Sunday afternoon, Kellen and I attended our first baby class: breastfeeding.
Like a lot of people, I grew up in a time/place where breastfeeding was extremely uncommon. I was bottle fed. My brother was bottle fed. My entire family was bottle fed (including my mother and father.) Everyone I knew had been bottle fed. Breastfeeding was some sort of weird, archaic boob voodoo that hippies who couldn’t afford formula did. Bottle feeding was convenient, accurate, kept breasts clearly in the “sex toy” realm for dudes, and was pretty much the only option available to working moms back in the day.
While those attitudes toward breastfeeding have mostly disappeared and breastfeeding has become a lot more common, not having been around babies or breastfeeding moms a whole lot any time in the last, oh, 20 years means that I haven’t had a lot of exposure to breastfeeding firsthand. Kellen and I have been really, really lucky that two of our good friends had a baby ~10 weeks ahead of us, because it means that we’ve suddenly gotten the exposure to breastfeeding that we (or at least, I) hadn’t in the past. Still. There are huge gaps in our knowledge about breastfeeding that have made the whole process seem sort of daunting.
And it is daunting. What I knew about breastfeeding before was this: it’s an extremely time-consuming process that makes baby almost entirely dependent upon mom for food. For the first 6 months of baby’s life, it means mom is almost constantly either attached to a baby or a pump…and as a person who values my independence, my physical autonomy, and equitable division of domestic responsibilities, this did not sound like a recipe for a good time to me.
Breastfeeding does have a lot of positive health benefits for mother and baby, though, and, perhaps most importantly, we could save a boat load of money if we skipped the formula. (We’re cloth diapering for pretty much the exact same reason–it’s cheap.) So despite my skepticism of a lot of the lactivist propaganda I’ve encountered and my general ambivalence toward a “miracle of life”/”the transcendent mystical bond between mother and child” view of breastfeeding and motherhood in general, and despite my concerns about the fact that this really would make baby very dependent on me and not so much on my husband, we made the decision to breastfeed.
Perfectionist that I am, once I’ve decided to do something, I have to do it right and must learn absolutely everything about it. Hence, taking the class was pretty much a must, since I figured it would probably be the fastest and easiest way to get the complete low-down on breastfeeding. (I’m also hoping to get The Nursing Mother’s Companion, visit with a lactation consultant at least once, and take a further class on working and breastfeeding. I’ve already spent hours doing research on the interwebz and have asked my new mom friend Rachael tons of questions about how it works.)
It surprised me, but I really, really enjoyed the class. Even though there were the occasional cringe-worthy mentions of mystical mother/baby bonds and the music in all of the videos we watched sounded like there should be glittery woodland creatures flitting across the screen, on the whole I found it to be very fact-based and educational.
We learned the mechanics of breastfeeding, what reflexes and natural impulses in babies lend themselves to breastfeeding and how to use those instincts/biological responses to make breastfeeding work for you. We learned some techniques for getting baby to take to the breast and latch well, which were completely counter to how I previously thought breastfeeding worked. (Seriously. I had no idea just how clueless I was until I took this class.) We learned about feeding schedules, how much babies should eat, how to bottle feed, and what questions to ask/instructions to give if you are leaving your exclusively breastfed baby with another care provider. The instructor also dispelled some common myths about feeding babies that sprung up to support formula-feeding babies, which I found really useful. Pumping came up a little, but I’m hoping I’ll get a lot more information on that at the working and breastfeeding class later on.
The instructor also had great advice for dads, including the importance of skin-to-skin contact for dads and babies (there is a mystical bond between dad and baby, too!), how dads can support moms and babies through the breastfeeding process, creating an environment where breastfeeding is optimized, making life easier on mom in general, etc.
On the whole, I left feeling confident and a little more excited about our decision. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I definitely think it’s doable, and the pay off in the end will be worth it. (FYI: Somewhere between $700 and $3000.) I would strongly recommend taking a breastfeeding class to expecting parents who have had very little exposure to breastfeeding before. I can’t say how much this class did to undo our ignorance about breastfeeding, and it only cost us $40 and 3 hours of our time.