Arguably one of the first things you hear about when you announce your pregnancy, is the inevitable sacrifices you'll be making. You'll be sacrificing your body and sacrificing your ability to sleep and sacrificing your ability to be spontaneous. You won't always get to do what you want to do and, to a certain extent, your constant sacrifice will continue until your babe becomes a fully-functioning adult. It's no surprise, then, that breastfeeding requires sacrifice. While so many of those sacrifices are worth it, there are sacrifices you make while breastfeeding that aren't worth it; Sacrifices that no one should make, even and especially a mother; Sacrifices that can put women in danger and make them feel uncomfortable and threaten their mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
Of course, certain sacrifices are unavoidable when you're breastfeeding. You're going to be tired; You're going to probably put your daily showers on the back burner; You'll be giving up complete body autonomy which, honestly, sucks. However, there are other sacrifices that really aren't worth it, and deciding to end or alter your breastfeeding experience because of those potential sacrifices and how they make you feel, is not only understandable, but should be supported. You shouldn't force yourself to breastfeed in public if you feel uncomfortable or safe. You shouldn't force yourself to breastfeed if you're a sexual assault survivor and feeding your child is a trigger. You shouldn't force yourself to breastfeed if you feel like your mental health is at risk. While society constantly tells mothers, especially new mothers, that they must sacrifice ever part of themselves in order to be "good mothers," the opposite is true. If you want to be a great mother, you need to take care of yourself. If you want to be a great mother, you need to love yourself and value yourself and realize that you are just as important as anyone else.
That can be a hard lesson to learn, it turns out. It took me far too long to realize that I needed to put myself first if I was going to be the mother my son deserves. However, I finally did learn that valuable lesson, and I know my parenting and my son benefit exponentially because of it. So, with that in mind, here are some sacrifices you shouldn't be making. Not in the name of breastfeeding or, well, anything else.
Putting Yourself In A Position To Be Shamed...
While I think every woman should feel free and empowered to make her own decisions, that isn't always the case. If you choose and are able to breastfeed, especially in public and especially without a cover, you may very well put yourself in a position to be shamed by others. While that is without a doubt wrong and shouldn't even be a thing, until it is and society stops sexualizing breastfeeding, no woman should feel like she has to put herself in a position to be publicly shamed to either prove a point or do what is necessary. If you don't want to put yourself in that position and essentially sacrifice your safety, please don't. Pump a bottle ahead of time. Do whatever is necessary to avoid that situation, if you don't want to put yourself through it.
We should always and without question support breastfeeding women. Sometimes, that means fighting for a woman's right to breastfeeding in public without being shamed. Sometimes, that means fighting for a woman's right and choice to avoid breastfeeding in public, if that's what makes her feel more comfortable.
You shouldn't sacrifice your comfort in order to breastfeed your kid. Honestly, it's that simple. It's not selfish to look inward and tell yourself, "Nope. Breastfeeding in public where I can be constantly judged isn't something I'm comfortable with." Your mental health and your physical safety and your emotional stability is important, and I can tell you from experience that your baby needs you to be happy and healthy more than they need your breast milk. So, again, if it makes you feel safer and more supported to pump before you go in public or use a cover or even supplement with formula when you're out and about, please do so. Don't sacrifice your mental health, for breastfeeding or, you know, anything else.
...Or Generally Unsafe.
Sadly, some people have verbally harassed women who breastfeed in public to the point that those women feel unsafe. Not too long ago, a man yelled at a woman breastfeeding in a Target, and I felt unsafe just watching that video. I can't imagine what that woman was feeling (and I'm in awe of her grace and ability to stay calm in a moment that, honestly, would have scared the hell out of me). Should it be this way? Absolutely not. Should potential harassment deter a woman from breastfeeding in public? Well, it depends. It depends on the woman. If a woman decides she doesn't want to breastfeed in public because she genuinely feels unsafe, she shouldn't breastfeed in public. It is not a woman's job (breastfeeding or otherwise) to right the wrongs of a patriarchal society in exchange for her safety.
Defending Your Choice To Breastfeed (Or How Long You Breastfed)
Sometimes, breastfeeding means spending a significant amount of time defending your choice to breastfeed. Sometimes, breastfeeding means spending a significant amount of time defending how long you've breastfed (whether it's for a "short" period of time or for an extended period of time). That's not a sacrifice worth making, because it does nothing to aid you in breastfeeding to the best of your body's ability. This is not a sacrifice you need to make.
Being In Pain
When you first start breastfeeding, you may feel uncomfortable and even in pain. I remember the first few days of my breastfeeding experience, and I was shocked at how much pain I was in and how my nipples hurt and ached. That pain went away, and working through that pain, for me, was worth it. However, if you're in an immense amount of pain for an extended period of time and you're suffering every time you breastfeed, it's not worth it. Motherhood doesn't mean constant suffering. Motherhood doesn't mean constantly sacrificing your health and your safety. Motherhood means taking care of yourself, so that you can take care of someone else.
Stressing About Milk Supply
There are things you can do to up your milk supply, yes, and if any breastfeeding woman believes those things are worth the time and effort and sacrifice, she should be supported in doing them. However, if a woman's milk supply is constantly low and nothing seems to be helping, constantly struggling and stressing and trying everything under the sun to the point that you're miserable, isn't worth it.
Feeling Guilty If Breastfeeding Doesn't Go As Planned
You don't and should never feel guilty if breastfeeding didn't go according to plan. Honestly, there are so many things that can go "wrong" and potential emotions associated with breastfeeding that you didn't think you'd experience and complications that can arise. If you can't breastfeed for as long as you had hoped, it's OK. If you decide, one day, that you no longer want to breastfeed, it's OK. Don't feel like you have to sacrifice your honest feelings about breastfeeding in order to "do it right." No on gets to decide how you feel about breastfeeding, but you.
Overlooking Or Devaluing Your Mental Health
Many women end their breastfeeding experience due to postpartum depression, and the medication they are prescribed in order to treat it. Do. Not. Feel. Guilty. Do not put your mental health at risk in the name of breastfeeding. Do not sacrifice your mental health in the name of feeding your child, because there are other options. Formula is available for this (and many other) reasons, and while it may not be the breastfeeding journey you envisioned, you are doing what you need to do to keep not only your baby healthy, but yourself healthy. That is important. That is vital. Your baby needs you to be your best self, and that means taking care of yourself and valuing your mental health.
Exhausting Yourself To The Point You're Unhealthy
Breastfeeding is exhausting. Hell, motherhood is exhausting. You're going to lose sleep regardless of how you choose and/or are able to feed your kid. I mean, that's just science. They're little sleep-snatchers, those adorable babies. However, if you find yourself so exhausted that you're suffering and your mental health is deteriorating and you're "losing it," so-to-speak, it's not worth it. The idea that mothers have to sacrifice every single part of themselves, including their health, in order to be good mothers, is fallacious and dangerous. Take care of yourself. If breastfeeding on demand or being the only person responsible for your child's source of nutrition is weighing too heavily on you, stop. There's nothing wrong with asking for help or pumping so someone can take over feedings or supplementing with formula. Your physical health matters. Your mental well-being matters. You matter.