Breastfeeding is supposed to be a wonderful bonding experience between a new baby and his or her mom. The skin-to-skin contact and physical closeness help build an incredibly strong bond between infant and mother — as well as provide newborns with essential nutrients.
When it comes to super foods, breast milk beats out acai berries, kale, and quinoa with its perfectly calibrated nutrients. Babies who exclusively breastfeed experience a lowered risk of illness, infection, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), allergies, obesity, and diabetes — which could be why the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages moms to breastfeed their children for at least the first six months, and then onward through a year, if possible.
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But for many new moms, breastfeeding is not the idyllic experience it’s cracked up to be. It’s a learned skill that requires time and resources. Moms who don’t have the time to attend La Leche League meetings or to meet often with lactation consultants may not have the tools to learn — and they often feel a massive guilt trip from nursing warriors and “lactivists.”
Working moms breastfeed at significant sacrifice — lugging milk and ice packs in coolers (not to mention pumping equipment) to and from the office and taking frequent breaks to pump in not-so-private areas, including makeshift private offices and not-so-sanitary ladies’ rooms, although this is not supposed to happen in the modern world.
For Valerie Bradshaw of San Francisco, breastfeeding exacerbated her postpartum depression.
“I felt chained to the couch. For me, it was really claustrophobic,” she told LifeZette.
Bradshaw’s son, Elijah, never learned to latch properly, even after visiting with numerous doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants. Her baby would feed for an hour-and-a-half at a time but was still hungry. So Bradshaw pumped in between feedings to stimulate more milk production, but she never achieved a volume that satisfied her son. “He cried pretty much all the time,” Bradshaw remembered.
When she finally began supplementing her own milk with just one bottle a day, her outlook changed completely. She had suffered back pain and some nerve damage because of breastfeeding. “There was so much pain and frustration associated with breastfeeding,” she said. “I didn’t feel love for Elijah when he was born, to be honest. We had a rough spot there. The first time I fed him a bottle was the first time that I felt like I loved my child.”
While many mothers experience bonding through breastfeeding — Bradshaw experienced mostly anguish. Switching to bottles helped her allow Elijah to feel full for the first time and to be more cheerful.
Although switching to bottles left Bradshaw feeling like a “mommy failure,” she said she learned to put aside her guilt because “loving my child was more important than giving him breast milk.”
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For some new moms, though, breastfeeding comes a little easier. Heather Hendriksen, a mother of five in Salt Lake City, Utah, breastfed nearly all her children until they were two years old (her first daughter weaned naturally at 18 months). Her first son struggled to latch on for about three months, and doctors pressured Hendriksen to begin supplementing with formula because her baby wasn’t gaining weight.
“I’m small, my husband’s small — so we have small babies,” Hendriksen said. “And the growth charts that doctors use are based on formula-fed babies.” She pushed through numerous interventions — and eventually her son caught on.
She believes that most of the information new moms receive about breastfeeding is sheer misinformation. For example, weaning occurs any time the baby isn’t sucking on the breast, she said — so pacifiers are out. Hendriksen co-sleeps with all her children until they stop breastfeeding, and she continues nightly feeding until they’re at least 18 months old.
“I’ve been nursing or pregnant for the last 13 years of my life,” she added with a laugh — which also means she’s been astonishingly sleep-deprived for more than a decade. “Two years is such a small percentage of their life,” she said. “It’s the least I can give them.”
While some moms who have had success breastfeeding are too quick to judge those who choose formula, Hendriksen simply said she wants to be the “best cheerleader” she can be.
“Any time [spent nursing] is better than nothing,” she told LifeZette — whether that’s a few weeks, a few months, or years on end.