—By Little + Free's creator, Tori Rotter
As I sit to write about this particular topic, I am already a bit uneasy. I'd like to think we've made progress as a society and are moving more toward supporting women and the intense pressure we are put under as mothers; however, I know from experience that is not always the case.
That being said, I want to start by saying that "fed is best" is one of my favorite social mottos these days. It's so simple and so true. As women, we carry our children in our bodies for nine months (on average). We give our entire selves to the process of gestation, and when the child is born, we are once again asked to give part of ourselves through breastfeeding.
What's more is that we are told to do so for a minimum of six months, if not a year. It's a long time. A long time to know that your body does not really belong to you but your child. You must still be careful of certain foods, medications, activities, etc., to ensure your infant's safety. It's a lot. And that only covers the "ask."
Breastfeeding may seem like the most natural and innate activity possible, but the reality is that it can be very difficult. Some women don't produce any milk or struggle to produce enough to keep their baby fed. Some babies don't latch properly, or even when they do, it's excruciatingly painful for the mother. Some women produce an excess of milk that can leave them with clogs and, in some cases, infections. In short, breastfeeding is a complicated process and a journey. It does not just "happen." And this process and journey are often made much worse by societal (or sometimes inner circle) pressure to exclusively breastfeed. As mothers, we must balance this pressure with the (already challenging) task of caring for a newborn. I've said it before, but I think it's worth mentioning again: women are superheroes.
Having said all of that, I would like to share a bit of my breastfeeding journey because, as is with every aspect of motherhood, I think it's important we share our experiences. My first daughter was born four years ago, but I still remember like it was yesterday when the nurse first placed her at my breast to nurse. The pain I experienced with her first latch is something I will never forget. My gut reaction was to pull her off and hand her back to the nurse while I tended to a laceration the latch had caused. I immediately felt intense guilt for doing so and began crying. Of course, there are still a ton of hormones at play right after childbirth, and it's an emotional time in general, but this scenario was not how I imagined my first few hours with my little one.
The first night I told the nursing staff to give her formula because I simply could not imagine trying to feed her again, and I was also absolutely exhausted and in need of a proper night's sleep. This decision was the best thing for us both because I awoke the next day refreshed and ready to try latching again. While still very painful, I was in a much better emotional state to endure and work with a consultant on her latch. I could probably write a novel on the events that occurred from that point on, but I will jump ahead to the point where we discovered my daughter's colic. One of the first suggestions to improve colic is to adjust the mother's diet in case something might be upsetting the baby's belly. I tried eliminating a few common culprits before ultimately switching to a formula specially made to relieve colic. Breastfeeding had been challenging, and having a colicky baby was difficult, and all told I was slightly relieved to be done. Before having the baby, I had firmly said I would do my best to breastfeed as long as it made sense for the baby and me. And I think I did just that. But I would not call my first breastfeeding experience enjoyable.
When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I started feeling very anxious about the prospect of starting another breastfeeding journey. I wanted to try again, but it felt daunting knowing how hard it had been. Regardless, I made the same deal with myself, that I would try and do it as long as it made sense for the baby and me.
The second my daughter was born, I felt an understandable sense of relief, but it was followed by nervousness about her first latch. There is genuinely no way to know how this process will begin. It could be painful; she could be unable to latch, and I may not produce enough to feed her. As the nurse approached me for her first feed, I felt a rush of emotions ranging from nervousness to full-blown panic. And then she latched, and something amazing happened. It was ok. Don't get me wrong; it was painful. And it's the kind of pain that you forget about, even having done it before. But I think my body was more prepared than the first time, and it felt a little less shocking. My second daughter was not colicky, which made everything easier, but it made breastfeeding easier too. We were able to slip into a pattern of (somewhat) on-demand feeding that seemed to make her very happy. On the other hand, I was still feeling a lot of pain each time (particularly upon latch). I was starting to get nervous when I knew it was time to feed and also had thoughts of wishing I didn't have to.
I decided to talk to my husband about how I felt. I am very lucky to have an incredibly supportive partner, and he encouraged me to bring the breastfeeding journey to an end if that's what felt right. So I decided to go for two months, and then I'd stop. But at almost two months exactly, something strange happened. Suddenly the pain was gone. The baby had perfected her latch, and breastfeeding actually became enjoyable. I had always questioned other women that swore they loved breastfeeding. I had only known the hardship and couldn't understand how someone could be experiencing something that drastically different. In my case, though, it took my body two months to fully adjust. I no longer had engorgement or painful latches. I no longer had soreness. I was simply able to enjoy the time while I breastfed, and I finally got a glimpse of what those other women had been talking about. And I had absolutely no desire to stop.
My husband found parts of this puzzling. I had been struggling so much and pushing through, and suddenly it felt easy to carry on. Frankly, it was hard to describe. Then, with the difficult portion behind me, breastfeeding felt like something I was born to do. It filled my heart and my soul. And while I realize that sounds a bit dramatic, that's the only way I can really describe it.
Due to some personal matters and other circumstances, I have since stopped breastfeeding. Unlike the first time, though, I was not relieved; I was sad. It was a tough choice, but one that I had to make, nonetheless. While I was in the weaning process, struggling with the knowledge that I was nearing the end, I couldn't help but think about how awful it would be to have someone try and make me feel bad for switching to formula. I was already battling my emotions and in desperate need of support, not shame. I feel incredibly privileged that I did not face that judgment from anyone in my inner circle, but I know that many women are not so lucky.
Having been through this experience twice (both drastically different), I feel more strongly than ever that the pressure to breastfeed to a certain point (or at all) must stop. Much like infertility, pregnancy, and becoming a mother, breastfeeding can be an arduous journey. But, as women and mothers, the thing we need most is support. Support to endure and make the right decisions for our children and us. Support mentally, physically, and emotionally.
There is always a way to support another woman, another mother, or another parent, and I've made it one of my missions in life to do just that.