And then may I never write about it again. Seriously.
It struck me at some point over the last few months that not everyone who reads my blog knows me personally. Taking that into consideration, I figured it would be worthwhile to put my thoughts on breastfeeding to bed. I’ve already written at length about my experiences here, here, here, and here, so trust me, I have no desire to drag this out.
The first thing I want to say is that I am 100% in support of breastfeeding. It is natural and it is good. Lately there seem to be articles popping up every day about some poor woman who was made to feel bad for breastfeeding in public. We need to get over it. I know I am the billionth person to make this point, but how is it okay that the female body has been reduced to little more than a sexual object in our country, but it’s not okay (or even “disgusting”) for a woman to use her breasts for their intended purpose?! And let me be honest here – I was raised to be modest, almost to a fault. When I see a mother unreservedly take out her breast to feed her child, I sometimes feel a little uncomfortable. But I recognize that as my problem, not hers. You do you, breastfeeding moms.
Now we get to the other side of the story. The formula feeding moms like me. Somehow (well, I know how, but for the sake of brevity let’s not get into it), in the process of normalizing breastfeeding, formula feeding is now looked down on.
Sometimes while browsing instagram I find myself going down a hashtag rabbit hole. It’s usually fun, but recently I ended up in a #breastisbest spiral, and I’ll be honest – it made me feel really bad. Not because my babies couldn’t breastfeed (although that certainly would have been true a year or so ago), but because the women posting this hashtag seem to think that they’re better than moms who aren’t breastfeeding. Not all of them, of course – I would never generalize such a large group of people. But a lot of them. One woman even posted a picture of a bottle making machine that I own, mocking its ability to make “the perfect bottle”. While these women are smugly touting their feeding choices, do they realize that “breast is best” is just slogan manufactured by the government to promote breastfeeding when formula feeding was more the norm? Do they ever think about how formula feeding is usually out of necessity rather than by choice? (I’m not begrudging them their right to enjoy their choice, but perhaps #ilovebreastfeeding would be more appropriate?)
I acknowledge that there are probably plenty of moms who chose formula feeding because they are uneducated or lazy. Sure. But I believe that the majority of us are women who really wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t, for a myriad of reasons. I had no problems producing milk, but my babies couldn’t latch properly. Sure, I suppose I could have pumped for them forever, but I just didn’t have the emotional stamina for it. I’m sure there are some people who would judge me for that. I don’t care.
Women who make the choice not to breastfeed should be supported. Aren’t we living in an age where women are fighting tooth and nail for the rights to their own bodies? If we deserve the right to control our reproductive systems, shouldn’t that choice extend to how we feed our children?
There has been a push by some people to focus on the fact that you are feeding and loving your children, rather than on how you’re doing it. We shouldn’t be arguing if one is better than the other, because it truly is a case by case basis.
At first, I was devastated that I had to formula feed. I had, like most pregnant and new moms, been inundated with all of the breastfeeding propaganda. Breastfeeding is essential for bonding with your infant! Your baby will have a higher IQ! Your baby won’t get sick as often! Its convenient, cheap, and always the right temperature! That’s all great in theory, but a lot of that has been debunked or never proven, and the convenient/cheap argument only works if breastfeeding works. Otherwise, it is possibly the most inconvenient and expensive option – not to mention demoralizing. I don’t even want to think about how much money we spent on breast pumps, pumping supplies, lactation consultants, and craniosacral therapy, all in an effort to help our baby breastfeed.
It wasn’t just about the health benefits though. I wanted that borderline magical experience I was told you get from breastfeeding your baby. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be anything but. My struggles made me feel like I was failing as a mother, or even worse – as a woman.
Breastfeeding is never worth it if it is preventing you from being the best mom you can be. Period.
It is simultaneously heartbreaking and infuriating to me that women who cannot or choose not to breastfeed are not provided with the support they need. For example, look at this page from a British website, or www.lactivist.com. If you were pregnant and reading either of those, you’d probably think to yourself, “No WAY am I ever giving my baby formula!” Then baby comes along and, like mine, can’t latch. Or maybe, like a friend of mine, you can’t produce enough milk. Or maybe, like another friend of mine, your baby is allergic to your milk! Maybe you repeatedly get clogged ducts, or mastitis, or thrush. Maybe you are suffering from postpartum depression and every single day you are unable to breastfeed it gets worse. Or maybe your problem has nothing to do with the physical act, but instead involves antidepressants or other medications you need to take but are incompatible with breastfeeding. You are then faced with the idea of giving your baby formula, and your mind goes back to those websites (and countless other materials you have read). How do you feel then?
I have no problem admitting that breastfeeding is universally the more natural option, but considering that it often doesn’t come naturally, how can we leave all those women who are struggling out to dry? I’m not saying that formula feeding should be given any undeserved accolades. I’m just saying that it NEEDS to be a viable, guilt-free option for those who need it. Shouldn’t we be spending more time worrying about a mother’s mental and emotional well-being? Shaming bottle feeding mothers isn’t helping anyone.
When Violet was just a few days old, I so enjoyed sitting quietly in our rocking chair as I gave her a bottle in the wee hours of the morning. It felt like all the world was sleeping but us, and I loved staring at her contended little face, listened to her contended little noises. At one point I found myself crying, and it took me a short while to realize that I was mourning all the times I never experienced that with Willow. Every feeding was a source of intense anxiety.
There’s more, too, which I probably would have felt too guilty to share before. I really didn’t like it. Breastfeeding. I mean…its hard to tell what my experience would have been like if we had had few or no problems, but as it was, I just hated it. I wonder if other small chested women like myself felt strange and uncomfortable suddenly having larger and very sensitive breasts. I honestly had so many moments of, “What the hell am I supposed to do with these??” I hated touching them, and I hated other people touching them. Every time my milk let down, it hurt. I hated being shirtless a lot of the time, which was a combination of my aforementioned modesty and my tendency to always be cold.
I think that my biggest struggle with motherhood – the one thing that’s bothered me more than anything else – is feeling like I’ve lost my autonomy. The concept that I was the only one who could ever feed the baby was something that stressed me out to no end. When would I have a life? When would I ever sleep? If I did manage to get out, did that mean I had to use a breast pump ahead of time? And god forbid I was out long enough, would I have to lug the damn pump with me?? The answer is yes, and for many women, it’s not a problem.
As is true with so many other things in my life, I eventually had to forgive myself for these feelings. Here’s the thing – every mom has got something. Something that they find especially difficult or something that’s a deal breaker. My feeding choice, which at first was made for me, has given me much-needed freedom. I love that my husband and my family are also able to feed my children. I love that while I’m with and away from them, my body is my own. I love that I’m able to drink alcohol and not worry about it. Yeah, its superficial, but it helps me feel like not every single aspect of me is tied to motherhood. It doesn’t mean I don’t love my children. If anything, having that and other sources of independence helps me to love them more fully.
My kids are amazing. Can you tell that they’re bottle babies?
The bottom line is that everybody needs to stop focusing on better or worse, stop being judgmental, and decide for themselves what’s best for them and their family. If that means breastfeeding or formula feeding, I support you.