NPR logo A Conversation On ... Breastfeeding?


A Conversation On ... Breastfeeding?

We took up a number of important issues today: the debate about whether the credit card industry needs reform, how we use credit cards and what's going on with parents in school districts that have been closed down because of fears about swine flu. But the issue that I bet will get people going is the last one we talked about in our Moms conversation: breastfeeding.

Save the eye roll, please. I am sure there are people for whom this conversation means nothing or is distasteful but, you know what? If you were born (and if you're reading this, I know you have been), then your mother had to make a decision about whether to breastfeed you or not, and that decision might have been harder than you ever imagined. And it might be getting harder as more women enter the workforce.

In fact, a majority of women of young children are in the workforce, so it's an urgent conversation. It's an issue that's written about in Unbuttoned: Women Open Up About the Pleasures, Pains, and Politics of Breastfeeding. Is this book the book that tells it all? Nope.

There are a lot of voices I would like to have seen in it that aren't there. But it's a start.

And now I'm turning the mic over to our editor Alicia Montgomery. She has something to say: Alicia?

Alicia Montgomery poses with infant son William. Courtesy of Alicia Montgomery hide caption

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Courtesy of Alicia Montgomery

Michel, I wish that I had heard today's breastfeeding conversation long ago — two years ago, to be exact — when I was pregnant with my son. At that time, I entirely bought into the breast feeding ideal. I did my research, and looked forward to the blissful moments of bonding pictured in all my mothering books.

But my son's birth brought a reality check. For the first few days, he alternated between gnawing and screeching at me, and after nursing, flecks of my broken skin were scattered across my bed. During one particularly frustrating feeding, my son sat back, whimpered, and gave me three sharp kicks to the stomach, the way you would with a broken vending machine.

I was totally unprepared for the pain, and my breast feeding books and pamphlets insisted that it shouldn't hurt, as long as I did it right. They also warned that giving my son just one bottle could turn him off nursing permanently. He'd be deprived of IQ points and a healthy immune system, and I'd lose my best chance to bond with him. There were moments in my sleep-deprived hysteria when I thought I would never figure it out.

Well, eventually I did. Between the nursing and, I confess, some formula, he gained weight, and I started to enjoy that blissed out bonding feeling. Breastfeeding still hurt; I just got used to it.

But so many of the mothers I confided in — smart women with lots of love for their babies — had the same trouble I did. And many came to believe that those troubles meant they were doing something wrong. And the crushing feeling of failure pushed many of those mothers to quit.

So I hope that our Moms discussion today tells new breastfeeding mothers what I wish someone had told me — that breastfeeding, like motherhood itself, is hard, hurts more than you expect, and will sometimes make you feel like a failure. But, just like motherhood, if you stick it out, you'll find that it's completely worth it.

Thanks, Alicia.