National Breastfeeding Week is August 1-7. It’s a time for women all over the nation to celebrate the benefits of breastfeeding, honor their sacrifices to do so, and ensure that breastfeeding mothers have the support they need. The week is meant as a time of celebration, unity, and support for breastfeeding mothers.
But what if this week feels like another slap in the face, yet another reminder of your dirty secret?
What if you are struggling to breastfeed?
This is the category I feel into as a new mother. Twice.
For many women, breastfeeding is HARD, if not downright impossible. But you rarely hear about breastfeeding struggles. Why? Because the struggle to breastfeed and the shame surrounding it is one of the dirtiest, best-kept secrets of motherhood. So many women, including myself, choose to suffer in silence rather than let anyone in on their secret, lest they be judged as “less than” or a failure. But I’m here to tell you, Momma—if you are struggling to nurse that babe at your breast or pump enough to satisfy…YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Not by a long shot.
My breastfeeding struggles began almost immediately after my first child was born. My milk came in very late and was never abundant; we had latching issues. My menstrual cycle returned one month to the day after she was born and what little milk supply I had plummeted drastically, so I began nursing and pumping every 2-3 hours hours around the clock. Twice a week, we saw lactation consultants who did their absolute best to help us.
Somehow, we limped along the breastfeeding path for seven months, until one night, as I sobbed through my midnight pumping session, my husband gently suggested we transition to formula feeding. I remember feeling such relief and freedom when he said those words.
For me, I needed someone’s permission to stop, and I’m thankful my husband was sensitive to my emotional and mental health needs at a time when I just couldn’t be objective about it. But as vicious cycles are wont to do, I repeated this madness when my son was born two years later, though I only spent four months in the breastfeeding valley with him before deciding our bond and contentment with one another was worth more than aggressively pursuing a dwindling milk supply.
Now that I’m five years out from the postpartum hormones and breastfeeding struggles, I’m able to look back on those days with some clarity and objectivity. I see now that after the first few breakdowns, I should have honored my body and my relationships with my babies by extending myself the grace to try another way, because there’s nothing worse than being resentful of your own body’s “failings,” or terrified of your own baby because the countdown to nurse is on again.
But back in 2012, the Mommy Wars were real, with society, social media, and even veteran mothers heaping guilt and shame upon fellow moms who were just doing the best they could with what they had. The expression “breast is best” was weaponized during the time I was struggling to breastfeed. I experienced firsthand how that phrase inflicted lasting damage on women, both in my own house, down the street, across town, and around the country.
But on the other side of my breastfeeding struggles and into the waning days of the Mommy Wars, I am so thankful to see that old, broken, outdated phrase replaced with one that is infinitely more beneficial to mothers and babies: FED IS BEST. PERIOD.
Momma, if you are struggling mightily to nurse that baby, pump that milk, stay on top of demand, or keep up with your friend who is a milk-producing rockstar, can I tell you something? As a veteran mom who has been in it and through it, I give you permission to try something different. Supplementing with formula is not failure. Switching to exclusive pumping is not failure. Formula feeding is not failure.
YOU ARE A GOOD MOM, even if that baby’s breakfast doesn’t come from your body. Sacrificing your health—physically, mentally, and emotionally—to the point of brokenness and exhaustion does not make you a better mom. Honoring your health, your relationship with your body, and your bond with your baby…that’s the sweet spot, Momma. And if I can get there, so can you.