Most of us set high standards for ourselves before we become new mamas.
Now more than ever, I feel like new mothers face so many pressures to be the perfect new parent to their perfect new baby—many of these pressures coming from a place within.
So, the minute I found out I was pregnant, I knew I would breastfeed for at least a year. Sort of like I know I am going to watch the next season of Game of Thrones. Just one of those givens in life.
It’s funny how nature has a way of knocking us down a peg or two when it feels the need.
My son was born at 7 pounds even. After two months, he had only put on half the weight he was projected to gain. He cried for hours (usually in the evening) and had trouble sleeping.
Individually, these signs could have meant anything…including the fact that he was a newborn who happened to have the genes of a petite little guy (much like those of me and my husband).
But I knew something wasn’t right. I was convinced my milk supply was low, but had no idea why. I had taken breastfeeding classes, read all of the baby books I could find and visited with a lactation consultant in the hospital after delivery.
What was I doing wrong?
After seeing another lactation specialist, I found out I was only producing half the milk my little guy needed. She (rather forcefully) recommended that I begin supplementing. Thinking this would likely reduce my supply further, I told her I would give myself a few more days to bring up my supply and then take her advice if necessary.
I cried all the way home (and so did my son). Combining her advice for increasing my supply with every other reputable (and otherwise) source of information I could find, I began my hunt for more “liquid gold.” I tried everything.
Mother’s Milk tea.
Weekly breastfeeding group meetings.
Pumping immediately after every on-demand feeding.
I even stopped trying to lose my pregnancy weight.
I also realized (no thanks to my lactation consultant) that the medicine I was taking for my seasonal allergies was likely reducing my supply, so I gave up clear sinuses, too! I was a woman on a mission, after all.
How did my supply fare? It did increase a bit, but never reached what my son truly needed, especially now that he was looking to catch up in weight. By the time he turned 4 months, I conceded that we needed to begin supplementing with formula.
I have never felt like such a failure. Just seeing another breastfed baby meeting a milestone before my little one only convinced me further that I had failed my son.
When others would ask if I was breastfeeding, I would say yes and then feel like a liar with a guilty secret.
Now that my son is two years old and I am starting to get the itch for a second little bundle of sweetness, I ask myself a few questions.
Would I do it over again
if I had to? Of course. I think most of us mamas would do whatever it takes to keep our babies as happy and healthy as possible…even if it means sneezing one’s way through a 4am pumping session. This time, however, things would go just a little differently.
For starters, I have learned that there is no such thing as being a failure as a mother.
Being a parent means successes and failures, but the fact that we wake up every morning (or every night) despite the failures of the previous day and continue on as parents, means that we are never truly failures.
We are simply learning, growing, and developing—much like our little ones.
Knowing now what I didn’t know then, what would I go back and tell myself if I could? Breastfeeding is not everything! There is no shame in nourishing your child—whether it is with breast milk or formula. Feeding your baby is all that really matters.
His happiness, health, and intelligence will stem from the love and care in your heart, not your breasts.
I take this hard-earned knowledge with me as I take my next steps as a mother and woman, knowing very well that I may face similar challenges the second time around. For myself and any other mama out there facing challenges with this ever-so-tricky breastfeeding business, I don’t care what society tells us. It doesn’t matter if we breastfeed or formula feed.
We are strength.
We are love. We are mothers.