So I have to get something off my chest (and yes, pun intended). I am sick of moms getting shamed for how they feed their babies. And I don’t mean the shaming for breastfeeding in public (although I’m sick of that too, but that’s another post entirely). I mean the bottle shaming. The shaming of women who can’t (or choose not to) breastfeed. Yes, we’ve all heard that “breast is best.” But breastfeeding doesn’t always work for everyone. And that’s OK! Moms who bottle feed shouldn’t feel ashamed or have to explain why they aren’t breastfeeding, like the mom who was a breast cancer survivor and couldn’t breastfeed but was forced to defend herself over and over.
I had an extremely difficult time nursing my first son, despite trying everything I could for as long as I could. I had a very low milk supply due to Hashimotos thyroid disease, which I wasn’t diagnosed with until after I gave birth. My son wasn’t gaining weight like he needed to and I had to supplement with formula. I felt like such a failure, especially because so many breastfeeding advocates say things like “anyone can build their supply” and “every woman’s body is capable of making the milk her baby needs.”
I sought support from an LA-area lactation consultant and support center that is highly revered. It was not a good experience. I felt judged, chastised, and pressured to do whatever it took to breastfeed my son. Rather than letting me know that the important thing was nourishing my baby however I could, they recommended around the clock pumping (before, during, and after a feeding) and that I take a drug that wasn’t FDA-approved and could cause depression. I did what they recommended, because I felt I had to in order to be a good mom. It was like the perfect storm; dealing with hypothyroidism, breastfeeding issues, the pressures of being a first time mom, and taking a drug with depressive side effects led to an eventual bout of postpartum depression for me (I share more about that experience on my blog if you’re interested).
It went on like that — stress, tears, feeling like a failure as a mom, feeling like a failure as a woman, and dealing with a super stressful feeding regime (high maintenance nursing followed by a bottle of formula for every feeding) until my low milk supply dried up entirely when my son was about 5 months old.
Once I could no longer nurse and accepted that, things actually got much better. My son was happy and getting the nourishment he needed. There wasn’t so much stress around every feeding. In fact, feeding my son actually became enjoyable! I also had a little more freedom to get out and see friends or do something for myself.
Eventually I stopped beating myself up, but I still got the occasional comment and a few side eye looks when I bottle fed my son. I still read a lot of harsh comments online about women who bottle fed. I still felt judged.
Much later — after my thyroid was finally checked, regulated, and I recovered from that bout with postpartum depression — I realized how irresponsible it is to shame mothers into breastfeeding at all costs, often at the expense of their own health and well being.
Because of the difficulties I had breastfeeding my older son, I had no expectations that nursing would work with my second baby, and I was fully prepared to just give him a bottle of formula. I knew one thing, I was NOT going to drive myself crazy trying to nurse again. But as it turns out, I’m having an easy and low maintenance nursing experience the second time around.
Based on both experiences, here is what I would say to any pregnant woman and new mom who is struggling with breastfeeding: It is totally OK to NOT breastfeed. Try it. Hopefully it works for you. Pump if you have to and want to. But do not, under any circumstances, let it drive you insane. Do not feel bad if it doesn’t work. Do you know how many women have a difficult time and issues with supply with their first baby?! SO many! There’s nothing wrong with you. You are doing a great job, you are a great mom, and all that matters is that your baby is FED. Your baby will benefit more from a happy and healthy momma, than from breast over bottle. And a big FU to anyone that tells you otherwise!
I know I may get a lot of negative comments for this post, so let me be clear: I fully support breastfeeding (like I said, I am a breastfeeding mom right now), I just think it should be a mother’s choice to breastfeed…or not.
What I’d really love is if we could start a “nourish without shame” movement. Can we all just support each other instead of judging and shaming? Because while breastfeeding may be best, formula and bottles nourish too. Our babies are being FED regardless of how, and isn’t that the point? High fives to all of the warrior mommas out there nourishing their babies however they need to. Nourish without shame.