With this being World Breastfeeding Week, I find myself reflecting on my personal experience with breastfeeding, a time which was extremely difficult yet has had a lasting impact on the way I view this issue.
When I was pregnant with my daughter I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I never, ever entertained the idea of formula feeding. Ahead of giving birth I set myself up for total breastfeeding success. I had a great breast pump to bring to work with me. I had a doula at my birth to help me establish a breastfeeding routine right away. I wanted to do whatever I could to ensure that I’d be able to breastfeed for as long as possible.
But then I had a very traumatic birth experience and was forced to confront a different reality. Less than a week after my daughter was born I experienced profound postpartum anxiety and had to make the decision to stop breastfeeding in order to take care of my own mental health needs. Amazingly, it was actually my lactation consultant who was the first person to let me off the breastfeeding hook. She was absolutely incredible and let me call her at all hours of the night for support. On one morning when I called her franticly because I just had this all-consuming feeling of not wanting to breastfeed my baby (that was the anxiety talking) she told me that sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work out and that that’s completely OK. She said the most important thing for my baby was to have her mom healthy and happy. I felt such incredible relief hearing those words.
That experience has really shaped me and challenged me to rethink my own judgments about feeding choices. While I’m so glad there’s a week dedicated to educating and empowering women to breastfeed, I also find myself very sensitive to the experiences of those who weren’t able to breastfeed, or those who simply choose not to.
What a woman does with her body is really her choice and sometimes, as was my experience, not breastfeeding isn’t even really a choice – it’s just not possible. It’s easy to say, “Well everyone should breastfeed because it’s best for the baby,” but in the end what’s really best for the baby is a happy, healthy mother that feels supported in her choices.
So as we celebrate all of the wonderful things about breastfeeding let’s also remember that what works for us might not work for someone else. We all somehow nourished and fed our babies and in the end, that’s really all that matters.