I always intended to breastfeed my babies. I mean, of course I did. After all, "breast is best," or so everyone from my mother to my midwife said. In reality, there were so many plans I made before breastfeeding that failed or went completely out the window or were just, you know, laughable at best. I guess the pictures you paint, usually with the best of intentions, have a tendency to do that. Ugh.
Despite extensive planning, research, and breastfeeding classes, consulting professionals, and making my desires to breastfeed clear to my partner, my midwife, and my baby's pediatrician; my body and reality had other plans. Between the exhaustion and cluelessness of being a new mom, low breast milk supply, postpartum depression, a short maternity leave, little support, and the fact that breastfeeding was freaking hard and didn't come naturally for me (and was often painful and frustrating) it's amazing that I was able to breastfeed at all.
Fortunately, I was able to get help, ditch unrealistic advice, discover what did work for me and my babies, and redefine my goals to be based on science and best-practices. In the end, I did achieve something better than my preconcieved breastfeeding notions: my unique reality of all motherhood had to offer. It was not at all what I planned, but I wouldn't change a thing. So, with that in mind, here are a few breastfeeding plans that went out the window, in favor of something even better:
To Exclusively Breastfeed
I had always planned to breastfeed my babies exclusively until I went back to work. Then, I would pump during the day and breastfeed at night and on weekends. Sounds simple, right? Nope. Nature had other plans. Turns out I have insufficient glandular tissue and my breasts don't make enough breast milk for my babies.
The good news: I learned that you don't have to exclusively breastfeed your babies to be a good mom. You can do both, and should do both if your babies need more to eat. Formula is awesome and supplementing with formula was what my babies needed to thrive. It's OK to breastfeed. It's OK to feed your baby formula. It's OK to feed them a combination of both. #fedisbest
To Be Good At It
Lactation professionals and moms on the internet are constantly saying how easy breastfeeding is, especially if you have adequate education and support. So, of course I thought breastfeeding would be easy. I had a Master's degree, worked for a women's health organization, and had read several books on the subject. Most of my friends made breastfeeding look easy, and don't even get me started on strangers on the internet.
The truth: breastfeeding isn't easy for many women and it doesn't always come naturally to babies.
The good news: if you have the ability and energy to overcome challenges, you can make it work. And there's also nothing wrong with there's nothing wrong with breastfeeding supplementing with formula, using a shield, pumping exclusively, stopping breastfeeding when it's not working for both of you, or not breastfeeding at all.
To Enjoy Every Moment
Breastfeeding wasn't always magical and miraculous. There were moments that I loved, to be sure. Quiet, still moments at midnight and early morning snuggles before work. Sometimes, however, breastfeeding sucked (figuratively and literally).
There were times when I was so touched out or wanted my child to sleep, dammit, and I begged them to stop breastfeeding. There were times when mastitis and thrush caused pain that was worse than childbirth. My nipples bled. My. Nipples. Bled. I became my son's human pacifier from the late evening to the early morning, tied to the couch for hours, navigating Facebook with my thumb. It wasn't pleasant and certainly wasn't the bonding experience I imagined.
To Breastfeed My Toddler
While I only breastfed my daughter for a few months, I planned to breastfeed my son until he politely requested another beverage. He had other plans and went on a nursing strike when he was seven months old.
I cried. A lot. I advocate for moms to breastfeed their babies until it's no longer working for them or their babies. Everyone else can shut up. You rock.
To Breastfeed Publicly
I was a huge breastfeeding advocate before I had babies. I wanted to breastfeed exclusively, anywhere and at anytime. I wanted to help the movement and normalize breastfeeding. I had no shame about my breasts, so imagine my surprise when breastfeeding in public ended up making me feel very uncomfortable.
When my daughter was small, I used a supplemental nursing system, which made things even more awkward and logistically challenging. With my son, I dealt with comments and catcalls. Catcalls. While. Breastfeeding. Ugh.
Breastfeed, they said. You'll get more sleep, they said. Ha. Ha. Ha.
The truth: I've bottle-fed and breastfed and everything in between. Some babies are good sleepers, while others aren't. The one advantage of bottles is that your partner (if you have one) can take a night shift.
To Save Money
This one both makes me mad and laugh at the same time. If you count up all of the dollars I spent on pumps, lactation consultants, supplemental nursing systems, prescription medications, bottles, herbal supplements, extra food (because I wanted to eat everything in sight), and nursing wear and bras, I probably spent thousands of dollars to breastfeed my children, much more than I would have spent if I had formula fed my babies from the start.
And that doesn't acknowledge that my time is valuable, too. When you say, "breastfeeding is free," you are completely dismissing the fact that a woman's time is worth something, and when you choose to breastfeed and/or pump breast milk there are trade offs. Can we please stop saying that breast milk is free?
To Pump At Work For The First Year
I pumped twice a day for several months at work and went to my son's day care every day over lunch to breastfeed him. It was so hard. It was challenging to find time during my busy work day to pump and mind numbingly boring. I had nosy co-workers, a female boss who actually wrote me up for putting a "do not disturb" sign on my door (which my employer provided), and so much to do. I was actually relieved when my son stopped nursing, and I ditched the pump.
To Lose Weight
For some people, breastfeeding burns calories and they effortlessly drop their baby weight. I was not one of those people. I don't know if it was genetics, hormones, the fact that I was hungry all of the time, or the worthless lactation cookies I ate to try to boost my supply, despite eating healthy, pumping or nursing 10 times a day, and training for a half marathon, I didn't seem to lose my baby weight until after I stopped breastfeeding.
To Become A Breastfeeding Advocate
I was a breastfeeding advocate long before I became a breastfeeding mom. I always intended to continue, to offer tips and tricks to my friends and members of mom groups on Facebook and to join the La Leche League. However, after being shamed for supplementing with formula, told an endless number of times that I wasn't trying hard enough, and suffering from postpartum depression, I realized that promoting an all or nothing approach to feeding babies is not supportive, safe, healthy, or feminist.
Breast is only best for some moms and some babies. Formula is best for others. Women and other parents with breasts shouldn't feel forced to breastfeed or shamed for using formula. They deserve support in doing what's right for their bodies, their babies, and their well-being. Bodily autonomy doesn't end when a person gives birth. Now, I advocate for evidence-based feeding approaches, empowered parents, and thriving babies. It's the feminist thing to do.