I always planned to breastfeed. I thought it was best for my baby, to be sure, but the pressure I felt to breastfeed — from other moms, my midwife, friends, and strangers — was intense, too. When things didn't work out as planned, I felt overwhelming and unrelenting guilt that interfered with my mental health, childbirth recovery, and even my ability to parent. Which, when you think about it, is pretty ironic, since I thought breastfeeding would make me a good mom. Looking back, I realize breastfeeding guilt is getting in the way of mothers parenting to the best of their ability. And the worst part of the whole thing? It's not our fault.
Guilt made me refuse to supplement feedings with formula, even when my baby got really sick and dehydrated. It also made me stay awake for hours on end, pumping and feeding her around the clock, which meant I was sleep-deprived when my baby was awake. Breastfeeding guilt made me obsessed with increasing my supply. So obsessed, in fact, that I spent money my family didn't have on lactation consultants and supplements. I actually spent more money trying to breastfeed than I did on formula in the first year. Yes, I am being serious.
The breastfeeding guilt didn't stop when my second child was born, either. It didn't stop after I was diagnosed with insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) and knew I wouldn't be able to breastfeed exclusively. Things were so hard on the breastfeeding front that I grew to hate the hours between 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., when my son wanted to breastfeed nonstop. I was pumping all day at work, breastfeeding all night, and even waking up early to power pump. It was exhausting and it changed the way I felt about my baby. I was so touched out, which made me feel guilty, too. It seems like the guilt associated with feeding your child is never-ending, and it can impact your parenting in a way that proves to be more negative than positive. Here's how:
I felt so much guilt about supplementing and formula-feeding my babies that I rarely left the house, cancelled plans, and fed my babies in private to avoid questions, looks, comments, and that goddamn overwhelming guilt. It seriously impacted me as an extrovert who needs and thrives on human contact and my ability to be a good mom.
With my daughter, I felt so much guilt about not being able to breastfeed her exclusively that I spent hours feeding her with a supplemental nursing system and also pumping around the clock every day. Then, when I finally decided to stop, I felt guilt about that, too, and dreaded bottle-feeding her. The entire situation made me feel like no matter what I did, as a mother, I was never going to feel like I was enough.
When my daughter was 5 days-old, she had lost 20 percent of her birth weight and needed formula. I was devastated. I'd read that supplementing with formula would hurt my breast milk supply, so I believed it. I refused to supplement at first, willing my milk to come in as if the entire breastfeeding process is entirely mental. That decision was the wrong choice, made because of guilt, and it seriously made her sick.
Problems with breastfeeding, and the resulting guilt and shame, impacted my mental health to an undeniable degree. Of course, as my mental health suffered, so did my parenting. My babies did not get the best version of me and, until I got help, I wasn't able to be my best.
Breastfeeding guilt meant that I didn't wean my baby when I really wanted to. I got mastitis, thrush (twice), had bleeding nipples, and eventually nursing didn't seem worth it when my baby was getting more formula than breast milk. The guilt made me hold out too long, though, and then the guilt I felt when he self-weaned was incredible.
Listen, friends, breastfeeding is only a good choice when it's healthy and positive for both parties. Period. You should never feel guilty about stopping.
When my oldest son was born, I was happy to be able to breastfeed him. Honestly, though, I grew to hate it, especially at the times when I rushed to his daycare over my lunch hour, only to discover he'd already eaten or was so hungry he was crying when I arrived. He was attached to me for five hours every evening. I should have loved those moments, right? But, instead, I saw them as a chore — something I had to do to be a good mother — which made me feel even more, you guessed it, guilty.
After my daughter was born, my life became centered around breastfeeding. I felt so guilty about my undersupply and wanted to do better, so I pumped 12 times a day and tried to spend each day focused on feeding her. I'd tell myself, "You have one job, and that's to feed the baby." Most days I barely slept or ate. I cried while I fed her and hated every moment in between.
When my third baby was born, I ended up not being able to breastfeed him for as long as I wanted to, due to my undersupply and his food allergies. For the first time, I truly enjoyed my baby during maternity leave. It makes me tear up to think of the lost moments of snuggling and joy that I missed out on with my older children.
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