I always planned to breastfeed my babies. All of my nursing mom friends made it sound so wonderful, convenient, and easy. It seemed like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, no one told me that breastfeeding can also be difficult, painful, and sometimes impossible. So when I was tired, depressed, and struggling with undersupply, I didn't open up to anyone. When I did, I often received condescending, conflicting, and bad advice. There ended up being so many things I wanted during breastfeeding that I just couldn't bring myself to ask for.
I was embarrassed that things didn't seem to be working out as planned. I didn't know anyone who had struggled with breastfeeding (or at least, anyone who was willing to talk about it). When I asked for advice, I received comments like, "Just keep nursing. Of course you are making enough breast milk." So I stopped asking, and consequently I felt alone. When I got mastitis and thrush, the only person I opened up to said, "Why don't you just switch to formula?" I wasn't supported and, again, found myself keeping my struggles to myself. I felt like no one actually listened to me, and if they did, they didn't believe me when I explained what I was going through.
I needed someone to fill in the blanks when I just couldn't go anymore. I wished my partner would have offered to help around the house, encouraged me to keep breastfeeding, and gave me a break without me having to ask. Because, honestly, I was afraid to ask for help, thinking that late-night feedings, no sleep, and single-handedly growing a human and making food for her was my job as a mom. Now I know that breastfeeding (and motherhood) is like riding on an airplane through turbulence — if you don't put on your own oxygen mask first, you won't be able to care for anyone else. There are so many oxygen masks I wished I had asked for, because they would have made all the difference.
Someone To Listen To My Concerns
I honestly wish people would really listen to a person's issues, questions, and goals before assuming they have the answers. So many people thought I wanted to "exclusively breastfeed" at all costs, so they nonchalantly said things like "breast is best," which made me feel guilty about having to supplement formula. I was left feeling like I failed as a mother, when I was doing everything I could to make sure my baby was fed and healthy.
Some Unbiased Help
Providing real breastfeeding support requires empathy. It means you have to put aside your own agenda, feelings, and experience to put yourself in someone else's situation, even (read: especially) when it ends up being completely different from yours.
So many people either took it personally when I made different choices than the ones they made, or assumed what I was doing was unsafe. Both messages led me to accidentally starve my baby; something I will never forgive myself for. I needed unbiased support to safely and confidently feed my baby, but I didn't know who or how to ask for it.
Some Damn Sleep
When I was breastfeeding I was so sleep-deprived I thought I was going to die. It started to impact my health, ability to function, and mental health. But I was also the person making food for the baby, so I was the one who had to get up with them at night. I felt so guilty asking my husband to lend a hand or let me take a nap. I was Wonder Woman. I thought I could power through. I was wrong.
Encouragement From My Partner
Ultimately the words I needed to hear from my husband were simple: "I support you." I was so afraid to ask for his help and encouragement, and was sure he wouldn't understand. So, I felt so alone and isolated for much of my first few months as a mother.
Help Around The House
I needed help. I needed to focus on breastfeeding and recovering from childbirth. I didn't need to be cleaning, caring for older children, cooking, and other things that could definitely wait. Of course, my now ex-husband acted like helping with these things was a huge ordeal, so I didn't ask for help. Doing it myself was better than starting a stupid fight about dishes or laundry.
To Be Left Alone
So many people talk about nursing in public, like it's an awesome thing that everyone should do. I totally support other parents' right to breastfeed anywhere at any time, but I personally hated it. It made me feel so exposed. Most times, I wanted to crawl into the floor.
So yeah, I wanted to nurse in private, thank you very much. But when I would leave the room or excuse myself to breastfeed, people would tell me that I shouldn't. After all, I needed to help "normalize" breastfeeding. I just wished they would leave me alone to feed my baby in peace.
All parents need a break once in a while, especially parents who are recovering from childbirth. I wish I had asked for a break more often, but I was afraid that people would judge me for not being able to "do it all." After I went back to work, I spent every work break for months pumping or going to day care to nurse my son. I didn't really get any of the time I needed to recharge or do self-care.
To Pump At Work In Peace
Pumping at work sucks. It really does. I had coworkers walk in on me too many times to count, and it seemed like someone else was constantly using the lactation room for other things entirely. "Officially" having time and space to pump, didn't necessarily mean I could actually, you know, do it in peace. For the most part, everyone was so uncomfortable with the idea of me pumping at work, that I was really afraid to say something. And judging by the responses from my boss and coworkers when I told them I was pumping, I considered my career to be at risk if I voiced my wants and needs.
Supplement With Formula Without Guilt
When I brought my daughter home from the hospital, I worried I wasn't making enough breast milk. Rather than tell me that it was OK to supplement with formula, everyone I asked told me that even a little bit of formula would ruin my supply or, worse, make me unable to breastfeed. Not a single person told me that it was possible to continue breastfeeding and supplement with formula if I didn't make enough milk, or that formula could be a tool that could help me breastfeed. I needed someone to tell me that formula was OK, but I was so afraid to mention it.
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