Little People, Big World stars Zach and Tori Roloff welcomed their first child in May, and since then the couple has been keeping their fans updated on their new life as parents by sharing regularly on social media. It's pretty clear from their posts that life with baby Jackson — who, like his dad, was born with achondroplasia, a form of short-limbed dwarfism — is pretty great, and that parenthood is totally suiting them. But that doesn't mean they haven't had struggles: in her latest post Saturday, Tori Roloff said breastfeeding is "the hardest thing about being a mom," according to People, and spoke out about the judgment that can leave too many new moms feeling guilty or ashamed when they have trouble nursing their babies.
While Tori's Instagram is filled with sweet, uplifting posts about her family life with Zach and Jackson, her latest update no doubt resonated deeply with lots of new mothers — especially if they, too, found breastfeeding to be a challenge. In the post, which featured a black-and-white photo of Tori breastfeeding her son beneath a striped nursing cover, the new mom admitted that she hadn't quite expected breastfeeding to be so difficult, and that, like many women, she "just figured it would come naturally because it's what nature intended."
Tori quickly found out though that the fact that breastfeeding is natural definitely does not mean it'll be a piece of cake. In fact, for a lot of mothers, breastfeeding takes time to learn and adjust to even in the best of circumstances. But Tori admitted that she and Jackson "got so frustrated with one another in the beginning," and that she really wanted to quit. And while she said she was eventually able to push through and things fell into place, the experience taught her that the pressure that we place on women to breastfeed their babies can feel so crushing to women who are unable to. She wrote,
I feel for those mamas that can't breastfeed. I get asked at all my appointments how BFing is going and I couldn't imagine how that would make the women who physically can't feel.
Of course, being physically unable to breastfeed isn't the only reason that a woman would stop nursing — there are lots of factors that affect whether or not a woman breastfeeds, and for how long, and it's ultimately a personal decision. But Tori's point is still an important one: although the push for women to breastfeed is well-intentioned (breastfeeding offers health benefits for both babies and moms, not to mention that it's a free, built-in source of nutrition, and also encourages bonding), the lack of support many women experience can lead them to feel like they've failed if they decide to stop.
As Tori noted, new moms are asked during checkups whether they are breastfeeding, like it's a box that good moms are supposed to be able to check. But too often, sleep-deprived, still-recovering-from-childbirth women are left feeling like they either have to just deal with the pain/uncertainty/frustration that they're experiencing, and hope that it'll go away in time. Unless they've been able to find additional support that's felt helpful and encouraging, it's no wonder that many women stop. In fact, although the majority of new mothers in the United States do at least attempt to breastfeed their babies after birth — more than 80 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control — by the time their babies are six months old, only about half have stuck with it, despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers breastfeed their babies at least for the first year, according to Parenting..
What also certainly doesn't help matters though is the fact that even for women who haven't struggled privately with breastfeeding, the sexualization of breasts and the general lingering discomfort many people feel about breastfeeding leads many women to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed to nurse their children in public, adding to the lists of reasons why she may want to wean earlier than expected. That's something Tori says she's also struggled with, and her message to moms is an important reminder that that pressure is totally unfair:
I also HATE the stigma of breastfeeding. I still feel awkward in public when I feed my baby. Why should I? I'm providing for my child. J and I have come a long way and we work well together now and I'm proud of that. There are still times that I feel overwhelmed with breastfeeding but I know I'm doing to best I can. We as women just do the best we can and that's all anyone can ask. You do you mamas. Don't let anyone make you feel insignificant or like you're not doing your best. Breastfeeding is ridiculously hard and it doesn't always work out. Our kids are going to be just fine.
As Tori's Instagram post perfectly points out, the fact that any woman should ever have to feel bad or uneasy about feeding her child — and literally using her breasts for their primary purpose — is so frustrating. The transition to new motherhood is already fraught with so much stress and pressure and uncertainty as it is (and that's not even taking into account the huge physical toll that child birth can take on women's bodies), and more than ever, many of us are also expected to do it with little to no social support. There's no reason at all why women should be expected to carry the burden of other people's notions of modesty or discomfort about nudity on top of all of that.
But the unfair expectations placed on new mothers is also why deciding not to breastfeed — for whatever reason — also shouldn't be looked down upon, especially if formula feeding means that mom and baby could bother end up happier and less stressed out. It might not be the ideal option from a "breast is best" perspective, but breastfeeding isn't only an issue of nutrients or antibodies or a list of pros and cons. It seems that what is really best for mothers, after all, is supporting them to feel as comfortable and confident in their new roles as possible — and that will no doubt benefit their babies, too.
Breastfeeding may have worked out well for Tori Roloff in the end, and that is wonderful news. But her post is a reminder to moms that it's totally OK if it's hard, and it's totally OK if it doesn't, and that no one has the right to judge. And that's a message that everyone needs to hear.