Going into this motherhood thing, breastfeeding was NOT something to which I was looking forward. That's an understatement, actually--I really, really didn't want to do it. However, I believed (and still believe) the research about the benefits of breastfeeding, so I was determined to give it a try. In the back of my mind, though, I expected to have problems and ultimately to have a reason not to do it and to convert to formula feeding.
So far, it hasn't worked out that way. More so than really any other aspect of pregnancy, childbirth, or new parenthood, breastfeeding has gone really, really well. Buzzy emerged fully willing and able to nurse, and he taught me how to do it. My supply is good, and though there was definitely some discomfort in the first couple of weeks, it was nothing compared to the pain I was expecting. So, at this point, my month old baby is exclusively breastfed, and I don't see that changing unless/until circumstances do. I started pumping a couple of weeks ago and he takes a bottle of expressed milk just as well as he takes a breast, so, even when I return to work (and more on that at a later time...), so long as I can pump enough, he should be able to continue with breast milk until he starts solids.
None of this is to say that I enjoy it--I don't. I find it boring and relentless. I dislike being a food source. I dislike not feeling as if I am the primary owner and user of my body. It gives me no warm and fuzzy feelings. But it's bearable.
Even more than was the case before I started actually doing it myself, I've become really aware of all of the rhetoric surrounding breastfeeding. Everybody has an opinion, from those who think that anybody who doesn't breastfeed is abusing her children to those who think that breastfeeding is disgusting. People are really pushy about it, too--in a way that strikes me as completely inappropriate both in regards to a personal parenting decision and in regards to a personal decision about how a woman chooses to utilize her own body.
One thing I heard quite a lot about before going through this experience myself was how awful the formula company giveaways were--these giveaways, I was told several times, were engineered to build dependency on formula and interrupt a given woman and a child's breastfeeding relationship. Having formula around, the logic went, made it much more likely that a given woman would end up not breastfeeding. At some hospitals, I was told, even the giveaway bag for breastfeeding moms would be a not-very-well-disguised attempt to build formula dependence.
(For those who aren't aware of what I am talking about, formula companies routinely sponsor freebies for expecting/new moms, including vouchers for formula and bags of freebies given out by doctors and hospitals.)
The birth center at which I delivered Buzzy had a choice between a "breastfeeding" and a "formula feeding" giveaway bag, both sponsored by Enfamil. Expecting that I would be doing mixed feeding, I chose the breastfeeding bag.
-insulated bottle carrying bag
-8-oz can of Enfamil powdered newborn formula
-2 2-oz Snappies containers for collecting and storing expressed breast milk
-reusable ice pack
-single-use sample packet of Boudreaux's Butt Paste diaper rash ointment
-March of Dimes pamphlet with vaccination schedule
-$15 rebate coupon for Enfamil formula
-registration form for Enfamil Family Beginnings program
-informational card about Enfamil bottle nipples
-instructional card on how to use the ice back and bottle bag for formula or expressed breast milk transfer
-"Tips for Breastfeeding Success" booklet, which includes a coupon for Enfamil infant vitamin drops and a $15 rebate coupon for any breast pump
Clearly, the bag is a promotional tool--Enfamil wants you to use their products. If you decide not to breastfeed after all, or if you decide to supplement with formula, they want it to be their formula. Thus the inclusion of the can of newborn formula. However, with that exception, I found the rest of the items in the bag to be really useful for a new breastfeeding mom--assuming that she, like me, will be pumping. The Snappies containers are great, and hard to find for purchase. The ice pack and bottle bag are useful for transport of expressed milk. And the $15 rebate offer on a pump is a great boon. I can't fault any of those inclusions.
It turned out that, at least in Buzzy's first weeks, formula wasn't useful for us. I still have some around, including the can of Enfamil from the bag, and I'm saving all my formula vouchers until I can be sure we aren't going to need to supplement for day care down the road, but having it does not force me to use it, and I can honestly say it hasn't even been a "temptation." For me, this is the heart of the controversy over these bags--whether or not you think offering a free tool that may or may not end up useful presents so much sway over the new mom that it is more harmful than helpful. In my case, I'd say no. However, this bag is not the only thing I received at the hospital--I also got a packet full of breastfeeding information and several meetings with a lactation consultant, heading off any potential problems Buzzy and I were going to have with nursing at the pass. Had that not been the case, or had I had problems anyway, the Enfamil marketing would likely have been a lot more successful. And, given the still fairly low rates of breastfeeding in this country, it probably is successful in a lot of cases.
I'd have preferred if the bag given to women who plan to breastfeed hadn't included formula. If the can of formula were replaced with a tube of nipple cream, for example, I think the bag would have been better. However, judging completely on my personal experience as a new-and-newly-breastfeeding mom, and as someone for whom the idea was extremely frightening and not appealing beforehand, I just can't get all that worked up about formula company freebies standing in the way of breastfeeding. It seems to me that there are much more serious systemic barriers in place--most notably the lack of support for pumping in the workplace and the bizarre and archaic ideas and policies a lot of folks have about nursing in public--and those are what we ought to be concerned about, and fighting against.
Happy World Breastfeeding Week, y'all.