I was cooking dinner last night and heard a TV host saying something about Khloe Kardashian being shamed over breastfeeding. Of course, I poked my head into the living room to hear what was being said. Apparently, Khloe tweeted that she was being shamed for not exclusively breastfeeding her child. She bravely admitted that she tried but could not produce enough milk. It got me thinking about how freely other people’s opinions seem to flow (pun intended) about our boobs.
I have to be honest, before I got pregnant with Lily I didn’t think much about breastfeeding. I would feel uncomfortable if I saw a woman nurse in public and I would think it was strange when I read stories about women breastfeeding their three-year-old’s. I’m not proud of that, trust me, but it is honest. I try to keep in mind how I used to feel when I hear about “breastfeeding shamers.” It’s helpful for me to know that it is likely ignorance causing their opinions. So many people have no idea how difficult nursing can be and how demanding it is (so, I’m sorry if my child needs to eat in front of you!). Just because women may nurse in public or post photos nursing, it doesn’t mean they are asking for your opinion. We’re either not thinking twice about it or wanting people to understand it is normal and there is a need to desensitize the public. Similarly, if you see a woman with a newborn giving her baby a bottle of formula, she’s also NOT opening herself up for criticism, her baby needs to eat and none of us should be forced to feed our children in private. I can’t tell you how much my opinions have changed since I became educated and especially since I became a mother!
I’m still nursing Lily after 17 very long months. Our breastfeeding journey has been nothing short of a rollercoaster. At the beginning, I had such extreme oversupply that Lily actually choked on my milk and turned blue in the hospital. At my worst I was feeding her 6 to 7 times a day and pumping an EXTRA 32 ounces of milk every single day. Yes, almost an extra liter of milk was coming out of my breasts. I was so exhausted and in so much pain, mentally and physically, I almost quit after 8 weeks. I had the best IBCLCs (Internation Board Certified Lactation Consultant) in the area helping me and none of them could figure out how to slow it down. I plan on writing a post more in-depth about my nursing experience in a later post, but I just wanted to give you an idea how draining and demanding nursing can be. Eventually, I was on the other end of the spectrum, my milk supply got so low I had to take lactation supplements and pump 4 times a day to get my breasts to produce enough. I’ve had mastitis 3 times and so many plugged ducts I can’t even count. I just left Lily overnight for the first time a few weeks ago (at 16 months old), because I’ve always been terrified that if I leave her my milk supply will drop.
I stuck with exclusive breastfeeding despite it dragging me into postpartum depression. So, was it worth it? Yes…well now I feel like it was, but, I tell EVERY mommy-to-be that I meet that if breastfeeding just does not seem to work for you there is NO shame in supplementing or stopping altogether. I mean imagine how big of a difference it could make in a mommy who was struggling if dad gave baby 1 bottle of formula in the middle of the night…mom could get a full night of sleep and more equipped to handle the next day. Of course, it would be wonderful if every woman could breastfeed, but that is just not in the cards for some of us…and that is OKAY! We are not defined as mothers by how much milk we produce and for how long we produce it. You can be equally as wonderful a mother if you don’t nurse a day in your life, just like women who breastfeed can also have parenting struggles in other ways.
If you are a new mom or a mom-to-be, I want you to know that you are going to be shamed for something. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll be criticized for nursing in public or for nursing too long or told your baby is going to be “too dependent.” If you don’t nurse, you’ll be asked: “why?” or told, “you know it’s best for the baby” or given some judgmental look. Well, I want you to read me loud and clear: What you do with your body and your child is no one’s problem but your and your partners’ (unless, of course, your child is in imminent danger).
Breastfeeding is the most challenging task I have ever tackled in my life. I mean, seriously, I became clinically depressed over it! Whether you’re a celebrity or a normal mom, you just need to do the best you can. If you plan to nurse, prepare yourself by watching some educational videos, reading lactation books and finding an IBCLC in your area you are able to get in with within days after your birth. Even if you don’t think you’ll have any issues, it doesn’t hurt to contact an IBCLC and let them know you may be calling around your due date. Do the best you can to continue nursing and if it ever gets to be too much, make the decision that is best for your family.
We all have our opinions. There is nothing wrong with feeling one way or the other about what another mom is doing. However, there is something wrong with saying it to them. You are not being helpful telling another mother she should or shouldn’t be doing something. New moms have it hard enough, they know what they should be doing but it isn’t always possible. It’s time to have some compassion and not just assume you know what’s best. Your version of a perfect mommy and theirs might be different. If you want to be helpful, say to a new mom:
“Hey, if you have low supply, I know about this supplement you can try (or whatever resources you have). If you’re ever interested in hearing more about it, just let me know. I know how difficult nursing can be. You’re doing great, mama.”
Let’s stop thinking we know what is best for every woman because we just don’t. If you see a woman nursing her four-year-old in public, instead of being shocked, think to yourself how amazing it is that she has dedicated so much of her time and body to provide the perfect food for her child. If you see a mom feeding her 3-week-old a bottle of formula, think to yourself how much that mama probably would have loved to produce milk for her baby.
As an advocate for breastfeeding AND for self-care, I need to tell every mother that you should never be made to feel less than or embarrassed about what you are doing. If your baby is being well fed either by bottle or by breast, you are doing great.
I have tons of other breastfeeding resources I would love to share with you, so stay tuned!
All the love to you wonderful mamas. You too, Khloe! 😉