I find never ending discussions about breastfeeding and its alternatives really unnecessary and annoying. Let me explain: First of all, I find the biological side of breastfeeding puzzling. It’s supposed to be the most natural thing in the world, still majority of my friends struggle with it.
So I do understand discussions about breastfeeding in sense of reaching out for help. Online forums can be extremely helpful in those situations and it’s great to hear experts’ advice and encouraging stories from women who went through something similar to us. What I don’t understand is the need to discuss it over and over and over again – because there’s a lot of passive-aggression, judging and, consequently, feelings of guilt.
I read tons of online articles and forum discussions on how to properly breastfeed and why breast is the best and then even more of apologetic articles written by women who couldn’t breastfeed and who felt guilty about it. Aside from usual statements on how breastfeeding is healthier, cheaper and better for bonding, many, many other questions arise, the ones we fear to ask aloud, scared that someone might think that we have no clue what we’re doing: Am I really a better mum if I breastfeed? If so, how long should I breastfeed for to be considered a good mum? Is six months enough or should my six year old also get some breast milk in the morning before a hard day at school? Is just breastfeeding enough? Do I have to stare deeply into my baby’s eyes to form that special bond? How long do I have to look at him for while I feed? Am I a bad mum if I just watch TV while he does his thing?
Am I a failure if I can’t breastfeed? How long do I have to keep trying for it to work before I can give up? Am I selfish if I consciously decide not to breastfeed without even trying?
It gets even more complicated because women are not just divided into those who breastfeed and those who don’t. There are those women who don’t have a lot of milk so they have to breastfeed, pump and also feed their baby from a bottle. And then there’s a whole world of mums who exclusively pump because their bodies produce lots of milk but for some reason their babies can’t drink from the breast.
After having two kids and struggling with my own insecurities, I consider myself somewhat of an expert. On not breastfeeding.
With my first child I fit into the last category. My daughter, for some reason, couldn’t or wouldn’t drink from the breast and, because breast milk is the best and I wasn’t going to be a bad mum, I spent twenty five minutes every two and half hours, day and night, attached to a milk pump and then feeding my daughter expressed milk. I did this for ten weeks. It made going anywhere impossible – I only had a window of two hours to get us ready, to go out and to come back before I had to attach myself to the pump again to save my breasts from exploding. I was also scared that if I didn’t pump regularly, my milk production would stop and at that point, nothing seemed worse than the idea of my baby drinking horrible, evil, poisonous formula. This meant that I also barely slept. I had to be up every two and half hours and more often than not, Molly was awake between the pumping sessions. This also meant that when Molly was crying or wanted to be held, I wasn’t able to pick her up because I was pumping milk which was supposed to keep her healthy and allergy free.
Due to some complications at birth, I only got to see my second baby a day and a half after he was born. At the hospital they immediately brought in the pump and told me to wake up every three hours and pump for twenty minutes. I was groggy from the anaesthetic, weak from the operation, sad for not having seen my child and worried if he was healthy but still I obediently attached myself to the pump again. When it was time to wake up again at 3 a.m., I already feared I wasn’t going to keep it up. My body shut down and it wasn’t producing any milk. I kept having flashbacks to all the stress with Molly and no guarantee that the breastfeeding was going to work out this time when I finally do get to hold my baby. Then I visited him in NICU where I tried to breastfeed but it was impossible – he was crying hysterically, making me want to cry myself. The second time I visited, I was told it was better to not even try breastfeeding at that moment because Benny was hungry and was already used to drinking 50ml from the bottle – since I had no milk, putting him on the breast was only going to upset him and tire him out. Weak and hormonal, it took a lot of self control to stop myself from falling apart, but that was when I finally made my decision – I will not attempt to breastfeed any more this time and I definitely won’t exclusively pump. I will gather my energy and strength until he’s released from the intensive care and then I’ll give him all the attention, warmth and love I have. And a bottle. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but once I made it, I felt a sense of relief.
I weighed my options, I thought about what works best for me and the baby and decided to stick with it. There wasn’t as much guilt connected to it as with the first baby, probably because I was more self-assured, but instead came anger at all the women who judge those who can’t breastfeed and sympathy for those who keep up with it out of guilt even though it’s driving them insane.
Ironically, even this post is written out of sense of need to explain the reasons behind my decision not to breastfeed. Even though I’m sure my decision was the right one for us, deep inside me I hope that who ever reads this understands me and agrees with me. And there’s so much wrong with that.
I needed to write all of this down as a message to all the new mothers out there – it’s something I wanted to hear two and a half years ago, but didn’t have anyone to tell me: We’re all very well informed about the benefits of breastfeeding and we all agree it’s the best when it works out the way it’s supposed to, so if someone decides against it, be sure that they had a very good reason for it. There’s no need to discuss it, to question it or to judge it. Sadly, there’ll always be people to judge our way of raising our children and (not) breastfeeding is just the beginning. But I strongly believe that as long as I do my own personal best, I can be proud of myself and that’s what’s important.
We all have the same doubts and feelings of guilt. Be brave enough to do whatever feels right for you and your baby and don’t worry about what people around you think. If you want to / can breastfeed, take that boob out proudly! If you don’t want to / can’t, know that you’re not the only one and that you’re a great mum nevertheless.
Simple exercise: Next time when you’re out on the street, take a look around you and see if you can guess who was breastfed and who was not. You can’t? Strange. What if they gave you a history of their illnesses and told you about their relationship with their mums? Still impossible? Right. Go and enjoy being a guilt-free mum.
And if you think whatever you’re doing is the best and the right way to do it and you’re really great at this being-a-mum thing, keep it to yourself. No one wants to hear you brag about it. There’s always someone doing it completely differently and that’s fine. Also – none of your business.