Every time I have a new baby, I find my life is consumed with how to feed the tiny precious thing I’ve been entrusted with. I have experienced the gamut: My first was mostly formula fed; I’ve powered through triple-feeding that turned into exclusive pumping for a year; and with my youngest, we are 21 months into breastfeeding with no end in sight.
What I’ve learned is that feeding your baby is one of the most all-encompassing things you will ever do. When you have a newborn, it is literally constantly on your mind. When did they eat last? When will they need to eat next? How much are they eating? How often are they eating? How often are they pooping and peeing? Are they gaining weight? These questions will dominate your mental and emotional space for quite some time.
Although feeding our babies is beautiful no matter how you do it, there are a lot of challenges that come along with it. Providing a small human with all the nourishment they need to grow and thrive is difficult. On top of the difficulty, dealing with the guilt, judgment, and shame that can come along with our feeding choices makes this journey even more formidable.
As is the case with so many aspects of new parenting, everyone you know will have an opinion on every choice you make.
“Oh, you’re using plastic bottles? You should really be using glass,” the family friend will announce.
“Make sure you’re following a schedule; you can’t let the baby run the show,” your grandmother will tell you.
“Formula is poison,” your cousin will casually mention.
“Nursing in public is disgusting,” the stranger will loudly declare.
But I have a secret, mama. None of that matters. Your choices are exactly that, your choices. You should be given the information and support you need to make whatever choice is best for you and baby. The peanut gallery should not be taken into consideration. Their opinions may be well meaning, but they’re ultimately irrelevant.
Are you agonizing over the decision to formula feed? Worried that you’re not making the best choice for your baby? Modern science is amazing, mama. It is not poison! We have come so far in medical and scientific advances, I am often struck by the wonder that babies who might have starved before formula was invented are instead happy and healthy little chunks. Maybe nursing didn’t work out for you, or you were never interested in nursing to begin with. The reason doesn’t really matter. Formula is an amazing source of nourishment for your baby that you shouldn’t feel guilty about. Rejoice every time someone else can give your baby a bottle of that sweet goodness while you take a nap or shower. Enjoy the bond your partner can create with baby as they join you in feeding.
Are you struggling with baby’s weight gain? Constantly obsessing over the numbers on the scale at the doctor’s office? Attempting to monitor how much milk is going in and how many soiled and wet diapers are coming out? This is so incredibly stressful, mama, and I am there with you in spirit. Dealing with poor weight gain and how best to feed your baby can bring you to tears at the mere mention of milk. If your doctor or lactation consultant has mentioned triple-feeding (nursing baby at the breast, pumping, and offering baby a bottle of pumped milk at every feeding), and the sheer amount of time it will require has your head spinning at, you are not alone! Triple-feeding is incredibly difficult and time consuming, but it is not forever. It is meant to be a short-term plan to get baby’s weight up, not a long-term sentence. If this is where you find yourself right now, don’t listen to the haters. Yes, it would be easier to add in formula. No, you aren’t ruining your breastfeeding relationship by adding in a bottle.
The purists in any feeding camp will wonder why you’re putting yourself through this very unique misery. The only thing that matters is that this is what you have decided to do. Find the support you need to make it through this trial. Seek out a lactation consultant or supportive pediatrician. Make sure your partner understands what they can do to help you: hold baby while you pump, feed baby the bottle while you rest, clean your pump parts, bring you snacks — these are just a few ways they can help make this easier for you. What I know is you will make it through this, mama, and whatever you decide to do next will be exactly the right choice, as long as you have the education and support you need.
Do you feel literally attached to your pump? Always ensuring you have every tiny piece and tube with you at all times, keeping them clean, keeping the milk cold, labeling all the bags? Pumping is the ultimate labor of love. It can feel like you’re a cow hooked up to be milked several times a day, particularly with the comforting sounds your pump emits while it collects your milk. Whether you are exclusively pumping, pumping while you’re away from baby, or pumping to build up your stash, it is quite the accomplishment. If you do the math, pumping every two to three hours for about 15 minutes amounts to over 60 hours spent attached to your pump every month. It is mind-boggling how pumping moms get anything else done. As a mama who relied on a breast pump to feed her daughter, I am again so grateful to the advances of modern medicine and science. What a beautiful thing, that I can feed my baby from my body, even if my baby cannot get the milk out herself. What a beautiful thing that I can be away from my baby and still provide her nourishment from my body.
Are you enjoying the stares and unwelcome comments from strangers as baby lifts your shirt to nurse in public? Pumping mamas feel attached to their pumps, and nursing mamas feel like all they do is nurse, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether you prefer to nurse in private or while covered up, or you want everyone to know that it is your right to nurse baby any place you are allowed to be, nursing a baby requires skill, dedication, and determination. For many mamas, the early days and weeks of nursing can be quite painful. We are told by lactation consultants and doctors that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, that if it hurts, we may be doing something wrong, but that doesn’t make the pain uncommon. As mother and baby figure out how to get a good, deep latch, there may be tears, lots of nipple cream, and even a little blood. To power through all this is impossible without a good support system, and it takes the will and self-sacrifice that only a mother would understand.
No matter how you feed your baby, you are pouring love into this tiny being, just like you’re pouring nourishment into their body. Find the support you need to help you figure out what feeding method is best for you and baby. Talk to your partner about how you want to feed baby before baby is here, and seek out books to educate yourself on what to expect. No feeding method is easy; no feeding method is perfect for everyone. Read all you can, ask mamas you trust what their experiences were like, enroll in a breastfeeding or baby-care class, ask your pediatrician if their office has a lactation consultant in the office. All of these steps will better prepare you to make choices.
You will hear people say “breast is best.” You will also hear them say “fed is best.” Neither of these cute sayings really reflect the reality, though. Best-case scenario is that mama is educated and supported to make whatever feeding choice fits her and her baby’s needs.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help, mama. You don’t have to do this alone. But remember the choice of how to feed your baby is yours alone. Feel confident that you are the only one who knows what is best for your family. Feed that baby in whichever way works best for you, and apologize to no one.
Celebrate the beauty of different breastfeeding journeys through these photographs.