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!
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!
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!