How you feed your baby is a really tough choice. It seems like it should be the simplest thing in the world, and yet, there are so many factors that it can be overwhelming. Breast or bottle? Both? Choosing only one way of feeding can really change your life and routine. Want to wash bottles all the time? Want to stop what you're doing and feed your baby from your breasts whenever they're hungry? That last question leads a lot of moms to wonder, "Is exclusive breastfeeding right for me?" And honestly, the answer might surprise you.
Full disclosure: I exclusively breastfed my children. I made a ton of sacrifices for it, and yet, it still felt like a wonderful privilege — one that not all women have, regardless of how wrong that is. It's particularly difficult to make the choice whether or not to exclusively breastfeed if you don't work from home or stay at home. I know that by the time I was ready to re-enter the workforce, I probably would've made different choices.
There are several things to consider when you're deciding whether or not to exclusively breastfeed your baby. The number one question you need to ask yourself is if you want to exclusively breastfeed. You might not love the idea of it. Hell, I didn't love the idea of breastfeeding all throughout the night and day for months, but I still wanted to do it because of all the benefits of breastfeeding, and because, honestly, I was staying at home, and it was free.
That stuff just poured out of my boobs and made my baby oh so very happy. Also, I didn't have to do dishes or make bottles. Am I ashamed that a good part of why I chose to breastfeed revolved around the fact I didn't have a dishwasher and I liked spending money on takeout instead? Nope. Mom'ing is hard and roti and tikka masala at 2 a.m. sometimes made it just a little bit easier.
I spoke with Elizabeth Absolam, certified lactation consultant, about exclusive breastfeeding and how to determine if it's the right choice for you. She tells Romper, "Exclusive breastfeeding is for everyone who can, and who wants to. Yes, breast milk is often the safest and best option, but it's not always the best. For moms struggling with postpartum depression, they shouldn't feel like they have to forgo their own mental health to nurse their baby if they need medications that are contraindicated for breastfeeding after they've tried non-pharmacologic interventions like therapy."
Absolam adds that a strong support system helps, but many, including herself, have gone it alone and done really well. "For me, it helped me feel connected to something and someone during a time when I was feeling very disconnected. It's also something that takes a lot of grit and desire. If you don't feel really strongly about its benefits, you're not going to keep it up. Sure, you might feel stronger about it after nursing for a while at home, but it has to be enough to maintain during your post-maternity incubation period. It has to feed you through sh*tty pumping rooms and breastfeeding at church. There is nothing in the world like breastfeeding, but it's definitely not for everyone."
The next thing you want to consider is if you're going back to work. Will you be able to nurse or pump? What is the climate like for new mothers at your place of work? A report in Forbes magazine found that a staggering number of employers routinely break the laws regarding breastfeeding mothers and the rights that are meant to be afforded to them. While there are great employers out there who really support and value the work of their breastfeeding employees, that's simply not always the case for working mothers.
If you're still wondering if exclusive breastfeeding is right for you, you also need to consider your output — to put it bluntly. Are you producing enough milk to sustain your baby? This is generally determined by the number of diapers produced by your baby, as well as their weight gain and overall health, according to La Leche League International. While there are ways to boost your supply, it can be stressful, and the postpartum period is already very stressful.
Do you have a supportive partner/family? If you have other kids, it's a lot easier to breastfeed exclusively if you can rely on your partner to help out with other things — even if it's something as simple as playing tea with your 3-year-old as you tandem breastfeed your twins.
Do you love reading or Netflix? Sounds ridiculous, but the only thing on regular television at zero dark is an infomercial for an exercise video that will no doubt make you want to spray the marketer from your postpartum bosom or a 24-hour news channel, likely engendering a similar response. Make good friends with your Netflix or Kindle Unlimited subscription — trust me. I almost ordered a porcelain doll once when sleep deprived — and I hate dolls.
In the end, a lot of reasons behind your choice to exclusively breastfeed or not may be frustratingly no choice of yours at all. Remember, even if you really want to exclusively breastfeed, and it's right for you for a time, it might not always be that way, and that's OK, too. You're being the best mom you can be — feeding your child however you do it is what really matters.
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