Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Breastfeeding Is Not Always Easy, But Neither Is Raising A Child

Breastfeeding is not always easy.

There, I said it.

Breastfeeding is not always easy.

But it's also not always hard.

And bottle-feeding isn't always easy, either.

See, that's the thing. Caring for a baby is not easy. It's not always hard, but it's not easy, either.

In the beginning, breastfeeding takes effort. For some women, it takes a lot of effort. For others, it comes with only a shallow learning curve.

I don't think most people need to be convinced, nowadays, of breastfeeding's health benefits to both baby and mother, that breastfeeding is more natural, that breast milk contains all sorts of incredible ingredients unmatched by any commercial formula. We know this. And yet, because we have a choice, we still feel there's a choice to be made.

That's fair. We make a lot of choices when it comes to baby care. Start solids at 4 months or 6 months or when the baby shows interest? Commercial baby purees or homemade baby purees or table foods? Cloth diapers or disposable diapers or elimination communication? To swaddle or not to swaddle? Which car seat to buy? Which stroller? Should we baby-wear? What carrier or carriers should we use? To vaccinate on the CDC schedule or delay vaccinations or not to vaccinate at all? To send to daycare or stay home with a parent or hire a nanny or a part-time baby-sitter?

When we have choices, we feel we need to make choices. And the existence of formula means we do have a choice when it comes to how we feed our babies. Thank G-d for that. Thank G-d that babies whose mothers are unable to feed them due to a medical condition, absence, or tragedy have an alternative. Thank G-d that mothers who are suffering from a medical or emotional condition that is incompatible with breastfeeding can still feed their own babies. Thank G-d that working mothers who are unable to pump enough to meet their babies' needs have a backup.

But why is it that so many women want to make the choice about infant feeding based on which one is easier? Because, let's face it, the easiest thing would be to let someone else care for the baby entirely! Come and visit when she's happy and content, and as soon as she starts crying or needs something, hand her off. Wouldn't that be great?!


Of course not.

When we have a baby, we take on the responsibility of caring for her. We expect to have difficult times, but we also expect to cherish the good times. We are filled with love. Every smile melts our hearts. Every cry hurts. Becoming a parent means taking the hard times with the easy, making difficult decisions, caring. And it's not like they're babies forever, when feeding and diapering are our biggest concerns. What about when your 12-year-old tells you that his friend is thinking about suicide, or your eight-year-old expresses concern about her weight? What about when your 16-year-old comes home drunk from a party or your six-year-old asks where babies come from? Things really don't get easier. I heard it put very succinctly, once: "Bigger kids, bigger problems."

We may as well get used to the idea right away that raising kids is not easy. Being a parent is not easy. We will always have difficult decisions to make. Sometimes, we will be confronted with two options, neither of which is easy, and sometimes we will get to choose between two easy actions. Sometimes the right choice is obvious and easy. Sometimes it's obvious and difficult. Sometimes it's neither obvious nor easy. Sometimes there is no "right" choice. Sometimes there is no "easy" choice. And, yes, sometimes there is no choice.

So when it comes to breast milk versus formula, breastfeeding versus bottlefeeding, does it matter which is easier? Is that the only determining factor? It's easier, so that makes it the right choice?

I don't know. Maybe for some parents, that is the major deciding factor. But I hope that when it comes to raising a child, we don't always go with whether something's easier, but rather what's the best thing we can do given our situation.

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