Breast Is Best…Unless…
I pride myself on being transparent, on telling inconvenient truths about motherhood. This quest to shed light on issues often regarded as controversial is something I’m extremely passionate about. It is not only because of my own experiences, but because they also reflect the experiences of many moms I interact with daily online, on my Mom Life Yo radio show and in my personal friendships. I thought long and hard about how to tackle the topic of breast-feeding before deciding that the most effective route should be the one that I take with everything else. I should be direct. And candid.
I have never shied away from the subject of mom-shaming, and I have no intentions of stopping now. Like a broken record, I insist: moms have one of the hardest jobs on the planet; that alone is reason enough to support each other and our choices, no matter how much they differ from our own. Breast-feeding is included in those decisions. Yet, I find that it continues to be met with “advice” shrouded by judgment.
I don’t think anyone would disagree that breast-feeding is admirable and beneficial in so many ways to both baby and mother. That’s not being debated here. Breast-feeding is beautiful and almost magical when you understand the role biology plays in it all. So many studies have been conducted to try to explain the wealth breast milk holds for babies. It functions in ways that even science hasn’t fully explained. For example, a mother’s breast milk contains antibodies and immunity factors that her baby doesn’t yet have. Sometimes the milk even changes color when the baby is ill, a result of the antibodies the mother’s body made to support the baby. The whole thing is quite astounding, even to me as a mother. The act of breast-feeding bonds a mother to her child and offers a soothing and healthy attachment. The benefits go on and on, so much so that it would seem there should be no other option than to breast-feed. But is this the case? Many mommy circles would have you believe so. That school of thought attempted to hold me hostage, until I was able to center myself and ultimately make the right decision for myself and children.
I didn’t enjoy breast-feeding. To walk into a room full of moms and make that declaration would probably induce more than a few gasps, but it would be real and definitely honest. I found it difficult and draining (both literally and figuratively).These new bundles of joy have incessant needs, and I admittedly struggled with finding a baby-life-me balance. I breast-fed my oldest for five months and the youngest for three. There were a plethora of factors that contributed to my discontentment. Among them were the all too common nipple yeast infections that many moms can relate to. No one is comfortable with that situation going on while trying to feed your baby.
One of my biggest obstacles had to do with supply. I never produced quite enough milk to begin with, and it made certain conveniences impossible, like pumping extra milk so that my kids’ father could feed them from a bottle when I needed to sleep or leave the house. There I was, feeding my son every two hours, at least, and sneaking in an hour of sleep and a shower (if I was lucky) here and there. Two seconds into the very basic necessity of bathing myself, and I was needed for breast-feeding again.
When I’d given it my all, I made the choice to stop breast-feeding. Instead, I started searching for other options that would work for my sons and me. This is the time when you think to yourself as a new mom, “everyone will understand. They will support me.” My case was slightly different. I felt compelled to continue when my (then) husband would come to me sharing all the great things he’d read about it. It didn’t help that my mother, though she meant well, was particularly shocked when I pulled out a bottle with formula for the first time announcing my new decision. It was in these moments that I realized breast-feeding, an act so personal between mother and child, would mean so much to others. I wasn’t able to reconcile that fact. At times, I still can’t.
The pressure society places on women to do something that doesn’t always align with what their motherly instincts tell them is crazy! Yes, breast milk does miraculous things for babies, but babies pick up on energy from their mothers, and that includes negative energy. When the mom is stressed, in pain or severely sleep-deprived, baby is reading all of it. I learned the importance of self-advocacy, and I put it to work immediately.
So what does that mean for the mommy community? It means that we should advocate for those who want to breast-feed, and we should advocate for those who do not. I think people forget that we can advocate for breast-feeding without demonizing formula! Formula has saved lives when mothers couldn’t supply breast milk. Also, our community must rid ourselves of the pressure to conform to these imaginary standards of perfection. Yes, breast-fed babies are often healthier. Yes, breast-feeding provides an incomparable bonding between mom and baby. But there are moms and babies in circumstances that prevent breast-feeding. There are moms who decide they won’t be able to do it for various reasons. Criminalizing those women for doing what works best for their families is counterproductive. Breast is best, unless your sanity is at stake or you’ve chosen another way to provide exemplary care for your baby and yourself. Everyone should have the right to that choice.
I support ALL moms and their decisions. Our jobs are simply too hard not to.