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Breastfeeding ROI

Posted Jun 12 2011 9:20pm

If my breasts were a business, any financial analyst would have recommended I close shop a long time ago. My ROI (return on investment) sucks.

You see, I pump all day long … including four sessions at work … and make 10-12 oz. of milk for Maya. Basically, two bottles of the five she drinks in a day.

And it’s exhausting.

While our little munchkin has been sleeping through the night since she was eleven weeks old, I am still waking up to pump most mornings around 2 or 3 AM. I’d love to just skip that pump, but it’s an issue of supply and demand: my supply sucks as it is, and I don’t want to make it any worse by not pumping.

On top of that nightly annoyance, I’m sick of lugging my Medela Pump in Style Advanced bag and gear to work with me every day and I’m sick of leaving my desk four times a day to pump at the office and I’m sick of being tethered to tubes while we watch TV or I blog at night.

But yet I keep on keeping on.

Because while one little angel on my shoulder whispers, “Breast is best” and encourages me that any little bit I can give her is better than none  and reminds me of all the health benefits of it … the other little angel on my shoulder says, “You’ve given it your all. Maya has gotten a great start. Be kind to yourself; it’s OK to stop.” (Notice they are BOTH angels; there is no “right” and “wrong” here, only what’s “right” for me  — and what is right for me seems to change day to day).

I don’t say all this to sound like a martyr, but rather to share the struggles I’ve had with respect to breastfeeding — especially because I know my challenges are not unique.

I never had any grandiose ideas about breastfeeding, but at the very least, hoped I’d be able to do it for at least a little while. After taking a Breastfeeding Basics class at my local hospital while I was pregnant, I decided not to set any expectations or define any time-lines but, rather, see what happened once Maya was born. I didn’t want to put any added pressure on myself and worried I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Early on, we realized I had supply issues when, at two weeks of age, Maya was still losing weight instead of gaining.  So my pediatrician recommended supplementing formula in addition to nursing and pumping. I hated the idea because I knew the problem wasn’t Maya; it was me. I wasn’t making enough to meet her demand … and when you have a small baby to begin with, you need to do what you need to do to make her gain weight. Which meant I needed to supplement with formula — something I wasn’t keen on, but something I needed to come to grips with.

And I did.

In fact, after a while, I stopped nursing entirely and exclusively pumped and gave her formula. But then two months ago, hoping to boost my supply, I began nursing again on occasion and I discovered how much I enjoyed it. To be honest, it hasn’t helped my supply (I need to drink more water, drink mother’s tea, eat more oatmeal, etc.), but it is much less uncomfortable than pumping and I love how close it makes me feel to Maya. I love knowing I can soothe her and nourish her with a simple suck. It’s so primal and beautiful … yet for as lovely as it is, the bottom line is this: I am not able to fully sustain her on my own.

And I’ve come to terms with it; it’s OK.

The ROI for breastfeeding, for me, isn’t found in how many ounces of milk I produce each day but rather in how I *feel* about what I’m doing.

When I think of that, I want to keep at it for the full year, since, in spite of my supply issues, I do feel good about it (most of the time). But I’m also not going to put any unnecessary pressure on myself; that will only make the situation harder. If it starts making me crazy (the way exclusively nursing was in the beginning) then I’ll stop. I have to remember I’m in the fortunate position to be able to make the choice … and no matter what I decide, I can feel good about the effort I’ve given and the start I’ve given my daughter.

I wish all women could feel the way I am learning to feel … that whatever they did or tried … was enough/will be enough. The sad truth is, we live in a judgmental society where women are criticized for their decisions: to work or stay at home; to breastfeed or formula feed; daycare or a nanny; to vaccinate or not to vaccinate; sleep train or go with the (potentially sleepless) flow. It’s unfortunate and all of these issues are so highly emotionally-charged … if we could just be a little gentler on ourselves, maybe motherhood would be a little less daunting?

As mothers, we have our children’s best interests at heart, but ultimately we need to remember that the only person we truly answer to is ourselves.

I hope to keep this in mind when the day comes that I do turn off the pump and put the nursing bras away … sometime in the next six months.

How about you? How did you decide to start or stop breastfeeding? Did you feel guilty about your decision?

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