“Breast is best!” is akin to “Back to sleep!” as the most overused phrase for a healthy baby.
My son eats about 82% breast milk (I’ve done the math)…and I hate that it’s not 100%. I pump at work, I breastfeed at home, I try to make ‘enough.’ It is stressful. Since he is a preemie, there’s even more pressure to give him the ‘perfect’ food to make up for his early arrival.
I actually LIKE breast feeding, but it’s time-consuming, energy-depleting and sleep-depriving. I don’t have a solution to the guilt, but articles like this one from The Washington Post help:
Doctor says: When it comes to breastfeeding, your health and happiness matter as much as your baby’s – By Vivien K. Burt, Sonya Rasminsky and Robin Berman
Whoever said, “Don’t cry over spilled milk” couldn’t possibly have been talking about breast milk. As reproductive psychiatrists who specialize in treating women who suffer from depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum, we see far too many tearful new mothers for whom breastfeeding is a source of self-recrimination.
Doggedly determined to provide breast milk exclusively for their babies, these moms endure breast and nipple pain, around the clock pumping, sleep deprivation, anxiety, and chronic feelings of inadequacy—all for the sake of doing what’s “best” for their babies. As physicians, we think we know better, but as mothers, we too bought into the dogma that breast is best at all costs. We would never have taken our own advice: when it comes to breastfeeding, your health and happiness matter as much as your baby’s.
Sheepishly we recently shared our secret stories of shame with one another:
“I proudly accumulated a freezerful of stored breast milk by routinely pumping immediately after nursing. I was happy that my baby never had to have formula, and I was devastated when I had to throw away gallons of expired milk. To this day, I have deep regret about my choices. I wish that I had never bought the pump; my time would have been better spent bonding with my baby.”
“When I went back to work when my baby was five months old, I was so ashamed that I had switched to formula, I lied to all my friends and coworkers.”
“For me, nursing was harder than medical school. My milk was slow to come in and my baby howled whenever I put him to the breast. It hurt so much that I cried. I was so determined to feed him breast milk that I didn’t realize that he was getting dehydrated. Even when he was hospitalized with an IV, I felt that my most important task was to try to pump milk for him. In retrospect, I wish that I had transitioned to formula—we both would have been happier.”
Sharing these stories, we wished that we had put less pressure on ourselves. Despite our knowledge about the importance of maternal mental well-being to healthy mother-baby bonding, we let shame and guilt eclipse our good sense.