May is national Maternal Mental Health Month, and I’m excited to share a bit more about my experience as a mother. But to be completely honest, I’m also feeling a lot of resistance to writing this post. A lot of fear. Because breastfeeding is a sensitive subject with a spectrum of strong opinions. I’m pushing back against this resistance today and stretching beyond my comfort zone, because I feel it’s important — to be a support for mamas who are struggling with breastfeeding, like I did.
Thank you in advance for reading with an open mind and heart.
Let me first start out by saying — no matter how you feed your child, you’re doing your absolute best and you’re an amazing mama. 100% without a doubt. Whether you nurse your little one, formula feed, exclusively pump, or land somewhere in between, you’re doing what is best for you both.
Pressures from the “breast is best” movement and the “baby-friendly” initiative adopted by many hospitals can leave mamas who aren’t able to nurse their kiddos — for whatever reason — feeling like they’re failing.
My second son is due in less than six weeks, and I’m so very excited to welcome him into our family. But I feel a pit of anxiety welling in my stomach whenever I think of breastfeeding him, which I very much want to do. Because breastfeeding didn’t work with my first. After ten weeks of trying and trying, and feeling like a failure as a mother, I decided to feed with formula. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, but ultimately one of the best.
Ten weeks doesn’t seem like much in hindsight, but at the time it felt like an unwinnable battle. I didn’t anticipate how difficult breastfeeding would be for us — that my milk wouldn’t come in immediately, that he’d have trouble latching, that it would be painful, that I’d obsess over how much he was eating or not eating, that I’d be tethered to a wall by a pump, that after all that work he’d throw up nearly everything he ate.
When breastfeeding didn’t work, I was baffled and frustrated. I beat myself up for not being able to care for my son in what I saw to be the most fundamental way. This fueled my anxiety and negative self-talk, to the point that I believed that I was not the best person to care for him.
I know now that this is simply not true — that he and I were made for each other. But at the time, I couldn’t see past what I perceived to be my failure in the midst of all the exhaustion and pressure to care for this new little human.
I say that switching to formula was one of the best decisions I’ve made because it freed me from this self-defeating cycle. It allowed me room to breathe and enjoy time with my son, and ultimately to believe in myself as a mother. In the end, I decided it was better for Ethan to have a mother who was confident and happy. The trade-off to me was worth it.
Rather than rehash every detail of our breastfeeding story, I’d just like to share a few things I learned that may have helped us if I’d known them before:
- You and your kiddo were made for each other. I said this already, but it’s worth repeating. Whatever works best for the two of you is the best solution.
- Milk doesn’t come in right away. Your breasts first produce colostrum after birth, in the small amounts that baby needs. After 3-4 days, your breasts will feel firmer indicating your milk came in.
- 7-10% weight loss is normal for breastfed babies in the first few days of life. They’ll likely regain this weight within a couple weeks.
- Breastfeeding and pumping shouldn’t be painful. There might be some discomfort at first, but it shouldn’t curl your toes. If it hurts, ask for help.
- The choice that’s best for your mental health is best for your baby.
- There’s no shame in asking for help, in admitting you don’t know and seeking support wherever you can and as often as you can.
- You have options.
- You are enough. Repeat after me, “I. am. enough.”
In less than six weeks, our second little guy is due. A few weeks ago, I went to a breastfeeding class at my hospital in preparation — I didn’t go to one before having Ethan and was curious about what I’d learn. My hospital is certified “baby-friendly,” and they spent a good 10 minutes at the beginning of the class focused solely on the benefits of breastmilk and pitfalls of formula. As the mother of a mostly formula-fed kiddo, I felt the shame and uncertainty of our first few weeks together flood me all over again. Then I looked at my phone — at the photos of a healthy, happy, sweet boy whose smile lights up the room — and pushed past that sinking feeling. I looked around at a roomful of soon-to-be mamas who haven’t been through this before and felt the need to share my experience.
I’m going into this next chapter with the knowledge above, the hope that breastfeeding will work for us and a more robust lactation support network — but without pressure. There are enough pressures on us as mamas — this Facebook post about the contradictory pressures put on working mamas went viral for a reason, and I know a similar post could be written for stay-at-home mamas too.
If there’s one piece of advice I can give you right now, it’s to not let how you choose to feed your kiddo add unnecessary stress and anxiety to your life. If you’re a mama who’s struggling with breastfeeding, please know that you’re not alone, and that whatever you choose for yourself and your little one is right for you.
This post is for mamas who may be having a difficult time, and may be experiencing sadness or depression. If you’re in crisis, stuck in depression, or can’t see a way out, please call 1-800-273-8255. It’s free, open 24/7, and available to everyone.