How many times have you heard breast is best? If you're a new mom the likelihood that it's come packaged with some other advice about motherhood is high on the list.
I for one prefer the phrase fed is best for a number of reasons, mainly maternal mental health. While I do believe breastmilk is superior in quality to nourish our little ones, the particular campaign that its the best choice is in so many ways detrimental and dividing.
By dividing new mothers with a slogan that one choice is best we discount the women who've had mastectomies, the women who lack their partner's support, the women who return to work, and the women who simply don't feel comfortable with their body due to trauma or any other reason.
Then of course there are the women like myself who give it a good old college try. And some of us happen to find ourselves swimming in pain and exhaustion, simply feeling like a failure. For me, I was undoubtedly under prepared. I had this belief that it would come naturally to me. My mother and sister both successfully nursed and never spoke about the reality of the challenges that accompanied their choice.
When my first was born he was small, weighing 5 lbs 13 oz. I nursed exclusively for all of two weeks before things shifted. He was jaundice and losing weight, so I ended up supplementing with formula. Everything happened so fast. Before I knew it, he wouldn't latch. I simply had no idea that nipple confusion was something that would throw us both of track. And I did not have a pump, so my supply went out the window right along with my hopes of nursing him. It made me sad. I found myself over explaining every time I was in a conversation about breastmilk or formula. I felt shame for feeding my baby that way.
So of course with my second I thought ahead. I made sure I purchased a pump in case I needed to bottle feed. We made it six weeks of nursing. Six weeks before I found myself crying at 3 am, turning to my husband and admitting that I just couldn't do it anymore. My baby girl was wailing with frustration. She wouldn't latch well and in that moment I was taxed completely. How come this was so hard? Why did this hurt so bad? What was wrong with me that I couldn't figure this out?
I decided to give pumping a go, only to quickly discover that it came with a learning curve of it's very own. Pumping is far more work than I anticipated. Sterilizing all the parts to keep them clean and free of bacteria, and then allowing enough time for them to air dry was another add on to caring for myself, baby and toddler. Because let's be real, having an 18 month old and a newborn is no easy feat. It simply felt like I could never catch up. Time blurred by and I had zero energy most days. If only I was able to nurse like all those other moms. The guilt rushed in, and I felt my anxiety heighten. I was struggling.
Eighteen months later I was back in it when baby number three arrived. I ordered another pump, double the parts right? Only this time I planned to use formula. I nursed in the hospital to make sure babe received colostrum, but introduced formula right away. In my mind it was going to save me the mental anguish and a trip on the struggle bus. But I was wrong. I continued to feel like a failure that nursing wasn't a longer part of my journey with my children. It was as if my efforts weren't good enough or didn't count because they were so short lived.
So often moms would share they nursed for a year or more and it would leave a huge gap in the conversation where I always felt like I fell short. I remember hosting play group at my home after my second born. One of the moms was still nursing her babe who was about 18 months. She asked if I minded if she fed him. I did not. Next thing I knew she whipped out her boob, no cover and he had his lunch. I was taken back with my own admiration with how comfortable she was being so motherly. And admittedly I had envy for her ability to do so. I never felt like I could nurse where I wanted. I felt like I had to cover which made an already difficult process more difficult and sweaty. My hat is off to the women who normalize the beauty of the breast. Its not easy and the women who've done it know that. They should wear a cape not a cover. That's why I love this 'Now Is Her Time' advertisement by Adidas. All I could do is smile when I saw it.
I'm such an advocate for empowering women. And that is why I am writing this piece. I don't want other women to feel shame for formula feeding. I don't want other women to think they are failures as a mom or less than because they prioritized their mental health over forcing something that wasn't working for them. But I also want women to feel prepared if breastfeeding is the way they dream to go.
I want you to know you can work with a lactation consultant, and encourage you to check with your insurance to see if it's covered for a reduced cost or in full. I didn't even know that was an option! Also, consider searching for a consultant ahead of time so you have all your ducks in a row by the time baby arrives.
When it comes to breast pumps explore your options a bit. You can either rent a medical grade machine from your local hospital or you can purchase an at home pump through a company called Acelleron. Either way you go, check your insurance coverage for a pump too. If it's covered, double win. Also to make your life easier, I suggest you stock up on extra parts so the whole pump cleaning routine doesn't bog down your progress.
Then I want you to know their are support groups, both offline and online which can help you tremendously. I hadn't even joined a group until this last rodeo with baby number four. Game changer. Also a girlfriend suggested I follow @legendairymilk on Instagram for tips and tricks, and boy is that account insightful. Thank you technology, and women supporting women.
We are six weeks in and I'm happy to do a combination of nursing and pumping, but mostly pumping. For me it works this time around. I feel a sense of relief that I finally found a way to give my baby breast milk without the stress and anxiety of latch issues and sore nipples. It's still not easy, but being prepared this time around has been a God send.
So I want to give you more than simply my trials and tribulations and turn it over to the experts. I asked two certified lactation consultants the same three questions in hopes that their knowledge would give you a head start on your journey. Read on to hear what they had to say. If you like it pin it to your bump board over on Pinterest. And most importantly remember to give yourself Grace. You are perfect momma.