The first week in August marks World Breastfeeding Week, hailed by thousands who use this specially designated time to promote and celebrate the wonder that is a woman’s ability to provide nurture and nutrients to her child straight from her own body.
To be able to breastfeed our children is a remarkable gift that is unique to us as women and certainly worthy of honoring and having a dialogue about on an international scale.
In light of this, though, we recognize that there are some who may feel put off or isolated by this, such as mothers who wished and planned to breastfeed but had those plans derailed by factors outside of their control or women who, for whatever reason, decided not to breastfeed at all.
I believe there is a place for all of these stories and viewpoints at the collective table of motherhood. As a mother who chose both, I wanted to share my story.
My Breastfeeding Journey
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to breastfeed my son; I never really thought about the alternative of not being able to. At the same time, I did not have anything against bottle feeding or formula feeding and did not (nor currently) have any judgement towards moms who choose to go that route.
Based on the little bit of research I had done before giving birth, I knew there were many amazing and valuable benefits to breastfeeding for both my son and I, including:
- Breast milk containing antibodies that helps protect infants from illnesses, such as pneumonia
- Breastfed infants having a lower risk for SIDS
- Breastfeeding triggers the release of hormones in mom’s body which promotes bonding with her baby
- Breastfeeding helps reduce the risk in mothers of ovarian and breast cancer and can help the body heal faster postpartum
What I didn’t know about breastfeeding was how difficult it was going to be for me, personally. I was largely unaware that in my body’s journey to provide breast milk, there would be road bumps like mastitis, which was extremely physically painful.
I didn’t know there was such a thing as cluster feeding, and was unaware of the emotional and mental toll it could take. I never considered how affected my sleep would be by breastfeeding or the potential that it had to wreak havoc on my emotional state.
I think that lack of preparedness magnified some of the struggles I faced, which is why it is so important for communities to have readily available and easily accessible resources in place for moms as they strive to breastfeed their children.
Regardless of my struggles, though, breastfeeding my child was absolutely one of the most breathtaking and empowering things I’ve ever accomplished, and the blessings and benefits it brought us were invaluable.
I chose to breastfeed my son. It is a choice I am still proud of, would definitely do again, and would certainly encourage other women to explore. But it is never something I would shame another women for deciding against. Because I also chose to bottle feed my son.
In the first few months of his life, this looked like late night pumping sessions, lots of frozen breast milk stored in bags in our freezer and my husband excitedly taking on the opportunity to take his turn doing what I had been doing round the clock since our little man was born.
As my son got older, began eating solids and gained the capability of holding his own bottle, bottle feeding began to look like formula packets added to water and shaken till it was the right consistency and friends and family having the opportunity to hold, feed and bond with my son in a special way.
It was so good for my mental health to take a break from the pressures of round-the-clock feeding followed by pumping. My son was no less healthy. He was still nurtured. Still fed.
No Judgement, No Shame
As a mother who chose breastfeeding, I understand the importance of this week and the spotlight it shines. I remember being so afraid to nurse my son in public in those early weeks postpartum — worried that I’d be publicly shamed or harassed.
No woman should ever have to feel that way or be told to feel that way about taking care of her baby. I love that this conversation is happening and happening in a big way. Women who want to breastfeed deserve to have access to resources, like La Leche League, that will empower them to do so.
They deserve to be encouraged and cheered on by the world. They deserve to know that they have rights; in Missouri, for example, laws have been passed to ensure that, as stated by the Department of Health & Senior Services:
- The act of breastfeeding in public shall not constitute sexual contact or be considered an act of public indecency.
- A municipality shall not enact an ordinance prohibiting or restricting a mother from breastfeeding.
- Any nursing mother, upon her request, and with a completed written statement from her physician shall be excused from jury duty
So, as we continue on in World Breastfeeding Week, let’s remember that this week is less about casting superiority of one choice over another; we should focus on paving the way for women to be empowered to make the choice that is best for them and their children through education, accessible assistance and the understanding that wherever they are in their journey, they are not alone.