As a nursing mom, I always referred to my breastmilk as liquid gold. I made sure every person who would come into contact with it, like the nanny, babysitter, grandparent, daycare worker, cleaning lady, and my husband, understood just how valuable it was. Under no circumstances was it to be wasted–EVER!
Breastmilk isn’t free, even in the most creative sense of the word. As special as the experience was, and as honored and appreciative as I was to make milk and feed my baby, breastfeeding took a toll on me. For as long as I nursed, I didn’t feel that my body belonged to me. I often felt tired and ravenous and undernourished, no matter how much I ate and drank. But also a bit trapped since I could never freely go very far for very long.
Breastmilk Is Worth More Than Gold
We mothers who have enough milk to nurse our babies are indeed fortunate because we don’t have to go to the store to purchase the milk. But it is a severe understatement to say that breastmilk is “free,” and here’s why:
Breastmilk is very valuable.
It is widely accepted that breastmilk boosts a baby’s immune system, protecting them from infections and illnesses. Breastmilk is easier for a newborn/baby to digest. It naturally contains many of the vitamins and minerals a baby requires for brain growth and nervous system development. Studies show that breastmilk can pass a mother’s antibodies onto their babies from infectious illnesses she has had in the past and those she has while she nurses. This can give babies an advantage in preventing and fighting certain diseases. I don’t know a parent who wouldn’t pay top dollar for all of this for their baby.
Time is money.
This is a widely accepted concept. The average mother who will exclusively breastfeed will spend up to about 1,800 hours doing so. A full-time 40-hour workweek, with three weeks of vacation, adds up to 1,960 hours of work time a year. If a mother is pumping in addition to nursing, she can spend up to 2-3 extra hours a day pumping milk. This means that breastfeeding is literally a full-time job. If a mom was getting paid for that time, she could make good money!
Pumping takes time.
Working mothers who are also giving their babies breastmilk have to trade time that they could be spending getting their work done to nurse or pump. Personally, I put in so many additional hours after work time to make up for the 1-2 hours a day I had to step away from my desk to pump my milk to bring home to my baby every single day.
It’s a trade-off.
While mothers are skilled multi-taskers, there is just so much one person can get done while they are nursing or pumping. Usually, while nursing, mothers end up trading off other parts of their lives to keep nursing (like sleeping and eating while it’s hot!). There’s only so much we moms can get done in a day when (one of our) full-time jobs is feeding our baby!
Producing milk takes extra calories.
Nursing mothers know that they need to eat well to ensure that their milk is nutrient-rich for their babies. Mothers will spend money on special foods, broths, and teas to enrich their milk. Additionally, if a mother has a shortage of milk, she may spend money on all sorts of products to keep the milk full and flowing. Nursing moms are usually eating lactation cookies, lactation teas, lactation bars, lactation smoothies, vitamins, supplements, and homeopathic remedies. The list goes on and on!
It can be mentally draining.
A mother’s mental health is one of the most critical components of becoming a new mom. Keeping up with nursing is mentally and physically exhausting. For at least the first few months, it is all-consuming and can be very stressful. Nursing can also be very challenging on a mother’s neck, back, and shoulders. This strain can cause pain, which adds to her stress.
Breastfeeding can be physically strenuous.
Just because a mother makes milk doesn’t mean that her baby will automatically latch or nurse correctly. Many mothers who have enough milk struggle to get their baby to drink it for one reason or another (like a poor latch, forceful letdown, etc.). Many moms will even hire lactation consultants to support them with getting their babies to eat.
It can hurt!
Talk about expensive.
Nursing mothers need gear! Nursing pillows, bras, covers, shirts, and dresses. Bra pads for leaks, nipple cream . . . it seems like the gear never ends! Further, many mothers who choose to breastfeed also need to pump. Pumps and their parts cost money, as do all of the storage bags that need to be purchased to hold the milk.
Nursing moms lose simple luxuries.
When a mother chooses to nurse, she also chooses to give up a multitude of luxuries. Sleeping more than a few hours at a time (even if she doesn’t get up to nurse, she needs to get up to pump) is one of the first to go. She can never be too far away from her baby or a pump. And she has to stop everything that she is doing every few hours for at least a 30-minute nursing or pumping session.
Many mothers can’t produce their own milk or enough of it. These moms will pay a lot of money to buy breastmilk from other lactating mommies because they believe in its benefits. Just because a mom may produce milk and not actually pay for the milk itself, breastmilk isn’t free. Far from it.
I know I, and many other nursing moms, would probably never trade their time and effort in breastfeeding for money. But it sure helps a struggling, tired, sore, frazzled nursing mama when her efforts are acknowledged! So, good job, nursing mamas! Breastmilk isn’t free. Keep up the great work.