I always planned to breastfeed exclusively, but after my baby was born those plans went right out the window. I felt so guilty. Eventually that guilt faded, until my second baby was born, of course. And although I had been through it before, and went on to breastfeed for eight months, nursing guilt still reared its ugly head. When I was pregnant with baby number three, I wanted to try again, and I learned firsthand how important a supportive partner can be when helping a mom get over her breastfeeding guilt.
After all of my breastfeeding challenges — from mastitis to undersupply to everything in between — you'd think I would've decided to just use formula. At first my husband wanted us to use formula, because he didn't want me to have the feel the overwhelming stress and the relentless guilt I had felt before. Ultimately, though, my partner told me he supported whatever choice I made. After all, it was my breasts we were talking about, and I felt confident in my ability to breastfeed. I knew what my body could(and couldn't do. I spoke with a lactation consultant and planned to both breastfeed and supplement with formula.
Then our son was diagnosed with a cow's milk and soy protein intolerance, and my doctor told me that my breast milk was making him sick. I had some tough choices to make — I could eliminate dairy and soy from my vegetarian diet to give my son a small amount of breast milk everyday, or I could switch to formula and deal with even more guilt. My husband was the one who gently convinced me that feeling guilt over things beyond my control — like undersupply and food intolerances — was about as necessary as it was helpful, and that my health mattered, too. He was there with me every step of the way, and at all hours of the night, and made a huge difference in my ability to get over the guilt of not being able to breastfeed. So if you're struggling to nurse and have a loving, supportive partner by your side, make damn sure they do the following:
They Tell You How Great Formula Is
Formula gets a bad rap. In our culture of "perfect parenthood," it seems like most people believe that "breast is best" and that, of course, means that formula is not. My husband reminded me all of the ways formula is amazing, healthy, and helped our baby thrive. For our baby scientifically-created, ridiculously expensive, hypoallergenic formula was best.
They Share Night Feedings
Both my partner and I loved how formula feeding allowed him to help with feedings. Well, maybe I enjoyed his ability to help with the middle of the night feedings more than he did, but sharing feedings allowed me to get more sleep, decreased stress, and helped me feel better in those overwhelming postpartum days. It's a helluva lot easier to get over guilt when you've had some damn sleep.
They Tell You It's Not Your Fault
When it comes to breastfeeding, life doesn't always work out as you planned. Even when you can breastfeed, other things can throw a wrench in your plans, too. Between thrush, bleeding nipples, undersupply, mastitis, pumping at work, and nursing strikes, breastfeeding was nothing like I imagined it would be. I thought it was my fault. My husband reminded me that it wasn't my fault any more than my height or wearing glasses is my fault. It helped me get over the guilt.
They Make Sure You Take Care Of Yourself
I am constantly telling people that they have to put on their own oxygen mask first, but I ended up needing my partner to give me my own advice. Unless I got enough rest, nutrition, hydration, and time for self care, there was no way I would be able to care for my kids and get over the guilt.
They Let You Know It's Your Choice
It mattered so much that my husband left breastfeeding decisions up to me. You know, the person with the breasts. Bodily autonomy doesn't end when you give birth. It helped me get over the guilt of making the right choice for me and our baby.
They Are Sensitive When The Subject Comes Up
My partner learned to be super sensitive when the subject of breastfeeding came up... the hard way, too. But, seriously, it helped that he recognized that even though he can't understand my guilt, my feelings are valid.
They Advocate For You
My husband not only supported my choice, he actively advocated for me and my decision when people were sh*tty or shaming. I will never forget how it felt when he actually wrote on the white board at the hospital "no lactation services" and then told the pushy lactation consultant that our baby needed formula. (Her intern tossed a brochure on the bed about the dangers of formula.) Without him there, I probably would have cried.
They Support You No Matter What
Ultimately the most important words my partner said, and the words I neededto hear, were, "I support you." I was able to see how my struggles with breastfeeding were impacting my partner and our family. As a result, I was able to make the best choice for how to feed our baby, with his support and a healthy dose of perspective.
They Remind You That You Are So Much More Than Your Ability To Lactate
I needed my partner to tell me that I was enough just the way I was and am and will be, even if I didn't produce a healthy supply of breast milk or was unable to breastfeed at all. He was right. Being a good parent has literally nothing to do with breastfeeding. Nothing. With his help, and after struggling to breastfeed three babies, I finally believe this is true.
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