Sunday, December 13, 2009

Am I, or do I have to be?

I'm sure many of you have heard the term, "breastfeeding Nazi" tossed around from time to time. The first time I heard it was when I was expecting my first child. I had planned on breastfeeding, knowing that it was the best nutrition possible for my child and it was free to boot. I was at a party one night talking to another woman. She was a mother and she asked if I was planning on nursing. Yes, I replied. "Well, you just watch out for those breastfeeding Nazi's out there, if you want to give him a bottle, just go ahead and do it." she told me. She was very adamant about this. I gathered that she had had some bad experiences with other mothers in the past in relation to this subject. I didn't realise how divided a camp there was.
I was still happy to go ahead and give breastfeeding a go with my child once he was born. I didn't realise then how much work it was (and it really is a lot of work in the beginning). I also didn't realise how exhausted I would be, sheerly because I was a new mom. I had my first encounter with what you may term a breastfeeding Nazi about a week after my son's birth. It was one of the lacation consultant nurses. She was calling to see how things were going. I was simply exhausted and completely greatful that my parents had taken the baby out in the stroller for a couple of hours so I could have a rest. I really shouldn't have answered the phone at all. Her advice to me, get pumping while the baby was out. I was so tired that I started to listen to her on autopilot and pump. Wait a minute! Was I crazy? This was the first opportunity I'd had for uninterrupted sleep in a week. So I slept. I started to figure out what people were talking about. Nurse at all costs. Somehow that didn't jive with my notion of why I was nursing. I was nursing to offer my baby the best I could, but I also knew I couldn't offer him my best while I was exhausted.
I did eventually find a balance. I didn't pump in the beginning, I relied solely on nursing him. It worked. Eventually I did introduce a bottle. Sometimes with pumped breast milk and sometimes with formula. I stand by the concept that 80 or 90% breastmilk and 10-20% formula is better than no breast milk at all. He remained a nursing baby for the first year of his life. His brother nursed for the first 17 months of his life.
I'm getting ready for my third baby. I know that if at all possible (and I will do my best to make it possible), this baby will be a breastfed baby too. I started to think about nusing my baby yesterday morning. I was waiting at the mall with my boys for Santa to come for pictures with Santa. I was sitting on a bench with a mother of a 3 week old little girl. When her baby was hungry, she went to nurse her, but also made sure she was completely covered with blankets. So many blankets, I wondered if her child was overheating under there. That got me thinking about all sorts of stories I've heard of what it is like to nurse in public. I've nursed in public. I've nursed in restaurants, in stores, in the library, at the mall, and at church. I'm pretty discrete, but I also make sure my baby is comfortable too. There are places around the world where nursing your baby in public is not a big deal. Your baby is hungry, you feed it, case closed. Here in North America we have a little bit of a different culture. Your baby is hungry, go ahead and feed it, just don't make me uncomfortable in the process. Personally, I prefer to find a quiet, relaxing place to nurse. I like when malls provide couches and rocking chairs for nursing moms, not to hide us away, but to encourage us to be comfortable. I love that our library was nursing friendly signs in it, particularily near the couches and cushions in the children's section, so my other kids can read and play while I feed the baby. But I also know that there isn't always a quiet place to go to. And when baby is hungry, it's time to eat, NOW! The worst I've heard (and I hear it a lot) is people encouraging nursing moms to go sit on the toilet in the store washroom to nurse. Really? Would you eat your lunch on a toilet? Why would I choose to have my infant eat there? Have you seen the state of some of the public restrooms? Why isn't it okay to sit on a bench in the store to nurse? This is the part of me that questions how much a breastfeeding Nazi I have in me. As time has gone on I've felt more pressure to explain why I choose to nurse my kids and defend my right to do it. Those who don't nurse may wonder then why I wouldn't plan my days around my child's nursing schedule. Realistically, that isn't possible. Newborns eat every 3 hours for 45 minutes to an hour, from start to start time. So there are times when you feed the baby only to have them wanting to eat an hour and half later. It does limit your schedule if you live by baby's needs alone.
It leaves me in a place of limbo. I nurse my kids because I believe it is offering them the best I can give them. I understand that in the culture we live in, public nursing can make people uncomfortable. I'm not one to be in your face about it, I just want my kids to eat. I'm also not one to berate anyone who for whatever reason chooses not to nurse their babies, that's not my call, that's theirs. I wonder if the reason breastfeeding moms have gotten a bad rap of being 'breastfeeding Nazis' because we are working against the culture we live in. We live where breasts are seen as completely sexual, so we are funny and awkward about them. Take a look at a magazine rack and tell me what you see. A lot more skin than a nursing mommy shows. Why aren't we up in arms about that? Why isn't that labelled disgusting? Why aren't those magazine covers told to go cover up and hide in the washroom?

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