three simple truths about breastfeeding
Updated: Feb 5
If you're a mom and you've spent any time on the internet, you are probably familiar with #BreastIsBest vs. #FedIsBest and all the strange conflicts that ensue when women talk about how they feed their babies.
There is a LOT of noise on the subject (some good, some not so good), so I thought I'd offer my perspective as someone who breast and bottle-fed my first child and who intends to nurse my second for at least six months when she arrives next month.
My goal in writing this is to give any overwhelmed moms out there the insights you need without adding any unnecessary pride, shame, or guilt. So I'll keep it simple and dive right in:
1. Breastfeeding is better for your baby than formula or other alternatives.
In case you're unsure: It really is better. I don't know of anyone personally who disputes that particular fact, but I do know a number of people who downplay just how much better it is, and there's no need to do that. Let's just be honest about it: Breast milk is incredibly nutritious for your baby and nursing is beneficial to both of you. It's also kind of miraculous. Oh, and it also has the added benefit of being free, which is a pretty significant advantage. I nursed Vivian for three months before switching to formula, and I can attest to the financial benefits. We spent a BOATLOAD on formula, y'all. Which brings me to point #2...
2. You should give breastfeeding your best shot.
If you've already got a lot of people encouraging you to breastfeed, then please don't interpret this point as added "pressure." It's just something I've learned from personal experience as well as from talking with other mothers.
The benefits of breastfeeding are significant enough that it's worth the effort.
You will likely be a little regretful if you don't at least do a little bit of research and preparation before your baby is born (like learning about proper latching and how to use a breast pump and store milk). You should also decide now to give yourself and your baby some time to get the hang of it. I won't suggest an exact time-frame because I don't know your particular circumstances, but I do know many women who experienced difficulty for the first few weeks before working their way into a manageable routine. You should also know of a few resources (like a local lactation consultant or support group) before you give birth in case you want to utilize them after your child is born.
Also: Get yourself some of these. A nurse brought them to me while I was in the hospital, and they saved my nursing experience which wasn't going particularly well. Which brings me to point #3...
3. If you don't succeed, it's okay.
It really is okay if it doesn't work out. I wanted to nurse for longer than three months, but I also wanted to go on a short, much-needed vacation with my husband and rest. I didn't prepare well enough to keep Vivian interested in nursing (because I didn't realize I needed to), so when I returned from the trip she scorned the boob and decided she preferred formula. I was bummed for a few days, but I decided to have a positive attitude. After all: I gave it my best shot for three months and weathered a number of storms, like occasional engorgement and a short bout of mastitis.
Most importantly, I loved and fed my baby and kept myself energized and happy enough not to put a dark cloud of disappointment over myself during that precious time.
And I learned from it. Everything about my first pregnancy was a huge learning curve, and now I'm better prepared for Sofia, who will no doubt bring her own unique challenges to the table. I know it's a cliche, but it's true that the early years with our children are short in the big scheme of life, and every day with them is a gift. So whether you nurse or bottle-feed, remember that simple truth: it's truly a gift to bring children into the world and do your best to care for them, whether that includes nursing or not.
Two Quick Bonus Truths:
It's unhelpful to obsess over how you feed your baby:
Regardless if you're obsessing over your desire to nurse or obsessing over the difficulty of it, step back and take a moment to quiet your thoughts and emotions. If you sense yourself growing increasingly insecure or defensive about your situation, just put down the phone and stop reading mommy blogs which are inexplicably full of long, gory, detailed descriptions of painful breastfeeding experiences and/or endless pictures of women using their babies as nipple pasties while they take selfies during the golden hour. Unless fixating on that stuff helps you in some way, just tune it out and focus on the task before you, which is feeding your baby.
If you've tried your best to nurse and are having too many difficulties, explore your options, buy some formula, put it in a bottle, give it to your husband, and take a nap. There will be many more things to learn, and you'll need your rest for those.
It's unhelpful to be hypersensitive to other people's reactions or criticisms:
I had the interesting experience of having two people in my life with opposite views on the issue. One was pretty flippant about breastfeeding and thought it deserved very little effort. The other was adamant that it was extremely important and that using formula was borderline negligent. Like many things, somewhere in the middle is probably closest to the mark.
I know it's not easy, but don't put so much weight in what other people have to say and make the decision that's going to work for you and your child. Because you two are the ones who are in this together ❤️