Carolyn Hax: Advice

Breastfeeding dispute is part of bigger issue

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Hi, Carolyn: My husband and I are expecting our first child. It’s still many months away, but my husband has been escalating his talk of breastfeeding and how magical and important it is. Even pre-pregnancy, he’d sometimes say how our kid would get the absolute best immune system, etc. His mom breastfed him until age 2.

At about the fourth comment, I asked if he could cut out the breastfeeding talk.

I get it, I know it’s beneficial, but I’m not doing what his mom did.

I haven’t even gone to an informational thing at the hospital about it, so I’ll definitely learn more. He said he just thinks the longer you breastfeed the better it is. I said he doesn’t actually know that, neither of us knows, and moreover I don’t really want him to have an opinion other than supporting me. It’s my body, and I don’t want him seeing me as just a milk machine, much less overseeing that milk machine.

I think that sunk in, and we agreed not to talk about it until we both learn more.

He is NOT the type to push or control – the exact opposite – but he has a sensitivity about getting sick/preventing illness. Even though we agreed to learn more, I just want him to leave it to me because it’s MY BODY. If he chooses to value his beliefs about the baby over my wishes for myself and the baby, I will be devastated. How do I bring this up again?

Best, Is Breast

You’ve hit on the bigger issue of breastfeeding, that it’s more about body autonomy than immunity – but there’s an even bigger issue than your bigger issue, one that goes well beyond feeding:

Bringing to parenthood a rigid, preconceived notion of any Absolute Best Anything is a terrible, often destructive idea.

Your job as parents is to work together to raise the child you have, whoever he or she turns out to be, to the best of your ability. That mission incorporates three important elements – cooperation with each other, your child’s individual nature and needs, your immediate circumstances – each with its own set of variables, because that’s how life is.

Preconceived notions are anathema to variables. You and your husband can find something you agree is (BEG ITAL)absolutely essential(END ITAL) to your plans for this baby, only to find reality has other ideas. When that happens, the cost of fighting reality just to maintain your grip on your original plans is often worse for your child than whatever it was you were trying to prevent – whether that cost comes in the form of money or stress or friction between parents or, especially important as children get older, denial of who your child really is.

To use your topic here as a blunt instrument, the occasional formula feeding would most likely be better for your baby’s long-term well-being than having her parents glow with the simmering fury of mutual resentment.

You say your husband isn’t normally controlling, great, but “a sensitivity about … preventing illness” can push a person there quite easily, especially when parental protectiveness kicks in. All it takes is for a concern about health to blossom into an anxiety and outgrow its place in a healthy perspective.

So please don’t treat this as a breastfeeding conversation to have later, but as a marriage-and-childrearing conversation to have as soon as you find space for a calm discussion.

Both of you should read up on what’s good for this baby, yes, and embrace approaches you agree will serve your values, breastfeeding included – but please do so only to the extent that you can stick to them without undue strain on your family. You can be as firm in your commitment to do right by a child as you are flexible in what that entails.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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