“The I Support You movement is a respectful, empathetic, compassionate exchange between parents. We all feed our children differently, but we are all feeding with love, and in ways that work for our individual circumstances and family dynamics. I Support You is the first step in helping formula-feeding, breast-feeding, and combo-feeding parents to come together and lift each other up with kindness and understanding.”
-from Mama From the Bay
It’s National Breastfeeding Week (and month) and somehow a year has passed since I wrote about breastfeeding last. So much has changed since then especially since Elizabeth is no longer nursing. We weaned at 13 months old and everyone has been doing great.
I wondered what to write this year given our new routine and I decided that I was not going to write a post about the great benefits of breastfeeding or how “breast is best.” I don’t want to tell you that it’s liquid gold or god’s gift of nutrition. I’m not going to make you feel like you are less of a mom if you choose formula or don’t even give breastfeeding a try. Because it’s not true. There are times in your mothering when you feel like you are less than what you should be. And it’s a lie.
I don’t want to make insensitive remarks, though I know I’m not immune from this and I don’t want to make a blanket statement with a “but” attached like this, because they make me cringe inside:
“Breastfeeding is the best thing for your baby and everyone should try it, but if it doesn’t work, I won’t judge your or make you feel like you are less of a mom. You aren’t.”
Instead I’m going to make a statement like this…
“I support you. Breastfeeding is not always the best choice. And that has nothing to do with whether your milk flows or not. You are a fantastic mother for caring for your child and providing them with an abundance of care and for feeding them with love.”
End of story.
Because I’m tired of hearing the “but”. I’ve noticed that I use the “but” too often when talking about things I’m passionate about. Most of us state our politically correct, blanket statement and then we throw in the “but” to tell it like we really see it. It’s everywhere and more than ever I’m trying to remove it from my lips. It’s going to be hard, because I know I do it more than I care to think about, but I’m trying. Because it’s not always helpful and it’s not always loving. There’s a time for it of course, but not when talking about breastfeeding vs. formula. We need each other in our mothering. We need a community that comes alongside and says “I support you”.
And so here’s the real story behind our story. About halfway in I wanted to quit. I wanted to stop breastfeeding because I wanted my life back. I know we’re supposed to lay down our lives for our kids but I wanted the flexibility back. I wanted to leave her and not worry about pumping and washing parts. I wanted to let others feed her and just go about my day. But I never quit because I was too ashamed. You see, I didn’t have a good enough reason to stop.
Isn’t that silly? I felt, somehow, in my very depths, that I needed to have a reason to back up our decision. My reason was purely selfish. I produced milk. I was able to breastfeed. I just didn’t want to anymore. I knew the benefits but I also knew plenty of children that were thriving without being fed breast milk. In my mind the benefits weren’t swaying me to continue. And no, I, deep down, didn’t feel like a horrible mother because I would have turned my back on the benefits of liquid gold. I felt like one because of what I thought people would say or think. Which, of course, is a whole different struggle.
The story continues in that around that point I relayed all of this to our pediatrician and she shared with me astounding advice. “Just give her formula some of the time”. Plain as day. And you know what, we did. When we went out we left formula bottles. At night before bed, when she was 9 months old, we topped her off with formula. It provided just the break I needed to continue to one year. And at 11 months we introduced milk and made our way down the path of weaning. And if we had another baby I’d probably do the same thing when it came to feeding our baby. Because selfishly I liked that I lost the weight and I liked that we saved money and you know what, the benefits to Elizabeth were just the icing on the cake.
Maybe you are reading this and are feeling your heart beat a little faster or you’re thinking in your head, wow, she’s so selfish. The benefits for breastfeeding are clear, why wouldn’t you want to give your child the best? Doesn’t she know how amazing God made the woman’s body to provide for her baby? A few years ago I may have felt that way too.
And while that’s okay, I hope you’ll reconsider.
You see, Alex and I and millions of people across the Earth, in countries that do not promote breastfeeding and in our own culture, grow up to be well-adjusted, smart, healthy adults. And not everyone gets that liquid gold. And there are too many women who feel the pressure to breastfeed and just can’t throw in the towel even when it’s the best scenario for them, their baby, and their families. There are too many women coming home from the hospital in tears because they can’t or they don’t want to or they feel the heavy weight of guilt.
And that is wrong.
No one, especially in the days after childbirth, should feel immense guilt on how they are feeding their babies. No one should come home in tears because their milk didn’t come in or they don’t have enough. No one should feel like the only way to bond with their baby is by breastfeeding them. No one should feel saddened because they are not meeting the expectations of the world they live in. Because it’s a lie.
We know the benefits. We’ve heard the testimonies. We hear the roar of breastfeeding advocates. We observe with our eyes the number of covered babies. We know breastfeeding can be good and is good for so many.
But women also need to feel like they are supported whether they breastfeed or not; instead of feeling like they are wearing a scarlet letter if they choose not to. For any reason. And here’s some encouragement…for 13 months I breastfed a girl who was not attached to feeding. She was on and done in under 10 minutes from the time she was around 3 months old. It wasn’t a comfort for her. It wasn’t some great bonding experience. It wasn’t what all those people claimed. And I feel as close as ever to Elizabeth. Alex and I have bonded with her, we love to cuddle her up. And that had nothing to do with the breast in her case.
I know so many bright, well-educated, smart, courageous women have chosen formula from day one. I know women who’ve given formula because breast wasn’t best for them. I know women who’ve courageously faced the crowd of naysayers.
And they are excellent mothers.
And believe it or not, their children are healthy, smart, and incredibly delightful.
At the end of the day we are going to face thousands of decisions when it comes to parenting but if 13 months have taught me anything it’s that I need to figure out what is best for my husband and I and our children. And that is going to look differently, I hope, from others. Because we are not clones. We are individuals, unique families, all trying to do the best for those we love.
I support you because we need each other far more than we could ever imagine.
We need to know we’re supported by the ones we love. And we need to know we’re supported because parenting is tough, selfless, work. It’s hard work.
But I’m sure you’d agree, completely worth it.
Huffington Post has an excellent article here: