women who've done it, once upon a time, who think it's their job to tell you it's time to feed your baby.

    But I digress. Yeah, judgieness, strange, but magnetic. I was just judging a woman last week who was pushing her double stroller (one infant, one toddler) really fast around the roller rink during toddler hour. Oh wait, what's that you say? That lady was a fucking maniac and deserved to be judged. Yeah, that's what I thought too.

  2. I'm sorry, I didn't mention that she was ON skates.

    Oh, and that I did manage to breast feed for a year because I WANTED to, not because formula isn't a valid and loving choice.

  3. seriously, though, my nipples burn just at *thought* of boobin' the kid - and we haven't breastfed in over a year...but i never heard that if it hurt, i was doing it wrong. and i'm glad fer that, cuz if i had, well - talk about discouraging.
    about the whole judgement thing ; i find myself judging parenting choices when i am A.)making a choice that is pretty opposite the choice i am judging and/or B.)maybe a little insecure about that choice. also, it's hard not to judge when one sees a parent not honoring their kiddos gorgeous, innocent kid-ness - i always try to remind myself that *i* have been a judge worthy parent plenty of times in my son's short life - on the days i am extra tired, extra stressed, extra outta sorts i can be pretty lame to my kid. cuz i'm human - just like everyone else. so, really, when i find myself judging a fellow mama, i try to hook that mama up with a smile, good vibes and the benefit of the doubt. cuz we, as people, are judging and judgeable creatures.

  4. So true, all of it.
    Breastfeeding is one of the few things that they NEVER talk about in school, like sex ed, that should be there. Seriously, it can be really difficult, and thinking about it earlier could help change some attitudes about it that are just plain wrong or at least misguided. Such as, "ew, that's so gross." Sorry, but I do judge that...but also allow that they may just need to hear more about it.
    I think the exhaustion factor also contributes to the judging; we're not thinking completely clearly. And we are smart people, we read research on screwing kids up and have considered how we might be screwing up our own kids and the ways that we were screwed up. It feels very high stakes, and we want as many people to "win" as we can, because this is our society in the future we're talking about. Not to judge, but I think people who don't have these kinds of thoughts don't have this judging problem; rather, they are the ones who often feel judged. In a way it is related to our education and patterns of learning.

  5. I'm following and just joined your blog - love it! I didn't breast first child worked through his second day when a visiting nurse told me my milk hadn't come in yet...that added a whole new level to my food fixations!
    Judging is so prevalent! I remember SO MANY PEOPLE kept telling me what to do and I kept thinking...that's not right. It dawned on me when my first was 18 months that the only RIGHT thing for MY child would be what felt right to ME! The kid came from me...he must have some of my likes, dislikes and idiosyncrasies! From that moment on, I have always raised my kids the way I chose to. Doctor said babies should always sleep in their own crib. It gives them confidence. MY babies slept in my bed until they turned 4 - then they got big boy beds. They have never been afraid to go to school or try new things. My kids are not as industrious in school as they should be. I asked my 11 year old why he won't buckle down and study the material...he said "I know the stuff without reading the book. I'm smart. I'll get the grades if that's what you need but I'm not interested in the subject." His grades came up but I thought, when my child finds something he's really into, he's going to shine. My kids are polite, respectful of authority, they shake hands when they meet people, play nice in the sandbox and tell me they love me all the time. What more do I need? My original pediatrician told me that if there was a RIGHT way to do this, there would be one master book...xoxo

  6. Excellent post. One of the themes of my graduate work is to "suspend judgment". Easy to say, hard to do. I did not understand why women who did not want to breastfeed. I was on the formula is evil wagon during my whole pregnancy. I bought all the supplies including my brestfriend and a medela pump, went to multiple classes, talked to friends and read books. I was ready to go! And then it happened: I suffered from chronic low milk supply. Some people may say I did not try hard enough, but we spent hundreds on dollars on lactation consultants, rented a hospital grade pump, bought all sorts of natural supplements and started a 3500 calorie food plan, but I was not granted a good milk cow status (as my Mexican family says) and I gained weight. Formula it was. The first few weeks I cried and struggled with so much guilt because I could only hear the voices that said, "Breast is best. Formula is no substitute for your milk." And one day my husband gently told me that I was not enjoying motherhood because I was so upset about the whole milk thing. Today, I thank the good Lord for living in a place with clean water and having the means to purchase formula. And I am now on the "you choose what is best for you and your child" wagon. Formula is not evil. Breast feeding is not evil. They are just two different options just like CIO vs soothe, organic food vs non-organic, jar food vs making your own, gerber vs earth's best, cloth vs disposable, etc. I like the pediatrician who told your friend that there is no right way to do it. Mine told me that as long as there is lots of love, things will probably work out.

    And now I try my best to suspend judgment and remind all women who are pregnant that formula is not the devil.

  7. Karen, your post reminds me of a book I just read: I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids. It's all about how parents (and especially moms) judge each other, and how the modern world of endless choices really makes our lives harder than the lives of people who had limited choices. I loved the book; it really made me think about my attitudes towards myself and towards other parents. I love your blog, by the way!

  8. Thanks ladies. I loved reading your thoughts. And Laura, what your pediatrician said it so spot on.

  9. I have breastfed my 3 kids and it has been different with each kid. With the first I was in tears and excruciating pain the first 6 weeks and I got the "it shouldn't hurt" speech from the lactation group I went to. Luckily I knew enough moms that told me otherwise so I didn't feel too down about the pain. With my second there was literally no pain, I was amazed, thinking wow - I am really good at this now. But with number 3 the pain was back and I was immediately reminded that each kid is different, even in this area. Anyway, I work and pump, and that SUCKS but I feel like it has done some good for me and my little guy. But there are many days when I wonder if it is really worth all the effort.