You are here

The New Breastfeeding Rules

Once we are home, a precious pot of lanolin becomes my new best friend. I stock up on shirts with hidden openings and spend contented hours in my glider rocker, a water bottle at my side. I learn to nurse confidently in public -- in cars, on planes, on trains (and possibly while reciting Dr. Seuss aloud in the rain). I can even suckle while simultaneously typing and talking on the phone, a breastfeeding hold described in no guide I've devoured.

When Henry is 4 weeks old, he outgrows the heirloom cradle next to our bed and I relocate him to a crib in his own room, down the hall. A few weeks later he's sleeping through the night (or from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., which by this point is nirvana, not to mention a reasonable facsimile of "all night"). Then, at 3 1/2 months, my champion sleeper begins backsliding. My mom tells me to mix a little cereal with formula and feed it before bedtime. I ask my pediatrician what he thinks. My pediatrician tells me to mix a little cereal with formula and feed it before bedtime. He's been a pediatrician for as long as my mom has raised five kids. It works.

I also leave the occasional bottle of half-and-half (half-formula, half-me) or a can of ready-to-pour formula for his day-care "teachers." I try to express a few extra ounces for this before or after work, though only when I have both time and inclination. Fortunately, Henry is in a corporate child-care center near my office, so I can slip out at mealtimes to nurse him. If I had to pump several times a day (or more ambitiously, FedEx milk back home from business trips, as colleagues do), I'm sure I wouldn't have bothered pumping at all, no matter how clean and private the pumping room or how understanding my boss. Without snuggling in the equation, making milk hardly seems worth the bother. Yet despite my slightly erratic production schedule, my milk supply never shrivels to the point of sudden infant starvation.

Naturally, I consider myself a "breastfeeding mother." A successful one at that. I nurse Henry for six months, long past the national average.

Too bad that virtually every preceding sentence brands me a loser at the job, according to prevailing winds of advice and expectation that have whipped up the definition of breastfeeding mother to intimidating proportions. Sure, sure, "breast is best." But breastfeeding advocates have raised the bar so high on what counts as the right way to feed a baby, it's a wonder anybody dares to start.

Especially after she faces the much-hyped recommendation that breastfeeding ought to continue for a marathon 12 months. A full year of breastfeeding is a tall order when the typical maternity leave lasts six weeks. Emphasizing the endpoint ("You really ought to do this for 12 months") makes the whole prospect a lot less inviting than lowering the bar to "Give it a try because your breasts will fill with milk anyway, and it's really good for your baby, even if you do it for just a day or two." Anybody might be game to give it a day. Making a commitment for a full year when you can't even think straight is like sending yourself an invitation to feeling like Failure Mom should you slack off at any point along the way, for whatever reason.

What's more, there's little talk of combining breast and formula (or, heaven forbid, solid food) to keep it going. Today moms are routinely advised to lay off the baby food for six months and breastfeed exclusively -- formula may as well be devil juice.

Another apparent mistake I made: all those working lunches and dinners using my patented multi-tasking breastfeeding hold. The new thinking is to use feeding times as an opportunity to stimulate your baby's brain cells by making eye contact and chatting, not to preserve your own by getting caught up on the news. Your needs? Your sleep? How dare you be so selfish!