”While breastfeeding may not seem the right choice for every parent, it is the best choice for every baby.” ~Amy Spangler
When I was pregnant with Abbey, there wasn’t even a question to whether I would breastfeed or not. When they handed that little burrito of beauty to me, I held her to my breast, and she nursed. And she still nurses to this day. This isn’t to say that we didn’t have our breastfeeding challenges. I didn’t get to take my daughter home with me from the hospital. Abbey had an intestinal abnormality, surgery, and was in the NICU – and I pumped for 3 1/2 weeks. We struggled to get back into the swing of breastfeeding. Then I felt like she did nothing BUT nurse. I had sore nipples. I was a human pacifier. I used bottles of pumped milk for a bit, while I taught dance classes for a few months before starting to work as a WIC breastfeeding Peer Counselor (and was able to bring Abbey to work with me, which was a parenting lesson in and of itself!). I had a long battle with the pediatrician and a pediatric gastroenterologist that swore up and down that I was starving Abbey by not fortifying my milk with formula. There were some nights that I just wanted my boobs back. “Why can’t you just go to sleep without sucking on me!!!!!” was a reoccurring thought. But I kept breastfeeding her.
I made it through the challenges of a NICU stay, and the completely unenjoyable task or pumping 24/7 for weeks on end. I persevered and got my daughter back to the breast, through tears and frustration and pain. I paid attention to her feeding cues and learned as I went along. I was blessed with the opportunity to learn even more and start a professional journey into lactation, and I poured my heart and mind into helping other moms see the benefit of giving their milk and their time and attention to their babies in the most intimate and profound way a mother can. I fought tooth and nail to make sure that I was not bullied into unhealthy decisions for my daughter, and learned in the process that even some of the most trusted and sought after medical professionals know so little about human lactation. And I am so glad that I did.
And I continue to breastfeed my daughter alongside her little nursing sibling and I advocate for breastfeeding awareness – - – and hope that eventually the knowledge and understanding of breastfeeding will spread back into our society.
Because breastmilk is important.
It’s not like choosing whether you want a sandwich with turkey or a sandwich with ham. Biologically, the compositions of formula and breastmilk aren’t interchangeable like that.
Breastmilk is the perfect food for an infant’s sterile gut. It’s perfectly bioavailable, works to strengthen the digestive system as it matures, and protects babies against pathogens and viruses. Breastfeeding gives perfect nutrition without extra additives, soothes babies in times of stress or pain, and provides a baby with all of his basic needs: food, comfort, and stimulation. It continues to provide benefits through young childhood, including dental benefits, emotional benefits, developmental and nutritional benefits, and in many cases, the close connection of a breastfeeding dyad leads to a natural, nurturing parenting style.
I know that there are children that have been formula fed, or only breastfed for a short time and are beautiful, smart, social, sweet, and healthy. I’m not saying that it’s a crime to give up on breastfeeding, or for whatever reason to not breastfeed at all. But it is a statistically, medically, and experientially proven FACT that breastfeeding is important. That breastmilk is special. That formula feeding can’t duplicate the experience and benefit that a breastfed baby enjoys.
There are absolutely times that call for the use of a breastmilk substitute. But using a substitute shouldn’t be as common as it is. There are so many barriers to breastfeeding in our culture – social, emotional, economic. . . it’s not easy to breastfeed, even though it’s the natural way to feed a child.
And that’s why I will always strive to educate and empower moms, dads, family members, and friends to understand, embrace, and encourage breastfeeding as a vital part of our culture- for the benefit of our children, their children, and all of the children to come.