When I got pregnant with Littlest I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding, and my initial thought was that I wouldn’t put any pressure on myself to make it work if it really was too complicated. My boobs changed a lot during pregnancy and were the very first sign I was pregnant. I went up two cup sizes by the time my milk came in, though I seem to have settled back down almost a cup size since then. Everyone’s choice about this is personal, but to me it just made sense to put all these changes to the test and ask my boobs to do what they were physically preparing for.
There are a few things that have surprised me with this experience, and they may or may not be cultural, but I think they are somewhat specific to France.
- In France your employer legally has to give you an hour to pump every day at work. This is such a joke when you’re a teacher, and I’m sure it’s worse if you’re an elementary school teacher. I scoured the internet for personal experiences from other teachers on forums since the Education Nationale has apparently nothing to say about it. The two other teachers I opened up to and talked to about it had either not breastfed at all or had just quit when they went back to work (at 3 months). So I felt pretty alone in my quest to pump at work until I went to see the school nurse (a former midwife) back in September to talk to her about where I could pump. She was so supportive that I stopped feeling like such a freak for wanting to teach and give my baby breast milk. Maybe I’ll continue to feel like a freak when I’m pumping in the nurse’s room during both récrés and my lunch break… but I hope not.
- Out of the five women in my birth classes, only two of us tried to breastfeed. One of the other women is pumping and mixing with formula, which sounds exhausting to me. So even with these ladies (the other one who tried stopped after two weeks), I feel a little bit on my own. My colleague who had a baby last year didn’t breastfeed either.
- I chatted a little with some of my colleagues and acquaintances, or they opened up about it on their own, before Littlest was born. At least two women said they either got stressed about the baby not eating enough or didn’t have enough milk for the baby. I took them at their word until I realized people love suggesting to breastfeeding moms that they don’t have enough milk. Okay, maybe that is an exaggeration—but here’s a tip for everyone out there: Never ever say to a breastfeeding mom that she might not have enough milk for her baby, unless you are a certified lactation consultant! I mean wtf? Two of J’s family members suggested to me at completely different times that I didn’t have enough milk based on absolutely nothing. (For the record, I’ve always had enough milk and I’ve never been worried about it.) It’s infuriating and heartless and irresponsible. So many women get stressed out about this and so few of them really don’t have enough milk for their babies.
I get that breastfeeding is a big constraint that some women don’t want to put up with, and there are obviously other personal and health reasons why women wouldn’t be able to or wouldn’t wish to breastfeed. I did actually almost give up at two months because Littlest’s evening feedings were becoming a real PITA, and was surprised at how sad I was to think we were stopping, so so much for that chill attitude I’d hoped to have when I was pregnant. But here are the advantages I’ve found, and I try to remind myself of them when I get the impression that all the bottle-fed babies in the world are already sleeping through the night.
- One of my colleagues said she stopped because she stressed about not knowing how much the baby was eating. I LOVE not knowing how much the baby is eating. We give him one bottle every evening (occasionally he takes another one in the morning if I’m too tired) and we never worry too much about him eating a specific amount because we know he got what he needs the rest of the day out of the breast. FREEDOM.
- Along those same lines, it’s much easier to pack my nipple shield and washcloth with me when we go out than the formula, bottle and bottled water. (Though I would also love if it he would learn to regularly latch and give up the freaking nipple shield.) Also in the middle of the night there’s no mixing to be done.
- Antibodies: babies are protected by their mom’s immune system for the first three months after the birth anyway, but breastfeeding gives extra help, such as last week when Littlest barely got the stomach flu I was dealing with, because my new antibodies were streaming through the breast milk. (My understanding of this is fairly limited, but I think it works something like that.)
- I’ve already lost more weight than I gained during the pregnancy (though I think this counts way less than reasons 1-3) and I haven’t gotten my period yet.
- Also, Littlest is really cute when he’s breastfeeding. I mean it is a really sweet moment for just the two of us, especially at night.
Anyway, the takeaway for me from all this is that I actually feel pretty alone in breastfeeding among women of my generation, which is weird, because when we looked up the official numbers, the rates are no lower in France than in the States. I do think it picked up later on here than in the States (J and his sister weren’t breastfed, for example), but most women of that generation have since learned about the benefits so other than the careless remarks about milk supply, everyone’s been supportive. So I try to remind myself of the advantages to help feel less lonely about it.
Anyone have any other experiences (your own, other people’s…) to add to this list?