Contrary to what the media, posters at your doctor's office, and sanctimommies on Facebook say, you cannot simplify or boil down the right way to feed your baby into the three word phrase, "Breast is best." In fact, there are so many moments that prove "Breast is best" is reductive and totally unfair.
I've been there. Before I had babies, I was a total lactivist, a breastfeeding absolutist, and a perfect mother. I soon realized that breast isn't best for all moms and all babies and saying so is both diminutive and harmful. I remember one evening with a friend, while I was pregnant with my first baby, chatting and gossiping about and seriously judging a mom friend we knew, who was ruining her "breastfeeding relationship," by letting her husband give their baby a bottle of formula so she could sleep at night. How could she, right? We thought she was so selfish. I wish I could go back in time, un-clench my pearls, give her a high five, and say, "Good job taking care of yourself mama." Seriously.
Like most things in parenthood, and life in general, reality doesn't always match your or society's expectations. So, yes, feeding your baby is a helluva lot more complex than the statement "breast is best" can capture. In our culture and cult of perfect motherhood, "breast is best" has become synonymous with good parenting. That's a load of crap. There's more than one way to feed and nourish your babies, and with the diversity of experiences each baby and family faces, "breast is best" has becomes a reductive false equivalency.
I get it, it's hard to wrap your head around the fact that an idea that has been repeated so many times by so many people can be false. I'm definitely not saying that breast milk or breastfeeding isn't awesome, either. It is, but only when it's right for you, which is one of the many reasons why "breast is best" just isn't helpful. It forgets the "when it's right for you," part.
When Breast Isn't Best For You Or Your Baby
There are a hundred reasons why breast might not be best for you, your baby, or your family, right now or in the future. Possibly the most important reason is that you are a human being with bodily autonomy and deserve to have sole decision-making authority over how your body is touched or used. It's unfair to expect people with breasts to do something with their bodies that they don't want to do, or to make them feel guilt and shame if breastfeeding doesn't work for them or their babies for whatever reason.
When You Can't Breastfeed
It was so humbling to not be able to breastfeed. I had my heart set on it and honestly believed that it was necessary for my baby to grow and thrive. I was so wrong.
When Baby Won't Latch
I remember thinking that if breastfeeding was so natural, why couldn't my baby figure it out. I worked with lactation consultants and countless nurses to try to get my daughter's latch to be perfect. I still remember begging her to open her mouth wide, and hoping that the pain would stop. Then, when I had my son, I remember those moments when my flow was too slow, and he impatiently latched and unlatched. I would whisper, "Please stay on, baby."
When You Don't Make Enough Breast Milk
When I didn't make enough breast milk, I thought I had failed as a mother. I spent thousands of dollars, took supplements, ate supposedly supply-boosting foods, pumped around the clock, used a supplemental nursing system, and fell into a deep depression, all in an effort to produce more milk. It's so unfair that when you get a cold or are born with a birth mark, people don't blame you, but when you can't produce enough breast milk, people think you must not be trying hard enough. And when you hear their ideas, suggestions, and critiques, you start to blame yourself, too.
When You Have Postpartum Depression
After breastfeeding didn't work out with my daughter, I honestly wanted to die. I thought I was a horrible mother. No parenting choice not working out should make a new mom feel this way. This needs to change.
When You're Shamed For How You Feed Your Baby, Regardless
I've been shamed for breastfeeding, for bottle-feeding, for using a supplemental nursing system, and for pumping at work. It's completely demoralizing. How is it that society both expects mothers to breastfeed, and then shames them when they do? We can't win. Seriously.
When Your Nipples Bleed
It's hard to imagine that what you are doing is "best," when your nipples are bleeding, tearing, and blistering, and you are in so much pain that you use up the rest of the narcotics your doctor prescribed for after delivery.
When Your Baby Thrives On Formula
Watching my daughter lose almost 20 percent of her birth weight and have to be re-hospitalized for jaundice and dehydration was one of the worst experiences of my life. Watching her grow and thrive on formula taught me that breast wasn't best for us.
When You Are Finally Able To Sleep
Sleep is life. Sleep deprivation is horrible and can be dangerous for you and your baby. Having your partner give a bottle so you can sleep in shifts isn't a failing or being selfish. It's ingenious.
When Your Baby Grows Up And They Are Just Fine
I urge anyone to try to pick the breastfed and formula-fed kids out of a class at my daughter's school. It's not gonna happen. The most important part of parenting is not how and what you feed your baby during their first year, it's learning to adapt to their and your needs and to love and nourish them in a way that works for you and your family.
I've breastfed, formula-fed, pumped, and used a supplemental nursing system. Today, my kids now argue over a chip they found on the mini-van floor, and then refuse to eat the dinner my husband made, despite the fact that it's the thing they requested.
You can't boil down good parenting into the phrase, "breast is best." It's reductive and totally unfair. #FedIsBest