Nursing and convenience parenting


I've posted before, here and elsewhere, about my extreme indifference, bordering on enmity, towards breastfeeding. It was just not something I looked forward to about being a mom. For years, I didn't think I'd even attempt it, and then, before my kid was born, I decided I would attempt it, but with no pressure on myself to do anything other than try. I had no "I'll nurse for X months" goal, and I had a stockpile of formula ready for when it didn't work out, or when I hated it too much to continue.

Ten months in to my child's life, I am still pretty indifferent. Breastfeeding has been easy and more or less painless for me. The baby took to it easily, I have plenty of milk, even pumping has never been a problem. The unused formula has long since been given away, never having been needed or even considered. But I don't like it. I don't feel it bonds us, at least not any more than any of the other million mundane parenting tasks I do every day. While I in no way find it gross, or uncomfortable, I do find it inconvenient, and, increasingly, intrusive. As I've heard so many women say over the years, I'm ready to have my body back.

But I'm not going to wean.

Why? Given my lack of a breastfeeding timeline goal, and my feeling that the negatives of doing it are starting to outweigh the positives, wouldn't weaning make sense? At this point, I don't think so. In only two more months, my baby will be a year old (wow, already?!). At that point, the American Academy of Pediatrics gives the OK to start giving cow's milk. He's eating an ever-increasing amount of food (and seems to prefer it to nursing), and only nursing/getting bottles of pumped milk 4-6 times a day. It seems to me, perhaps foolishly, that if I'm willing to wait a couple more months to start the process, I may be able to wean him so slowly and gradually that he'll not much know the difference. Or he may do it himself. That will make it one less thing that I have to put him through or "train" him into/out of, and that, unlike whatever health benefits he is still getting at this age, makes it worthwhile to me to wait. In short, I'm willing to wait because I think it will be easier.

This sheds light on one of the parts of parenthood I didn't necessarily expect. I expected to be willing to do things I don't want to do because they are what my baby needs--that seemed obvious from my first diaper change. I expected to prioritize his comfort and happiness over my own much of the time. But I didn't expect to be so willing to make compromises to my preferences for the sake of making things easier. Not necessarily better, just easier. It isn't in the books, but a lot of infant parenting, at least in my experience, comes down to maximizing utility and convenience. Were I to wean the baby at this point, I'd have to start dealing with formula--that would add a complication to my life. I'd have to deal with "explaining" to a pre-logic baby why he can't nurse anymore when he still wants to--another complication. It's worth the inconvenience of continuing to nurse and pump to avoid those inconveniences. At that end of the day, the metric isn't "what's best for him and best for me?" but rather "what's easiest for both of us?"

In the specific example of nursing, I assume that at some point, probably not too far down the road, the convenience metric will change and then nursing will cease (and I will quietly rejoice). But the more interesting thing, to me, is the window this provides into how parenting decisions are actually made on the ground. When this was all theoretical to me, I never would have expected to value the convenience of an established nursing relationship over my own complete body autonomy. Nor would I have expected that convenience to be, in reality, more important to me than the more tangible benefits of breast milk. It's one of those interesting ways in which the idea of parenting and the reality of it are just miles apart.

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May 2013

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