We Need to Talk About Breastfeeding

Friday, November 18, 2016

Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for 7 Quick Takes!


It's assumed that I breastfeed.

Because obviously, right?

I'm home with the kids, I homeschool, we do NFP and cloth diaper.
I had a homebirth for cryin' out loud!

But....nope. No I don't. And apparently that's a problem.

So much of mom socialization is predicated on breastfeeding. It comes up every where!
Give your baby a bottle while you're out, is that breastmilk?
Note your kid hasn't gotten the cold that's been going around, breastfeeding?
Snuggly toddler, is she still breastfeeding?

It's like a years long game of Pop-Goes-the-Weasel.

I know people are asking the question because they think they know the answer, but that's a stupid assumption y'all.

They don't know about the lactation consultants who noted aspect after aspect that might make breastfeeding a little harder - somehow never taking into account what all of those aspects mean when on a single person.

They weren't there for the holy hell that is PPD aggravated from not sleeping well for weeks on end.

Or when I was trying to convince "supportive" friends and medical practitioners that just telling me I can do this, despite the indications that this was not a good situation, is not support.

Truly they couldn't have known any of that. So why the prying? Why does the subject of breastfeeding come up like a society-wide tic?

Breastfeeding was "covered" in birth classes the same way NFP was "covered" in marriage prep - lightly and full of contradictory messages.
It was emphasized that it would take some learning, but wouldn't be a big deal (it's natural so therefore easy, right?). If you ran into big problems you could just call up a lactation consultant. No biggie.

No considerations for body differences. No counseling about mental health considerations. No awareness of the privilege and money needed to allow for the kind of support that gives a nursing pair a fighting shot at getting a good start.

Come on people, we can do better than this!

Somehow we've managed to convince ourselves that those who don't breastfeed do so because they just don't know any better or are selfish. Perhaps worse is the message that every woman CAN breastfeed if she just tries hard enough.

Just. Try. Harder. The three most unhelpful words ever uttered.
To what level of crazy, sick, stressed, and bleeding do we expect a woman to go before everyone is satisfied she has "tried hard enough"? How dare we make that demand?

When I finally made the decision, with my husband, to stop trying to breastfeed exclusively and finally give our baby formula, I felt like an absolute failure. (You can read in more detail some of the circumstances of our first child's birth in John's birth story.)

My community let me know I was a failure too.
There are no support groups for bottle feeding. In fact, it became apparent that most of the groups for new moms, in my area, were based around breastfeeding - if they existed at all. Ouch.

At first I took it really hard. When those prying questions came up I would find myself suddenly trying to explain to this complete stranger why I made this really intimate decision.
Because if you don't breastfeed than you should at least be apologetic about it.

I finally called myself on it. I wasn't doing anything wrong by feeding my baby formula, and I needed to quit trying to apologize for it.

I'm going to come out as someone who is strongly in the Fed Is Best camp.
I think formula is not second best, but actually truly fine.
Really really. No qualifiers.

And just because this actually came up in real life, my not breastfeeding does not make me unsupportive of you breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is what you want, and it's working for you and your baby, awesome. I'm happy for you. What I don't want is the deification of breastfeeding, and breastmilk, that has become so pervasive in "crunchy" circles.

Breastfeeding is great, but I am never going to encourage a woman to breastfeed at the cost of her mental or physical health. That baby needs a mom more than breastmilk. If a person does not matter more than a bodily fluid, there is something seriously messed up with our priorities.

Here's what I'm proposing:

1. Really teach moms how to breastfeed in prenatal classes (not just why, we're all super good on the reasons why. Trust me, #NormalizeBreastfeeding is well and done on that front.)

2. Empower moms to take the rest they need. Regular check ins (at home!) from a nurse, and productive counseling, prenatally, to plan for postpartum household help.

3. Empower nurses, birth practicers, lactation consultants, etc. to support a mom who might benefit from bottle feeding. So many people saw that breastfeeding was not a good situation for me, yet said nothing because they didn't want to be seen as unsupportive of breastfeeding. I would have been so greatly helped from some kind and gentle support to let me off the hook of breastfeeding pressure.

4. Have mom support that has nothing to do with parenting style or feeding method. Please. Believe it or not, you might find there is more to being a mom then milk.

5. Please stop spreading the click bait "science" articles. I know you are just SO EXCITED to share that your breast milk might make your kid baby Einstein, but look a little harder at what that "study" actually encompassed before you share. We all learned the basics for telling if something is good science back in grade school, so we can totally do this one y'all!

6. If you're a mom, make an effort to be real friends with someone who parents/feeds/etc. different from you. Everyone feels like the world is judging them about something in those early parenting months, and it can mean the world for another mom to reach out despite our differences.

7. When in doubt, ask moms about THEMSELVES. Seriously, treat a mom like a regular adult and you might actually have a nice conversation. I think a lot of the isolation I experienced the first few years was compounded by how little anyone wanted to ask about my life beyond my baby.


I'm writing all of this down, and putting it on the internet, because when I searched google in those deep dark days hoping to find someone, ANYONE, who was feeling the things I was I found nothing. 
If you landed here because breastfeeding is not working for you, know you are not alone! 
If you're here because you want to help someone who is struggling with breastfeeding, thanks for being an awesome person!
If you're here to leave a "Breast Is Best" comment.....bless your heart.

19 comments :

  1. I have agree with you. Breastfeeding is something awesome to do, but there is no real support for mom's that do it. I breastfeed my 2 kids, and expect to breastfeed my 3rd one, but I honestly say, that you have to do what's best for the child and yourself.

    If breastfeeding is stressing you out, and causing severe mental problems, problems bonding with your child, then maybe you should consider formula. At the end of the day, it's to have healthy children, and a healthy mom.

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    1. Exactly! I really believe that all parenting decisions, including breastfeeding, are a balance of the needs of mom, dad, and THAT baby. Each kid might be widely different, and it's nigh impossible to know exactly what that baby will need and how you will be different with each newborn.

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  2. I appreciate this post. There is way too much advice to go around. Breastfeeding has not been an easy journey for me, and I was definitely not prepared for that, so I know I can never comment on people who choose the best way they can to feed their baby. On the flipside, it seems that people love making judgements no matter what! I am nursing my 3 kids (my oldest is 3) because that's how it's working for us and people judge or tell me I should stop. Oy vey! Why don't people just let us parent as best we can? Only we know individually what's best for our families!

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    1. I feel like so many things in those early years are full of decisions that seem to come with backseat parenting. It's so important to remember that we all have different bodies, temperaments, needs, and comfort levels, which will all drastic change what the "right" answer is for our family!

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  3. I love breastfeeding! But I don't produce enough milk, so I have to supplement from day one. I'm fairly comfortable breastfeeding in public, but I like to go to another room to bottle feed in many situations. I just can't take the judging.

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    1. I'm sorry you go through that! When I was pregnant with my second baby I would try and attend my local LLL meetings, with toddler in tow, in hopes of breastfeeding successfully with my newborn. Having to give my older child a bottle in a LLL meeting was one of my more uncomfortable early parenting experiences. I'm right there with you!

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  4. Amen to all of this, Kirby! I think you bring up a great (but sad) point about not having support for women who bottle-feed. The closest thing I can think of is that at one of the local parenting stores where I live, there's a "Working Moms" group that meets, and I'm guessing some of them use formula or pump if they work away from home.
    And I'm all about #4! I think it is so incredibly important to connect with others as women, and not just as cloth diaper-ers or breastfeeders or whatever. Conversations often wind up dipping into those areas anyway, but I try really hard to ask other women about themselves and their hobbies when I get together with other moms.

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    1. I feel that parenting groups run into the same problems as many young adult groups. At some point all of the break off splintering groups makes us more lonely, not more connected. Since connection is the main point of a support group, we seem to be hurting ourselves by overspecializing right off the bat.

      Thanks for making the effort to start the "not about babies" conversations! I'm a big believer that moms can (and do) have other interests, but we seem to forget how to talk about them when we go through years of conversation atrophy.

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  5. While I have been able to nurse mine, I will say I am also staunchly in the "fed is best" camp! I was formula fed, and no words for wear, imo. Also, I fervently believe we moms need to take a step back and simply support one another - stop judging, and start loving!

    Great post!

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  6. This is awesome Kirby! I've learned a lot from you about what it looks like for a mom to bring herself to a friendship and conversation instead of only talking about her parenting style. I love all of these suggestions, Thank you for writing!

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  7. I wholeheartedly agree! Honestly, I feel like there are some people who just can't understand how sometimes breastfeeding isn't actually best because they haven't been there. I had to supplement with my first two, and the first time was so traumatic I almost didn't try to nurse the second time around! Now I'm nursing my third baby and it's the first time I haven't had to supplement (I'm still in disbelief some days). Having said that, breastfeeding is still HARD. I really wish I had known before I had babies that sometimes things don't work out the way you planned. But like you said, fed is totally best. Thank you for sharing your heart on this!

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    1. I think you bring up a good point. It is very hard for people to picture a situation outside of their own experience. I'm convinced that most people are not intentionally being vindictive or insensitive, they just really have no idea they might not have the whole picture. It's part of the reason I wanted to put this out there - to offer another perspective, and to practice being more honest about my own experience. It's SO HARD to speak when it feels like everyone else is nodding in agreement and you feel like the only one going "actually..." It is, I believe, ultimately better to share some of these uncomfortable stories and allow for the discomfort to settle then to continue to believe we have it all figured out.

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  8. Kirby, I have to admit that I was one of those whole-hearted breastfeeding moms that assumed everyone COULD and SHOULD breastfeed. I was kind of asinine about the whole thing, too. Then my sister had a baby, had trouble, and suddenly it was like my whole perspective shifted. It was almost as though I had to live through it vicariously, you know?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You're right - moms do need to hear this. All of this.

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  9. Can I share this on social media? I saw this in response to an article about why breastfeeding is hard and I am in love. I have chronic low supply and I worked myself to the core trying to make exclusively breastfeeding work. I am in some low supply support groups and I think they would really appreciate seeing this!

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    1. Please share away. So glad it resonated with you!

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  10. Thanks fr this article.M really depressed about not being able to my Lo. I dint get any support from my in laws or husband to atleast try it. They all wanted time with the bby n supported formula specially my mother in law.I dnt knw if i can ever overcum this guilt of not evn tryn

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    1. Don't beat yourself up about it! The people around you should have listened to what you wanted, and I'm so sorry you were not heard. That shouldn't have happened.

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