When I was pregnant with my now two-year-old son, all I would hear from the more experienced moms around me was how much the hospital would promote (read: push) breastfeeding as the automatic best option for feeding my baby, and that I had better be ready to wholly defend any decision not to do so. And from the even more seasoned moms (read: my mother-in-law), I would hear how important it as to strictly breastfeed no matter what, even if I was afraid of breastfeeding.
And then (because those powerful influences weren't enough), there were the friends who had never even been pregnant, and yet somehow had all of this "knowledge" on the topic and were plenty generous with the comments about how, if I were to formula feed, my baby wouldn't be nearly as healthy as a breastfed one and would definitely develop asthma and obesity and any other minor childhood ailment.
So I guess I was programmed to feel guilt from the beginning, even before making any definite decisions about my son. (But that's part of parenting, right? Maybe? I hope it's normal.) Anyway, even though it was being pressed on me, ingrained into me, and almost bullied into me, breastfeeding wasn't something that I felt connected with yet. I was loving being pregnant and tracking my baby's growth, and feeling him inside of me. The whole pregnancy felt like one big, miraculous experience that bonded me to my son in just a different sort of special way than my husband would be bonded to him. But even still, I was afraid of breastfeeding.
Being pregnant, I seemed to constantly seek out answers from the Internet (as you do), which probably just made things worse in every instance. Worried about those early contractions? Oh, that's just your baby growing an extra head inside of you. Some light spotting? Well, look at this one lady in this random pregnancy forum, annnnd now we're having a panic attack. I knew diving into the Opinion Pit that is the Internet was a terrible idea, but what is a pregnant lady supposed to do at 2 a.m. while scarfing down a salami sandwich, having already gone through seven pages of Reddit?
So I went in: I read all about what some women described as "ground beef nipples," the result of babies nibbling and sucking too hard for milk. I also learned about public leaking horror stories, with awesome photos to match. And the stories of some women not producing enough milk for their baby and stressing out themselves and their baby in the process. If I had been worried before, I was pretty much done after reading all of that. I was scared and totally just done with every dirty aspect of motherhood.
Here's what I wish: I wish I had been able to calm down all the noise — both forced on me by other people and self-inflicted through over-research — and dealt with my fear another way.
Because the one thing you need to know if you're afraid of breastfeeding is that it's OK to be afraid. It's OK to be afraid of such an unknown thing to you. It's OK to choose to breastfeed anyway, even if you're afraid of it. And it's OK to decide to formula feed. Not many people told me that at the time, so I was left feeling guilty and selfish for choosing formula, while hoping I was doing the right thing and second guessing myself the entire first few days of my baby's life.
Despite my OB advising me at every hospital visit to consider breastfeeding when it came down to it, I stood my ground and held my stance up until I had to be induced three weeks before my original due date. And when I came out of recovery from my last-minute c-section and held my son for the first time, I fed him with a formula bottle and our closeness still felt so real. When all the noise was calmed down, and I just focused on myself and my baby, the answer to dealing with my fear of breastfeeding was simple: I wasn't going to be so determined to prove something to everyone, or to make everyone happy, that I would waste these incredible early days worried and fearful. Not when I could make one choice, and suddenly get to spend them happy and in love. It was a no-brainer.
I look at other moms who breastfeed as if it is the easiest thing in the world, and of course, sometimes I do wish I had at least tried to go that route with my son. It's such a beautiful and natural thing. But at the time, I could never get past my worries of not doing it well enough or being enough for my son and creating too stressful of an atmosphere for the both of us. And that is OK. Flash forward to now, more than two years later, and my son is a healthy, spunky, and sometimes crazy toddler who doesn't have weight problems and has shown no signs of asthma or delayed learning. Shocking! In fact, I like to think my kid is actually pretty smart for his young age, even with a mom who was afraid of breastfeeding. Go figure, right?