Congrats, you’re expecting! You’re excited about the tiny bundle of joy growing in your womb, and you’re reading through the Google search results to prepare for this new adventure. You planned out the music to play when laboring (Enya is relaxing). You have your stretchy pants picked out for post-labor comfort, and are plotting out which brand of lavender aromatherapy you’ll use to ease your labor pains. You may also be planning to breastfeed.
This is where I burst your bubble. The number one rule of parenthood that you will soon learn is that you can’t plan for everything, and, most of the time, you can’t really plan for much of anything.
No matter how many adorable, organic cotton onesies you order from that boutique you fell in love with on that trip to Laos, your baby will spit up on all of them and you will end up buying cheap onesies in bulk. You may end up taking all the medicine you said you’d never take during labor or welcome baby into the world via a C-section.
And your plans might go out the window when you’re faced with real-time decisions that you didn’t think to Google. Breastfeeding is one of those things that might not always go as planned.
And yet, as with many of the surprises parenthood brings, I’m here to tell you it will be okay.
Many expecting moms want to breastfeed. After all, society says breast is best, but few people tell you just how hard it can be. And no one stops to think that using hyperboles like “liquid gold” to describe breast milk is a huge disservice to the many who end up not being able to or who really don’t want to breastfeed.
You might have a nurse in the hospital who puts baby on your nipple and tries to teach them how to latch. But when it’s 2 a.m. and your 1-day-old baby is screaming with hunger and you’re not producing enough milk to satisfy them (and baby is not remembering the lesson from the nurse earlier in the day), the whole breastfeeding thing can feel less like the euphoric bonding experience you preemptively imagined and more like a gut-wrenching impossibility that makes you want to rip all of your hair out of your head.
But you refrain from ripping all of your hair out of your head. Mostly because too many other parts of your body already hurt. And that would require more energy than you have.
You might take all the herbs and pay all the certified lactations consultants and attend all the La Leche meetings, and yet, it’s still not happening. Maybe baby isn’t latching. Maybe it simply doesn’t feel good. Maybe your breast milk doesn’t agree with baby. Maybe you bought all the pumping accoutrement and try all of the elimination diet suggestions until you’re practically eating just lettuce and iced water exclusively, but baby is still gassy and fussy and sick. Maybe you just don’t want to breastfeed. It’s your body, after all. They’re your precious breasts.
You have a right to do what you want with them and you shouldn’t feel pressure to use them to nourish the next generation if that makes you feel uncomfortable. Or if you have to return to work sooner than Mother Nature intended and you don’t want to risk leaking during important meetings, or stopping to pump every three hours. All of these things happened to me, and they happen to a lot of us. And it’s not the end of the world.
So I’m here to tell you it’s okay if breastfeeding doesn’t work out.
I know you may feel shame or a sense of failure. You may fear that your baby will get more ear infections, or be overweight, or that you won’t bond as strongly, or they’ll miss out on all of the other benefits of breastfeeding.
I experienced all of the feelings of guilt and remorse when breastfeeding didn’t work out for me and my little one. I felt like I did something wrong and was failing my child. But the truth is whether you breastfeed or formula feed, it’s unlikely to have a discernible effect on your child’s long-term health or wellbeing. In fact, studies indicate breastfed babies do not have a cognitive advantage over other children.
Worrying about the fact that you’re a failed breastfeeder could, though, have a negative impact on your own mental health. One study found that women who planned to breastfeed but were not able to were twice as likely to suffer from postpartum depression as women who were able to feed their babies as planned.
So how do you deal with these feelings? Perspective helps. There are generations of human beings, namely the majority of those born in the decades of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and even ’90s, who were exclusive formula babies. Our moms didn’t breastfeed because they were taught formula was the preferred, “healthier” alternative, and it didn’t require tiny humans hanging off their bodies all day, which must have been a revelation at the time.
Social pressure to breastfeed places undue pressure on new moms to produce or fail your baby. It comes from online forums and social media groups, and even from doctors and other professionals. I have seen new moms going to great lengths to avoid supplementing with formula, out of the misguided belief that it’s somehow wrong or because they’d been made to feel that doing so would mean “throwing in the towel.”
All that matters is that baby gets fed. It doesn’t matter how that happens. Whether you feed your baby breast milk or formula, the only thing that’s important is that baby is getting the nourishment they need.
When I finally gave up trying to feed my baby my milk, I ended up donating nearly 1,000 ounces of pumped milk to a mom who wasn’t able to produce her own milk and had a sick, underweight baby who could only tolerate breast milk.
In the end, I was able to feed my healthy baby with formula that suited him best, and I helped someone else’s baby thrive. When I was finally able to get over my guilt and disappointment in not being able to breastfeed, I realized that some might not call that a failure at all; in fact, some might see it as twice as successful.
This story originally appeared on Apparently.