Best Feeding.

Best Feeding.

posted in Breastfeeding, On Motherhood on with 26 Replies

I’m sorry for judging you.

You may have never known it, but I did.

I may have never even uttered a cross word aloud but my own thoughts were enough.

Everyone knows that breast is best, silly. If you are choosing something other than the best for your baby then what kind of mother are you? {insert implied superiority here}

I thought that if only you’d tried a little harder, if you’d sought support, if you’d cared a little more then you would have been able to succeed.

I couldn’t even bear the thought, that you may simply not have wanted to nurse your child. That you had that right.

Because I’d been through hell and been able to, so why. Why couldn’t you?

The truth is: my militance, my self righteousness, my ignorance made me blind.

Despite what I’d been through, the art of breastfeeding was easy for me. My tiny little preemie latched and sucked and was satisfied. He nursed and grew (and grew and grew and grew) and it was blissful and joyful and easy. It was magical, all three years of it, and this is how it should be for everybody. Right?

Oh, first time mom me, how I would slap you in the face give the opportunity.

I apologize because {obviously} I couldn’t have been more wrong. More naive. More ridiculous in my assumptions. I apologize because I know friends and acquaintances and strangers who are this previous me. Who currently feel as I once did. Who judge the mom at the park lovingly holding her babies bottle blissfully unaware of it’s backstory.

My story this time around couldn’t be more painful. Even with it’s happy ending it has been filled with struggle and triumph and fault. This time I realized in the most delicate of ways, that clearly what is best for our babies, what is best for ourselves, is what is best for us. It is what works. What allows us to provide love and nourishment for our children while being sane ourselves.

While my second tiny preemie latched and sucked she also didn’t. She relied on tubes for a lot longer than her brother did. I tethered myself to a pump for cumulative weeks in an effort to provide what was best for her. For weeks we did this multi-hour dance of tube feed, breast feed, pump and back again. Over. and over. and over and over. Around the clock. It was stressful and exhausting and I so often wanted to quit.

I didn’t but then the funniest thing happened. Right at this juncture where hope upon hope led me to believe she would transition to breast, we could ditch the tube and the pumping and go on our merry magical way. We didn’t. She didn’t. We ditched the tube but my once full bosom was flat. My pump was churning on without result. I was empty and my baby was less than thrilled.

We did what we had to do. We supplemented with that once evil formula even. I pumped and pumped and cried and cried. I loaded myself up with meds and supplements and foods and water and hope. And nothing. I spent days on end crying uncontrollably, feeling like a failure, feeling like less of a mother because the almighty me couldn’t give my child what she needed. Moments worrying about who would judge me when they saw me feed my child.

The funny thing was, my child didn’t seem to notice. She didn’t cry any more or snuggle up to me any less. She was happy and full and growing. She was as bonded to me before the bottle as after and I to her. And in the interim I felt this crazy notion called relief.

What once felt like quitting became surrender. Peace. Awakening. Perhaps what I wanted for my child and what she needed were not one in the same. Perhaps what my body had been through over the past many months was too much for it to continue. Perhaps the universe was resoundingly demanding that I take it easy on myself for once.

So I did.

And those three days of reluctant bottle feedings became three days of rest. Three days of growth. Three days of reflection and realizing that I had been so deliberately focused on so many of the wrong things.

Mother friends I look up to, who I abundantly adore, came out of the wood work as bottle feeders. They shared their stories of struggle I’d never known. They echoed my fears of judgment but stated resolve in their decisions. They all made the choices for their babies that were best FOR THEM. I would never judge these women. Even if I’d known. I admire them.

As I write this my baby is gulping happily at my breast. I consider us blessed that we’ve been able to resume breastfeeding and do so exclusively. Not because we’re better, or we’ve tried harder (even though we’ve worked REALLY hard) but because for me and my child at this moment in time it’s simply what is best for us.

Someday our children will all be 15 and no one will know (or give a damn) if they were fed from a breast or bottle anyway right?

And so the current me offers my apologies again for the former me. The naive me and all of the other well meaning yet wrongly militant mama’s who have stood beside me. Someday may they see the light.


26 Comments on “Best Feeding.

  • This is beautiful and brave and so true. As a middle school teacher, yeah. I can’t tell you which of my students were breastfed or bottle fed. At all. I can, however, tell which students have parents who love them and do what is best for them, whatever that may always be.

  • Darling, I am so sorry that you have been forced to fight so very hard, but proud can’t even begin to describe how I feel about you now. It isn’t about your baby at the breast… it is about the calm and peace in your heart. I am so proud of you for giving her the best gift in the world… a happy you. You have done amazing things, as has she. Congratulations to you both. We love you!

  • I’m glad you were able to let go of your judgement of others and also that you got your nursing relationship back too. Part of the reason we are so divided though is that there is still such an uphill battle to get back the community network of women that knew all about breastfeeding. Lots of mothers end up in situations that they don’t understand, and there’s a lack of help for her because the doctors don’t know enough, and the women that used to come to a mother’s aid, long ago lost that art. And what about wet nursing? In many countries it’s still the norm, but here, people are all squeamish about it, like it’s dirty, instead of the honorable gift of surrogacy it is. I just wanted to mention it, because I rarely see anyone speak of it.

    • I completely agree that the need for a better communal understanding for breastfeeding is needed. \ I suppose I understand the move away from live in wet nursing and will say that milk sharing communities are thriving all over the place (mostly mothers who pump and donate). I nursed another baby while my son was an infant and would do it again in a heart beat.

  • This is an amazing post Ashlee. Seriously amazing. I have been that mother that felt shameful to break out the bottle and feed my baby in public… wondering what others may think… what the “crunchy nursing moms” would assuming… and it really really bothered me for many many years. When I had baby Reed I remember those fits of tears… uncontrollable crying! I am serious, there were nights when I had to give Reed bottles in the early days, when he was continuing to just drop weight…. and id have to supplement, that I would sob for hours. Blaming myself and honestly was so confused I couldn’t even think straight. I still remember so vividly… after being to the hospital with him to see yet another lactation consultant… she told me “You are doing everything 100% right… but for some reason your body just will not let down the milk…” – she gave me supplement suggestions (which I was already taking) and sent me on my way. Reed continued to scream… and loose weight and I just had to make the decision to feed my baby… and stop being selfish just so I could “say I nursed…” we were both miserable honestly and while there are sweet moments to remember holding him close in that way… I could not be more happy now that he is on the bottle…. and thriving! I mean hes one healthy chunk of a dude!!! as are all my boys. All 4 of my boys had to be put on formula after 4 fails at nursing… gah what a mess it was lol… but like I think Ive told you before (its honestly hard to remember what I say these days haha)… my value is no less …. and my baby is no less, whether bottle or breast…. and I am so so SO THANKFUL we are able to access other ways to feed our babes…. otherwise we’d have a live in wet nurse ;-) – cause this happens more often than not… and I firmly believe that is why there were wet nurses back in the day… mothers even then struggled and needed that source of nourishment for their babies…. when their bodies wouldn’t do what “naturally” seemed right. We live in a broken world… and our bodies arent perfect… the cool thing is the Lord provides and I am so happy to see baby Nova thriving.

    I hope you find some rest in that sweet lil chunk of a cheek beside you. You’re awesome and your honesty is refreshing….

    and as a bottle mama… I greatly appreciate your words in apology… truly!

  • I felt that way with my first. I had ridiculous oversupply. I donated 22+ gallons to the milk bank and shared with friends who didn’t have enough. DD nursed for 37 months. I was that crunchy lactivist. When my DS was born, he had severe injuries that left him unable to nurse. I developed severe PPD and had to be hospitalized for it. I pumped and had to supplement until he was a month old or so and I could pump enough. Then I was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder. I was healthy through this pregnancy but then after delivery of my baby girl, my thyroid went nuts. My supply dropped drastically. She lost more weight. Was constantly screaming. Was dehydrated. So medically I had to supplement. My heart broke. My body failed me. Where there once was abundance now there was nothing. So now I’m pumping because she screams when she sees a breast. She won’t even try to latch on now. I can pump about 2/3 of what she needs. She’s 2 months old now. I hate pumping. I hate having to whip out the bottle if we’re out, and arranging my schedule to pump. Pumping with a 6yo and 2.5yo running amok isn’t fun either. But the baby must be fed. I am doing what I can to care for my kids and stay sane and get back to a euthyroid condition. My pediatrician said to pump for 8 weeks to give her the best possible start. I met that goal. My new goal is to pump until the end of winter, to get through the worst of cold/flu season. I can do it. And I’ve learned a lesson. Not all bottle feeding moms are doing it because they just didn’t feel like breastfeeding or pumping. Sometimes your body fails you despite your best efforts. Sometimes your baby has an injury that leaves him unable to nurse. Sh*t happens, lemons get handed out and you have to live with it. You make the best decision for your baby. Baby has to eat, and formula is what you do when you don’t make enough milk. Oh, and I was formula fed. DH was breastfed. DH and I both have genius IQ levels. I have a Masters. But I have these health issues which is why I was so adamant about breastfeeding. But you know, overall, I think I turned out okay. Better than okay.

    • I love everything about this. When I was struggling with giving Nova formula my mind kept coming back to that. As hard as this is right now in a couple of years will it really matter? Good for you for meeting your pumping goal and setting a new one! I pumped for 100+ days while Nova was in the NICU and simply couldn’t sustain it anymore. Pumping is hard and amazing.

  • My struggles came with my first baby. He had a severe tongue tie, and despite having it clipped at 2 days old, he still wasn’t able to latch on. They either didn’t clip enough or it grew back over, but the first time he latched on (with great difficulty and a lot of work and tears from both of us) was when he was 7.5 weeks old, after having his tongue clipped for the second time.

    Our story is long and full of ups and downs, of pumping and supplements, of doctors and IBCLCs and online breastfeeding support, so I won’t tell it all here.

    Suffice to say that the struggle I went through is what turned me into a huge breastfeeding advocate. Before that, I didn’t really have an opinion on breastfeeding vs formula feeding, except that I wanted to breastfeed my child. It was only after our struggle that I became passionate about it.

    The problem I run into is that people often assume that my passion = judgment of formula feeding moms. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because of my great struggle and all the other people I’ve listened to over the years, I don’t judge at all. I empathize. But far too many people assume that my advocacy for better support for breastfeeding mothers equates to judgment of formula feeding moms.

    I wish people could see that asking for a world where more moms can succeed at breastfeeding doesn’t mean judging those moms who couldn’t or don’t want to.

    • I completely understand. i wish that assumption didn’t exist. If those moms knew of the struggles I’m certain they wouldn’t judge but still there doesn’t need to be the baseline of defending oneself. You’ve done all you could, the best you could and that is phenomenal.

  • Reading this brought me to tears. I too struggled breastfeeding my second son. All the pumping, supplements, lactation consultations, and water intake did nothing for me. I felt like a failure and still do. He is 10 months old and when he was 4 months I had to start supplementing. I ended up all together giving it up at 6 months. I cried for weeks and still do. I miss him gazing into my eyes. It is what it is. I do still feel judged when I give him a bottle. I hate that I couldn’t provide fully for him. When I see or hear about other mothers breastfeeding I secretly envy them, but I am still happy for them because I was once there. I’m glad I did get to experience breastfeeding even if it wasn’t for the long haul. I don’t love my baby any different in fact my love for him runs deep. So thank you for posting because knowing that I’m not the only one who feels this way helps so much.

    • DON’T feel like a failure! You did all you could and are still doing what is best, what is necessary for your baby. Your love for him and care in his nourishment is MORE than enough. You are amazing.

  • Annie, I don’t think I could have said it better. This is NOT, nor should it be, about judgement! We feed our babies the best way we know how. This is about SUPPORT, and education, and networking, and support, and access to care, and–oh, did mention support? We need to be supporting ALL moms, because it really does take a whole village to raise a child–and a mom. Because the mom is being born, too. She is learning, and growing and BECOMING. And she will become her very best when she is empowered to do so. Yes, sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work out. It’s HARD–sometimes there are circumstances that become obstacles. Preemies are exceptionally hard. And so, when it doesn’t work out, we should be there for each other. But it should never happen because mom got bad care, bad advice, bad support. Whenever possible, it should be a fully informed decision, because, let’s face it–mothering with regrets feels awful! So we need to be listening to mothers, find out where they are, and then help them come to their own decisions, informed, empowered, supported, and nurtured–whatever decision feels right for her. Who knows what road she’s been down, how exhausted she is, what pain she’s had in her life. Yes, we know breastfeeding is best, and we know breastfeeding can even be healing, but maybe it’s not the right time for her. Maybe it wasn’t meant for this time. She will feel our words of nurturing, much more than all the well-intentioned facts that could be recited at this time. She shouldn’t have to apologize–to anyone. Pick your battles. Empower the mother. Her time will come.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughts! I’m grateful that we’ve been able to make it work but the battle has shown me to be gentle with myself and others.

  • Ok moms I have a question as a non-mom: you can bottle feed breastmilk, right? So why is there any sort of stigma associated with bottle feeding– even if you ARE super militant that breastmilk is best, you don’t know what’s in that bottle so why would you question?

    Like I said, I am not a mom, not even close, I don’t know anything about babies except that my 2 new mom friends are both feeding their baby breast milk, but one does mostly breast feeding directly and the other I think does a mix of pumping and breastfeeding, and I think part of the reason she is so into pumping is because her husband loves to feed the baby. I think he values that bonding time with his son, when it’s just the 2 of them and mom can sleep or shower or whatever. So
    Why is pumping/bottle feeding a different thing than breastfeeding?

    • I think the general assumption is that if one is bottle feeding they are feeding formula. For some breastmilk is great whatever the means, for others the bonds and benefits of breastfeeding from the tap are all powerful. It’s a silly battle that all too many moms get wrapped up in.

  • I really appreciated this post, thank you! My son is happy and healthy at 13 mos. old. I carried the superior attitude you spoke of before he was born. I once planned to breastfeed exclusively 1+ years and inwardly scoffed at people who didn’t do that.

    What I had anticipated would be easy & natural turned into something extremely difficult. I won’t give too many details, but low supply, difficulty latching and a tongue tie caused many problems. We had good moments, but it was an uphill battle the whole way filled with pumps, formula, cranial sacral therapy, herbal supplements, and special diets. I kept expecting it to get “better,” and it did get better but never to the point to let me free from a pump and formula and to nurse exclusively.

    At first it killed me to have to supplement. I felt embarrassed to pull out a bottle. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go! Nursing, bottle feeding and pumping still took a loooong time.

    I am so thankful for the people along the way who commended me along the way to tell me I was doing a good job. I longed to have a ‘normal’ nursing relationship, and grieved that it couldn’t happen. I eventually came to terms with what it was and enjoyed the good moments we had. We made it 9.5 months and I am so thankful for that.

  • Oh, my dear friend. This post is so full of truth and grace, I can barely read it without crying (pregnancy hormones, maybe?) Your heart is rare, one-of-a-kind, a diamond in the rough. I’m so lucky I’m your friend, that I can learn from you. Because you are the wisest mama I know. Love you.

  • Wow, beautifully written. This must have taken some courage to write. I’m very much the old you. Although, I overcame many struggles during those first few months of breast feeding, I find myself judging other mothers because they didn’t have the determination like I did. Yes, I am flawed and of course it is wrong to judge but we all judge in many ways. Reading your story is an eye opener for me. Through your own story, you have called me out and I needed that. I came to your site today to grab your granola recipe and I am leaving with a bit more. Thank you for sharing your story.


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