Wednesday, June 27, 2012


At the risk of disturbing some of you, I am going to talk about my breastfeeding experiences.

Three friends and I are having a girls lunch; talking about topics that range from house floor plans to in-laws to our children’s education. Interspersed throughout are “female issues.” We touch on breast cancer, bladder control, vaginal exams, tearing during child delivery, epidurals, Percocet, and ultimately, breastfeeding, as we move toward the door to say good-bye. This last subject delays our exit another ten minutes as I mention the three year old boy drinking his mommy’s breast milk on the cover of Time magazine.

We all cringe in varying degrees. Perhaps my reaction is least because I am the only one who breastfed for a substantial amount of time. And NO, my children were not three years old when I weaned them; they were four.


“I remember watching a woman pull down her bra flap, her breast totally exposed, as she waited for her husband to pass the baby to her. I don’t get that,” says Pam.
“I didn’t breastfeed my children,” says Marissa, who jokes about the “frozen peas” remedy for pain.

“Me either,” Iris relates.

“I breastfed for a few months,” adds Pam. “I liked having my husband being able to bond with the babies, too, by bottle feeding them.”

Marissa says, “I’m fine with breastfeeding, but my friend did it while having cracked nipples. Why go through all that pain?”

At this point, I chime in because I am one of those women who had problems and pain with one of my children.

“That was me,” I admit. “Yep - I breastfed all three of them. Very hard to wean them. When you’re holding them, they throw their heads down, looking for it. They grab and pull on your shirt. I weaned my youngest by going to a funeral in Michigan without her. Still, when I came back, she remembered. It was hard.”

“Did your milk dry up?” asks Pam.

“No, it filled up day after day. I remember leaning over the bathtub squirting out milk; just like a cow being milked,” I said and demonstrated. “I had two big pieces of fruit on my chest and they hurt. I leaked, too.”

Pam, Iris, and Marissa laugh as they watch my theatrics in surprise.

“TMI, huh?” I say with a laugh.

When I think about Marissa’s question, about the pain that some have experienced, I take myself back to 1995 to ponder my reasons for breastfeeding.  I was pregnant with my first precious child; someone I wanted the best for. I read the books and went to the classes; and according to it all, breast milk was nature’s perfect food and it was going to limit ear infections and allergies, and add to his or her intelligence.

First daughter was born in 1995, and after a few frustrating days of learning how to get her to “latch on,” it was full speed ahead, with her thriving solely on mommy's milk for five months. I repeated “breast milk only” with Second Daughter and Third Daughter.

However, feeding Third Daughter was a problem for a couple months. I’ll just sum it up with three words: cracking, mastisis, and yeast.

“Ewwww…” I hear you out there!

So you ask, Marissa, “Why do it?”

(Her question is specifically for those who experience pain, but I will speak generally.)

When I think about it now, hindsight tells me that it wasn’t just the perfect food or health benefits, or what the books said – it was the feeling of doing something that just the two of us could do. The process of milk flowing from my body into the body of my children’s and making them grow was fascinating and an experience I wanted to have.
I know that baby formula is nutritious and that most bottle fed babies don’t have health issues based on drinking it. I knew it from 1995 thru 2001, too. I just wanted to do something that my body was capable of doing.

Women deliver their babies at home without any medication… regardless of the pain. People run marathons - 26.2 miles!... regardless of the pain. Farmers plow the land in the hot sun without certainty of producing an adequate crop… regardless of the pain. And women breastfeed their babies – at inconvenient times, enduring sleep deprived nights, and cracked nipples… regardless of the pain.

Can any of us explain our passions and desires to others who do not feel the same?

I enjoyed breastfeeding. The feeling I had during let-down as the rush of milk came to the surface, making my body sink into a warm state, urged me to sit and relax. I enjoyed the feel of the equally warm babies against my body, the satisfied looks on their faces,  inches away from mine, that led them to fall over, literally drunk from the milk. It is all God’s design - not mine.

So do I think all mothers - who are capable - should breast feed? No. Nor do I think that all women should have babies, or become mothers by adoption or any other means.

It just happened to work for me.

By the way, if you’re wondering – I breastfed First Daughter, 16 months; Second Daughter, 12 months; and Third Daughter, 17 months. Yes, that’s a total of 45 months (3 years and 9 months). If Time Magazine Lady keeps it up ‘til her son is four, she’ll have me beaten.

Oh, that’s right – she’s feeding "one" kid for that long! She broke my record a long time ago. :)

What are your breastfeeding thoughts, opinions, and/or experiences?


Judy Thomas said...

I breast fed for 18 months and my son weaned himself. I was seldom self- conscious and really loved doing it. It felt like a real accomplishment, and was good for my child and me. I would never force someone who did not want to do it, but I feel sad that we live in a culture that values breasts for sex only, not for feeding our young.

Mari said...

I breastfed all of my kids till 8 or 9 months. It was a special thing and I think your explanation is right. It's a special thing and I'm glad I was able to do it.

Anya said...

Great post, Anita! I breasted my daughter, and plan to do the same in December for Baby 2.
It wasn't all fun and games, it was actually a lot harder to get the hang of than I had imagined...but it was worth it for me.

That said, I think we should respect the choices of others, without holding our own choices as somehow superior...and I think others should do the same.

Always love your posts!

Hilary said...

A fine post, Anita.

I did breastfeed both of my kids until 15 months and 18 months. At the time of their self-weaning, I neither offered nor refused. I encountered a surprising amount of "attitude" (Are you STILL nursing that kid) though those who thought they should ask that had 2 year toddlers running around with their bottles.. so go figure.

I was always discreet but never shy about it. But yes, I did go through the cracked, bleeding and blistered nipples for a few weeks with both kids. It was still worth it.

As an aside, I have also breastfed my cousin's adopted daughter once (at the mom's request) when she awoke ravenous from a long nap and her bottle was not ready. And my oldest was nursed by my best friend who was babysitting him one evening - her own daughter only 5 months older.

To each her own. I knew it was right for me and mine. To this day, when I see a young mom adjusting her top so that her wee one can latch on, I still feel a subtle letdown reflex.

Linda Hensley said...

I didn't have babies to breastfeed, so I can't offer much on this topic other than saying watching Mom breastfeed my 4 younger brothers was kind of pleasant for me to be around. Though for all that breastfeeding, Mom never described it the way you did in this post. Thanks!

Abby said...

Another good topic. I was thinking a blog post or two would "pop up" from that Time magazine cover.

I breastfed 'em all. I felt, not only was it the natural and healthy thing to do, it was EASY! No formula to buy and mix and heat up. No bottles to wash. What's not to like? And yes, I had the cracks and soreness for a while, but by the third kid, my udders were pretty numb.

But really, I enjoyed the bonding. There's nothing quite like sitting with and looking at your baby while he/she nurses. And mine kind of weaned themselves. Breastfed the first two for 12 months each and the third one for 19 months.

As for the Time cover? I thought it a stupid ploy for attention. And I think it backfired.

Buckeroomama said...

I breastfed J for 18 months. Stopped when I found out I was pregnant with Z. Did it again with Z and thought that I would be able to stop at 18 months --just as easily as I did with J, no fuss whatsoever. I just told him that Mommy did not have milk anymore and he repeated, "No more?" I said yes and that was that.

No such luck with Z. I tried to wean at 2 years. Again, no luck. Eventually weaned the night before she started kindergarten (3 years and 4 months!) --through 2 bouts of mastitis and a 3-day stay at the hospital with pneumonia! I never planned nor did I think that I could / would do it for so long, but I am glad I did. It was such a very, very special thing.

Totally agree with Anya: ".. I think we should respect the choices of others, without holding our own choices as somehow superior...and I think others should do the same."

Tabor said...

Please tell me this isn't the first time I visited your blog! I thought I had you on my blogroll but I have missed many recent posts. I agree totally with your post. It is a very personal decision just as having children is a very personal decision and deciding how many to have is personal. I support all women in their decisions. While I personally think 3 or 4 is way too old for breast feeding, it is not my decision. I beast fed my two until about 12 months.

Rebecca S. said...

Great post, Anita! I was a dedicated breast feeder. My first was for 15 months and weaned just three weeks before his brother was born. If I could do that all over again, I would have weaned him a few months before - it was hard on my body because I was quite ill with my second pregnancy. The third I was so tired I finally weaned her at about 21 months, after she potty trained herself! My fourth child I weaned at 18 months.
Breastfeeding forced me to sit and relax, read, watch tv with the kids, and bond with my baby - just like you said. I loved it, it was so satifsfying! I appreciated being able to feed my baby what was natural, I loved their milky mouths and their smiles of complete bliss when they took a break for a second. I loved their little hand resting on my chest and smoothing their hair and kissing the tops of their little heads. Yes, it was sometimes inconvenient and made me tired, but it also helped me shed the baby weight, and quickly! I could never express milk, unfortunately, so my husband couldn't feed the kids, but we dealt with it. In the grand scheme of things, it is a short time in our lives that we are breast-feeding. Would I have done it for longer? No, I wouldn't have. When I breastfed my third child to 21 months it became something of a power struggle. I knew she know longer needed it for nutrition, really, just for comfort and out of habit.

Menopausal New Mom said...

Anita, I loved breastfeeding my daughter and did it for 7 months. I weened her slowly so didn't have the discomfort you discussed, just skipped feedings and replaced them with formula. My breasts responded and I didn't have any pain for discomfort. Getting started was a bit slow, the nurses at the hospital had set about 6 pillows around me with military precision and it worked out fine. Figuring out this combination of pillows at home wasn't doable so I opted for a simple breastfeeding pillow and it worked great.

As for breastfeeding in public, I'm all for it as long as it is done discreetly. I think most women who flash their boobs around for anyone to see while breastfeeding like the shock value and like to make a point. I agree with those who say "it's a natural function without shame" but so is moving our bowels.

It's all about discretion and having respect for others who may not want to see it or have their children witness it.

So let's see how many other moms I've upset with my opinion Lol!

Barb said...

Back when I had my twins, the DR said "no" to breastfeeding. And, back then, I listened to my DR - I've grown out of THAT! I had a neighbor when my children were yourng - this was 40 years ago - that had a new baby but still allowed her 5 year old to breastfeed - in public. I definitely thought it was time to wean him!

fsmum said...

I enjoyed reading your post although it made me wince at times! I tried breastfeeding for a couple of weeks with little success. I spent most of the time crying and my little boy was losing weight. I decided to switch to formula when the district nurse called round with a breast pump and I had a panic attack. It really wasn't something I felt I could do mentally or physically. It is a very personal decision. I think whatever works for the person and the baby, that's the thing to do. I felt I was wasting precious moments when we should have been overjoyed and revelling in the birth rather than me being a miserable first time mom.

Arlee Bird said...

The mother of my 3 daughters breast fed them until they were at least one--I don't recall exactly how old they were when they stopped. We also used formula some of the time. My girls have been very healthy all of their lives and I'd probably attribute that it part to breastfeeding.

Wrote By Rote

Rob-bear said...

Interesting and thoughtful post, Anita. I'm glad you tackled the subject, and that I read what you had written.

Male Bear makes no other comments.

jiturajgor said...

You have written very good blog Anita.In developed countries, many working mothers do not breast feed their children due to work pressures and very short periods of maternity leave.In the United States, breastfeeding beyond 1 year of age is considered 'extended breastfeeding, and in contrast to WHO recommendations, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated in 1997 that, "Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child.In India, mothers commonly breastfeed their children until 2 to 3 years of age.

Stephanie said...

I breastfed too and will admit with both cases it was a rockey start! It hurt like a BLEEP but I am so glad we got through it and nursed both for a year. I say whatever works for mama and baby but I'm so glad I did!

Sandra said...

I breastfed three out of four of my kids, and wished I could have lasted longer than 8 months (they weaned themselves around that age, much to my dismay).
I think the shock value of that Time Magazine was that the woman is looking at the camera likes she's pissed it leads one to question whether or not she really is loving the experience...right?
PS: I'm here from In the Powder Room where I think the whole debate with the kid and the salad dressing got out of hand. Honestly, I completely agree with you, whether the mother looked exhausted or not, just give the kid a bottle of dressing, and sneak it out later. You actually had a very clever solution with that recommendation. I would have just kept on pushing the cart and ignoring the cries. I appreciate you commenting, and I wanted you to know that my post may have been written in jest, and I may have been judgy towards the Mall Mom, but seriously, just wrap the kid's burger up, and leave! Ok...had to get that out there to you.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I have definite opinions on this subject. I nursed all three of my boys. For 6 months, 5 months, and 12 months (The five monther, I went on a week long trip and left him with my sister-in-law. I hid behind trees to pump my breasts to keep the milk going. When I returned, he didn't want me anymore. Hindsight tells me that if I'd withheld the formula and only offered myself, he would have come around -- or starved.)

I think everyone should breastfeed. First kid my nipples were so cracked, they bled. But I plodded on. I will never trade the time I spent with my boys - even when I was dead tired at 4 am and they turned around and puked it all up on me.

Also, as long as I'm being most verbose, I don't have patience for people who are offended by breastfeeding women. I never plopped mine out. In fact, many never even know when I was breastfeeding. But truly, those who are offended - you're not offended by horrific violence on TV, women exploited in the sex markets of movies, magazines, or Hooters restaurants, but a woman pulling out her breast to feed her kid offends you? Seriously?

I just didn't have an opinion on this post at all. Sorry.

yonca said...

I breastfed too, Anita..but unfortunately for only 3-4 months I was able to do this.It was very special for me. Whatever the studies say, breast is still best.Breastfeeding was a unique experience for me.I enjoyed again reading your another post today here. Great topic, great post!

Just Two Chicks said...

I didn't breast feed. Not because I didn't want to, I just didn't get enough milk to do so. I'm all for people making their own decisions as far as breast feeding, no judgements. :)

Peaches Ledwidge said...

Controversial topic, great blog post and you handled it so well by giving the pros and the cons and not condemning women for their choices - either way.

Hilary said...

I had planned to breastfeed Number ONe Daughter for a year. After an emergency C-section, 2 weeks of thrush in her mouth, in my breast, and a really painful hand pump, I quit. I felt awful, both physically and mentally, like I had failed to provide something so basic for her. I kept bargaining with myself, "I'll do it for a year, six months, three months, thirty days, two weeks!" until finally my mom simply said, "Stop. We're getting formula." And guess what? Number One Daughter is perfectly perfect.

I applaud women who breastfeed and support them in their efforts to be able to do so without all the criticism they receive. If you can, great! If you can't, don't worry about it; your child will be fed, loved and nurtured no matter how they receive their milk.