#ThrowbackThursday: Breastfeeding Guilt Trips for New Moms

(Why #ThrowbackThursday? Because this post originally appeared on my previous blog www.grrrlwithboys.blogspot.com on July 7, 2013. Also, the good friend I reference in the beginning of this piece is due to have her baby any day now. I’m reposting in hopes that she too will not let others opinions influence her feeding decisions, but that she will do what is right for her and her baby based on her instincts and her conversations with her doctor and pediatrician.)

Recently a good friend of mine told me about her friend who is a new mom and is having trouble breastfeeding. Her son is not latching on and this young woman who did her research and read all the right books is feeling like a failure. 

This is not the first time I have heard of a new mother beating herself up because breastfeeding is supposed to be this easy, natural, best-for-your-baby thing and she can’t make it work. On top of all the hormones raging through her body, being deprived of sleep, and recovering physically from just having given birth, first time moms are being made to feel guilty by our society because they for whatever reason can’t breastfeed. Not to mention there are moms who choose to use formula from the get go who are looked down upon by all the “experts”.

I experienced this myself with my first child. I was all about breast-feeding and read everything I could get my hands on. I also knew that the hospital where I planned to give birth provided a free lactation coach. I was all set and ready to roll. I got this. Then my precious son arrived and he had other plans. He refused to latch no matter which way I held him, how many specialty pillows I used or how hungry he was. I even let the lactation coach try to force my boob in his mouth because I obviously wasn’t doing it right. I kept trying and trying and he wasn’t having it. It just wasn’t for him.

It didn’t take long for the guilt to set in. I thought there was something wrong with me. Every other mother ever had been able to do this so why couldn’t I? I must be a terrible mom already. Not true, but that’s how I felt. My husband was very supportive through it all and trusted me to make the right decisions for feeding our son. After a lot of trying we worried that he wasn’t getting what he needed. I remembered a conversation I had with a co-worker of mine who said not to feel guilty about asking the nurses to feed the baby with formula. She was the first person to tell me that breastfeeding didn’t just happen easily. Up to that point all I had ever heard or read was that basically the baby will know what to do and to let nature take its course. WRONG. I tried everything I could think of and so did the lactation coach (all 3 of them). Thank goodness for my friend’s advice because it gave me the courage to ask for the help I needed that had nothing to do with my obviously malfunctioning boobs (Again, not true, but that’s how I felt).

When I asked the nurses to please get my baby some formula so he could have the nutrients he needed while I figured out this breastfeeding thing, they didn’t bat an eye. Thank goodness they were supportive. I don’t think I could have taken another person telling me I just needed to try harder. I know those lactation coaches were just trying to help but they need some training on bedside manner and to lose the guilt trips. It’s not just them though. Sometimes its your mother or mother-in-law in which case it is ok to say nicely “thank you for your advice, I love you, but I’m running this show”. It’s also all the books and websites and “experts” that say formula fed babies are inferior and if you don’t breastfeed you are doing your child a diservice. There are even groups trying to get formula pulled from hospitals so mothers can’t rely on it to feed their babies. They’d rather starve babies than allow anything but breastfeeding. Those people are horrible and should be educated on how their actions negatively affect women and their babies. Because, you know what, they’re wrong. My two sons were both formula fed and they are not only super smart, but also healthy. So, just try to weed through those negative ned’s and nancy’s and listen to your instincts about what’s best for your baby.

Sure, I would have liked to have been able to breastfeed both of them; formula is expensive! I am super happy for those moms who choose to and are able to breastfeed. High five to them! And, on a side note, they should not be made to feel guilty for feeding their child in public. But I don’t regret listening not only to my gut but also my babies. I was causing them more distress trying different ways to get them to latch than just giving them the formula that had everything they needed. And don’t listen to that bull crap about bonding. You can feed your child from a bottle and still bond with them (that’s how my husband did it). I have great relationships with both of my kids. They like to snuggle and miss me when I’m gone, but they are also perfectly happy playing independently. They’re well adjusted little gentlemen and that had nothing to do with being breastfed. Don’t you see, both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding work to feed babies, you just have to figure out what works best for your baby and not give a damn about what the talking-heads say you should do.

Most of my friends who are moms struggled with breastfeeding their first child (and sometimes their second if they gave it another go). It isn’t always that the babies have trouble latching, although that is common. Sometimes it’s that your boobs don’t producing enough milk as was the case with my second child. I got him to latch but my milk dried up after about 10 days. No matter the reason, all my momma friends who had trouble felt the guilt and that’s unfortunate. And that is why I am writing this, because no new mom should be made to feel she is a failure if her baby and her boobs just aren’t compatible. It’s not always a perfect match as we are made to believe. So many women experience this and feel ashamed so they keep it to themselves. Speaking out about our experiences helps not only ourselves, but also others who realize they’re not alone.

If you’re a new mom, reach out to your friends who are also new moms and talk honestly about your struggles with breastfeeding. Don’t keep it bottled up. You are a great mother because you care enough to feed your baby whether that’s with a bottle or a breast. Try channeling all that energy you’re putting into feeling guilty into teaching them all you can about the world and how to be a good person and pursue their dreams.

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