Monday, April 13, 2009

Mah-Milk! Breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting

Breastfeeding is the second principle of Attachment Parenting. This is something that I believe instinctively nourishes a true, attached relationship, if done instinctively, and guided by both baby and maternal instincts.

Can one formula-feed and be an attached parent? Yes. Can one breastfeed and be a detached parent? Yes. Let me explain.

My first example of intuitive, attachment parenting was my mother, and the way she parented me and my siblings, but particularly my youngest brother. However, my first non-family example of attachment parenting was a very good friend I made while living in Chicagoland. At the time, she was a mother to two little boys. I was amazed at how calmly and naturally and instinctively she parented- she remained constant, consistent, very "in-tune" and receptive, no matter where we were or what we were doing. She may not have had any idea of the fact that her parenting style had a name, as it never came up when we talked. Her style was so intriguing, she helped to bolster my conviction that mothers truly do know what their baby needs, and that if we can quiet the baby-trainer noise and well-intended (yet, detached) advice surrounding us, that we can create and nurture a wonderful* relationship with our children. Yet, she did not breastfeed.

She was one of many mothers who have had poor advice and shoddy lactation advice tossed their way upon giving birth. While many are very caring and try to be supportive of the mothers in their care, maternity nurses learn only the very rudimentary basics of lactation during nursing school. They are also stretched very thin, time-wise, when it comes to what they do while at work. If three nurses are on a shift in a ward where nearly a dozen mothers and their babies are resting after various forms of labor, there is very little time to focus on a time-consuming task like supporting a proper latch (of a baby who likely has been as drugged as his mother was at birth). Plus, let's be realistic- the pen that the charge nurse uses to jot her reports (as well as the Post-It notes used to leave little reminders around their desks, as well as the clock ticking away on the wall) all have the name of various formula companies across their front.

I have said it before, and will say it again- going to a medical establishment, where extremely rich formula and pharmaceutical companies peddle their wares and leave their swag, and expecting anything other than a very commercially-laden, medical experience is like going into a Chinese restaurant and ordering a burger. You are not going to like what arrives on your plate.

My friend tried her darnedest, without the knowledge or support of someone skilled in trouble-shooting latch or supply issues. She tried hard with her second son, too. With both, she did end up formula feeding, as much as she did not want to. Persistence, and a good copy of So That's What They're For: Breastfeeding Basics by Janet Tamaro, paid off for my friend. Her third son was breastfed by a very happy and proud mama!

Let me make no bones about it- and this is not a judgement call, but a reiteration of what formula companies say themselves, if you care to read the fine print: Formula is a very poor substitute for breastmilk. It was originally intended as a way to help war orphans survive until they could eat solid food, and was never meant to be peddled as a "caring choice" for mothers. In the United States today, formula is offered as a wonderful idea for mothers who just simply decided that they were not going to breastfeed. Just because an option is offered, does not make it equal. There are actually a lot of fantastic articles and blogs on this very subject, and I could probably create a whole blog just about this subject and write in it every day. My point is- as poor of a food choice formula may be for babies, if a baby is fed while being held and spoken to, and responded to when cues for hunger are given, this is still attached.

So how can a breastfeeding mother be a detached parent? By following the ultra-anal, super operant conditioning ways of many of the self-professed "parenting experts" who write books aimed at selling "definites" to over-tired parents who already have sky-high expectations of themselves. Breastmilk is designed to zoom through babies rather quickly, so to expect a small infant to wait exactly two (or three or four) hours for another feed is both harmful to infants and harmful to mothers. The parents who fall for these peddlers of cookie-cutter robot kids who eat and sleep and poop to the tick of an arbitrary clock are not poor parents, either. Nor are they stupid. They are, however, very sucked into the idea that to be independent, and to function as a self-reliant adult someday, that babies need to be trained right now to do these things. The baby trainers in question (namely Gary Ezzo, but there are many others) offer some smooth-talking and glib pseudo-science (and even in Ezzo's case, very faulty and non-scriptural based theology) to try to back up what they are saying.

I always knew I would breastfeed. I didn't always know how difficult it would be at the beginning. The first two weeks were very miserable- while in the hospital, I had an IV in my left arm right where my elbow joint bends, thanks to the nervous teenage EMT who loaded me with toys on the transfer. Holding Gianna on top of a needle and tube in my arm was very painful. The after pains, coupled with recovering from abdominal surgery was excruciating, and nursing only made it more so, as the hormones involved in breastfeeding cause the uterus to contract down and return to normal. Most of my time nursing Gianna once my milk supply came in was spent with clenched teeth, and my feet constantly uncontrollably kicking.

I was DETERMINED to do this, though. I knew that there was an "after," which some women aren't really told. I knew that if I could just get over the initial hill, the rest would be better, and it truly was. At about two weeks, I battled a slight case of mastitis, but kept nursing Gianna right through it. At three weeks, when she hit her first true neonatal growth spurt and wanted to eat every 2.5 seconds, I settled right in and nursed her whenever she wanted to eat. I didn't crack or lose my mind, and she didn't turn into a spoiled, demanding brat- she simply grew, and then settled into a different pattern of feeding. Which changed a few weeks later, and then again another few weeks later, and so on. By nursing her "on demand," I was able to relate to her that I could cover her needs, and she didn't have to wonder about her livelihood- this in turn meant that she didn't need to panic when she became hungry. Win-win. Not to mention, I learned a very important parenting lesson- challenges do not last, and a baby's needs and demands change so often, that a very good mantra to have for both wonderful and not-so-wonderful times is: "This too shall pass."

* When I refer to "wonderful," let it be known that even in a "wonderful" parenting relationship, things like tantrums, crazy mommy days, screaming, crying, and sibling rivalry still happen. Why? Well, because we are all human, and these are the things that help us to learn and grow. Will our wonderfully attached children still sometimes do goofball things like flush watches down a toilet, attempt to mail a younger sibling to Abu Dhabi, loudly bray family secrets to all who care to listen in a post office, and perhaps wildly drive the family automobile smack into a fire hydrant? You bet. The goal is to make the "after" of these events something that all parties are proud of, in terms of how everyone handles themselves and one another.

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