Before I had my daughter, I made the decision that I would try breastfeeding. I was assured that this was the best way to go. “Babies are born knowing how to do it,” the RN at the hospital said. “It’s a natural bonding experience,” affirmed the lactation consultant at my prenatal exercise class. Babies already know how to do it? She’ll gaze lovingly in my eyes while I feed her? That sounds amazing. Sign me up!
Um, no. That’s not how it went. I can unequivocally say that breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to learn. And the stakes are high. It is the scariest feeling in the world not knowing if your baby is eating enough. Or if your inability to get a good latch will lead to poor weight gain. It’s heartbreaking when both of you are so frustrated by this seemingly natural process that one of you usually ends up in tears (okay, usually me). The first few days home from the hospital are particularly filled with angst. You’re tired and all you want to do is feed your baby but it’s not working. Even three months later there are times when my daughter is crying and my husband and I look at one another and wonder whether she’s still hungry and whether she’s eating enough. I am still working at it (although it’s become easier).
I don’t regret my decision to breastfeed but I think the breast is best campaign has ratcheted up the rhetoric to a new cringe worthy level. I shocked my peers at a recent breastfeeding cafe because I am also pumping. I was admonished for promoting the pump, which would surely lead to supply issues, early weaning, and certain death (okay, not that last one). And when I mentioned the word wean I was inundated with a slew of data on why you should try to ‘save you and your baby’s breastfeeding relationship’ and how the WHO recommends breastfeeding until your child is two. I met a woman who was still breastfeeding her baby (toddler?) at four and a half. Nope. Not for me.
You have to do what’s best for you and what works for both you and your baby. Some women choose to formula feed. Some don’t have a choice at all. Some do both. Some women wean after six weeks, some after six months (apparently some after six years!). I set my goal in two week increments (right now I’m trying to make it to week 14).
I cried the first time I had to feed my daughter a bottle. I felt like a failure. I realize now that instead of feeling upset, I should have felt proud that I was ensuring she had the sustenance to develop and thrive. And she is thriving. At only three months she’s already more than doubled her birth weight.