How this blog turned into a breastfeeding site, I confess I do not know, but there you have it.
The Northern Virginia Parents of Multiples forums were all lit up this week with the age-old debate between formula and nursing. For the most part, the discussion breaks down into apologetics for and against breastfeeding. On the one hand you have moms who have made enormous sacrifices to nurse their multiples. They seek validation that their efforts are incredibly important and meaningful. On the other hand, you have moms who despite enormous sacrifices were not able to continue nursing as long as they wanted. They seek assurance that they made the best choice for their family, and that their babies are going to be just as healthy, happy and successful.
More than a matter of nutrition, nursing is an emotional issue. Mothers talk about weaning whether it takes place on day 3 or at month 18 using terms like “shame”, “failure”, “guilt” and “devastation.” No matter when we stop nursing, weaning is emotional, and we wonder whether we’re doing the right thing.
Let me reiterate, nursing twins is extremely difficult. All the sleep deprivation, pain and frustration of the usual newborn experience is multiplied. Many women on the forum a) are first time moms, b) have been through horrific pregnancies, traumatic births and heart-breaking stays in the NICU, and/or c) have arrived at parenting after months or years of difficult fertility treatments. They crave that magical experience of snuggling a little bundle of joy in a beautiful, warm, quiet nursery, of nursing and bonding and exulting in the pride of giving their baby the very best. Especially in the early months, that image is a dream deferred. Nursing newborn twins is a logistical nightmare and a sore trial to an already thrashed body.
It strikes me that Moms continually complain not so much that the merry-go-round of nursing/pumping/bottlefeeding robs them of sleep, but that it robs them of the time to enjoy their babies. I absolutely felt and resented that. I had looked forward to that sweet special nursing experience I had had with Fluffy: inspecting the curve of her cheek, marveling at the way her whole body fit in my forearm with her booty inside my the curve of my elbow, my arm along her spine, my wrist tucked into her neck and my hand wrapped over her soft, fluffy head. Instead, I was either cracking my canines in pain and fumbling with a bunch of props trying to keep two kids latched, or wondering when this one kid would ever finish since I still needed to pump (bleeeeeeeeeh!!) and bottle feed the other. But is motherhood really about whether or not we are enjoying the babies? Whose needs and wishes are most important here?
While no one including the formula companies would claim that formula is better than or even as good as breastmilk (hence, the “Breast is Best” on the labels), when you consider the totality of the circumstances including the offsets of a mother’s exhaustion and compromised ability to care for herself and her family–especially with multiples, you can certainly make a case that one’s “best” may or may not include breastfeeding.
I am torn between a desire to support mothers whether they nurse or not and a compulsion to be true to the evidence of the benefits of breastfeeding both to the children and their mothers. Here is my compromise.
If you did not nurse as long as you wanted to, read this article that asserts that the benefits of breastfeeding are overblown. I say, make your peace with the way things turned out, and move on. And skip over the next paragraph!
If you are trying to decide whether to nurse or how long to keep at it, read this abstract of the latest (2007) meta analysis of the benefits of breastfeeding. Pst!! The article in the previous paragraph is a woefully selective and incomplete survey of the literature that smacks of the aforementioned formula apologetics while this study aims to be a comprehensive scientific analysis of the available data.