In our culture we are taught to strive for things that will make our life “easier” or that if things are too hard, they may just not be worth it… well, I am here to say that I flat out disagree with that way of thinking! Sometimes (and, may I be so bold as to say, Most times) when things are worth it, there will generally be a challenge involved. I believe this wholeheartedly when it comes to the art and practice of breastfeeding. The benefits of breast feeding are worth it.
IT IS HARD WORK…
I know this first hand, and as my experience will be different from yours, and countless other women who have gone before us, I’d like to explore, and humbly encourage you to stick with it… it is a Worthy Cause, for our babies, for ourselves, and for our future. Please bare with me while I attempt to share with you what I’ve learned through my struggles and (many) tears! (p.s. the end result is pretty great!)
Benefits of Breastfeeding
The benefits of breastfeeding for Mom
- Releases Oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce postpartum bleeding
- May reduce the risk of Breast, Ovarian, and in some cases, even Uterine cancer. I should also mention that the longer you breastfeed, the lower your risk. According to Amy Spangler in her book Breastfeeding: A Parent's Guide, Women who breastfeed 2 years or more have been shown to have the highest protection.
- Lactation burns calories, and can help mom lose the baby weight faster
- Saves money $$! (One of my personal favorite benefits of breastfeeding!) Formula can be expensive, costing anywhere from $4 to $10 a day depending on how much baby consumes and what type you purchase… that’s anywhere from $1500 to $3650 a year!
- Saves time (most of the time, but I’ll get to that…). At night, putting a baby to your breast is much simpler and faster than getting up to prepare or warm a bottle of formula. Dad, or a helper, can make night feedings even easier by changing the baby and bringing her to you for nursing 😉
- Easier portability, reducing the amount of things you have to lug around with you, besides the baby! Also, milk coming straight from mom doesn’t require any sterilization or refrigeration when given straight to baby, another time and energy saver (if not having to breast pump that is!)
- The hormonal release of oxytocin during lactation also helps to relax mom and help her bond with baby. Breastfeeding is something that only mom can do for baby creating a powerful and unique emotional connection!
The benefits of breastfeeding for Baby
- Mom’s milk is the ideal nutrition for infants, with the perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat, in a form that is easily digested by baby. Traditional formula cannot even begin to mimic the perfect balance a mother’s body creates for her baby’s nutritional needs. And, guess what, as baby’s needs change, mom’s milk changes to meet those needs! Cool, Right?!
- Contains antibodies to help baby fight off infection, viruses, and bad bacteria
- Benefits of breastfeeding also include reduction of asthma and allergies
- Lowered risk for Respiratory and GI infections
- Smarter kid, higher IQ!
- Babies thrive off of the skin-to-skin closeness, and eye contact to help them bond with mom and help them feel secure
- May lower the risk of diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers
The benefits of breastfeeding For the Family
- It can be wonderful to see mom doing something that is nurturing and intimate, which can allow for a greater family intimacy… the bond being created doesn’t have to just be between mom and baby!
- For families that already have older children, it can be a great lesson for children to see mom doing something that may not be easy, but sticking with it anyway
- It can be a learning opportunity to teach the next generation about the benefits of breastfeeding and the amazing science behind God's design for Mom & Baby!
This is only a general overview of all the potential benefits of breastfeeding… research is continuing to be done, and don’t discredit your part in that “research”, on the long-term benefits of being the breastfeeder or the breastfed!
My Breastfeeding Journey
At just shy of 34 weeks pregnant, I became preeclamptic practically overnight (I had struggled with high blood pressure throughout my pregnancy), and my baby was taken by c-section within 24 hours. I did not get to touch him for another 24 hours after that, and even then, it was only through two, small holes in his incubator.
I began breast pumping soon after delivery, and was very successful. I even had an over supply in my freezer! Despite his TINY stature, and the odds of him being a “wimpy white boy” (as the doctors told us he was bound to be), Baby T was a champ at nursing, and took to the breast right away!
We brought baby home from the hospital 2 weeks later, and 2 days after that I ended up back in the hospital with blood clots in my lungs. I had to stay in the hospital for just over a week, and wasn’t able to pump or see the baby during this time, due to the fact that I was completely out of it from all the pain medication and health complications.
By the time I had recovered enough to return home, I had lost all of my milk supply, and baby T was being formula fed out of necessity. I immediately tried to return to “normal”… pumping like a crazy person and getting incredibly frustrated… trying to nurse and getting even more distraught! Needless to say, during this time, I was an emotional Wreck, feeling like a failure, completely overwhelmed, and basically feeling like my life was ending. When I thought I might Really be losing it, my husband and I met with my OB-GYN who encouraged me greatly. He said, “this isn’t just a normal postpartum, this is more like post-traumatic stress you’re dealing with! You just went to hell and back… it’s okay to not be OK right now!”… That, and the steadfast support from my ever full-of-grace husband, family, and friends helped me through this very challenging time, that felt like an eternity, but I think it really only lasted for a couple of weeks.
I decided it was okay for Baby T to be a formula fed baby, that I did not have to kill myself to try to get my milk supply back, and that this was simply my lot in life, and not worrying about it would make me a better mommy to my baby.
But over time I began to realize I simply could not let it go.
I would think about it constantly… Am I being a good mother even though I’ve “given up”? Oh sure you are, and don’t worry, you can still breastfeed with the next one… But what about this kid? What will I say when he’s older? He probably won’t even care… “Sorry honey, mommy gave you 2 weeks of goodness, but it just wasn’t worth the sacrifice”.
No. This simply would not do for me. I would not blame another mother one bit for throwing in the towel, but I just struggled to let it go! After a month, of back and forth, having sworn away my pump more than a few times and banishing it to the closet… after devastatingly horrible attempts at trying to nurse… I had a serious discussion with my husband.
My wanting to be able to produce milk for the baby would require his full support also, and it was certainly vital! I began just as I had on the day of Baby T’s arrival. I pumped.
I didn’t worry about the amount… I literally would give him 5 mLs if that is all I had produced that day… and knowing the enormous benefit I was providing him, prodded me on. I attempted to nurse several times throughout trying to increase my supply, thinking it would help things go faster, but baby was so used to the bottle by then, and didn’t want to work too hard for it, that we both ended up in frustration and Lots of tears! …my poor husband!
Baby T only nursed one more time during all of this, and that one time was an amazing precious gift… hope for what I so desired, closeness, intimacy, and a bond between mommy and baby that can’t be matched through any other way of loving. I will never forget that day.
And so, I continued to pump, again grateful for all the research on the benefits of breastfeeding I had done, and continuing to learn more… I was able to work up to roughly half of his daily intake, which was a great success in my book! And, although it was very taxing physically and emotionally, I stuck with it, up until 8 months or so, when I decided that I was missing out on spending valuable skin-to-skin time with Baby T while I was having to pump rather than enjoying the benefit of holding him, loving him, reveling in his sweet bluish-gray eyes while giving him a bottle.
It was Amazing while it lasted, and, simply put, I feel good knowing that I gave my son 110% of what I had to give.
Breastfeeding Support & Resources
Here are some of the resources that helped me get through this challenging time. I hope you find some additional support and encouragement here too.
- Kelly Mom – Kelly Mom is one of my favorite sites for all things breastfeeding. Invaluable information!
- Le Leche League – Le Leche League has been around since the '50s and is a wonderful resource. You can find a support group near you.
- Most hospitals offer lactation services. Check with your local hospital to learn about resources available to you.