Welcome, dear mothers and others, to this heartfelt blog post where we come together to commemorate World Breastfeeding Week. This week is about recognizing and supporting the diverse journeys of mothers and celebrating the love and dedication they pour into nourishing their babies. As a proud mother who has nursed two beautiful boys, I am eager to share my personal journey, shedding light on the realities of breastfeeding, while advocating for a more compassionate approach to supporting mothers who formula feed by choice or necessity. This week is not just about celebrating breastfeeding; it’s about embracing the diverse paths of motherhood and promoting a culture of love and understanding among all mothers regardless of how they choose to feed their sweet babes.
During my first pregnancy, I hoped to breastfeed my son for at least a year. Unexpectedly, he spent eight days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after birth, but that brought the support of a lactation consultant who guided me through the early days. Because I was unable to hold my son for the first several days of his life, I first got acquainted with a hospital grade pump that I used every three hours. My milk took days to come in and my first pumping sessions yielded mere drops of milk. My husband would use a syringe to capture every drop and deliver this precious gold to the NICU where he would dribble it into our son’s mouth. This milk was supplemented with donor breast milk to ensure my son got the nutrition he needed in his first days of life. We eventually succeeded in nursing, but due to his medical condition, I had to triple feed for a few weeks, which left me exhausted. When I returned to work, I had to pump diligently every three hours, and the costs associated with breastfeeding were significant. Despite the challenges, I continued breastfeeding because it worked for us, but I recognize the toll it can take on mothers physically and emotionally.
When my second son was born, we avoided a NICU stay, but did spend five days in the hospital, which again brought added support to get our breastfeeding journey off to a good start. For days my son nursed nearly every hour. I felt like I might never sleep again. When my son was just over two months old, we learned he had a dairy protein allergy which meant I had to eliminate all dairy from my diet – not just cheese and milk, but anything with whey and casein. I learned even my probiotic was off limits! At this same time, the country was experiencing a formula shortage. Honestly, if not for this event I likely would have switched to formula feeding. The stress of reading every label and not eating anything unless I was 110% sure of what was in it caused stress and anxiety that often felt excessive. It was during this time the news was riddled with headlines about breastfeeding being “free” and I found myself resentful and slightly enraged that while I didn’t have to swipe my credit card for the milk I was feeding my son, the bottles, bags, coolers, pump, pump parts, lanolin, lactation consults, antibiotics to treat mastitis, my time and my energy certainly had a cost.
It’s disheartening to witness how women can face shame and judgment regardless of their breastfeeding choices. On one hand, mothers who are unable to breastfeed or choose not to are often criticized for their decisions, making them feel guilty or inadequate. On the other hand, women who breastfeed beyond societal expectations may encounter negative comments, making them feel uncomfortable or judged. Shortly after my older son turned one, I walked through the break room with my trusty black pump bag over my shoulder. I was lucky enough to have milk to donate back to the milk bank which was important to me after our experience in the NICU. I chose to pump after my son weaned so that I could hit my donation goal. I will never forget the look of disgust as a colleague asked, “How old is your son again? You’re still doing THAT?!”
As we celebrate National Breastfeeding Week, I hope we can take this as an opportunity to break free from these harmful attitudes and support all mothers in their individual journeys. Every mother deserves respect and understanding, as the choices we make are deeply personal and should be celebrated rather than stigmatized. Empowering women to make informed decisions and embracing the diversity of motherhood is the key to fostering a compassionate and inclusive environment for all. It is my belief that all moms should have the support and safety to choose to feed their babies in a way that makes sense without ever compromising physical and/or emotional well-being.
I was incredibly lucky to have countless hours of professional lactation support, a job that accommodated a schedule that required me to step away for 30 minutes every three hours, a partner who washed pump parts multiple times a day, insurance that covered the full cost of my pump, a pediatrician that had trained lactation consultants on staff; babies with the ability to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing; and a body that produced adequate amounts of milk that kept my baby well-fed. None of these is free, and each comes with an immense amount of privilege. At this point we likely know the health benefits of breastfeeding, but they are not more important than a mom making the best choice for herself about how to feed her baby. Every mother’s journey is unique, so during this week may we show extra support for each other’s choices while aiming for the same goal: a healthy, well-fed baby and a happy mom.