Breastfeeding is such a challenging topic of conversation for so many mothers. Figuring out how to tell if you're bad at breastfeeding is something that no mom anticipates dealing with before she has a baby, but amid all the guilt and challenges, it's not uncommon to find yourself experiencing that kind of doubt. We all have different experiences individually, but almost every mom will tell you that she felt badly at some point, for some reason. Guilt seems to be at the heart of many breastfeeding relationships, unfortunately, which is so sad. There are (apparently) a million ways to let your baby down in the eyes of professionals, family, friends, or yourself.
But here’s the one thing you need to know, if you feel like you’re failing at breastfeeding: The only way you could actually “fail” is by internalizing the pressure you feel to breastfeed the “right” way. There are so many battles you might feel like you need to "win" when it comes to breastfeeding (or not breastfeeding) — Should you do it at all, and for how long, and how often, and what if your baby won't latch, or has a tongue tie, or you get mastitis, or clogged ducts, or cluster feeding is killing you? Should you nurse in public, and if you do, and someone confronts you in a negative way, are you obligated to take them on as the feminist warrior you are in your heart but maybe don't have the energy to be in your actual life? And on and on, until your head nearly explodes.
But here's the truth: The only battle you need to win is the war within your head over whether or not to care about how sufficiently you're meeting everyone else's expectations of you and your breastfeeding choices. That's it. The rest doesn't have to be a battle. The rest is a mix of instinct, informing yourself, and using those two things as your sole guiding forces in figuring out what works best for you and your baby. That. is. it. Allowing external pressure to force you into a situation that makes you unhappy and isn’t working for you is the real crime here. The people in your life should be supporting your breastfeeding choices, but if they're not, it's time to ignore them and be true to yourself.
Regardless of whether you’re exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively pumping, supplementing with formula, or exclusively feeding formula, you need to take it easy on yourself. You are nourishing your baby in the way that is best for both of you, and that is amazing. Hell, you nourished your baby with your own body for nine months, and that is should pretty much get you a medal.
I have lived through this experience myself. I had a horrifyingly painful breastfeeding experience with my son, and yet persevered. I kept patting myself on the back for continuing just one more day, but the reality is that I was in a lot of pain and quite depressed, and I didn’t need to be. That’s not to say that I regret making the choices I made, but there are always options to improve your situation, if you’re unhappy.
Don’t sell yourself short. You brought this child into the world, and there are far worse things that could happen than choosing to go with an alternative food source, for whatever reason. Find yourself a support network, if the one that’s currently surrounding you turns out to be not very supportive after all. You and your baby deserve so much more than that.
OK, can I say it one last time? You are a mom. You are amazing for bringing this baby into the world. As long as you are making the effort to keep your baby safe, alive and fed, whether you are breastfeeding or not, you are worthy and you are already winning the war.