Women like to judge one another. Apparently, it’s how we’re wired because it takes a great deal of conscious effort to learn to suppress this desire. It’s really too bad, because we could offer a lot to one another if we weren’t so busy pushing our agendas at each other and defending our decisions.
Women who exclusively breastfeed, and who have been able to exclusively breastfeed all their children, like to say that women who end up bottling – whether formula or breastmilk – either were too selfish to breastfeed (in the case of formula feeding) or didn’t try hard enough (as in the case of bottle breastmilk). The truth is, breastfeeding sometimes just doesn’t work! Just like childbirth – sometimes, complications arise and the plan, and hope, of birthing naturally just doesn’t happen.
I’ve had three very different breastfeeding experiences, and I have yet to be able to exclusively breastfeed, due to circumstances waaaay out of my control.
My first baby was born nearly three months premature. I pumped my breastmilk but had to bottle it, for the first six months, because it needed to be fortified with a special medicated formula. She also had terrible reflux and, due to other health problems, needed to be fed upright. There was to be no breastfeeding, and I was disappointed.
My second baby was taken by a Cesarean section at 39 weeks to avoid a repeat placental abruption. She was healthy, but I hemorrhaged during the surgery. I was able to breastfeed but could not produce enough milk, so I supplemented with one to two bottles of formula a day for the entire first year. I did enjoy breastfeeding through the night and during the day, and didn’t have any additional problems other than learning how to latch-on in the beginning with inverted nipples. I was glad to have this breastfeeding relationship and that it was so smooth.
With this third baby, he was healthy from the beginning and I didn’t suffer from any birth complications, but breastfeeding has been difficult from the beginning. He was by far a stronger suckler than my second baby, and as he tried to pull out my inverted nipples, both of them tore. And then we both got yeast, except mine never went away. Turns out, I’m allergic to almost every yeast remedy out there, natural or prescription. The only ones I’m not allergic to, or have an adverse skin reaction to, are yogurt and Nystatin – neither of which have been strong enough to eradicate the yeast off of one of my nipples. This nipple also had the deepest cut, which then got infected and caused mastitis. The first antibiotic did nothing to curb the infection, and the second caused an allergic reaction. The cut did finally heal and the mastitis cleared up. But I cannot get the yeast off that nipple, so I pump on that side and bottle it. My baby nurses off the other side. It’s not the breastfeeding experience I wanted, for sure, but he is getting breastmilk and I am able to breastfeed half the time. It very much makes me appreciative of the breastfeeding relationship I was able to experience with my second baby, when breastfeeding seemed so easy despite the milk supply issues, and I was wondering why anyone would ever say that breastfeeding didn’t work for them.
Sometimes, breastfeeding just plain doesn’t work – or it doesn’t work as well as you had hoped. I have a friend who dealt with yeast in both breasts for the first three months to go on to nurse for now over two years. Her sister couldn’t get the latch figured out for nine months – she pumped and bottled that entire time – but now is breastfeeding a 20-month-old. My sister was able to breastfeed exclusively, but her baby had such widespread food allergies that she was eating rice, chicken, and pears for a full year.
Sometimes, it just doesn’t work. Sometimes, it’s not as easy as it is for someone else. It doesn’t mean they didn’t try hard enough or have enough support. Like childbirth, for some women, every birth can be done without drugs or interventions and be a wonderful experience; for other women, no matter how hard they try to go natural, it’s just not meant to be.
Rather than judging women, I strive to learn their stories and to celebrate their triumphs. Wow! You got your baby to latch on after nine months of trying?! And then to be rewarded by a long, fulfilling breastfeeding relationship? That’s amazing!
Let’s take a little time the next time we read a story or listen to someone talk about parenting choices that are different from ours, and rather than judge them for their choices, be compassionate about their challenges and their view of those challenges and then applaud them for being the best mother they could be with the resources they had at hand at the time.
Article by Rita Brhel
Rita Brhel is a stay-at-home mother to three children. She is also a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor for the Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska, the Publications Coordinator for Attachment Parenting International, the managing editor of the Attached Family magazine, an API Support Group Leader, PSI Postpartum Support Coordinator, Sidelines High-Risk Pregnancy Peer Counselor.
Rita has written 41 awesome articles for Natural Family Today.