I Just Didn't Have the Right Personality to Breastfeed, Study Says
If you're an extrovert with a big support system, you're set.
My body is pretty good at being pregnant. I’ve done it three times without a single complication even though I started at 35 (you know, the age where you have to check “high-risk” for everything just in case you weren’t already nervous enough). Lest you think I’m bragging about my inherent maternal gifts, here it comes: I’m terrible at breastfeeding. With each baby I developed mastitis and so badly with the third one that I needed two rounds of antibiotics before the fever, swelling and pain went away. You’d think I would’ve gotten better at it with each one, not so. And a new study claims that a woman’s personality can predict whether breastfeeding will be a delight or a drag. You can guess which one my experiences were. So what personality traits are best–and worst–for breastfeeding? Here’s what the research says:
Mothers who were introverted felt more self-conscious about breastfeeding in front of others and were more likely to formula feed because other people wanted them to. Meanwhile mothers who were anxious found breastfeeding was more difficult and felt that they couldn’t get the support they needed. These factors are known to be linked to low breastfeeding rates.
I’m no introvert, just ask any of the poor souls who went to high school with me, reluctantly lifting their Levis off bleacher seats as I blissfully led the flag salute at every assembly. But showing skin in public is not my thing. (Perhaps I would’ve been more popular back then if it were!) In fact, I’ve worn a one-piece bathing suit every summer of my life and looking back, I guess years of referring to my less than perfect abs as “My Area” could mean that I’ve had some body issues to work on. But either way, I don’t like showing boob to the masses. Even if it’s for a good cause.
Another personal anomaly is the level of stress I had about whether or not breastfeeding was going to work. Was there going to be enough milk? How much was the baby drinking? Each baby seemed to sputter, choke or otherwise fuss through what seemed like half of our feedings. I’d heard friends say how blissed out they were during feeding sessions, even breastfeeding their babies well into toddlerhood and I kept thinking, what the heck is relaxing about this? I’m not a big worrier in life, but something about being on the hook–it was up to me and only me–to feed these babies their first and only meals for several months of their little lives, really shook me up.
I also lived in Italy where I never found an English-speaking lactation consultant. My parenting books suggested asking a friend for advice if a trained consultant wasn’t available but really, that seemed at least as uncomfortable as the mastitis. Looking back, I should’ve bitten the bullet and phoned a friend. To admit defeat as a new mom is tough, and maybe that should be a personality assessment called into check here. Too proud? You might not be able to get the support you need, Mom.
In the end, I breastfed the babies for nine months, six months and a little over five months. It’s not bad, but I’m a goal-oriented person and when the recommendation is 12 months, you know I’m shooting for 12 months. Never made it that far. But still with each baby, I vowed to somehow become better at it. A hand-pump was purchased, then an electric one; I wore nothing but those weird breastfeeding shirts for months and months, trying to make everything work a little bit better. It really didn’t.
Lack of sleep is the number one hardest part of having a baby, but breastfeeding is a close number two. At least this otherwise extroverted mama thinks so.
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