It’s World Breastfeeding Week and once again my social media feed is filled with photos of beautiful mothers nursing beautiful babies. If this makes your skin crawl with a range of hard-to-handle emotions, you’re not alone. I feel it too.
I know what it’s like to struggle with emotional and mental health due to mixed emotions about breastfeeding. I am in the thick of it now.
Nursing never worked out with my first baby, which brought on disappointment and guilt, followed closely by their best friend, shame. Now that I am successfully nursing my second child, to put it frankly, I often feel like a cow.
Not what you were expecting to hear? It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting to feel, either.
My first child never latched properly and screamed whenever we tried. I threw in the towel about one week into nursing, for the sake of my mental health and our bond. Then I exclusively pumped for nearly one year. I am never doing that again. I decided to stop pumping when I realized I wasn’t pumping for the sake of my baby’s health, I was doing it because societal norms told me that while fed might be best, breastmilk is “actually best.” If I couldn’t nurse, at the time pumping felt like the next best thing.
This is simply not true. Fed is best. Full stop. Baby formula is fantastic and in our case was truly a lifesaver when my milk supply couldn’t keep up with my baby’s needs.
While pregnant with my second child, I was sure that nursing would fail a second time. My experience the first time around was such a mind warp that I couldn’t imagine breastfeeding possibly being “easy.” I was mentally prepared to start with formula from day one since I knew that I had no desire to exclusively pump again. As it turned out, my second baby nursed like a champ from birth. It came naturally to us in a way I was convinced was impossible.
I still wouldn’t call breastfeeding easy.
My nipples were sore and cracked. My breasts were engorged. I was exhausted from having another human attached to me 24/7 but didn’t feel like l could or should take a break. It did not feel magical. The latch came easy, but I was once again experiencing mixed emotions about breastfeeding.
I thought that nursing would be the cure for my baby blues and subsequent postpartum depression. I thought that by being able to feed a baby with my body without any extra steps, I would feel closer to her from day one. I believed that by not needing to schedule my life around a rigorous pumping routine, I wouldn’t feel as stressed. Cue my complete shock when breastfeeding going smoothly did not produce the magical moments I thought it would. Though the gummy smiles staring up at me are really, really great.
As it turns out, mixed emotions about breastfeeding are totally normal. I took a quick poll of my friends, and almost all of them felt the same.
To me, breastfeeding is a means to an end. It is the quickest and most efficient way to get breastmilk from my body to the baby’s mouth. There are no tubes, no equipment, and no rhythmic whirring filling the silence of the wee hours while everyone else in my home is sleeping soundly. I thought for sure that nursing my baby would make me feel like a glorious earth goddess, but it doesn’t. At least not most of the time.
I was disappointed, both times around, for different reasons. The first time I was disappointed that nursing did not come naturally for us. The second time I was disappointed that it wasn’t as magical as others made it out to be. As I near five months into nursing this baby, I often fluctuate between that disappointment and a sense of pride.
Nursing makes me feel strong and in awe of what the human body can do. But it hasn’t impacted my postpartum mental health positively like I thought it would.
For me, nursing has not impacted my bond with my second baby any differently than bottle-feeding my first did. I know this is not true for some, but for others, it’s the reality. If you feel this way too, you’re not alone.
The pride I feel is also complicated. After the disappointment of recurrent miscarriage and infertility, I am truly amazed at my body’s ability to finally “get something right.” I value my body’s ability to produce enough milk, and for both the baby and I getting the hang of nursing with relative ease. However, I would be just fine if I was bottle-feeding instead because I know what it feels like to underproduce and have nursing not work out. There is no wrong way to feed a baby unless maybe you’re giving a newborn a Big Mac to gnaw on. Probably not a great idea.
So, if you too are struggling this year during World Breastfeeding Week, you’re not alone, mama. Your mental health is far more important than society’s pressure to nurse exclusively. Take a break from the scroll and unfollow accounts you find triggering. As long as your baby is fed and healthy, you’re doing your best. And as I always say, your best is pretty great.