Did you know that it’s World Breastfeeding Week? I kinda cringed when I heard about it. I’m not one of those people who thinks that breastfeeding is in any way gross or immoral. No, I wanted to breastfeed very badly when I had TJ. I read up on the subject dutifully while I was pregnant. I researched breast pumps for when I went back to work. I got myself a Boppy pillow. I didn’t really even want to buy any bottles, except for what I’d need with the breast pump.
And then TJ was born.
It was four years ago this month. The hospital where he was born was wonderful. They had lactation consultants on staff doing rounds with the nurses. After TJ was born, the staff cleared out to let Tom and I bond with our new baby before the visitors were allowed in, granting me time to try to breastfeed. I think TJ got some of the colostrum out, but I don’t know for sure. I was exhausted from having been awake for 36 hours and excited that my baby was finally here.
Later on, when I was moved up to my room from the delivery room, the trouble started. The little guy just couldn’t latch properly. He gave me a giant, painful hickey about an inch away from where the milk came from, but no amount of positioning and cajoling could get him to do what he needed to do to get fed. After hours of trying, I agreed to let him supplement with formula. (Don’t give me that look. He was my brand new baby, and I was desperate to make sure he was fed!) The next day was no better, though the lactation consultant really helped me try. I tried out their breast pump, which was awesome. I was in really bad shape physically and mentally, so I accepted the strong sedative they offered that night and agreed to let them keep him in the nursery instead of bringing him to me to attempt breastfeeding. The night staff must have missed the memo, and when they woke me up, I must have sounded completely incoherent, because it took me a few tries to before I could convince them that it was okay to give him a bottle.
Before I left the following day, I purchased the Medela Pump In Style – not the same thing I’d used the previous day - from the hospital store, and the lactation consultant helped me figure out how to use it. My plan was to pump away and express the breast milk for him indefinitely. Of course, they explained, the formula had streched out his little stomach already, so I was still going to need to supplement with formula until my milk supply caught up with his demands.
That never happened.
I pumped for six weeks. It was an agonizing, excruciating six weeks. I felt like a complete failure when I couldn’t make this work. I pumped for 15 minutes on each side every two hours, and I still couldn’t get more than an ounce or two each time. I couldn’t adequately feed my son, and it was painful and completely draining of my energy.
I felt like a failure. And other people were making me feel like a failure. Other moms made me feel horrible. I never liked the term “Boob Nazi,” but after being the recipient of unrelenting verbal abuse for daring to quit breastfeeding and use formula instead, I allowed that there were, indeed, some women who deserved the label. TJ’s pediatrician insinuated that I didn’t try hard enough. The OB/GYN who filled in for the doctor who delivered TJ (because that guy went on a cruise) told me I wasn’t trying hard enough. Both doctors were male.
No one knew how hard I tried. How badly I hurt. How I dosed myself with fenugreek and attempted “power pumping” every two hours to encourage milk production – and still my supply dried up to practically nothing by the time I “gave up.” How I was going through lanolin cream like there was no tomorrow. How I cried night after night because my 44H breasts look like they’d been drawn by a hormonal teenage boy, but produced only tiny amounts of milk. How, despite the fact that it literally took me an hour to fall asleep every time I laid down, I woke myself up every two hours to pump a mere ounce at a time.
I didn’t know then that I had postpartum depression (PPD). I’d passed the screening test when TJ was 5 days old, but they never retested me. I didn’t know then that I had undiagnosed Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I didn’t know then that I had undiagnosed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is what prevented me from sleeping no matter how exhausted I was. (Sleep when the baby sleeps? Didn’t work for me.) My body was shutting down on me because I placed too many demands on it, and people were making me feel like I was a terrible mother because I failed to breastfeed.
The truth is, breastfeeding is certainly the healthiest thing for babies, but it doesn’t work out for everyone. Some moms are physically unable to do it. Some babies are physically unable to do it. Some moms are psychologically unable to do it because of past abuse. We need to stop judging moms based on how they feed their babies. Let’s be happy when responsible moms feed their babies, whether it’s breastmilk or formula. Let’s be happy when moms provide a safe, loving environment for their babies, even if that means the baby gets formula. In the end, a mom who is miserable and resents her baby for their torturous breastfeeding sessions is doing a greater disservice to her child than a mom who is happy and feeding her baby formula from a bottle.
If you can breastfeed your child, and you love doing so, that’s fantastic! You are doing the best you can do for your baby. Keep it up! Don’t let the crazies get you down when they rag on you about breastfeeding in public.
If you don’t breastfeed your child, and you give your baby formula for whatever reason, that’s fine, too. Don’t let the crazies get you down. As long as you’re not neglecting or abusing your child, you’re doing fine! Keep it up!
Moms need to stop attacking other moms because of their own personal ideals about the “right” way to parent! I support breastfeeding, but I respectfully request that you respect the rights of moms who don’t breastfeed. You can’t begin to imagine their individual circumstances. And you know what it’s like when you get the dirty looks when you try to feed your baby in public. You know how it feels when someone tries to tell you to feed your baby in the bathroom. WHY would you think it’s okay to make other moms feel that way for not breastfeeding?
Tags: breastfeeding, formula feeding