Breastfeeding Guilt

The social pressure that gets put on women to breastfeed nowadays is really overwhelming. Lactivists are everywhere and pretty much as soon as you give birth the Nipple Nazis are afoot. There’s so much literature about why “breast is best” and why formula is evil. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t think that “breast is best”, because I do. Breastfeeding offers many, many more benefits than formula. Nutrients, immunities, vitamins.. But formula is not poison and it’s not evil. Nor are you less of a good mother if you have to feed it to your baby. You are not a bad mother if you CHOOSE to formula-feed your baby. Breastfeeding just isn’t for some people.

I wanted to breastfeed. I was determined to do it. It was hard…. Really hard. I got a lot of encouragement and support and I still wasn’t able to keep up with my baby’s needs.. And I carried a lot of guilt with that. My boobs weren’t up to par.. They couldn’t get in the game, so to speak.. Now when people congratulate me on my baby’s growth (she’s 9 pounds!) and tell me things like, “Good job”, I want to grumble “What for? I didn’t do anything.” The formula did. My body and my breasts couldn’t keep up with my daughter’s needs… I tried to stick with breastfeeding. I did. I got the Fenugreek, I nursed her often, I drank my weight (and then some) in water.. And it still wasn’t enough. When my little girl was screaming from hunger and I desperately supplemented the breastmilk she had already consumed with formula and she instantly fell asleep after eating, I breathed a sigh of relief. I made the decision to pump and supplement, because I was worried that feeding her bottles was developing nipple confusion. When I pumped, I did it every 2 hours like clockwork.. I was yielding 2 ounces every 2 hours and my daughter was eating 4 ounces every two hours. 2 ounces of breastmilk, 2 ounces of formula. You do the math; my boobs could not keep up.

I eventually became tired of pumping; my nipples were cracked and I was getting no sleep. Call me selfish if you will, but I felt like a better mommy to my girl when I was rested. So I stopped pumping. My Nellie is now a formula-fed baby, and I still feel a lot of guilt over it.

But why? Why do I feel so guilty for doing what I felt was best for my daughter and myself? I’m a lot more rested and in return, a lot happier and more patient when I care for Nellie. My baby daughter is never hungry. She always has a full belly and I never need to worry if she’s getting enough food. Do I miss the bond I felt with her when she’d nurse from my breast? Yes, I do… I will cherish the two weeks of memories I have where it was just me and my girl.. But I have plenty of other bonding times with her. When I bottle-feed her, I make sure to look into her eyes and kiss her often. I allow her to sleep on my chest, and I take naps with her there. I carry her close to my body and to my heart in our Moby wrap.. I have plenty of bonding with my daughter. And she’s a bottle-fed baby.

I agree with every breastfeeding advocate that breast is best.. What I don’t agree with is the pressure that’s put on women to breastfeed; followed by the guilt that comes when breastfeeding doesn’t work out or a woman chooses not to do it. Breastfeeding is something to be proud of because it ISN’T easy. But when it doesn’t work out or a woman chooses not to, it’s not something to be spoken of like someone died. There are a lot of people in this world who were fed formula as babies. I was formula-fed. My husband was formula-fed. And we are just fine. Happy, healthy.. Well rounded adults.

I guess what I’m saying is this: I wanted to breastfeed. My body didn’t agree. Could I have stuck it out, worked with a lactation consultant and maybe things could have turned out differently? Probably. But adjusting to life with a newborn, having a husband that works 12 hour shifts and adjusting to being on baby duty not only the entire 12 hours he’s at work, but the following 5-7 that he is home and needs to sleep as well was taxing. Maybe the next time around breastfeeding will work out better and maybe it won’t. I’m trying to come to terms with the guilt I feel regarding this. I am dreading my 6 week postpartum checkup with my doctor because I know she’ll ask how breastfeeding is going and I’ll have to “break the news” so to speak. Maybe it won’t be a big deal and she won’t even bat an eyelash. In my mind she’s going to shake her head, cluck her tongue and look at me with a mixture of disappointment and pity. I hope not, but in my mind that’s what will happen. I hope that someday soon I’ll be at peace with my decision to formula-feed. I have gotten a lot of support – people telling me that I’m still a good mom. That I did what was best. Maybe my guilt stems from me being disappointed in myself.. And that’s just something I’ll have to get over in time.

But one thing is for sure.. I love my daughter with all of my heart and feeding her from a bottle doesn’t change that one bit. Not even a little.