Okay okay, that was a sad attempt to rhyme. I was just trying to break the ice before starting a conversation about, what can be, a touchy topic. I’m not really sure how to begin, but here it goes. I’ll start from the beginning.
Before I had my first baby, or even got pregnant I assumed I would breastfeed my babies. No questions asked. I knew it was the healthiest choice, the cheapest choice and the best choice. I took a breastfeeding class, not because I was worried it wouldn’t work. It worked for my mom, it worked for my sister, so why wouldn’t it work for me? I took the class to make sure I was well prepared. However, the class didn’t prepare me for what would happen next.
When I had my first child (Benjamin), the nurses took him from me the first night he was born because his temperature and blood sugar were low. They put him under a heat lamp and gave him a bottle and pacifier (without our permission). I insisted on breastfeeding him in the nursery. So I trudged my “just gave birth” body down to the nursery where I sat on a hard chair (ouch!) with no pillow support to hold my baby, while I tried to breastfeed for one of the first times. Did I mention the nurse kept grabbing my breast and my baby’s head and smashing them together. I think both Benjamin and I cried through the whole ordeal. Eventually they brought Benjamin back to our room, where there was a lot more grabbing and smashing from the nurses.
We finally went home, relieved thinking all we had to worry about was lack of sleep. However, the next few weeks were some of the most frustrating days. I found breastfeeding extremely painful, like sandpaper for an hour and a half every 45 min. or so. We found Benjamin wasn’t gaining weight. They started pushing us to supplement. I resisted for 3 weeks, visiting with a lactation consultant, taking fenugreek, eating lactation cookies and trying other milk-making advice, anything I could do to make it work. We finally gave in and supplemented with an ounce of formula every other feeding. He started gaining weight, but he still had really long feedings and when he wasn’t eating he was crying. When I look back at pictures of him I realize that he was starving, he was so skinny.
By the sixth week I was worn down. One morning I decided to give him as much formula he wanted and I would pump to see how much I was producing. While he downed 6 ounces of formula, I pumped a measly 2 ounces. After grieving the loss of the bonding experience I was supposed to have with my child, I wised up. I realized that while I thought breastfeeding was best for my baby, just making sure he was fed and nourished was most important. That meant my 2 ounces of breast milk and 4 ounces of formula was what my baby needed. Now I could spend more time loving my baby, rather than stressing over his incessant crying and my piddly milk supply.
Life got much better after that….sort of. And this is why I am writing this post in the first place. Going out in public and being with other moms became embarrassing when I had to whip out my bottle, rather than my breast. I either got stares of disapproval, advice about building my milk supply or comments like “well at least he’s getting some breast milk.” Not only that, but I had social media also staring me in the face. I’ve heard many news segments about the benefits of breastfeeding. Facebook friend moms would post articles AND strong opinions about breastfeeding being the ONLY way to feed your baby. As painful as it was to hear and read these things I developed a tough skin. I knew I tried my best and it just didn’t work well with my baby’s bad latch and my weak milk supply. It didn’t mean I was a bad mother, I was and am a good, caring, loving mother who will always do what is best for my children.
So, when I got pregnant with my second baby, I felt more prepared. I told myself, I would try my best to breastfeed and if things turned out the same I would accept it and move on. Friends and family would tell me things like “it’s a different baby, it may be different”, “you won’t be as stressed, it will probably work”, or “don’t worry, you know what you are doing this time.” But I continued to remind myself, it was okay if it didn’t work again. I was at peace.
At the time a friend of mine was also pregnant and due just weeks before me. So about a week after she had her baby, I texted her to see how she was doing (knowing how hard postpartum life was). She told me that breastfeeding wasn’t working out and how emotionally draining that was. Instantly I felt the need to talk to her, to tell her it’s okay if it doesn’t work. I told her all the things I told myself once I accepted the fact that I couldn’t exclusively breastfeed. Later, she told me how much that helped. She is one of the people who encouraged me to write this blog. She was feeling all the initial shame I felt with Benjamin. I am so proud of the attitude she has now adopted. She is a loving mother who is doing what is best for her daughter.
Today we, mothers (and fathers, you guys are important too), hear over and over again, “breast is best.” Which, yes, I agree is true. But the pressure that is being put on women to breastfeed is pretty heavy. But no one tells you that it just might not work. And the guilt and burden that is placed on mothers who can’t is almost too much to handle. Many mothers can’t, due to breast cancer, breast reduction, baby’s bad latch, low milk supply and many other reasons. It’s almost as if our society is telling women that you are not a good mother if you don’t breastfeed…because according to research breastfed children have better immune systems, better IQs and are all around healthy children. Well I am here to say that I have a healthy, happy, bright 20 month old boy and it’s not because I am a “good mom” and exclusively breast fed (because I didn’t), it’s because I have hugged him and kissed him and read to him and played with him and fed him and clothed him and bathed him and napped him and told him I love him over and over. He is not going to remember whether or not I breastfed him, he will remember the times I’ve kissed his owies, tickled his belly button and read Good Night Moon for a thousands of times.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking breastfeeding, by no means. If you can do it…fantastic! I think breastfeeding is awesome. If I could breastfeed exclusively I would. I’m just saying that women should not feel the shame and guilt society places on them when they have to use the bottle instead of the breast.
I write this as therapy for myself. I have a 3 month now, Gilbert, the sweetest baby boy. The first month with him, I had hope that breastfeeding would work. And it did…for a while. But after awhile he started to do the same things Benjamin did. So, with much reluctance I bit the bullet and bought formula, not without a moping about, feeling sad and guilty. I am embarrassed that I couldn’t take my own advice I gave to my friend and just be okay with it. I am now breastfeeding in the morning and at night, pumping during the day and supplementing when my milk is not enough. My baby is healthy and happy, so I should be nothing but happy.
The point of what I’m trying to say is that if you are a mom that is struggling to breastfeed, know that it is not the end of the world. Love your baby the best you can and know your are a good mother. Focus on the times you get to cuddle and rock your baby, because stressing about your loss interferes with the time your baby has with you. Take time to mourn your loss, but move on, because your baby needs you.
If you are a friend or a bystander of a bottle feeding mom, ask that mother how they are doing rather than why they aren’t breastfeeding. Ask how you can support them in this new stage of life rather than offering up your advice. Tell them they have a beautiful baby and move on. Quite frankly whether or not someone else’s baby is breastfed is none of your business. Be aware of how painful that topic can be for a mother who can’t breastfeed. They may have already beat themselves up enough. Mom’s need lots of love, it’s a hard job. Encouraging words are more powerful than words of advice.
That is all I have to say for now.