Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When breastfeeding is a stress

I often hear my follow new mothers say that breastfeeding is a stress.

Breastfeeding can be hard, I know. I have a baby who was exclusively breastfed until the age of six months, and breastfeeding did stress me out at one point.

I come from a culture that is relatively breastfeeding unfriendly. My parents were from China, where less than 30% of babies are breastfed. Being born and raised in Taiwan, I have never seen anyone or heard of anyone breastfeeding while growing up. After giving birth I hired a postpartum caregiver, a very nice Chinese lady, so nice that she constantly reminded me that a new mother should rest well and nursing every three hours is bad for my health. Debating with my parents, my in-laws, and my caregiver over breastfeeding was stressful.

And I did have some health concerns about breastfeeding. I have a strong family history of breast cancer, and before I was pregnant, my doctor found two fibromas in my left breast during a regular check-up. Even though I was assured that fibromas would not interfere with breastfeeding, I could not help but worry about it. That worry was stressful.

Then I returned to a very breastfeeding unfriendly working environment when my baby turned six months old. I was forced to pump my breast milk in a bathroom stall. When I attempted to wash pump accessories in the office kitchen, my colleagues made nasty comments that I was washing “dirty panties” in the office. The situation was stressful.

My milk started to dry up. I started to feel that I may not have enough milk to feed my baby. I started to consider breast milk substitutes. I started to feel that my lactation consultant was annoying for constantly telling me how breast milk is superior to infant formula.

Finally, that day came. My application for nursing accommodation at work was rejected. When I came home, an infant formula coupon was waiting in my mail box. Exhausted and disappointed, I told myself, “this was it.”

And then I drove to a grocery store with that coupon. I was going to buy the first container of infant formula. So here I was, standing at the baby food aisle, holding a can of formula in my hand.

All in a sudden a question came to me, “is this really the answer to my stress?”

Would I stop worrying about my fibromas? Probably not. All the research results that I could find show that fibromas have nothing to do with breastfeeding. If I were going to worry about those lumps in my breasts I would just continue to worry, regardless of whether I was breastfeeding or not.

Would I feel better at work? Certainly not. Apparently my employer disrespected the labor law enough to resist accommodation to an employee’s breastfeeding needs. I was persuaded that the company would not protect my employee rights one way or another, even if I were not breastfeeding.

Would I stop being annoyed when hearing breastfeeding advocates lecturing about the benefits of breastfeeding? Most definitely not. I would be even more annoyed, because I knew that they are right. I knew that in spite of the pressure from my family, my employer, and my health condition, the sole reason for me to give up breastfeeding was my personal choice.

I realized that it was not breastfeeding that was the cause of my stress.

So I put that infant formula back on the shelf. I walked out of the store. I went home and submitted a letter of resignation to my supervisor. Now my baby is 14-months old and still being breastfed.

I am saying this from the bottom of my heart: If you are a new mother, and you feel that breastfeeding is really stressful, please do ask yourself if giving up breastfeeding is the real solution. The answer might surprise you.

"Mommy I don't want formula!"

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