The ability that we as women and mothers have to breastfeed is an incredible, wonderful gift. It’s a miracle that our bodies can create food for our babies without much thought or effort on our part. It’s even more miraculous that our tiny, newborn babies know what to do instinctively, and that they can breastfeed just minutes after childbirth.
But breastfeeding can also be a challenge. It can hurt, cause anxiety, be hard to get the hang of, you might not produce enough milk, you might produce too much milk, your baby might have a food allergy, reflux, or be tongue-tied, you might get mastitis or clogged ducts, and on and on and on.
I breastfed my first baby for eight months. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies, but when he lost interest and weaned himself, I had no regrets and felt good about how long I’d nursed him.
With my second baby, I wasn’t producing enough milk by four months, so when she figured out how to take a bottle of formula at six months and immediately stopped nursing, I didn’t feel bad; I had nursed her as long as I could. But when I went out in public and fed her formula, I felt like a lot of other moms were judging me for giving her a bottle when she was still pretty small.
I nursed my third baby until he was 13 1/2-months-old. When I sat in the same room as moms who were nursing their younger babies, I felt like I was getting judged again because I was still nursing him past his first birthday. I was proud of myself for nursing him so long, and was actually sad when I decided to wean him, but I still felt like I had been judged a few times for nursing him so long.
My experiences breastfeeding my children were all different, and while I personally felt like I was doing what was best for my babies and myself, I also felt a little guilty and judged by other moms, even when I really had no reason to.
There are a lot of decisions that revolve around feeding our babies. Should we exclusively breastfeed, supplement with formula, or exclusively formula-feed? Should we cover up when nursing in public or feel free to openly nurse wherever we are? Should we start solids at four months or exclusively breastfeed until six months and then introduce solids? Should we pump and give our baby milk from a bottle a few times a week? Should we exclusively pump when we go back to work? And how long should we breastfeed our babies? Is a year okay or should it be longer?
Every parent and baby and family are different, so of course our decisions around feeding our babies aren’t going to be the same, either. And we need to remember that’s 100% okay!
Now before I go any further, yes, I know that this is World Breastfeeding Week, and that the point of WBW is to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding worldwide. Yes, I agree that in most cases, breastfeeding is what’s best for mom and baby. We’ve already established that breastfeeding is amazing, and I’m absolutely not writing this to say you shouldn’t breastfeed.
But the most important thing to remember is that the decision whether to breastfeed or how long to breastfeed is based on what is best for you and your child. Not what your own mother did, not what your best friend or sister-in-law does, and not what that random mom at the park is doing. They may think they know what’s best for you and your baby, but only you can decide that. And honestly, as long as your baby is fed and healthy, why does anyone care how you feed your baby?
Making the decision to breastfeed, when to stop, if you supplement, or if you exclusively formula-feed is such a personal, private decision. If breastfeeding doesn’t work out for you, whether that’s because you don’t make enough milk, because your baby has reflux, because you tried for a few months and dealt with D-MER, or for some other reason, it’s okay to stop. If you breastfed your first baby for a year and just want to formula-feed your second baby from the start, that’s okay. If you want to supplement breastfeeding with formula, that’s okay. YOU get to make that decision.
We all hold ourselves to such high standards when it comes to parenting and we worry about being the best mamas we can. We definitely don’t need any outside pressure or judgment from other people, especially when it comes to feeding our babies. I know so many moms struggle with guilt when they can’t breastfeed, who feel judged when they breastfeed longer than a year, or even who think they know what’s best for another mom and her baby because of their own experiences. Can’t we just all support one another?
None of us know each other’s situations fully, none of us have all the details, and the only ones who can make a decision about how to feed their baby are the parents.
If you’re the one feeling judged or guilty for breastfeeding your baby past a year or in public or for just a few months, stop. Who cares what other people think?
If you’re the one giving other moms the evil eye for feeding their baby past a year or in public or for just a few months, stop. You don’t know them or their situation.
This year during World Breastfeeding Week, instead of protecting, promoting, and supporting only breastfeeding worldwide, let’s work on protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding, formula-feeding, healthy babies, happy mamas, and encouraging each other worldwide, no matter how we feed our babies. Because in the end, we all just want what’s best for our babies.