Let’s talk about breastfeeding. First of all, I think that it’s wonderful that the “breast is best” campaign has led to more support for women to breastfeed their babies. Over the last several years, there are more and more supportive organizations to help mothers with breastfeeding, including La Leche League, Milkworks, and lactation consultants that can help guide mothers to successful breastfeeding; “mother’s rooms” for nursing mothers appear all over the place, more public support for women to breastfeed and more information about the benefits of breastfeeding. This is all wonderful. Breastfeeding offers so many cognitive health benefits and supports bonding, for both baby and mother.
However, as a mental health therapist that specializes in perinatal mental health, I have seen the dark side of this motto. It seems that for many, breastfeeding has become what “good” mothers do. Well, there are many reasons why a woman may choose or not be able to breastfeed. There may be trauma issues, medical issues, or even employment barriers to breastfeeding. Women may struggle with supply issues and a baby going to the NICU especially can create barriers to successful breastfeeding. The “breast is best” motto has led to a view that formula is bad and that a mother feeding her baby with formula is “less than” in some way. This perspective may lead to a lot of self-criticism for mothers who do not or cannot breastfeed their babies. I have seen many women struggle tirelessly attempting to breastfeed and ultimately develop negative views of themselves if unable to succeed. This struggle can be a contributing factor to postpartum depression.
Often, mothers love their babies so much before they’re even born and put so much pressure on themselves to be perfect and meet their babies’ every single need. The desire to meet your babies’ needs is instinctive and how they survive. There is plenty of information out there that is helpful, but there is also plenty that adds to the pressure. There is also plenty of judgment from some about a mother not breastfeeding.
Over the years, I have seen mothers who feel their bodies have failed them. Mothers who question if they should’ve been a mom. Mothers feeling like they’ve already failed at motherhood. Many have identified this as a contributing factor and/or a major focus of their postpartum depression and/or anxiety. Many of these mothers have expressed pressure from others for their decisions regarding how they feed their baby.
I am supportive of breastfeeding, pumping and bottle feeding, and formula. I’m not a doctor and I don’t know all the evidence on pros vs. cons. However, I do feel confident in saying that these are the most important: your baby needs to be fed sufficiently and how that is happening is secondary; mom needs to take care of herself and choose what option is best for her.
The Fed is Best Foundation is a wonderful resource that promotes safe infant feeding, both in the form of breastfeeding and bottle feeding or a combination of both, while providing education and information on infant feeding, including risks of insufficient breast milk intake. In addition, they “strive to eliminate infant feeding shaming while prioritizing perinatal mental health.”
One final message: Mom, you are enough. If you love your baby and do what you can to take care of your baby and meet their needs, you are being a good mom. I know all your loved ones can tell you this, but sometimes it’s still hard to believe it. If you feel like you could benefit from additional support in the form of therapy, please feel free to contact me. I’d love to help you look in the mirror and be proud of the mother you are.