My little baby is now a big boy. It makes me so happy – and a little nostalgic and sad, too. The first year of his life was such a beautiful blur, and it’s only now that I have really begun to process all the changes and growth that my little family experienced.
I’ve been thinking about writing a few ‘Looking Back’ posts on select baby topics. For the first one, I thought I’d tackle breastfeeding. Because out of my 4,500+ posts, the most popular ones are the pieces that I wrote about exclusively pumping. Turns out that there’s little out there about stopping, and when you Google for tips on stopping pumping, my blog comes up first. So ever since I wrote the original posts on pumping, strangers have been stumbling onto the posts and sending me the most heartfelt e-mails about quitting breastfeeding.
It’s a loaded topic for new moms. It certainly was for me. But looking back…I’ve gained a new perspective.
When I was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to try to breastfed. My research told me that it was the healthiest option; my doctor and my Bradley Method instructor reiterated this. I definitely heard the phrase, “Breast is Best” a lot. The slogan is catchy, simple, and direct, and I understand that many people still mistakenly believe that formula is nutritionally superior. So in many ways, the phrase makes sense.
But I also think the phrase, “Breast is Best” has this horrible, unintended side effect of making lots and lots of moms feel horribly guilty when they decide not to breastfeed or breastfeeding doesn’t work out. Because no matter what our reasons are, we all want to do what’s best for the baby, right?
So, I went into motherhood knowing that I would try. I read the books and met with lactation consultants. But right away, in the hospital, I knew it would be different than I expected. Henry had difficulty latching, and when the nurse leaned in to check why, I discovered that – well – my nipples aren’t the ideal breastfeeding nipples (things I never thought I’d write on the Internet). Thus began our journey with a nipple shield, which makes it easier for the baby to latch.
In the days that followed, I met with several lactation consultants who assured me that we’d be able to ditch the shield eventually. But it was so hard to feed without. I started to pump, both to give myself a break from the struggle of trying to breastfeed with the shield and so the Husband could give Henry a bottle during one of the 3 – 5 newborn nighttime wake-ups. I also pumped when I knew guests would be coming over; I felt shy about breastfeeding in front of family and friends.
Now, that was the most unexpected part of our journey! My shyness. I firmly ‘believe in’ public breastfeeding. Do it wherever, whenever – feeding your baby will never bother me. And just as I want other women to be comfortable, I’m comfortable with my body. But not when it came to breastfeeding. Perhaps because it was so unfamiliar. Perhaps because of the shield (which makes breastfeeding less graceful and more messy, in-your-face, and clumsy). Perhaps because of post-pregnancy hormones. I wish I had felt differently about it, but I just didn’t.
What ended up happening was, by two months, I was exclusively pumping. Exclusive pumpers are a small group. I am really glad that I had adequate supply and could make the choice to pump, but at the same time, exclusive pumping was horrendous. It was physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. The pump ruled my life. I look back on my pumping experience and positively shudder.
I ended up exclusively pumping for 6 months (in total, I breastfed for 8) for several reasons:
- I wasn’t prepared for needing the shield. I wish I had realized that I would need one before Henry was born. If I could do it all over, I would’ve asked my midwife to examine my breasts beforehand. It sounds silly, but I never knew that I had flat nipples. My nipples were just my nipples.
- I became too reliant on the pump too soon. Many readers warned me about the pump – I wish I had listened. Everyone says the first 6 – 8 weeks of breastfeeding are the hardest. In hindsight, I should’ve breastfed as much as possible and never pumped during the day. Those occasional nighttime bottles saved my sanity – I don’t regret that at all.
- I wish I had dealt with my breastfeeding shyness in another way. Pumping wasn’t the answer. We had a lot of friends and family over during Henry’s first few weeks, and I really appreciated the help and company. But maybe next time, I’ll keep visits shorter. And I won’t hesitate to excuse myself to go nurse in another room if necessary. I felt like that would’ve been rude to take Henry to my bedroom when someone had come over to see him. But it wouldn’t have been rude at all! My loved ones would’ve been understanding and supportive.
So, next time, I plan to do things a little differently. I’ve learned a lot from my pumping ‘mistakes.’ I hope this knowledge will make breastfeeding BabyHTP 2.0 easier. And maybe – just maybe – by sharing these intimate details, I can make it easier for another new mom.
But… most of all… I will take this away from my experience – whatever happens, it’s not worth feeling guilty about it. I spent so many months of Henry’s first year feeling like a failure because breastfeeding didn’t work out. That damned phrase – Breast is Best! – tortured me. And I know it tortures other moms, too.
I’ve heard the phrase “Breast is Normal” and I like that slogan a lot more. It implies that breastfeeding is healthy and nothing to be embarrassed about. It doesn’t come with a dose of guilt. It doesn’t make mothers who make an alternate choice feel bad about themselves. It’s a hard balance to encourage, educate, and empower women who are interested in breastfeeding without offending others. But I feel that this supportive attitude can – and should – be adopted by us all. Because the choice of how to feed a baby is extremely complicated. And because one person’s choice or experience isn’t a commentary on someone else’s.
There are so many ways to be an awesome mom. Feeding by the breast, from a bottle, or with formula is just one choice out of many. When breastfeeding works out, it’s awesome. But if it doesn’t, and it’s making you miserable, maybe it’s not worth the heartache. A sad, heartbroken, guilt-tripped mom isn’t the best mom.
I really do look forward to attempting to breastfeed my next child. Regardless of how it goes, I hope to feel more positive about the overall experience. Hindsight, as they say, is everything.
For more on the topic of breastfeeding: