This isn’t really a post I ever thought I’d write. One, because I tend to stay away from topics that could be controversial since I firmly believe all parenting decisions are our own to make. And, two, because I don’t love using the word “breast” in things that my students/parents/etc. could potentially read. 😉 BUT, this topic has been on my heart for several months now (I’ve even started multiple drafts of this post), and when I saw that it’s World Breastfeeding Week, and their topic this year is “Breastfeeding and Work,” I felt like I HAD to write it. So here goes:
When Nora was just a few weeks old, we took her to church for the first time. I’ll be honest and say that I was feeling pretty proud of myself. All four of us were clean and dressed and out of the house with a new baby before noon. 😉 About halfway through the service, she started getting fussy so I took a bottle of freshly-pumped breast milk and excused myself to the “crying room” to feed her. When we got there, I was delighted to see several other moms with newborns in the room; but, after a little while, I realized I was the only one not physically breastfeeding my baby. It sounds silly even writing this out, but as I later reported to Jeff, I felt the inexplainable urge to say something like “This is breast milk in this bottle, I promise. My baby just doesn’t nurse well. I, too, am watching my dairy intake, avoiding alcohol, wearing nursing pads, and looking for clothing with ‘easy access.’ I’M PART OF YOUR CLUB TOO.” Even in the moment, I knew it was ridiculous. As a second time mom, I prided myself on the fact that I was more secure and confident in my parenting decisions this time around, but in those few minutes – and many similar ones since then – I felt guilty, embarrassed, and… left out.
I’m a breastfeeding mom, but I bottle-feed about 90% of the time.
The reasons aren’t important, but for reference, I make a lot of milk – WAY more than I need to feed my baby. This is a good thing in many ways, but it also means I feel full/uncomfortable all the time – even right after a feeding – and both of my babies have been fussy/had upset stomachs (I think) because they are basically drowned by milk when they are eating. I struggled through this for a long time when Sam was born in 2011, but I made the decision when Nora was only about two weeks old, that if pumping and bottle-feeding was better for both of us, then bottle feeding it would be. As an added bonus, this made my transition back to work at eight weeks much smoother and easier for all parties involved.
Today, Nora is a little over four months old, and she has never had anything but my milk. I have always breastfed during her middle of the night feedings – since she is sleepy enough to handle it, and it means I don’t have to go downstairs to warm a bottle, etc. – but the rest of the time she drinks pumped milk from a bottle. Since I’ve been home this summer and her little digestive system seems to be maturing now, I’ve added a few more breastfeeding sessions in there for convenience; but, for the most part, I’d call myself an “exclusive pumper.”
Nora is healthy and happy, and – even despite the inconveniences of having to pump multiple times a day – so am I. This has been a good fit for our family. BUT…
I’m still embarrassed when I bottle-feed my baby in public.
Before I say any more about this, please know that I DO NOT judge other moms for the way that they choose to feed their babies. I gave Sam formula beginning at six months old, and I’ve been the breastfeeding mom on the floor of Barnes and Noble. I also, honestly, have not felt judged by other moms. For the most part, I think the “Mommy Wars” (at least on this topic) are over, and there is much more a sense of “we’re all in this together” than of judgement and scorn. This isn’t a post about what’s right or wrong, it’s a post about MY OWN insecurities.
According to doctors and lactation consultants, the fact that I feed my baby exclusively breast milk is still rare. Apparently, many, if not most mothers still choose formula over breast milk today. Likewise, the media outcry over rights for breastfeeding moms would imply that these moms are still in the minority. This may be true; but, in my circle of friends/acquaintances, it feels much more “out of place” to bottle feed than it does to lift up my shirt or pull a nursing cover out of my diaper bag.
Being a pumping/bottle-feeding mom often feels like I don’t “fit in” to either club. I’m not a formula feeding mom OR a breastfeeding mom (at least not in the technical sense.) Most of the time, I’m OK with this. I know I’m a good mom. I’m confident that bottle-feeding is a good fit for our family (both for the physical reasons listed above and the practical fact that I work full-time 10 months out of the year). But, sometimes it is a really lonely place to be, and I’ve been surprised (disappointed?) by how much it has bothered me.
I wanted to write this post because I suspect I’m not really alone. I know there are others of you out there. Maybe you’ve even considered inventing a sticker for bottles that says “BREAST MILK” and then realized how absolutely insane and unnecessary that is and felt bad for even thinking it too. Maybe you’ve made the mistake of “attempting” to breastfeed out in public because it is easier/more “normal,” only to have to drive home to a bottle with a screaming baby and leaking boobs too. Maybe you’ve been vaguely jealous of the mom nursing in the dressing room while you search for a place to get hot water to warm a bottle too. Maybe you’ve mourned the intimacy and convenience of breastfeeding, while at the same time, been thankful for the freedom of bottle-feeding too. If so, I hope you feel like “part of the club” today.
You’re doing a good job Momma. So am I.
Happy World Breastfeeding Week!