World Breastfeeding Week, observed Aug. 1 through the 7th, carries a long history of supporting mothers who breastfeed. A week that feels validating and empowering to some can feel heavy to others. As a mother who formula-fed baby number one and just weaned baby number two from breastfeeding, this is a week that conjures a mixed-bag of emotions. Hear this though: World Breastfeeding Week is not exclusive or elitist.
Feeding a baby is very hard, and it is never free.
After deciding to formula-feed my firstborn, I was in a great state of guilt over the choice not to breastfeed. I felt very alone. Often, I would perseverate on the thought that I was a bad mom or that I didn’t try hard enough. Though I never felt judged by my friends, I did feel like an outsider as the only one who bottle-fed. It took several months to settle into the confidence of my decision.
Then, World Breastfeeding Week occurred and my social media feed was inundated with pictures of babies nuzzled against their mothers with statistics about attachment and I.Q. scores.
Oddly at that time, I ended up taking a position as a moderator for a formula-feeding support group. The same affirmation I was giving other new moms became mantras of my own.
“You are a great mother.”
“Your baby loves you so much.”
“A fed baby is a happy baby.”
Then, I had my second baby. I had the typical bumps in the first few weeks of feeding, but it was oddly easy in the beginning. He latched well, I felt less shell-shocked, and I felt free to lean into other options. However, the logistics of breastfeeding felt steep. To cover-up or not? How long can I be away from my baby? What if he won’t take a bottle? Reverse cycling became a nightmarish pattern. Then, the teeth came as well as a very busy babe with little patience to eat. Breastfeeding became a point of frustration for us both, and at 11 months, I decided to wean.
I have not had to invest in much formula this time around, but feeding my second child was not free. It took a lot of time, deep-breathing, mental energy, support and encouragement. At times, I felt completely alone. Even the choice to wean prior to a year was peppered with guilt.
Feeding both my babies was not free.
World Breastfeeding Week means something new to me this year. I don’t see it as a celebration I have earned. I don’t see it as a moment to discredit the very difficult nuances of breastfeeding. I see it as another moment to support mothers. Mothering is the hardest job out there. The more opportunities we take to lift, encourage and support each other, the more confident we can all be.