Breast is Best…except when it’s not

When you have a baby these days, particularly if you live in Portland, Maine (or any other “progressive” city) you are overwhelmingly pressured into breastfeeding. And don’t get me wrong – it’s great that breastfeeding is now the recommended way to feed baby, and that doctors and parents alike are beginning (or continuing) to realize its incredible benefits. However – in a well-intentioned attempt to promote the wonders of breastfeeding, it seems other choices (i.e. formula) have been demonized. And that’s wrong. And here’s why.

The milk monster
The milk monster

Breastfeeding is really $%*ing hard. And not just when your baby won’t latch, or your nipples crack, or you don’t produce enough milk, or whatever other physiological ailment you might be experiencing. It’s hard even when your baby hops right on the boob and gains 12oz in a week (yes, that would be Mia) and you experience little to no pain. It’s hard because babies need to eat every 1.5-3 hours, day and night. They don’t care if you need your hair cut, or to go for a run, or to buy groceries – or just to take a damn shower. They need to be nursed as soon as they’re hungry, 24 hours a day. Sometimes they want to nurse for 10 minutes, sometimes 90 minutes. Sometimes they want to eat every half hour for 30 minutes (which for those of you who are mathematically challenged…that means they nurse ALL DAY). And when you’re breastfeeding, this means they need YOU and no-one else ALL THE TIME.

“Feed me Mommy!!”

It feels like there is some sort of unspoken sentiment out there, that mothers should love this. Your baby needs you, all the time. They depend on you. You’ll miss this when they’re 16 and they won’t even look at you. It’s BONDING time. Feel the love. Right?

But sometimes, and maybe I’m a bad mom but I don’t think so, it doesn’t feel so lovey dovey. It feels like you want to sleep through just ONE of the nighttime feedings. And you want to go grocery shopping without having to whip out your boobs in the middle of the produce section. You want to go get your nails done or read a book or write a blog post in one sitting. But you can’t. Because you’re a professional milking cow.

“Why don’t you just pump a bottle so other people can help?” you might ask. And I will tell you why. Because when you’re breastfeeding AND pumping that means you have to nurse your baby for 15-30 minutes (ever 1.5-3 hours) and then immediately after hook yourself up to a cold, unforgiving nipple torture machine for ANOTHER 15-20 minutes in order to produce an ounce or two (if you’re lucky) of milk, which makes up LESS THAN ONE BOTTLE. So in order to pump enough milk to actually leave the house without baby for more than 5 minutes, you have to pump like, all the time. Every time you feed the baby. Including in the middle of the night (when you produce the most milk). You also have to immediately rinse, and sterilize all of the pump parts (there are many) after EVERY time you pump, even at 2am. And after all that work you take your child to the doctor where they almost universally question your baby’s weight gain (inadvertently questioning your ability as a mother to provide for your child). So you sit there and nod and smile and wonder if your body is in yet another way, deficient.

The reality is, I’m still exclusively breastfeeding Mia, and I plan to for as long as possible. I DO believe breast is best….for Mia and I. But for the first time (I admit it, up until Mia was born I DID secretly judge people who used formula – “they just didn’t try hard enough to make breastfeeding work”) I understand very clearly why breastfeeding is NOT best for everyone. Because while Mia and I are lucky that it’s come pretty naturally for us, and there are many times when I love it…there are also times when I SO WISH that someone else could feed her for a few hours, and I could have a break. And I can’t imagine how much stronger those feelings would be if she didn’t latch well, or my nipples were bleeding, or I wasn’t producing enough milk.

So when the stress of breastfeeding is causing your milk to dry up, or your hair to fall out (literally or figuratively) – or its making you resent your baby and feel unfit as a mom – then it’s NOT best. Babies grow up on formula all the time and they turn out great. And if that means mom can keep her sanity – then that’s what’s best – for everyone.

I’m so glad that medical professionals have finally come around to breastfeeding, and they are providing the extra support that many moms need to make breastfeeding a positive experience. But I hope that in their quest to help moms make the best choice for themselves and for baby – that they don’t ignore the fact that breast isn’t best for everyone. And that it’s OK to make a different choice for yourself, your baby and your family. Because formula can be best, too.

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