Looking back, it was a bit naive of me to assume that I’d get my body back once I delivered my son. And by “get my body back,” I don’t mean the shape and size or anything remotely related to the appearance of it. No, I mean feeling ownership over it. I had a vague awareness that breastfeeding was a commitment, but I knew little about the logistics, the time involved, and the many (many, many) potential problems. All of these reasons, and more, are why my partner’s encouragement during breastfeeding was crucial. In fact, I think there’s one specific thing that every partner should say to a breastfeeding mom.
"Whatever you decide and whatever you're capable of doing is fine and normal and something I will wholeheartedly and endlessly support. In other words, you're doing great."
I don’t know a single mother who didn’t run into some kind of breastfeeding challenge, and, if any of those mothers are like me, they'll feel the weight of the world (or, at least, of their newborn baby) on their shoulders as they try to figure out how to make it through those difficulties. Almost every time I ran into some sort of roadblock (duct block?), and would find myself getting frustrated and stressed, I’d have to wonder if jumping through so many hurdles to feed my son myself was worth it. Especially since I was acutely aware that I could have provided him with formula at any time and saved both of us many, many tears.
I’m pretty sure, had I been able to ask my son, he would have simply opted for the bottle instead of being forced to wait for me to get things together so I could successfully breastfeed him. But, honestly, I wanted to keep going and my partner made it clear that whatever choice I made, was fine by him.
Supporting a breastfeeding mom can mean holding a crying baby while she gets situated, bringing her water, making her food (side note: definitely bring her water and make her food), and picking up her phone when she drops it off the bed. It’s also about helping her keep track of her nursing pillow, handing her a burp cloth, or burping the baby yourself. It can mean helping her through the big picture stuff too, like, “How do I sustain this?” or, “Is this worth it?” or, “How long do I do this for?” Or, it can mean simply nodding and listening and being present as she figures out what’s best for her.
Of course, it can also mean something completely different since every mom, and every baby, have their own set of needs and every household has its own set of circumstances. I definitely don’t want to assume I’m covering all bases for all moms here, because motherhood (like anything else in life) is fluid and ever-changing and can be experienced in countless ways by countless people.
Still, I cannot count the number of times I nearly called it quits when it came to breastfeeding at various stages of my journey. If you factor in the number of times it crosses my mind still, to this day (my toddler nurses in the mornings still), we’re probably hovering at about eighty billion times. It’s been a long road to get to this point: mastitis, blocked ducts, a tongue tie (sorta, long story there), latch issues, supply issues, breast pump issue, and all of those issues made me question not only my sanity, but my choice to breastfeed. Had my partner not been by my side, encouraging me while also reminding me that whatever I decided would be okay, I'm not sure I would have been able to breastfeed for as long as I really, truly wanted. Of course, there were times when my partner questioned whether the effort to breastfeed was really worth it too, but he never questioned me when I told him I wanted to keep going.
And for that, I'm still super grateful. Not every mother receives (or is able to receive) that kind of unwavering support, which is why I never judge a mother for how she decides to feed her baby. If she's not breastfeeding, I honestly can't help but assume that her choice was made with careful thought and consideration, and there's a solid chance that it was made because breastfeeding was very difficult for her or something she simply didn't want to experience. I'll never know the details of someone else's motherhood journey, or how those details impact their parenting decisions. I'll never know if someone is on the receiving end of as much support as I was, thankfully, provided.
Which is why, if your partner is considering breastfeeding or currently breastfeeding, it's vital that you tell them that regardless of what happens or what decisions they inevitably make or have even made; you're going to be present. You're going to agree with them and support them and let them know that they're doing a great job. Because, guess what? They are.