I’m sitting outside, laptop on a picnic table, watching my almost-3 year old daughter run around, play in dirt, draw on the patio with chalk and talking to the neighbor girls through the fence. Little things that seem menial mean so much to her. A robin landing on the ground to eat fallen crabapples fascinates her, and has created a whole interest in birds, of which she can now identify many. Childhood, the large and small parts, is so important for the framework that determines who our kids become as adults.
We let them play in dirt because it’s not harmful, it’s fun, and we know it’s good for their immune systems.
We let them explore as much as we can so they can learn about their environment, but still pull them back before they can do something that would really injure them so they can learn to explore, but safely.
We allow them treats because life is supposed to be about enjoyment, and a popsicle on a hot day is one of those things that makes childhood wonderful, but we also give them healthy meals because it’s important for their bodies to grow strong, their immune systems to function and for their lives.
I think it’s fair to say all of those things are true, yes? But it’s funny to me, because when discussions about certainly parenting choices arise, it’s inevitable that at some point, someone will say something like:
“In fifteen years, if you walked into their classroom, you would have no idea who was breastfed and who wasn’t.”
That’s true, of course. I can’t look around at teens and say, “Yup, nursed. Not nursed. Supplemented for two months.” No way. It’s not like breastfeeding or formula feeding creates purple kids and orange kids. However, it’s the sentiment behind it – that your choices when they’re children don’t matter – that is inherently flawed. Just like the examples I gave above, we know that the things we do for our children whether they’re newborns, toddlers, in elementary school or teenagers has an effect on them in the future. If it didn’t, why would we bother?
Some people eat junk food and stay thin and don’t have vitamin deficiencies, but that’s certainly not something you count on. We are safe to assume that a child is going to be healthier, stronger, grow to a better potential and even do better in school when they have a breakfast of eggs anf fresh fruit than a bowl of Cocoa Puffs every morning, or a dinner of baked eggplant parmesan instead of McDonald’s. In fact, it’s not just safe to assume, it’s kind of common knowledge and no one in their right mind would argue that the child eating unhealthily is better off than the other child, or that it would have no affect on the child’s future health or day-to-day function.
So, why when the discussion turns around to breastfeeding, is this truth, that their diet and bodies affect them both at the moment and long-term, suddenly dismissed?
No, I can’t walk into a high school classroom and tell you who is breastfed or who was formula fed or any combination of the two. I would never presume to be able to. However, what is true is that if you broke the children up into groups, of those with illnesses, allergies, those who were overweight or missed school often from weaker immune systems, you’re likely to find some similarities there.
I’m not saying the healthy kids would all be breastfed, not at all. I’m saying that you’re more likely to find that the healthier groups have families who eat healthy, are more active, and yes, ALSO that the children were more likely to be breastfed. I’m sure you’d find some exclusively formula-fed children whose families eat healthy there as well, because we all know it’s not just breastfeeding or just diet or just genetics, but a combination of everything, a bunch of little puzzle pieces that make up the whole picture that is your child.
We accept that there are certain ways to raise children that promote health more than others, and breastfeeding is no exception to that.
No, again, I can’t walk into a classroom and single out the breastfed children, however that may be the puzzle piece that makes the difference between which group of children your child stands in. When you put together a puzzle, you work hard to put every single piece in the right place. You wouldn’t get rid of some of the pieces that are harder to fit, because who knows if that one piece is actually a very important part of the final picture? Children are just the same – we can’t claim on one hand that healthy diets for children create healthy habits and healthy adults, and on the other hand say it doesn’t matter if you breastfeed because no one will be able to tell.
It’s not what people can see from the outside that matters anyway – I also couldn’t walk in and tell you which child has been raised as a homophobe or which one kicks his dog when he’s mad. Each puzzle piece that makes up your child is unique, is important, and deserves your best effort to put in the right spot so the final picture is as healthy, as happy, and as good as you can possibly make it.