Healthy Kids

The Fanatical Breastfeeder: Part 1

I have to break this up into two posts, because the subject is just too big!

This week I have been on vacation in Atlantic Beach, near Jacksonville. Penelope has received lots of attention from the other guests. One woman, struck up a conversation with me by saying how beautiful Penelope was. She went on to say that the reason she was here at the hotel, was because her daughter-in-law had just given birth six days ago and they were visiting their new grand baby.

Me, being me, I responded with: “Congratulations! How is Mama and baby doing? How is breastfeeding going?” To which she replies with: “Oh, breastfeeding has been a nightmare, she can’t get the baby to latch and now she is pumping all day and all night, getting no rest and she is having a hard time with her supply.” I say, “I am so sorry to hear that, I know exactly how she feels, I had to pump, and in fact, I still pump 3 times a day for Penelope even though she can comfort nurse now. I remember how tired I was and how I thought, I hate all those people who say sleep when the baby sleeps, because I never could, I was always pumping.”

She then says, “I just don’t understand why she is putting herself through all that, my daughter recently had a baby as well and she is giving her baby formula and her life is so much easier.”

And I replied, very casually, with not a fanatical tone in my voice, “Oh, because breastfeeding so good for the babies, what it does for their health it makes it worth it.”

She then says, super nasty, “Yeah, that is what all you breastfeeders say, you all are so fanatical about it. Women in my generation (she was in her mid-fifties, I’d say) didn’t breastfeed and our kids turned out fine.” I didn’t really process quick enough that she just called me fanatical for choosing to breastfeed, so I didn’t give her the response I should have. I simply switched the subject and started talking about things her daughter-in-law could do to increase her supply and left it at that.

I have thought about this poor mom all day, hoping to run into her mother-in-law again so I could offer her my left over milk stash, since I don’t have a freezer here and it will go to waste. I am so mad at myself for not thinking quick enough to offer it right then and there, then she would have really thought I was a fanatical breast feeder!

While I do consider myself pretty fanatical about my determination and dedication to keep pumping in order to give Penelope my breast milk. I choose to breast feed to give Penelope breast milk for its health benefits (and for bonding, but more about that in the next post). Health benefits, discovered by massive amount of scientific research. I made an educated and informed decision to breast feed, i.e. not a fanatical one. I also don’t get in people’s face about it. I like to vent and share my joys about my breastfeeding experience on Facebook, but I am not wildly waving my hands in the air and yelling on a street corner to get people to breastfeed.

One of the reasons I was so sad that Penelope couldn’t nurse at first, is because I was excited to nurse in public. It was going to be my quiet, peaceful demonstration to the world. Part of the reason I am who I am today, is because of the positive women/mama role models I have come across in the last 10 years, not fanatics in the least. Before I even became a Doula, I was dating a guy in college, who’s older sister was a total AP, BF’ing, co-sleeping mama. I saw her quietly sling her baby and breastfeed on demand. I saw how peaceful she and her baby were. I made the decision then and there, not even 20 years old then, that I was going to mother like that. She was not fanatical. She was just going on about her business and being a mother. And yet she made a huge impact on me.

I, surprisingly, was not mad or offended when she called me fanatical for choosing to breastfeed, because I could see straight through her. She told me she didn’t breastfeed, so for her to mentally and emotionally acknowledge that a mother would rationally choose to breastfeed, because it is the superior health option, in her mind, that would some how mean that she was a bad mother. Note, I said in her mind. I do not think that mother’s who bottle feed with formula are less of a mother than me. I do, however, know that breast milk is better than formula as far as nutrition goes. Its a simple fact these days, with so much research, its not even a question anymore. Breast milk is better than formula. Period. Formula is not poison, and its a perfectly acceptable substitution for breast milk. But it is not the same. It is second best. But this woman, obviously felt that breastfeeding women think they are better mothers than formula feeding women, and in response to that misunderstanding, she needed to put me down in order to make herself feel better. And under anger, is always sadness. So I felt bad for her, because somewhere deep inside her, she knows that breastfeeding is better for babies and she chose not to give her babies the better option out her own need for her life to be easier. She was not willing to sacrifice personal time or rest or whatever for the sake of her children’s health.

Now, again, let me be very clear here, I have nothing against mothers who bottle feed with formula (I do have an issue with formula companies and how they go into third world countries, including the US, and make it very easy for women to give up on breastfeeding.) I know for a fact, that you can meet all an infants emotional needs through bottle feeding. I was a nanny, long before I was a mother, and I continue to bottle fed Penelope my breast milk because of our situation. I call it bottle nursing. Her cheek touches my breast, so she is getting skin to skin. I did not do this with Ava and Ella (the girls I was a nanny to for 3 years), but I always held them in a cradle position when they got their bottles, and looked into their eyes. And I wore them in a wrap or sling for large portions of the day, just like I do with Penelope and they got lots of eye contact and touch through yoga and massage. I would lay down and cuddle with Ava and Ella to get them to sleep, just like I do with Penelope (but I am nursing Penelope to sleep.) So I know mothers can be just as attached to their babies and babies can feel just as loved and comforted, even if they bottle feed.

But nursing is different. It almost like it takes bonding to the next level. Not only does it meet her needs, but it meets mine. Bottle nursing, left me out of the picture. My milk would let down, but it had no where to go, and it was not a pleasant feeling to be holding a baby, have breasts full of milk but not be able to do anything about it. I remember the second day Penelope started comfort nursing. The first day was actually stressful, because I was holding my breath and afraid to move, not wanting to mess up her groove. I was also stressed that is was just a fluke and she would go back to not wanting to latch the very next day. So the second day I had relaxed. We were laying down and she was nursing to sleep. I felt my milk let down and for the first time it had somewhere to go other than to stain my shirt. I felt her pick up her sucking and swallowing. I could actually feel my milk going into her mouth and then I pictured it going into her belly. It was like I was literally, physically, giving her all my love through my warm, perfect milk. I knew she felt perfectly loved and at peace, which I know she feels when she is bottle fed my milk, but this time so was I.

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  • Kbroadway
    June 17, 2010 at 5:44 PM

    Great post and I agree with everything especially the breastfeeding on demand, baby wearing and co sleeping = Happy babies!!
    Ask anyone who knows my 2 and they were/are pleasantly plump and happy happy babies!!

  • Maureen
    June 17, 2010 at 7:37 PM

    I love it!!!! It gave me goosebumps 🙂

  • Sara
    June 17, 2010 at 11:13 PM

    Great post! I totally understand your struggle with pumping and the joy you feel in finally being able to breastfeed. I was pulling for you and praying for you and I am so happy that you are finally able to enjoy that special bond with Nela. 🙂

  • Brittany
    June 17, 2010 at 11:25 PM

    I am loving your blog! I happened across it from Prudent Baby… and you're completely opening up my mind to all these wonderful things in the world of mama and baby. I love that you're willing to share your journey so honestly. We're thinking about trying for our first baby within the next year, and you're a great role model. Keep up the great posts!

  • Stephanie
    June 18, 2010 at 1:40 PM

    Thanks for the positive feedback, ladies!

    @Brittany… Weclome! So excited that you have started to explore and educate yourself BEFORE you become pregnant. 9 months is not enough time to get things figured out!

  • Tara
    June 18, 2010 at 9:25 PM

    You go girl! Wish I could have been there to back you up! : )

  • eidolons
    June 19, 2010 at 1:52 AM

    I'm nursing two little ones – an almost two-year-old and an almost two-month-old. I'm used to the strange (and often disgusted) looks that I get when I nurse in public these days. I've been known to cheer when I see another mother nursing in public.

    Happily I've never had to pump, though we did have problems with nursing my first child (mostly user error – but I was only 21 and didn't know any better). People probably see me as fanatic (extended breastfeeding, baby/toddler wearing, cosleeping, cloth diapering, homeschooling). But I'm okay with that. I'm doing what's best for my kids, for myself, for my family.

  • Celeste Bracey
    June 19, 2010 at 3:06 PM

    Hi Stephanie,
    My husband and I took your Birthing From Within class almost three years ago. It was incredibly empowering for us. We had our son at the birth cottage and hope to have a home birth with the next baby! I love this post. I too am passionate and, some might say fanatical, about breastfeeding. I am still breastfeeding my 2.5 year old. I hope to catch up with you sometime in Tallahassee. I am glad to know about your blog! Love, Celeste

  • Stephanie
    June 19, 2010 at 9:18 PM

    Celeste! So happy to hear from you! Are you pregnant now? I am so happy to hear you are still breastfeeding. I tell my friends that Penelope can nurse till she is 7, if she wants to, since we had such a hard time with it and I missed out on the first 5 months (and still miss out on it to extent even now.) 🙂
    P.S. My friend Lindsey is taking over the BFW classes for me, her website is http://www.motherrisingdoula.blogspot.com/

  • Rachel
    June 21, 2010 at 3:19 PM

    I had a real struggle with breastfeeding the first two and a half months – it seems like everything that could go wrong did 🙂 However, I was determined to stick with it and not give up, no matter what. I am so glad that I did – we are almost six months into breastfeeding and I can't imagine it any other way! The key to our success was the support from family, other local mothers, and some wonderful lactation consultants. When I think of not having that support, I imagine that me and my baby's breastfeeding outcome would have been very different. I have not yet received any negative comments or been in any uncomfortable situations while nursing in public, but I hope that if I do, I can respond without losing my temper 🙂

  • Stephanie
    June 22, 2010 at 2:40 AM

    Good for you, Rachel! I think being determined to breastfeed is a big part of success. Peter and I made up our minds a long time ago that formula was just not going to be an option for us, and that makes it easier to forge ahead.

  • Nicole
    January 7, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    Ugh, how awful. I'm EPing like you (found your blog through the Yahoo EPers group) and I've found that a lot of women around that age can also be pretty rude about not BFing in public. Many times I've been out with my daughter in a restaurant/cafe, and some random women will be oohing and ahing at her from another table, then as soon as I get the bottle out, I get disapproving stares and then they stop looking over. I just want to wave the bottle and yell, "It's breastmilk!" but the rational part of me knows that it's not worth caring about judgmental jerks. Sigh. Some day this will all be a distant memory, right?

  • Stephanie
    January 7, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    Hi Niiicola!! Glad you came to check the blog out, welcome!

    I used to get those same looks when Penelope was younger. I don't seem to get them anymore for some reason…maybe its because its more socially acceptable (among breastfeeders) to use a bottle with an older baby? I don't know. But those look were the worst!! Here we are busting our asses, to breastfeed and they don't even have a clue. I would always restrain myself from yelling, Its BREASTMILK BITCHES!!!

  • Emily
    January 14, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    I found your blog through a post on Pinterest and am so glad I did. I can't stop reading! I am currently pregnant and plan to breastfeed. I am so thankful for all of your insight. I am not even breast feeding yet, (obviously because I'm still pregnant) but thing I find the most frustrating is the lack of support for it especially by other women! What's up with that?

  • Angela
    February 16, 2012 at 1:10 AM

    Hi! I just discovered your website from pinterest and your freezer meals! How I wish I meet you 10 years ago!!!! I needed you then!! My first (10 yr old) would NOT nurse to save her life and she is still as stubborn as then! 🙂 I pumped for 12 months with her. My second son nursed like a champ but had SEVERE reflux and I had to stop nursing at 2 months as he was failure to thrive. I pumped until his reflux got even worse at 11 months and he weaned himself from all milky white substances (milk, breast milk, yogurt, etc and STILL won’t touch the stuff at 6 yrs old). Because of my mental trama with the first two, I didn’t even try to breastfeed my third – strictly pumping. She was unexpecetd and dealing with a sickly 1 yr old never even thought differently. But I have always felt inferior since I couldn’t feed my children the “natural” way. I am so glad to hear you posting your own blog on the subject!! I amost feel liberated by it!! 🙂 Thank you for helping me heal and I SURE wish we knew each other 10 years ago!!!! I should now be a spokesperson for Medela!! 🙂

    • Stephanie
      February 16, 2012 at 1:47 PM

      Thanks so much for sharing, Angela! Someone once told me that just because you are pumping doesn’t mean you are not breastfeeding. Once that really sunk in, that I was totally breastfeeding! I felt much better.

  • Fernanda
    May 11, 2012 at 2:38 AM

    I had Raynauds Syndrome symptoms in my nipples only which made it go un-diagnosed for 3 months until I started having the tri-color changes. I had terrible felt-like-there-was-glass-inside-my-nipple pain for those three months which hurt not only while I nursed, but also after I finished nursing the pain persisted. Oh, and my LO loved to take his time nursing, he would nurse for 45 mins to an hour each time. Finally at 3 months I decided to start taking B6 to see if it would help along with staying warm and it did! Now at almost 6 months I still have some blanching and pain occasionally but nothing compared to what I endured.

    Throughout all that time what has kept me going was that I know the nutritional benefit and the impact BF will have on my son’s health for life! I constantly drew strength from his birth, 20 hours of labor plus 2 hours of pushing and my little angel was born without any drugs or interventions. I now realize that no,o don’t have a high pain tolerance, what I have is a ton of conviction and determination.

    • Stephanie
      May 11, 2012 at 6:41 PM

      You go Mama! Glad to hear B6 was so helpful. Thanks for commenting. 😉