The Conflict of Continued Breastfeeding

Day three:  

I am part of a fabulously supportive and inspiring breastfeeding group on Facebook.  It has members from all walks of life — every form of education, every income level, all colors of skin.  I have seen women in this group overcome every kind of issue that can come along with breastfeeding (thrush, plugged ducts, mastitis, general pain, breastfeeding strikes, sore/cracked/bruised/bleeding nipples, overproductivity, under productivity, unable to pump, unable to get little one to latch, and so on).  Many of them have suffered from multiple problems at one time, making them want to give up.  And who could blame them?  But without fail other members of the group would come to the rescue with some cheerleading:  the ra-ra-ra you can do this, hear you roar, mama; shared stories of you’re not alone, I went through this too….  Like I said, it’s an awesome group of women.

Once in the middle of the night I was in the Emergency Room with questions about medication.  How great that I could count on a group of mamas to be up at all hours, on social media, and willing to help me with my concerns.  (And yes, I trust the shared experiences of other breastfeeding moms more than I do the ER doc reading from a book).  Again, what a fabulous resource.

But here is the thing — despite the diversity of women in the group, the common narrative is that breastfeeding is something we want to  or should want to continue.  We want to overcome the myriad issues in order to continue breastfeeding our little one.  I use the collective “we” here, because I am going so far as to say that there is an assumption that this is what we all want:  to breastfeed as long as our little one wants to.  The WHO (World Health Organization) currently recommends breastfeeding to two years (or longer).

The stories I read on the group page are stories of overcoming the odds accompanied by the “I’ve breastfed my baby for… however long” badges.  I keep reading over and over:  “still going strong” and “I love breastfeeding.”

Levi and I too are still going strong.  Too strong, perhaps.  And, I still “love breastfeeding.” Most of the time.  Now I think most of these mamas who profess their love of breastfeeding are doing so during the light of day, probably after a strong cup of coffee, maybe during nap time. I doubt that many of them would say they love night nursing.  No, this love of breastfeeding is definitely a more abstract concept, I would guess.  It doesn’t apply to all nursing sessions as a whole.

For me, though, I feel a bit differently (surprise).  With the exception of our daytime nap feeding, most of our nursing sessions are a version of what a friend of mine has called “nursing aerobics.”  This involves Levi starting on his back, ending up on his stomach, coming on and off the breast repeatedly while whipping his head around (occassionally whipping his head around with breast still in mouth), and my personal favorite, popping into downward facing dog with my breast in his mouth.  Additionally, this involves coming off the breast in order to examine it, deem it some kind of punching bag or button to be pushed and then proceeding to bat it it around.  While some of this is occasionally funny and endearing, it can also be downright annoying.

And then there is the larger looming issue of my fertility.  My avid little nurser has been effective in holding my cycle at bay, which in some ways has certainly been a blessing (my nearly year long recovery process after delivery would have been even more uncomfortable with the return of Aunt Flo).  But by nursing this long and strong Levi might effectively be removing the option of having a sibling.  I am not young.  And despite the fact that more women are giving birth after the age of 35 than ever before, I don’t want to be well into my 40s and putting my body through that (again).  And I believe strongly that I despite the connection between selflessness and motherhood that are frequently made, I continue to have agency over my own body (even if it often doesn’t feel that way with breastfeeding).  

The decision to continue breastfeeding can be a complicated and fraught one, and there needs to be a space to voice that breastfeeding struggle as well.  

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