Sticky Situations | “Breast is Best!” (Except When It Isn’t)

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We moms are all supposed to be on the same team, right? But what about those times when you catch another mom giving you a sideways judgy glance – whether it’s because you just let your toddler eat a cracker off the floor or your preschooler is getting bullied by a bigger kid and you step in to reprimand the offender? In this series we’re talking about these sticky situations…the ones where you feel like you might be breaking some sort of unspoken rule – if only you knew what it was! Help us solve these tricky questions in the comments – sound off with your own opinions and let’s get some discussion going!

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Before I begin, I have to tell you that I’m a little scared to approach the breast vs. bottle topic. It seems like if you’re going to be anything short of 100% enthusiastically in favor of the plethora of benefits to breastfeeding, then you are walking in some pretty dangerous territory. You just can’t say anything negative about breastfeeding. Among moms, I feel like it’s simply not allowed!

So let me go ahead and start with the typical disclaimer: Breastfeeding can be great! If your baby takes to it and you are enjoying it (or at least tolerating it) then I say go for it! I have absolutely no medical training and barely made it through my science gen-ed requirements in college, so I won’t even begin to get into debating the medical benefits of nursing. I have no reason to doubt any scientific findings that promote the advantages of breast milk. I’m sure they’re all, for the most part, accurate. However, what I would like to bring to the table here is a little common sense and perspective and remind us all (but especially those mothers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed) that in the grand scheme of things, it is just one small part of creating a healthy, happy child. There are plenty of kiddos in that category and there is just no way they were all breastfed.

Now all I have to support my theories is my experiences as a mom who tried to breastfeed… and my experiences haven’t been too great. With my first baby, nursing was an all around nightmare. Looking back he may have had reflux or maybe just a terrible appetite; but either way he was never very interested in nursing and this led to me have a pretty crummy milk supply. The other huge problem I encountered with my first had to do with my postpartum depression. My transition to motherhood was not, shall we say, graceful! My baby blues felt more like a dark navy sea… and I was sinking right to the bottom. The weight of my new responsibility had overwhelmed and frightened me and being the only source of nutrition for him compounded my anxiety. Whether it was my desire for a little modesty or my baby’s temperament, I usually needed to spend an hour alone to nurse, which magnified my feelings of isolation. Since I was the only one who could feed the baby, I never got a night off or even one feeding off… and the resulting lack of sleep only added to my depression. In short nursing made this challenging situation even harder.

After 2 months, I called it quits, which was also when I began feeling better. Despite what I had learned about breastfeeding and bonding, it was ironically only then when I finally started to enjoy my baby. It wasn’t until I gave up nursing that I first began to believe that I might actually like being a mother. As I got better emotionally and more comfortable in my new life and new role, I became emboldened. I developed a somewhat bizarre hatred for breastfeeding and for the next two years, I told anyone who would listen just how much I disliked the whole thing.

Then…I was humbled. I gave birth to another baby and found that I was now playing in a completely different ballgame. I had an instant connection and bond to my second child. Sure, I may have been a little hormonal and teary but nothing at all like the first time. This time I already knew what I was getting myself into. I hadn’t slept in years and wasn’t planning on it. I no longer had the expectations of independence, freedom and flexibility over my time, or any sort of modesty (potty training a curious 2 year old will take care of that one quick!)

With this baby I felt totally comfortable and actually eager to nurse. But as luck would have it, this baby did not at all share my excitement for the new plan. He absolutely refused to latch. I was beside myself. I was overwhelmed with guilt thinking that somehow I had caused this problem because of my previous stance on the topic. I did everything I could think of… pumped like crazy, took natural supplements and prescription drugs to keep my milk up, met with lactation consultants, and cried to my pediatrician… but mostly I beat myself up over this failure and agonized over what possible future harm I was assigning to my sweet, innocent child by sentencing him to a year of formula.

There were those who tried to console me but I was convinced they were just being polite. Every time I saw some mom draped in a “hooter hider” I felt once again that I was less than adequate. Even the formula can was topped with a plastic lid with printed words reminding you that “Breast milk is Best” as if it was some sort of surgeon general warning. (Come on formula companies… I’m paying you $20+ for a can of this stuff, can you please just throw in a few encouraging words for all of us bottle feeders!)

But, in the end, I made peace with the bottle and decided it was time to move on…(okay I did try re-lactating once and it was an exhausting disaster!) I had to allow myself to believe that in the grand scheme of things, breastfeeding is not that big a deal.

I have now had to convince myself of the same fact twice and for two very different reasons. The first time, I needed to believe it because I really, really wanted to quit; and even now, I think it was the right choice that I did. The second time, it was because I could not achieve that goal and I had to let it go; and I have moved on past that as well.

I have come to realize that I am doing a lot more here than just raising infants, I am raising men. If your goal is to breastfeed for 6 six months, or a year, then good for you! However, for me, I am choosing to focus on other goals, like creating men of integrity and character. So if breastfeeding isn’t your thing, then just let it go. You were only going to breastfeed for a proportionally short time in your child’s life anyway, so move on to focusing on the next challenge. Don’t dwell in this issue but be encouraged about all the other ways you will positively impact your child’s life…and…repeat after me, “You can still be a fantastic mother!”

I have realized now, that for me, giving my children “the best start in life” wasn’t going to refer to what I fed them. It was going to be about providing them a home and a childhood filled with love and guidance from two involved parents dedicated to turning them into men of substance.

For now, I will be scouring the internet and the paper looking for Enfamil coupons and enjoying my glass of wine without worrying about my milk supply! Also, just so you know, we are hoping that baby number 3 will soon be on the way. When he or she arrives, I do plan to try to breastfeed…but, if it doesn’t happen, I’m totally okay with it!

What about you? Have you struggled with outside pressures on the best way to feed your babies? Have you found a way to make peace with what’s right for you? Do share!

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Mama Mystery Guest is mother of an energetic 3 year old boy and a new baby boy (February 2011) and lives right here in Scottsdale, Arizona!

18 COMMENTS

  1. I love this! Great perspective and insight. I am especially fond of any point of view that celebrates your own decision making and not being caught up in others opinions of you. Wahoo, Guest Blogger!

  2. I LOVE this post!! I too have shared a very similar experience and feelings when it comes to breast feeding and it’s an internal battle, right?!

    What’s funny to me is if you’re out in public and you’re breastfeeding you may very well get strange reactions like Jess did (yesterday’s post) BUT at the same time if you’re out in public and you’re bottle feeding you have this terrible anxiety about if people are judging you for bottle feeding as opposed to breastfeeding. Isn’t it so ironic? It’s almost like you can’t make a good decision.

    But like so many things in motherhood – we all do what is best for OUR families, right?! You obviously have done just that (and done it well might I add).

    Thanks for this post!

      • So true about the irony in the judgements passed! For the longest time I felt like I had to justify why I was mixing formula and not getting my boobie out-even to the nosey guy at work whose wife is a lac. consultant! As if it is ANY of his business!

  3. Thank you! We have to supplement and it was very hard for me to accept. 4 months later, I’ve made my peace with it; however, I’m super excited to move away from formula and on to foods I can have more control over.

  4. THANK YOU, for writing this! I echo all of your thoughts and had to chuckle when I read your comment about the ‘warning’ on formula cans and the women wearing ‘hooter hiders’! I’ve felt the SAME way! I had multiple issues with breastfeeding, and also was quite sick for several months postpartum. The pressure was so great to breastfeed and despite my best efforts, it just wasn’t working out…it was wearing me down severely. I did what I thought was the next best thing…I pumped for my son for 7 1/2 months, and my daughter for 4 months (and counting). With my son, I didn’t start feeling well until after I stopped pumping. I spent an insane number of hours trying to breastfeed and pump, and was having a hard time enjoying my baby because of it. I promised I wouldn’t let myself feel that way with my daughter. I told myself that if after many good attempts at breastfeeding didn’t work, I would pump (but only a reasonable number of times per day), even if it meant supplementing. And if that didn’t work out, I’d switch to formula. No questions asked, no guilt (ok, well, maybe a little). It’s too bad we feel the need to defend and explain why we are bottle-feeding (even though for me it is breast milk for now, I still feel the pressure). I think it is important to educate parents about the benefits of breastfeeding, but without shoving it down our throats. I, without any doubt, whole-heartedly believe in the benefits of breast milk. But I also think that the mother’s wellness, and the ability to bond and be happy with her baby and family are important too. Each situation is different, each mom is different, and we shouldn’t judge their decisions! Good for you for giving it your best shot, but also knowing when to say when! 🙂

    • I went into reading this post with my shoulders tense and holding my breath, by the end, my shoulders were relaxed; I exhaled and then came the tears! The memories came flooding back to me. I am a Mom of a 10 month old, happy, healthy, sweet girl. I wanted nothing more than to breastfeed. Not because I was anti-formula, simply, this is what I envisioned. I feel like I could write part 2-700 of this post! I related and then some. The attempts, the pumping, for 4 months I tried, pumped, supplemented. When I wasn’t doing that, I was cleaning pump parts, bottles, and starting it all over again. I had 20 minutes to myself every 3 hours.

      Of course family and friends wanted to visit and meet the baby. This made it all the more stressful; now the visitors where waiting to see the baby while I was in the nursery trying to nurse. I know they are not there to see me, they are there for the baby and I had the golden child they were there to hold. For those of you who breastfeed or have breastfed, stress does NOT help the situation. Our baby was losing weight and all I wanted was to nourish her.

      I tried to move forward in our other activities. However, when I went out and saw other Moms nursing with such ease I became emotional. I just wanted to get home. It was like tick tock until we attempted the next feeding, it got to the point where the hormones took over and I was losing my marbles. I tried lactation specialists, La Leche, other breast feeding Moms. All the while pumping with the hospital grade pump, supplements, and teas to try and bring in more milk. We were living paycheck to paycheck so to speak on our milk supply. I finally made the decision to solely pump and start enjoying motherhood. Wasn’t my goal to give her breast milk? Why was I so obsessed on how she got it? Once I made the decision to pump the stress was lifted and I was enjoying every second (as was my husband since I was not a wreck).

      I have to add that to this day I still wish I could have breastfed the traditional way, I still get emotional. I still get angry when I hear “supply and demand…the more you nurse the more you produce.” I still don’t ever want to see my sister in laws friend who told me I wasn’t trying enough and kept telling my husband to stay out of the conversation since he doesn’t know since he is a man. Wow, shouldn’t she have known her words were like a knife to my heart. To think she wanted to become a lactation specialist. I could go on and on with the things people say that are so hurtful and feel like they are so righteous and you are a failure…We plan on having another baby, we plan on breastfeeding, and this time we won’t wait so long to put a plan into action if it doesn’t work out the way nature planned.

  5. Thanks for writing this! I’m ALL for breastfeeding and I do think it IS best, except, like you said, when it’s not! Or, perhaps said differently, “breast is best when it works”. Though our circumstances are very different, I’ve had HUGE breastfeeding struggles (even wrote a whole series of posts about it: http://www.momendeavors.com/2011/03/when-breastfeeding-doesnt-workpart-1.html)!
    I’ve had those feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and did have a REALLY hard time just “letting it go”. It’s really sad the guilt and judgment that seems to be put on moms who bottle feed!!

  6. Confession time…
    I find breastfeeding, well, icky. Do I think people who breastfeed are gross or weird? Absolutely not! But FOR ME, it is just awkward, uncomfortable and downright strange. With my first child, I made a valiant effort and was miserable and angry for 2 months. Then I discovered pumping, and while that still grossed me out (I mean, how weird is it that we’re giving our children liquid that came out of our boobs?!? LOL) it allowed me to wean her quickly and transition to formula. The day my ladies were no longer being sucked on or pumped might have been one of the greatest days of my life. When baby number 2 came along, I took my pump with me to the hospital…I had vowed that no child’s mouth would ever again touch my nipple! 🙂 I pumped for 2 weeks this time. Best decision I ever made! Now we have another one due in August and I’m going to do the same two week routine with this one. For me, formula feeding brought more joy, grace, and peace into my home. And I think everyone (especially my husband) really appreciated that! My personality just does not allow me to “bond” with my child by letting him/her suck fluid out of my body. I’ve made peace with that and I’m a better mom for it. Happy feeding everyone!

  7. Thank you for this post! Each mother and child is different. We as mothers really need to support each other! I had so much outside pressure to breastfeed and had A LOT of trouble right in the beginning that I was so focused on the breastfeeding that I wasn’t actually bonding with my baby. The problems were eventually sorted out and I was able to breastfeed for 10 months. But now we are using formula for the next few months and I’ve come to terms with it. Time that I had spent feeding is now spent playing!

    And do check Amazon.com/mom: We recently saved almost $40 on $100 worth of Earth’s Best Formula.

  8. Well Said!!! What an encouragement for ALL moms…even those that breastfeed. While I have only been a mom a short while (3 months this week!) the #1 thing I have learned is that life is way more enjoyable when you can be flexible. Whether it be breastfeeding, bedtimes or what you make for dinner. As a mom, wife and woman you have to be willing to go with the flow and take each day, hour and minute as they come. Some days breastfeeding is great and others are a struggle (thank goodness for formula).
    Like you said “mystery blogger” you cannot beat yourself up or think that you are ruining their life. Whether or not you were breastfed has to my knowledge never been a question on the SAT or any college admission paperwork. Do we know if Bill Gates was breastfed or not?
    Thank you for sharing your experience and giving everyone something to think about 🙂

  9. Great post! I personally don’t understand the stigma we’ve placed on being able to breastfeed or not. I have friends that have chosen to bottle feed for various reasons and it’s not even really a topic of conversation. For my friends that were breastfeeding, it was great to get the supportive encouragement to get past that initial phase where breastfeeding is very painful (which I was NOT prepared for), but it certainly wasn’t in a tone that elevated the choice higher than any other. I have my own personal reasons for breastfeeding, but I certainly can understand the issues that come along with it and why someone would choose bottle over breast. I was kind of prepared for the possibility that I might not be able to BF since my mom didn’t and hardly anyone else in my family did it, so maybe the emotional impacts wouldn’t have been as severe if it didn’t work out. I think you try it if you make that decision for yourself and if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, no reason to beat yourself over it! You do whats best for you and your child.

  10. I confess that I WAS breast feeding snob. I still think it is best and I used to often think that people give up too easily (okay, I still think that sometimes). However, I know that it is not fair to put those expectations on others because you never know what their situation is. Part of my judgment may come from how hard it was for me at the beginning. I don’t like taking medication, so after my c-section, I refused to take any. I was in pain from that, my blood pressure was so high that I WAS on medication for that for the first 4 weeks, and breastfeeding added extra pain that was ALMOST unbearable. I ended up with 2 infections in the first 4 months. I would cry often and people around me would tell me to just go on formula. I did want to give up at times, but kept going. Breastfeeding in public was very awkward and my back constantly hurt. The shooting pains didn’t go away until around 5 months. I met with consultants, but they couldn’t help me much, so I kept going through the pain. My baby is now a toddler (14 months) and I am still breastfeeding him, although he is weening. I am so glad I continued. Around 9 months, I was 100% pain free and now it is great to be able to comfort my son in that way if and when he needs it.

    I thought it would be natural, but it turned out to be a 24 hour job. My doctor told me to supplement, but we decided against that and kept going our course. My son is very healthy and has always had lots of energy and has not fallen behind in reaching milestones, so we were not worried.

    I guess I figured that sometimes doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but you just do it because it is best. I don’t believe that anymore, at least with mom stuff. Everyone’s situation is so different and it is unfair to judge. I especially liked what the blog said about raising men with integrity. Being a parent is about so many different things other than breastfeeding, and I appreciated that perspective.

  11. Thank you sooooooo much for sharing this experience!! It is so incredibly similar to mine in that I wanted to do it but started to resent it. I wondered how in the world anyone would ever want a SECOND child if that was how motherhood REALLY was. I was exhausted and felt deceived by all the other moms I knew who never told me a word about how “horrible” being a mom actually was. After 12 weeks of nursing with a nipple shield (which the lactation consultant tried guilting me out of using as well) I stopped. Once I finally got over the ridiculous GUILT of stopping and switching to formula I felt-for the FIRST time-that I could handle things and enjoy my son. I became a better mother when that time came. My depression began to fade and a new bond was formed between my son and I. I stopped trying to force the bond I expected to have while nursing. Don’t get me wrong, when we do have another, I plan to breast feed as well but I will NOT put the pressure on myself the way I did with my first. Thanks again for such a wonderful post that I can truly relate too!

  12. Great post! So true! As moms, we can sometimes come across like we know best when we just have opinions. The important thing is your baby is getting fed – who cares how! I had a TERRIBLE experience with my first (he actually had a health condition that didn’t allow for breastfeeding, but it took many months to diagnose), and honestly, I was too scared to breastfeed my second one (I totally didn’t even try it, which I regret). So, I did what I knew how to do best…I pumped. And it was okay and my babies survived. I would tell my husband that my sanity was more important than breastfeeding. What is best for your child is love…who cares whether it comes from a breast or a bottle!

  13. I absolutely loved this! This came at the perfect time too! I just had my first baby and am not producing enough milk for the little one and I felt like such a failure. Just reading this put me to ease and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Nice work guest blogger:)

  14. Love this post….I tried so hard the breastfeed my daughter the traditional way and when she wouldn’t latch due to being bottle fed in the hospital since I had a c-section finally gave up and began pumping….I did this for 9 rediculous months! I was exhausted and when I wasn’t pumping was cleaning bottles, pump pieces and then feeding her. Eventually it just became a part of my life…however at 9 months when we switched her to formula I felt such an incredible freedom! With my son who is now 2 1/2 weeks old I have decided to breastfeed again. I feel so lucky that he is up for it and hasn’t given me any trouble. My boobs on the other hand have. These past few weeks have been the most trying, painful, and awful of my life. Breastfeeding is by far the hardest thing I have ever done, but I am determined to stick with it just for the convenience aspect of it. These last few days I finally have healed up a bit and it has become bearable. Kudos to you for being true to yourself and doing what is best for you and your family. When it comes down to it like you said how you feed your baby is only a small component of raising a happy healthy kid!

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