Exclusive breastfeeding (EBF, as the kids like to say on their message boards) is pretty nifty. I was able to "EBF" my second child and took satisfaction in being able to sustain her entirely from my body, from her conception until we introduced solids when she was 6 months old. That said, there's a lot about EBF that sort of disturbs me, specifically the way it's been fetishized as the only loving way to feed your child. Look, if you can and want to that's great, but there are so many things that matter more than breastfeeding exclusively.
My first child received regular formula supplements from the time he was 3 days old until he was just about 1 month old. Between the ages of 4 months and 10 months, he went back to his regular supplements, and from the time he was 10 months old to the time he turned 1 year old, he probably got as much formula as breast milk when my partner and I chose to combo feed him. Go ahead and ask me if I can attribute any of my child's differences to the fact that one received formula and one didn't. Now ask if I feel any more connected with one over the other. Ask if one is smarter. Ask if either had any trouble hitting their developmental milestones. Ask if one is healthier than the other.
Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nopety nope.
Now for the best question, ask if I feel even a little bit guilty about the fact that my firstborn was not EBF. OK, I would like to answer in Judy Garland gif form if I may:
This isn't me being callous or me not caring about my child or anything like that. It's just that there are more than a few things that are more important than the ability to breastfeed exclusively. Allow me to innumerate those reasons and assure everyone that they have no reason to feel any guilt or shame about choosing not to only breastfeed their babies.
A Fed Baby
Look, breast milk is incredible. I'd go so far as to say it's a little bit magic, because we're always learning new and exciting things about what it does for moms, babies, and just sitting there existing in general.
But you know what is even more amazing? The human brain, which was able to replicate the nutrition a growing infant needs with formula. It doesn't do everything breast milk does, admittedly (sorry formula: you don't have the same cool antibodies feature), but it does everything it needs to do in order to nourish a baby. Many smart, healthy, happy children have been raised on formula, or a combination of breast milk and formula. The most important thing is not whether you're feeding your baby breast milk exclusively, it's that you're feeding your baby a nutritious diet that enables them to grow and develop.
Also, let's not discount the fact that some women are just not able to produce enough milk. It's estimated that about 2 percent of women who give birth can't produce breast milk (or enough breast milk) which isn't a lot, but it's not statistically insignificant, either.
A Healthy Mom
Breastfeeding is some hard work, and all your body has to do to support this work can take a toll, physically and mentally. Recurring mastitis and bleeding or cracked nipples, or anxiety and/or depression related to difficulties faced while nursing, are just a few of the issues a breastfeeding moms might face. This is to say nothing of preexisting medical conditions that require medications incompatible with nursing. Your baby needs you more than they need your milk.
A Happy Mom
Even if a mom's physical and mental health remains OK while she's breastfeeding, nursing can still make some women absolutely miserable and for any number of reasons. It is our job to:
1) Respect those reasons
2) Ask how they would like us to help them or their baby
A mom saying "I just really don't like nursing" is a sufficient reason for her to stop or cut back. When it comes down to it, a baby benefits far more from a happy, satisfied, engaged, non-miserable parent than they ever possibly could from an exclusive breast milk diet.
Locating The Source Of That Weird Smell
Because seriously what the hell is that? It smells like lollipop mixed with old chicken nugget mixed with farts.
Look, it's hard to keep on top of everything when there's a baby in the house, so it's understandable that this smell just sort of crept up on all of us. Now that it has so deftly asserted itself, though, our number one priority is hunting it down and killing it, because I have no doubt the smell will soon become sentient and try to do the same to us.
Some mothers don't have much of a problem nursing while on maternity leave or early on in their baby's life. But as time goes on, life can get in the way of even the sincerest desire to breastfeed. Pumps are awful and ineffective. Babies need more than one can provide. Or it's just gotten to the point where the ongoing effort has become overwhelming. True sustainability, where everyone is getting everything they need physically, is important. More important than the benefits of continuing to breastfeed.
Come at me, sanctimommies, because I will stand by this 100 percent with no apologies whatsoever. Look, some women — amazing women, to my mind — can go to work and pump like a damn champion. They hook themselves up twice a day for 15 minutes and boom: they have enough milk to give their baby the next day. They can have it all.
I, however, was not one of those women. Despite three (yes three) 20 minute pumping sessions a day (that's an hour of work, folks), I was unable to keep up with my ravenous child's needs. My body resented the stupid pump and on a good day I could get 12 ounces total, but usually much less. That was a lot of time out of my work day for very little payoff. It meant I was more stressed and busy when I was behind my desk, had to bring work home, and was worried about how all of this (including my pumping schedule) made me look to my bosses. (Fortunately for me they were all lovely, but not everyone is so lucky.)
If pumping at work isn't working for you, you don't have to keep it up. Seriously, your career is more important. Your career is going to last much longer than your breastfeeding relationship will.
Finding Maui And Restoring The Heart Of Te Fiti
Sorry, it's just that my kids have watched Moana 18 times in 13 days and I'm really having a lot of trouble focusing on anything else. Still, it is important, because otherwise the darkness of Te Ka will spread from island to island throughout Polynesia and...
OK, I'll stop.
Quality Bonding Time
Breastfeeding can provide some absolutely wonderful, cozy, sweet, unforgettable bonding time, if it's working out for both you and your baby. If it's not working it's an annoying, resent-filled pseudo-torture session.
There are myriad ways to connect with your little one that have nothing to do with lactation. Those ways will benefit them mind, body, and soul, too. Go ahead and explore one of those options in lieu of crappy breastfeeding sessions. Mutual fun and happiness is better than breast milk.
Your Relationship With Your Partner
Even if you're willing to take one on the chin and can handle all breastfeeding challenges you may face, these stressors can creep into another relationship — not the one between you and your child, but the one between you and your partner.
A person only has so much mental and physical energy and I would counter that, if your stores are limited to the point that you have to choose between investing that energy in your partner or exclusive breastfeeding, choose your partner. Like your career, your partner is going to be around longer (ideally) than an exclusive breastfeeding relationship.
I figured I'd include one from a baby's perspective, because your child will love nothing more in this world more than they love Elmo. Not breast milk. Not a favorite blanket. Not you or your partner. Nothing. There is no other issue more important to them. "What's in this bottle? Breast milk? Formula. Shhh. I don't care. Elmo is on TV and you're blocking my view. Move your ass."
But from a parent's perspective, it's a nice metaphor. Like breast milk, Elmo is wholesome and proven to be beneficial for children. He encourages healthy habits and intellectual development. So hey, look at that! There are lots of ways to give your child many of the same benefits breast milk gives them even if you don't actually exclusively nurse them.
Freedom Of Choice
This very principle is more important than exclusive breastfeeding. Here's the beauty of feeding babies: you get to decide how you're going to go about it. And the best part? Both ways are healthy! And the best best part? You don't have to explain yourself to anyone! Life is beautiful, friends!