Shaming the Breastfeeding Challenged

I’m going to be real honest: breastfeeding and I have a love-hate relationship.  As much as I loved nursing my son and am very pro-breastfeeding, I don’t believe that breastfeeding is always the best way.  There are way too many moms out there (me included) that are made to feel like less of a mother for either struggling with breastfeeding, not enjoying it, or choosing not to breastfeed altogether.

This was circulating recently, and it was awesome, but I think that some women forget that there are other reasons besides health ones that can prevent moms from being able to nurse their babies.  For some, the stress of nursing is just not worth it.  For others, breastfeeding is a struggle and at some point the benefits of fighting for it don’t outweigh the physical and emotional exhaustion.  For still others, their supply, their physical attributes, or their baby’s mouth keeps them from being able to breastfeed.  

I’ve not really shared this here before, but I really struggled nursing Miles in the beginning.  I had dreams of effortlessly nursing my newborn in what would be a completely natural and incredibly bonding experience.  Unfortunately, a combo of issues between me and him made latching impossible.  For several months, the only way I could get him latched was with a shield.  Even then, it was a struggle.  There was a lot of screaming and frustration.  Finally, though, he got the hang of it and became a pro.  Breastfeeding became a beautiful, peaceful thing, and I loved it.  I couldn’t understand how anyone who could breastfeed would choose not to.  I was terribly proud of myself for sticking with it and persevering.

When Nora was born, I prepared myself for another struggle.  To my surprise, only minutes after she arrived she latched right on.  She was such a good little nurser that she wanted to nurse constantly.  My poor husband had to go to Walmart at 5 am to get a pacifier and give me a break.  I was in proud Mommy heaven.

Then engorgement struck.  Terrible, painful engorgement that I wasn’t able to get to go down for several days.  Suddenly my nursing champ couldn’t latch.  After a sleepless night of trying unsuccessfully to get her to nurse, and her not getting more than a few drops of milk, we gave in and gave her a bottle of pumped milk.  One bottle.  That’s all it took for my nursing pro to decide that nursing was simply too much work.

My dreams of easily nursing my newborn whenever and wherever crumbled into a heap.  I can’t even begin to describe to you how hard it is to have your own child screaming in rejection of you, in favor of a cold, artificial substitute.  Meanwhile, all you can think of are the many, many friends whose baby’s latch right on and never have any trouble nursing.  You know it’s not true, but you can’t help but feel like a failure.

You see, I know from experience that not being able to “Exclusively Breastfeed” (or “EBF”, as it’s known in the cyber world), whether by choice or necessity, is never easy.  Something deep down whispers that you are less of a woman.  After all, women have been doing it for thousands of years so why can’t you? 

Then there’s the judgement from other moms, especially those that don’t know the pain it is to struggle to nurse your little one.  Whether imagined or not, you feel the stares when you pull out that bottle.  You hesitate before posting that cute anecdote about your child on Facebook because it includes the world “bottle”, and you know what certain moms will think.  You cringe inside when that mom who doesn’t understand the whole situation gives you advice on what will help with your “problem”.  You skip over that article someone shared for the millionth time about how much better breastfeeding is, implying that your kid will be less healthy, smart, and developed than those lucky kids who nursed until they were 2.

Mamas, if you’ve struggled with breastfeeding or have had to give up on it altogether for whatever reason, take heart.  You are not less of a mama, and your child will not lack because of it.  My grandma likes to remind people that all of her three amazingly smart, high-IQ, beautiful children (which include an orthodontist and a PhD psychologist) were, in fact, formula babies, as were my sister and I.  If you can breastfeed, that’s wonderful, but breastfeeding alone will not dictate the future and health of your children.  What’s far more important is for our children to have a mentally stable mama who loves them with all of her heart.

To those of you to whom nursing comes easily, think twice before passing judgement.  If you haven’t struggled with breastfeeding, you can’t fully understand the struggle of those who have.  Make the choice to support other mothers, whether they breastfeed of bottle feed.  What is best for one family and one child will not be best for another family and another child.  We need to embrace one another and the unique paths that we are all on.  Remember that breastfeeding your children does not make you a better mother than the woman who bottle feeds.  

***   

Nora is almost three weeks old now, and she’s had more bottles than I can count.  I’m producing more than enough milk, so it’s all been mama’s milk, but it’s still not my preference or my choice.  Pumping often enough to produce enough milk for your little one is exhausting (especially when that includes pumping in the middle of the night after already having fed your baby a bottle).  There have definitely been days that I’ve wondered how long we’ll make it before switching to formula.  Being a busy wife and mama makes exclusively pumping for the next year impossible.  I had to come to terms with the fact that, should she not return to breastfeeding, my sweet Nora might end up on formula…and I had to be okay with that.

Thankfully, taking it one day at a time has worked.  By the grace of God (because it’s certainly nothing I’ve done), my sweet Nora has suddenly decided that she really does like nursing after all.  It’s 3 in the afternoon and she hasn’t had one bottle all day.  Yet, I know that that could change in a heartbeat, and that’s perfectly fine.  My worth and value as her mother is not tied up in my ability to feed her the “natural way”.  Instead, it’s found in the love and devotion I have for her, whether she’s fed formula in a bottle or right at my chest.  


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