I always planned on breastfeeding my babies. After all, everyone said "breast was best." So when my daughter was born, and I didn't make enough breast milk, my mental health was impacted. The pressure to make breastfeeding work was intense. And when I couldn't make nursing work, I switched to formula, believing that was my only option. It was devastating. Then my son was born, and my lactation consultant recommended combo-feeding — using breast milk and formula. Thankfully, combo-feeding saved my mental health in so many ways.
When I look back, my experience as a new combo-feeding mom was completely different from my experience as a mom who was struggling to breastfeed. The first time around, I strongly associated my ability to be a "good mom" with my ability to breastfeed. So when I couldn't breastfeed, I started to think I couldn't be a good mom, either. To make matters worse, so many people echoed that sentiment — congratulating moms who breastfed, like they were goddesses of motherhood, while telling me I could "try again next time," like my baby was broken or something. I experienced people shaming me in the formula aisle and assuming I didn't "try hard enough," and in the end it was my mental health that took the hardest hit.
The second time around, I was able to ditch exclusive breastfeeding as a goal and re-define what "breastfeeding success" meant for me and my baby. I figured out that combo-feeding was right for us, and could feel my stress level drop. I realized that how you end up feeding your babies is such a small part of motherhood. Perhaps the most important take-away from my infant-feeding experiences, though, is that when we set our expectations too high, we are bound to get hurt. Most breastfeeding moms use formula to some degree for a variety of reasons — medical, mental health, work, social, or just because they want to — and it doesn't make them less goddess-like than the exclusive breastfeeding crowd.