One thing you learn quite quickly is everyone has an opinion on what you should be doing as a parent. Some of those opinions can be helpful, but there are also a lot of judgemental ones out there.

There are so many different schools of thought on everything from spanking, to when you should start feeding your baby cereals/purees, screen time, and more. This can make it incredibly difficult to navigate making the correct choices for yourself and your child.

One area which has remained insanely controversial for years is breastfeeding. There is no denying that breastfeeding is the healthiest option for your baby. But in the pursuit of teaching about this importance, have we left mothers who cannot breastfeed, or who don’t want to, behind?

If you’re a super strong person who is able to shrug off the negative opinions from others and doesn’t care what they think, it’s easy to not care about the pressures to breastfeed. But for those of us who are unsuccessful at either, it can be harmful. And even though I had a wonderful nurse who told me “fed is best”, it has been hard amidst the pressures to be at peace with that.

When I first started freelance reporting, I helped put together an advertorial section on parenting/baby-related articles. For one piece, I was sent to interview someone from La Leche League. It was clear from the start that not only did this representative frown greatly upon women who didn’t breastfeed, but she believed there were little to no struggles with breastfeeding that could not be overcome. I remember feeling extremely uncomfortable with the interview, even though at the time I hadn’t even met many women who struggled with breastfeeding.

Over the past 8 years, I’ve learned not only are there a lot of women who struggle with breastfeeding, but also there are many reasons why women struggle. While a lot of those issues can be overcome with hard work, it’s not always feasible for the mother to continue. And that can lead to a lot of judgement. Even when it doesn’t, pages and groups promoting breastfeeding have a habit of sharing things that, while they might not intend harm, can induce feelings of shame in those who do not breastfeed.

I am one of those women who struggle. I have a love/hate relationship with breastfeeding. Those moments with Garrus are some of the most precious for me, but they are also often difficult, and the entire process is exhausting.

Breastfeeding was difficult right from the get-go for me. I was induced at 37.5 weeks, and it took four days of rigorously pumping every 2-3 hours throughout the day and night for my milk to come in. During that time, Garrus struggled to latch at all. He was started on a bottle the night he was born and wasn’t able to consume any food for his first 24 hours in the NICU while they kept him on a glucose drip. When he started on food again, it was mainly formula since I couldn’t sustain him.

My milk production grew, but we were still needing to supplement entire bottles of formula at every feed. Confident that I could overcome this, I sought out assistance at Public Health through their breastfeeding clinic. They were wonderful and supportive, set me up with a nipple shield to help Garrus latch, and suggested supplements, medication, and renting a hospital grade pump.

So, I rented the pump. I spent the $40 on Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle, and after a couple of weeks, picked up a prescription for Domperidone. I pumped like crazy and followed the directions for my supplements and medication. The supplements required a lot — four giant pills in the morning and four at night. Two Domperidone three times a day. Eventually, my milk increased enough to feed Garrus during the day without supplementing formula, but at night it was a different story.

Breastfeeding, they say, is supposed to have a wonderful side effect — weight loss. Some people have gone so far as to call it the human body’s natural liposuction. I never experienced this. Though my milk was definitely coming in more, Garrus’s appetite was growing to a point where even that wasn’t enough. He was starting to suck me dry by suppertime. On top of the not losing weight, the Domperidone was giving me the nasty side effect of weight gain, adding another 10lbs back on and pushing me back into a pre-diabetic state. The cost of the supplements, which were only lasting me two weeks, was unsustainable. The pumping made me miserable. And no matter how much I did of any, my milk simply wouldn’t turn into the gushing rivers so many people talk about.

But I kept pushing through, because “breast is best”. I pushed through to the point of exhaustion. Until, this past week when I realized it’s not sustainable. The past month I’ve spent more time than I can even grasp feeling guilty about choosing to give Garrus a bottle of formula during the day instead of breastfeeding. Or starting him on cereal/oatmeal now instead of exclusively breastfeeding until six months. I’ve shed more tears than I can count over it, feeling guilty when other moms have shot me dirty looks because we gave Garrus a bottle in a restaurant instead of giving him the natural stuff.

Since stopping the medication and supplements, my supply has dropped, while Garrus’s appetite has increased. There are days where Garrus isn’t getting enough and drains me completely by lunchtime. Where I spend my entire day fighting to get him enough food. Days where I managed to feed him all day, but with my milk not being fatty enough, he feeds every hour and a half all day long.

There are so many people who would tell me to push through, to keep fighting. But is it really worth it? I’ve known babies who were formula fed, babies who were started on food early, who are far healthier than some of the exclusively breastfed babies I have met. Mothers often struggle to function as it is. Between the lack of sleep and trying to figure out how to care for and read the needs of a tiny human who can’t talk and whose cries all sound the same, it’s exhausting. Isn’t it better to give a mom who is struggling some reprieve instead of shaming them? What good is a mother to her child if she is hardly functioning or her health is suffering from trying to feed more?

Since Garrus was born, I’ve heard more and more stories of moms who couldn’t continue breastfeeding for so many different reasons. Unlike me, many of them were not fortunate enough to have a nurse who reminded them that fed is best, no matter how you accomplish it. This pressure is both unnecessary and harmful. It can leave us feeling like we’re failures; like we are doing ill by our children. Like we are destroying them.

The truth is, we are not doing any of those.

As I continue without the medication and supplements, my supply continues to drop. At this rate, I figure if I can even still breastfeed at all until six months, it will be a miracle. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay because by taking care of me — by stopping draining myself, exhausting myself, and making myself unhealthy, I am empowering myself to be able to care for my child better.

Fed is best. Screw anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.

Comments

  1. Maria K

    Glad to hear that you’ve come to the realization that it doesn’t always work. I had gushers, but dried up around 6 months with all of my kids. It should be an enjoyable experience, otherwise it is something that should be looked at, and a bottle given instead. Weight gain for baby is more important, and if the milk just isn’t fatty enough, that becomes harder for the baby also. I had one who sucked all the time, and sucked me drier than I would have liked, but for that one, a pacifier became a necessity. With it, I had peace, and was not used as a pacifier for baby to fall asleep. Do what you feel is right, Tabs! And don’t let anyone pressure you into doing something that doesn’t work. When I was in the hospital for the last one, and my supply came in quicker than before, the nurse told me to “force, or talk” the other lady with a baby into breastfeeding. While this was her second, she had inverted nipples, and it didn’t work for her. I talked her out of breastfeeding! Told her to do it only if she wanted to, not because someone else in the room had it easy with the task.

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      Tabitha

      Thank you, Maria! And thank you for sharing your experience as well! With all the pressures put on mothers in this world, shaming them for not breastfeeding should not be one of them.

  2. Tim

    My wife and I developed a STRONG dislike for a lactation consultant at the hospital who both looked and sounded like Edna from The Incredibles for her insistence on shaming my wife about trying to give our kid a bottle. It got to the point on one of the follow up visits where another one of the doctors apologized for this doctor’s behavior. You’re totally right. Fed is best.

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      Tabitha

      Wow, I am sorry you experienced that. It seems all too common, and that needs to change. I am glad a doctor was able to recognize this was wrong and tell you.

  3. Melanie Gagnon

    Yes! I’m totally in agreement with you, Tabi! I’ve encountered a few people who just assumed I was breastfeeding, and it always put me on the defensive, as if I had to explain WHY I wasn’t breastfeeding. And only then was it acceptable to them. IF we decide to have a #2, I’m just going to jump over the struggle and choose to not breastfeed, and tell people to stuff it if they don’t like my choice. Yes, my baby’s health is important to me (it’s not like I’m starving him …), but my health is more important. It’s like they say in those airplane safety videos: fasten your own oxygen mask first, THEN deal with your child’s. If breastfeeding is negatively affecting my health emotionally, physically or both, then it needs to stop.

    One thing I will add to what you’ve written is that birth in and of itself is traumatic for a number of mothers, and it can take a long time to heal. Adding another difficult challenge (breastfeeding) to that healing process AND dealing with the fact that a tiny, somewhat demanding (but very cute) human has been added to your family can be emotionally damaging. Not to mention, the physical trauma itself – the toll it has taken on the mom’s body – can at times impede a new mom’s ability to breastfeed (which is one of the reasons I don’t).

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      Tabitha

      Ugh, the feeling the need to explain why in order to feel like people aren’t judging you is the worst! And that is a super valid point about the healing, mentally and physically. There is so much consideration that has to go into it, and just like everything else in life, there is no “one-size fits all” solution.

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