I felt sick to my stomach reading a blog post this week from a mother who wanted to breastfeed, was breastfeeding, but didn’t realize her newborn wasn’t getting enough milk. The baby, tragically, was not nutritionally fulfilled, wasn’t getting fed, and died.
My heart breaks for this mother, and I know it must have been unimaginably difficult to share her story (which is so brave). This had me thinking about the stigma around breastfeeding versus formula feeding. I don’t understand at what point how a mother chooses to feed her children started stratifying us into “good” moms and “bad” moms (with a total ignorance of the many, many factors that goes into these decisions). How did we get to a place where moms are so concerned with doing things the “right” way that we’re actually causing harm? What happened to caring, supporting, communities of moms?
The Nunya Method of Feeding
How did I feed my baby? The Nunya Method. Why haven’t you heard of it before? BECAUSE IT’S NUNYA BUSINESS.
Like many women, I have read about the ample benefits of breast milk, and I believe that when it is possible and healthy to breastfeed, that is an amazing choice. But breastfeeding is hard; I know that’s not new information to women who have done it. If a woman chooses not to breastfeed, or if she can’t breastfeed, can we all just agree it’s okay. That it is okay. Instead of trying to be the best,” let’s just agree it’s not a competition in the first place. However a mom chooses to feed, is, frankly, none of our business.
I read many articles while I was pregnant about breastfeeding. I read about women who shame mothers who don’t breastfeed. I wanted to breastfeed, but anytime someone would ask me if I was going to, I always said, “I hope to, but we will have to wait and see what happens.” I felt strong taking this approach. I would try to breastfeed, but if I couldn’t or if it was terrible, I would bow out. And I would not feel shame.
When I had my son, he latched well at the hospital and I wasn’t in too much pain when he breastfed the first few times. Then we got home, and it was harder, and he wouldn’t latch, and I got mastitis, and I was tired and, crap. My laid-back attitude about breastfeeding was gone. I felt like I had to make it work. I obsessed over it a little bit, imagining that if I didn’t breastfeed, I wouldn’t be doing what was best for my son, and that was more than I could handle.
Most of that pressure, admittedly, I put on myself, but much of it also came from what I read online and this notion that the inability or unwillingness to breastfeed means you’re a failure of a mother who only cares about herself. When reading articles with advice on breastfeeding positions and tactics to keep baby awake to actually eat, I read things that made me feel pressured to avoid supplementing with formula. “It will hurt your supply,” I read. I didn’t want to do anything to “hurt” my chances of providing my son with “liquid gold” (a term I kind of hate). I felt like supplementing was bad. I was reading things that made me feel like supplementing with formula always ends with a baby no longer breastfeeding, and I didn’t want that. The woman I mentioned above wrote that supplementing with even just one bottle may have saved her baby’s life. Supplementing cannot be bad.
In the end, Deacon and I were able to get in a groove with breastfeeding. I am extremely proud of the fact that I was able to exclusively breastfeed my son; it is nothing short of a major accomplishment. But while I am proud, I am sitting here knowing – now – that had I not done that, it would be okay. He would be more than okay! Not all women know that or believe that.
The “breast is best” movement wasn’t born out of thin air, it is around for good reason. The Centers for Disease Control’s 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card indicates that despite improvements in breastfeeding initiation, most U.S. states are not meeting recommended breastfeeding duration and exclusivity targets. The national average for women exclusively breastfeeding at three months postpartum is 44 percent, with just about half that continuing at six months. And Indiana is below the national average. And a lot of times, the people who *are* able to breastfeed their children are able to do so given a variety of sociological factors in place: including breastfeeding-friendly laws, maternity leave, or the option to stay home.
And so the message of “breast is best” should be delivered with caution. New mothers should not feel shamed if they can’t breastfeed or don’t want to breastfeed. I am a breastfeeding advocate, but more so I am an advocate of doing whatever you, as a parent, think is best. If breast is best, fed is even better. It is essential.
I don’t know how knowledge of the many benefits of breast milk can be shared without making moms feel less than if their baby is receiving formula. But I do know a good place to start, and that is with each one of us. No more judging. No more shaming, even the quiet, behind closed doors kind. Just support, no matter what. Babies need to be fed, period.