I began weaning our son off breast milk when he was six months. Some would consider that a feat in itself, but most probably think that duration is quite short. To tell you the truth, I was not saddened when that chapter in our lives was over. During his first 6 months of life, my son was either being a difficult baby, or I just couldn’t manage his personality very well.
He wanted to cluster feed every two hours, and would nurse for up to an hour at a time. I would spend half an hour trying to get him to nap and then he would only sleep for half an hour. Getting anywhere was torture as he would scream bloody murder as soon as I strapped him in the car seat or stroller. And then he would be awake 4-5 times each night wanting the boob.
The only time he would be content was when he was nursing or in the carrier. Unfortunately, carrying him for long periods hurt my back, and I have a three year old at home which did not allow for me to sit down to nurse for long periods. Due to my other demands at home I wasn’t able to nurse him as long or as often as he needed. My milk supply dwindled. He slept less. I hardened. He became fussier.
So, all-in-all, the first six months of my son’s life was torture for me.
Since deciding to throw in the metaphoric breastfeeding towel, it has taken no time at all to put my son down for naps, and he naps for longer. Now I get to spend some much needed one-on-one time with my daughter, who I fear has felt ignored. He usually only gets up once in the night now so my husband and I are not the cranky zombies we used to be.
Our son will actually tolerate car rides so that we are able to visit our family two hours away without listening to him cry all the way there and back. And I don’t feel any more anger or resentment towards my baby, which was a very difficult burden to carry. I feel so much closer to him. He is now the little content and spirited person he was meant to be. We have finally bonded. So no, I really do not feel sad that I am not breastfeeding any more.
But I do feel guilty.
I feel guilty that I couldn’t nurse him for longer. I feel guilty that for the first six months of my sons life he was fussy because of my supply. I feel like I did everything wrong and that I failed. That I should have been able to manage life better.
I don’t think I am alone in feeling this guilt; having this feeling of failure. The mom with adopted children who could never experience breastfeeding her children. The mom who had to go back to work early and lost her supply while trying to pump. The mom that tried absolutely everything to get baby to latch on in the beginning and afterwards found out baby had a tongue-tie. The mom with a baby losing weight while nursing him exclusively. And so many others.
Even though we make decisions based on what is best for our baby, our situation, and our family, we still feel like what we do is wrong.
There are so many pressures in our society, especially with regards to how we raise our children. Breastfeeding is no exception. There is huge pressure to breastfeed, but societal norms make it difficult to do so. Modesty prevents us from learning how to breastfeed while growing up, so we end up having to learn it all on the fly. Then, when we are nursing, we are expected not to be seen in public and not to continue doing it for too long.
“Breast is best” is a common saying in hospitals and in the community. While I agree with this statement and I know that there are plenty of research articles that prove the benefits of breastfeeding, this push can at times make moms feel like nothing they do is good enough. As an obstetrical nurse I am pro-breastfeeding. I assist all moms who are wanting to breastfeed to become successful prior to going home, whether or not their journey involves tongue ties or flat nipples or a hypoglycaemic baby.
But I am also a mother that knows things don’t always go as planned.
One of the worst experiences for me to witness is when a mom and babe, for whatever reason, are not succeeding at breastfeeding. These new moms are exhausted. They just gave birth to a beautiful baby, and are now riddled with guilt because they are not able to provide what is deemed best for their child. They often break down and cry. They ask, “Why me?” “What did I do wrong?”. It is heartbreaking. What I try to say to these women, is “Do you love your child? Yes. Are you caring for your child? Yes. Are you feeding your child? Yes. Then you are mother of the year to this child. You have done no wrong.”
These are the most important things you can provide your child. Sure, there are studies out there showing an increased immunity or IQ for breastfed children. This does not mean that formula fed infants will have higher illness rates or become less smart. What we often fail to remember is the big picture. Many of our mothers bottle fed us, some breastfed. As adults, can we now tell apart who was breast and bottle fed? Definitely not.
Regardless of how we feed our babies we should be proud of what we have accomplished. Whether you had a choice in it or not, if you formula fed from the start, great job! Thank you for providing your newborn with all the nourishment he/she needs. If you attempted breastfeeding and for whatever reason it didn’t pan out, good for you! You tried something new, likely faced many adversities and you ultimately chose to do what you felt was best for you and baby. If you stuck with breastfeeding for as long as possible, including pumping, gold star!
Many new moms expect breastfeeding to come naturally. It’s great if it does, but most of the time it doesn’t. It is a learned skill that mother and baby need to work at. Even when baby latches on perfectly the first time (yay!), there can be difficulties down the road. Cracked nipples. Engorgement. A plugged duct. Growth spurts. It requires commitment. Regardless of how your baby is fed, good job Mamas! I hope you can all sleep easy tonight knowing that you have done your best to make your lives work and to care for your adorable baby. Because that, my friends, is all that really matters!