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.