Something that takes many new mothers by surprise is just how many thoughts and feelings come up around breastfeeding. Awe at being able to create food from your own body. The warmth of bonding as you snuggle and oxytocin permeates your body. And for those who struggle to meet their breastfeeding goals, there is the gut-wrenching feeling of inadequacy. Somehow, in the effort to celebrate and advocate for the health-promoting miracle of breastfeeding, there has been an unintentional consequence of guilt and shame for those where exclusive breastfeeding isn’t possible or desired.
Instead of breastfeeding being an amazing way in which to care for and bond with your baby…it can seem like the only way in which to do so, leaving those who don’t breastfeed wracked with guilt. For many, there is a palpable fear that if they can’t achieve the ultimate goal of exclusively breastfeeding then they have failed to be a good mom.
But breastfeeding is far from easy for many women. From difficult latches, tongue ties, poor muscle tone, PPD, trauma, low milk supply, oversupply, aversions, D-MER (or dysphoric milk ejection reflex), lack of sufficient parental leave, limited support system…there are many factors that bring added layers of difficulty to breastfeeding.
To make matters more challenging, for the first months of baby’s life, their world--and yours--seems to revolve around feeding. Feeding a newborn is something that happens 8-12 times a day. If your feeding experience is a struggle, it can feel as though you can never escape. It’s a constant reminder of your perceived failure.
It is so easy to get lost in the spiral of guilt as we search for perfection. However, one theme can help serve as a life raft in those times we feel like we’re drowning in self-doubt.
I like the concept of being “nourished” as opposed to just being “fed”. Nourishment implies so much more. There is an element of true care and love that is imbued in the idea of nourishment. It feels more nurturing.
This is what every mama is doing for her baby. Underneath all of the anxiety and worry, the tears cried over feeding challenges, the overwhelming feelings of guilt…underneath all of these hard experiences is love. Wanting the very best for our little humans.
The fact that you are even considering what is the “best” way to feed your baby is solid proof that you already are the best mom for your baby.
So, whether you exclusively breastfeed, pump, use donor milk, combo feed, or exclusively formula feed, you CAN and ARE nourishing your baby.
Importantly, this goal of nourishment doesn’t just apply to baby. In order to have the energy, patience, and attention to tend to this beautiful little human…you have to start from within. A nourished mama is an essential foundation for nourishing your baby.
What does nourishing yourself look like?
- Eating meals that satisfy and enrich your body with nutrients
- Engaging in things that bring you joy
- Allowing yourself to choose foods that excite your taste buds
- Seeking the support you need
- Prioritizing your rest and recovery
We need to let go of the notion that prioritizing our own needs is selfish. The selfless mother who puts herself last is not the aspirational goal. Nourishing ourselves as mothers is the greatest gift we can give to our families.
Reframing this narrative of nourishment and breastfeeding is one that doesn’t always come easily. It can be extremely hard to feel confident and empowered as your baby screams instead of latching, as you watch your milk supply dwindle, as a stranger comments about the benefits of breastfeeding as you prepare your formula bottle. Your mind may start to race and doubts can creep in. It can be helpful to have some positive affirmations to lean on to help re-center.
Use these mantras in times of doubt or as a daily practice:
- “A nourished baby is a happy baby”
- “My body, my choice – no one else can tell me how to feed my child”
- “Being a good mom is so much more than how I feed my baby”
- “I am more than my breast milk”
- “In nourishing myself, I nourish my baby”
There are so many reasons why your feeding journey may be different than expected. However, more important than why it may look different is the fact that it is not reflective of your abilities as a mother. Good moms breastfeed. Good moms formula feed. Good moms love and nourish their babies and that is what we need to remember most.