Today wraps up National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. I hope your social media feeds weren't over-flooded with articles and photos about the joy and benefits of breastfeeding. Lactivists telling you why breastmilk is the only way to ensure a healthy, happy baby. Studies claiming that breastmilk will make your baby more intelligent and have less ear infections and allergies. Then there’s my all-time favorite claim: Breastfeeding can reduce a mom’s stress level and risk for postpartum depression. Um, yeah, not so much…have they met me? And let us not forget about the infamous mom-shamers criticizing anyone who chooses the alternative or not to breastfeed for as long as they have ruled acceptable. I mean, can’t we all just get along. I’m here to tell you, breast is not always best. Also, formula is not always best. You know what’s best? What works for you, makes you happy and keeps your baby’s belly full. Moms have all different reasons for how they choose to feed their babies and they are none of your business.
When I had my son, I thought I would be a breastfeeding master. He would latch easily and we would be unbreakably bonded. I would breastfeed at least until the baby weight melted off. (Why shouldn’t I reap the benefits too?) Full disclosure, I had always planned to supplement with formula because I wanted to be able to sleep and let my husband help with feedings, but I never thought I would suck at breastfeeding. And It never occurred to me that I might hate it too.
My son latched like a champ and ate for 45 minutes right after I delivered him. After that, he just couldn’t find the nipple. And when he did, he couldn’t hold on. Latching was just not his thing. Breastfeeding stressed me out very quickly and I didn’t feel anything resembling a bond to this tiny little boy who constantly screamed because he was starving and couldn’t properly get on my boob. I tried to pump, but that just stressed me out even more and it hurt and I was exhausted after an almost 24 hour labor followed by C-section.
I left the hospital determined to win at breastfeeding. What did it say about me as a mother if I couldn’t? Instead, I became a breastfeeding quitter. I only lasted five days. Breastfeeding didn’t reduce this mom’s risk for postpartum depression, which began to make its presence known somewhere in those five days as I lost my sanity and needed someone else to be able to feed my son because I decided I would never be leaving my bed for the rest of my life. I could barely keep my shit together let alone follow a strict pumping and feeding schedule. And in the midst of feeling all those horrible feelings, I still didn’t want to let go of my breastfeeding dream. To this day, I don’t even know why it was so important for me to be a breastfeeding champion.
What became more important than how I fed my son was figuring out how to get healthy and happy for my son. I needed medicine more than he needed breastmilk. I needed sleep. I needed weekly therapy appointments. I needed a village to help take care of my son. I needed to not have to stop every three hours and hook myself up to a milking machine. Spoiler Alert: In my son's four years of life, he knows all his letters, colors, numbers, shapes, Shabbat prayers, has had no allergies and only one ear infection.
Using the phrase “breast is best” robs moms of choice. Moms should be allowed to choose how they feed their little ones without feeling any sort of stigma or judgment when they don’t exclusively breastfeed. They should be able to receive the support they need whether they choose formula or breastmilk. I can’t tell you how many moms I know who were made to feel as if they had to breastfeed by lactation consultants and nurses at the hospitals where they delivered. Professionals who rolled their eyes or dragged their feet when a mom asked for formula. That’s just wrong, insensitive, and does nothing to give a new mom confidence.
Motherhood is not one size fits all. Whoever came up with “breast is best” doesn’t know what’s best for every single mom. Only you know what's best for you. Some moms don’t have the option of breastfeeding. How do you think those moms feel when they hear, “breast is best” and it’s not something they are capable of doing? They are immediately set up to feel guilty from the beginning. And what about the moms who feel the overwhelming pressure of “breast is best” and make themselves crazy trying to breastfeed, only to discover they aren’t producing enough and by then, it’s too late. Yes, these are extreme cases, but even one case is too many, especially when it could have been prevented with some formula.
Breastfeeding is hard. It doesn’t come naturally for all moms. Not all babies latch easily. Nipples get sore and cracked, sometimes even infected. Milk leaks through that new blouse you’re wearing on date night. Date night ends with pumping in the bathroom. Your designer bag has been replaced with a large black canvas one carrying your breast pump, milk bags, and ice packs. A mom who wants to stick with it needs support and to know that it’s normal to struggle. They don’t need your “breast is best” judgments if they decide to stop or supplement.
Social media hasn’t done new moms any favors when it comes to breastfeeding. The reality of breastfeeding is not Gisele holding her naked baby on her boob with one hand while she adorns a white robe, gets her hair blown out, make up done, and free hand manicured. At least Olivia Wilde let us know her baby peed all over her gorgeous sequin gown while staging her breastfeeding photo and Yael Braun keeps it real by showing us her breast pump that accompanies her to The Grammys.
At least Olivia Wilde let us know her baby peed all over her gorgeous sequin gown while staging her breastfeeding photo.
And Yael Braun keeps it real by showing us her breast pump that accompanies her to The Grammys.
When a mom sees those Gisele-like images and that’s not her reality, she might wonder, “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I breastfeed like that? Why don't I have that look of bliss on my face? Why isn’t this easier for me?” The breast is best culture accompanied with these photos contributes to the idea of the perfect mother. And when a mom fails to reach this level of perfect, which doesn’t exist, she will ultimately feel like a failure.
To all the new moms out there: Do what’s best for you. If you love breastfeeding, more power to you. If you prefer formula, that’s awesome too. Every mom is different and that should be cause for celebration, not shame. Most days it’s about survival, sanity, and sleep (if you’re one of the lucky ones). There is no wrong way to feed your baby. Fed is best. Choice is best. What works for you is best.
And the next time you are about to criticize a mom’s decision, remember what your own mom taught you when you were young. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Or tell her she’s doing an incredible job and let her know you’re there for her if she needs help. Now repeat after me just so I know you got it: “Fed is best.”