This is a beautiful picture, taken when our son was about 6 days old, our first day home from the hospital. But what this doesn’t show is that, shortly before Edward took this photo, I was sobbing from exhaustion and the effort of breastfeeding. It’s apparently World Breastfeeding Week and I think it’s time to talk about it, because there’s little nuance to this conversation.
I came in to this as a huge advocate of breastfeeding. The evidence doesn’t lie: it’s the superior choice for your child, filled with all of the nutrients and calories baby needs to grow healthy and strong as well as properties that boost your child’s immune system and prevent various illnesses. Plus, it’s completely natural, and free. What’s not to like?
So there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to breastfeed our son when he was born. And for the first week or so, it went fine. But then he didn’t urinate for two days. And he didn’t poop for a week. And the nurses and consultants all told me that I needed to supplement him. So I did, but I tried to keep breastmilk as his primary sustenance, just until “my supply came in”.
And that went well for a while, but then at about 3 weeks old our son became “fussy”. He seemed to be constantly angry and touchy, and started fighting me at every breastfeeding session, screaming, seemingly, at me.
So, I went to see a lactation consultant, who determined that, while our son needed about 3 ounces of milk, I produced about one. I started supplementing him more consistently, and what do you know? I had a happy baby after all.
Still, I was determined to exclusively breastfeed. But after weeks of pumping, SNS, fenugreek supplements, mother’s milk tea, breastfeeding workshops, I found myself both physically and emotionally drained, feeling like a supreme failure who couldn’t perform the most basic of tasks to care for my child. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for a breastfeeding session to end with both of us in hysterics as I handed the baby off to Edward to finish his feeding with a bottle.
Finally, my consultant told me what my husband and loved ones had been trying to tell me: it was okay if breastfeeding didn’t work. I wasn’t a bad mom. If my supply never increased there was nothing wrong with formula. And there was nothing wrong with me.
I think breastfeeding is great and wonderful. But it’s also hard. It’s tiring, and at the beginning it’s painful. No one is told that out the gate.
And there are any number of reasons a person can’t- and possibly shouldn’t- do it, both emotionally and physically. I agree with the mantra that “breast is best”- that’s why I’m still working at it, 3 months later. But I also agree that fed is best, because my baby and I are both a lot happier when I accepted that formula was a part of this equation, whether I liked it or not.
The language surrounding breastfeeding is meant to encourage those who are in doubt, and I get that. But it also made me, unable to make it work despite my very best efforts, feel like a horrible mother. If you have struggled, please know that you’re okay. You’re not horrible if it doesn’t work for you. Despite the us vs. them bottle vs. breast debates, at the end of the day it has to be about what’s best for both of you.
There’s a lot of things I’m not great at, a lot of things I’m not proud of. But I’m happy to say that feeding my child is no longer one of them.