Breastfeeding is a wonderful, beautiful and amazing thing. We as mothers have the opportunity to give our babies life and to give it of our own bodies. The images are everywhere. Babies nursing happily at their mothers breast, sidelying moms, moms with twins. They all look so calm and relaxed.
Prior to the birth of our babies we are given loads of information demonstrating the importance of breastfeeding, the benefits our babies will gain from breastfeeding, not to mention how it is a natural experience that will be relaxing and will offer us the time to bond with our babies.
And then the baby comes. For some breastfeeding is easy, just like in the books we read, just like in all of the idyllic pictures that we see.
For others, it does not come easy. A poor latch can result in unbelievable levels of pain, blood in the milk, a child spitting up red milk, gashes in the nipples. Where is the breastfeeding we read about? Where is that wonderful, beautiful experience that we were expecting? Add to that sleep deprivation and a colicky baby and the thought of putting the baby to the breast can become a nightmare.
In the present subculture of women who see themselves as “natural” or “holistic” breastfeeding is endorsed over all else. Lactation consultants are there to spur you on, breastfeeding coaches paired through WICC. No matter what: keep breastfeeding! “The research shows you’ll get more sleep”; “The research shows your baby will get sick less.” All true.
But what if you simply can’t do it or simply choose not to? What if illness or pain or lifestyle issues makes supplementing or feeding exclusively with formula the best or only choice for you and your baby? What then? How will your peers see you? Will you be judged? Will you be perceived as depriving your child of their God-given right to a healthy immune system? Will your child get sick more? Will you be tainting their bodies with the cursed, man-made formula? Worse yet, will you be looked down upon by your family and peers? Will you be afraid or embarrassed to “admit” that you have supplemented with formula? Will you have to wear the scarlet “F”?
Our subculture (and what we wish for broader society) presents a very strong underlying and oftentimes overt message that those who do not breastfeed exclusively, or who choose not to altogether, should be ashamed of their choices. I clearly remember the shame that I felt when I announced to others that I was supplementing. It was clearly not the #1 choice.
I think it’s important for all of us to be sensitive to the messages that we put out into the world and to the reality of life and the reality of raising young infants, especially when raising them alone without a supportive partner, or when physical or life circumstances arise that make breastfeeding a difficult choice.
Breastfeeding is meant to feed and nourish our children. In the absence of breastfeeding what other choices remain? How do we nourish our babies? How do we keep them alive and help them to grown? Isn’t that the ultimate goal after all? Living up to a subculture’s subversive messages is an imposed stress – and one that can be ameliorated by speaking openly about ALL the options available, not just those that may be out of reach for some. And not only speaking openly about them, but accepting them and sending a positive message that formula and supplement, not breastfeeding if OKAY. It may even be what is BEST for your baby.