Balance is best

By Published On: November 9th, 2015

“Oh, how I miss those sweet suckling sounds.” The cold […]

1“Oh, how I miss those sweet suckling sounds.” The cold bathroom tiles send shivers up my hands, but I readjust my position in order to see the shoes of the woman speaking. They look like the easy-walking flats that my grandma wears everywhere from the market to the bank (yes, she knows her teller by name), and I would wager $10 that she bought them at Easy Spirit. I’ve never made conversation with a stranger while going about my business in a bathroom stall … but there’s a first time for everything.
I respond that he’s a sweetheart, he’s 6 months old, and that we’re slowly beginning to introduce foods. She tells me that I shouldn’t have to sit on a bathroom floor to breastfeed—we should be much more accommodating as a community—and then spends a good two minutes telling me how she breastfed her son until he was 4 years old. 4! And it was all worth it, apparently, because he’s now 34 and has never once been sick.
Eventually she flushes, and I wish her a good day as the paper towel roll crunches in her hands. Max finished eating a minute ago, but I stay on the floor a little longer so I can avoid coming face-to-face with my bathroom-stall counterpart. What would she say to the mother who started introducing solids at 6-months? Or worse: the mother who has an easy time breastfeeding, yet still opts to use formula every so often?
“Breast is best.” That slogan reaches an expecting mama via a variety of sources, ranging from the The American Academy of Pediatrics to March of Dimes. I Googled the topic at 34-weeks pregnant and found the following advice from Dr. Sears, author of The Breastfeeding Book: “Breastfeeding your baby for as long as mother and baby are able and willing is one of the best long-term investments you can make into the emotional, intellectual and physical health of both mother and baby.”
Breastfeeding makes baby smarter AND healthier? Nursing seemed like a slam-dunk easy decision: take it to the hoop (errr … nipple). My big-belly-self signed up for a breastfeeding class, and I started researching colostrum, nursing schedules and proper latches. Breastfeeding would be one of my first challenges as a new mama, and I was determined to succeed.
Max started nursing minutes after his arrival, and the two of us found the practice mutually enjoyable. My little bean snuggled close for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I enjoyed knowing that our routine provided him with nutrition and aided his development. As for Max … what could be better than a pillow (my boob) that doubled as a protein shake (my milk)? Life was good for both of us.
Except when it wasn’t. Every drop of milk that I produced went straight into my babe’s growing body, and I wasn’t able to pump anything extra. As you can imagine, this made going somewhere (or anywhere) pretty tricky for a good six months. I said goodbye to fitted dresses and restaurants with teeny bathrooms, and hello to button-downs and wide-open spaces (preferably with a shaded bench).
You know how Sam could eat green eggs and ham on a boat or with a goat? In the rain and on a train? I started to feel that way about breastfeeding: I could nurse in a box and with a fox … I could feed in a house or with a mouse. Just like Sam and his green eggs, I could nurse just about anywhere.
But you know what I couldn’t do? Go anywhere without Max. Not producing extra milk meant that everything from girls night to date night went on the proverbial back-burner while I prioritized breastfeeding. You can imagine how badly I needed a hair appointment and a dental check-up.
The “breast is best” mantra ran laps in my mind for those six months. However, things changed when I decided to replace “breast” with “balance.” My new “balance is best” mantra involves discovering routines and establishing habits that benefit the entire family. Regarding breastfeeding, it means giving Max formula whenever I need to leave the house. Girls night in the city? My husband gives our babe Similac. If I’m running errands and the tiny bathroom has a dirty floor? I’ll shake the formula bottle and hand it over.
I applaud mothers who struggle with breastfeeding yet stick with the process in order to nourish their little ones, and I’m deeply appreciative of the women who breastfeed in public—think restaurants, trains and hair salons—in order to pave a path for us mamas still nursing with covers and/or on bathroom floors. My heart goes out to women who want to breastfeed but aren’t physically able to (think double-mastectomy, milk not coming in, etc). And, most recently, I’m learning to appreciate women who, like myself, are perfectly capable of breastfeeding, yet choose balance over breast.