Friday, July 28, 2006

So don't look

In a mall full of Victoria's Secret window displays and teenage PDA's, I would think that a baby nursing in the food court would be easily overlooked. But my experience with my own daughter during her first year taught me that people, especially women, will look long and hard for a glimpse of nipple just to be able to give you a dirty look. In corner booths and outside dressing rooms, I have gotten those looks. The ones that seem to ask, "Have you no shame?" and, "Do you have to do that here?" Well the answer was and always will be simple. Yes, I have to feed my baby when she's hungry. And as long as I make some effort to be discreet, with a blanket over my shoulder and a seat in the corner, then the nay-sayers should make an equal effort not to see what they know is coming and yet wait for.

I am a BIG nursing advocate. There have been plenty of articles claiming that it makes a child smarter and healthier, that it cuts down on colic and the chances of obesity later in life. I have heard plenty of arguments against nursing, but none of them have made much sense to me. One girl claimed it was incestuous to make her son suck on her nipple. (Believe me, when your breasts are sore and hot and rock-hard, they cease to be in any way sexual. And if nursing is incestuous, what is the cleaning after a diaper change?) One said she couldn't nurse her second child because it had made her first-born too dependent on her. (Hello! That's motherhood.) I have heard that it makes your breasts sag. (Actually, letting them decrease in size slowly through weaning rather than rapidly by just letting all the milk dry up at once lets the skin shrink back and may help the breasts to not sag.) I've heard that formula-fed babies sleep longer. (That's true, because it takes longer for them to digest what they're not meant to eat in the first place. Same number of nutrients per feeding, but less overall.) And a friend of my mother's once tried to dissuade me from nursing with the argument that it's easier to bottle feed. How is that easier? Measuring and mixing, checking temperatures, fixing up bottles in the middle of the night, packing all those bottles and formula in the diaper bag just to leave the house. How is that any easier than grabbing a couple extra pads and then heading out the door, or rolling over and latching the baby on in the night? You never have to worry about getting all the powder dissolved, the milk is never too hot, and you certainly don't have to sterilize your own nipples. And breastmilk is healthier. Formula companies are constantly trying to come up with a product that is easier to digest, that has the right kinds of fats and nutrients. They try to make their product closer to breastmilk every day, because breastmilk is the best. We all know that a person can't live off of bottled vitamins, no matter how much they get. But formula is the same thing. It's like an adult refusing to eat any food, only supplements. They can take all the vitamins the body needs, in pill form, but they will still be malnourished in the end. Formula fed babies don't test as malnourished, but they're only on formula for a year.

No, I'm not one of those women who advocates breastfeeding children until they're tying their own shoes. But I don't think formula should be used when there's not a need. Women who are able to nurse, who have no illnesses, whose babies aren't allergic, should nurse for the first year. It's possible even for an adoptive mother to nurse, if she uses a breast pump daily to stimulate milk production. Babies should go from breast to cup, with no "supplemental" formula thrown in. Nursing for a short while is better than not at all, but it's a far cry from going the whole route. Bottles can be a great tool in helping the father bond by feeding the baby, but with a breast pump, the only reason to use formula is financial. Nursing takes time that a lot of women need to work during.

I can't imagine looking down at my newborn child, gazing into those eyes, and thinking, "It's only second best for my baby." And I don't know why there's no help to make it that no woman ever has to. Nursing should be covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, as well as any laws that need to be passed, or programs instituted, so that women can afford to stay home to breastfeed. There should be evenly spaced breaks for mothers to pump their milk, and a reasonably private area provided for them to do it in. Maternity leave should be paid and last long enough for a routine to be established for the mother and child. And I'm sure that if we took the tax money that currently goes toward all those cans of formula bought with welfare, we could come up with some sort of incentive program for mothers to stay home and nurse. Obesity, and its complications, cost this country millions of dollars each year. Breastfeeding has been shown to cut obesity rates, both because of the nutritional value of the milk and the fact that no one can force a baby to take all 4 ounces from the breast. Breastfeeding boosts immunities, reducing medical costs. Breastfeeding has been linked to higher intelligence, which often leads to higher paying jobs (and higher taxes) and is therefore better for the economy. Doctors need to actively promote breastfeeding above formula. By encouraging all women who can to nurse their babies, they will also be putting millions of women in the position to pressure policy makers to make it easier to do. And in just a couple generations, we will have smarter and healthier children. We need to make formula feeding more difficult, and breastfeeding easier.

1 comment:

Jordan said...

Wow. If you ever run for some kind of office (maybe head of the PTA to spite Bush lady?), your platform can be breast feeding.