I never gave breastfeeding much thought before I was pregnant. I guess I figured I’d do it because, why not? When I started to learn more about it when I was expecting my son, my anxiety about it did nothing but grow and grow. By the end of my pregnancy, just the thought of breastfeeding would nearly bring me to tears.
Does that sound weird? I think it sounded weird to people when I admitted that’s how I felt. They wondered why I felt so conflicted about it. I honestly couldn’t explain why other than to say that I felt uncomfortable about it and I didn’t feel at all committed to it.
In the mommy community that I was a part of, there was a lot of emphasis on your breastfeeding plans. Would you exclusively nurse? Would you pump? Would you supplement? It seemed like if you didn’t breastfeed for at least 6 months or a year or longer, someone would be waiting to slap a badge of failure on you. Or a badge of selfishness. That’s a lot of pressure on a mom-to-be. Experienced moms told me that you have to be really committed to breastfeeding in order to make it work. I didn’t feel committed. I was also going to be returning to work after 2.5 months, back to my small company where there is no “lactation room” or anything like that and if I wanted to pump, well I’d be doing it in a bathroom stall or in my car. I definitely didn’t feel committed enough for that.
I was the only mom-to-be in our infant care class that didn’t raise her hand when asked if she’d be taking a breastfeeding class. Singled out already. But I knew I wasn’t planning on following many of the recommendations breastfeeding experts usually share, so it didn’t seem like a class was the right choice for me. When it came down to it, I decided that I’d give breastfeeding the ol’ college try, but I wouldn’t hesitate to add formula and bottles into the mix whenever it seemed like the right time.
Actually…that makes it sound like I had an actual plan or any real confidence in myself and I really didn’t. I wanted to breastfeed and formula feed, but I couldn’t find any information or advice on how to do that because I wanted to, not because I had to due to supply or medical issues. All the information on breastfeeding seemed so strict: you MUST do this, you CAN’T do that, etc. For example, breastfeeding experts will tell you it’s best to exclusively breastfeed for at least a month before introducing a bottle to avoid nipple confusion and supply problems. But a month sounded like a crushing eternity to me and I wanted to start supplementing earlier than that.
In the hospital after my son was born, I found the nursing staff very supportive of my feeding preferences, even though I wasn’t quite sure what my preferences were. My nurse brought me some free samples of formula (after I said that I was considering formula feeding) and showed me how to use the bottles. There was also a lactation consultant available to help me with breastfeeding and her guidance was very helpful.
I’ve recently learned that my hospital is now part of an initiative to promote exclusive breastfeeding and as part of that, they will no longer be giving out formula samples. I’m sure people think this is awesome, but I don’t. It’s great for moms who want to breastfeed, but what about moms who don’t want to breastfeed? Or moms like me who want to do both? I understand that sometimes moms are pressured into using formula when they don’t want to (and this issue is most likely at the heart of this initiative), but that was not my experience. I asked for formula and it was given to me, it’s not like they made me take it. I wasn’t pressured at all one way or the other by the hospital staff. But…will I be pressured this time, now that this initiative is in place? Pressured to breastfeed? Just when I was feeling more confident…
There’s been a push lately to promote breastfeeding and to give nursing mothers more support. That’s all well and good but all mothers need support, not just those who are nursing. This whole post so far has been about how anxious I was about the simple matter of feeding my child and how I felt isolated for going against the grain and choosing not to breastfeed for any substantial amount of time. On my message boards, there are rarely posts about formula feeding, but when there are, all of these mothers come out of the woodwork and admit to having formula fed. ADMIT! Like it’s something to be ashamed of. Some mothers are confident and proud of their choice, but I find it suspect that we hear far less from them than we do from the breastfeeding crowd who are supposedly being ostracized for their choice.
Breastfeeding is great. It’s natural, it’s the best nutritionally, it helps with baby’s immune system – there are many, many benefits. I don’t deny any of that. I also don’t deny that breastfeeding mothers are sometimes treated unfairly when it comes to nursing in public. If mothers want to breastfeed, they should absolutely be supported by medical professionals and society as a whole. But shouldn’t formula feeding moms get the same support? Is it necessary to shun formula in order to promote breastfeeding? When the topic of breastfeeding promotion comes up, I generally keep my mouth shut. I’m not against it, but why can’t we promote the mother’s choice, rather than promoting one option at the expense of the other?
Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. It’s only sort of for me. But I get to choose – not just what’s best for my child, but what’s best for our family as a whole regarding breastfeeding or not. The right choice is whatever works best for your family and for us, with our son, that was a combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding.
My second child is due in just 3 short months. I suppose I will find out then what kind of support/attitude I will face in the hospital. I’m going into it with the same basic plan as last time, but this time around, I will be armed with more information, more confidence, and less fear. Hopefully this time I will be able to be confident from the start that I’m making the right choice.