The worst, worst, WORST part of parenting, at least of mothering, is the guilt that society tries to push upon us. L at Homesick Home wrote a wonderful post the other day about her feelings after reading a New York Times article titled "Breast Feed Or Else". I read L's post, and I was horrified...horrified that people are actually equating not breastfeeding your children with smoking while pregnant. With going to a bar, riding a mechanical bull, and smoking while pregnant. Give me a fucking break. (Sorry, I tried not to swear there, but no other word worked for me. Get over it.) The current culture has really made a 180 from when our parents were babies, and you know what, THEY turned out OK. (Some women probably smoked while pregnant back then, come to think of it.) The pressure that is put on women today to be the PERFECT mother is insane. You have to breastfeed. You have to wear your infant in a baby sling. You have to co-sleep with your baby in your bed. Every moment of every day (and night) has to revolve exclusively around your baby. No wonder parents get all weird and enroll their children in 17 activities per week, pressure them to be the best, and do everything they can to promote a high self esteem. (Just read another post at Rockstar Mommy, talking about how all of the kids on the softball team get trophies...I'm not surprised that the one her stepdaughter received ended up broken on the floor...if the worst kid on the team gets the same reward as the best kid on the team, then the trophy is pointless. If you don't want them to be broken hearted about not getting a trophy, maybe don't give ANY trophies out, but giving them out for participation seems kind of goofy to me. Sorry...back to my main point, about breastfeeding.) I don't think these are bad practices. They are all wonderful practices, normal and right for many people. It's not wrong to wear your baby in a sling, or to co-sleep, or to breastfeed. These are all practices that go back to the beginning of human history, and it is our modern ideas of autonomy and fierce independence that don't really mesh with these parenting styles, which is probably why so many families are mixed-up and stressed out these days. What is wrong, however, is the PRESSURE. It's hard enough to function on 3 hours of sleep a night, or deal with a colicy baby, or or or...without people telling you how wrong you are for making the choices that you have made.
I'm not really talking about women who cannot breastfeed for one reason or another, but want to. I think those women are in a very bad situation, because they surely feel that they are somehow failing their children. I'm thinking about the women who could breastfeed, and choose not to. You know what? I know many of them. You know what? Their kids are fine. In fact, they're (almost) as good as mine. (And the almost has nothing to do with breastmilk, just the undeniable superiority of my child. OK, sorry. All done.) I know kids who co-sleep with their parents. I did as a child. I turned out fine. But when Maya was born, we needed time to be a couple, I needed time that I was not "attached" to my child 24 hours a day. And she's fine. Does she hog the bed? Yes. Will her future significant other WISH she had coslept, so she would have some idea of how to share a bed without whacking someone in the face? Probably. But that's another issue entirely.
I have a friend in PA who did not breastfeed her children. When her oldest came down with his first ear infection at 6 months of age, she was convinced that it was because she had given him formula. That if she had breastfed him, he would have better immunities, and would not have had the ear infection. But it was too late, and here she was, doomed for all eternity to be a terrible mother. Guess what? I breastfed Maya, and she got ear infections. Chronic ear infections, one after another. While she was still being breastfed. (My friend was SO happy to hear that, made at least SOME of the guilt go away...)
It seems to me that the answer here is to go easy on each other. We need to educate people of the benefits of breastfeeding their babies. We need to make it easier for mothers who DO breastfeed to do it. For example, maybe if new moms didn't have to go back to work so soon , they might have an easier time of it. (But our society doesn't TRULY value having a parent home with the children, no matter what the rhetoric is. If we did, we would fund it. End of story.) We need to tell women what some of the benefits are. 1. As L said, it's FREE. 2. You don't have to warm a bottle in the middle of the night. 3. Until they start solid foods, their poop doesn't stink. (MAJOR BONUS!) These are pretty good benefits to the mom. And the benefits to the baby, the health benefits, are well researched and documented, though in all honesty, I still cannot say that my child is any healthier than children we know who were formula fed from day one.
Really, what we need to do is stop with the pressure. How someone else feeds their child is none of my business. Wanna breastfeed? Great. If you choose to feed your baby formula, more power to ya. Honestly, I have bigger fish to fry than to worry about other women's boobs.