According to the department of health: “Breastfeeding week aims to influence attitudes and behaviors of the public to recognize (and encourage others) that exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life is the norm and the optimal way of feeding an infant for optimal growth and development.”
Here’s my beef with things like “Breastfeeding Week”… Although I do believe that breast milk is the best food for babies, I strongly disagree with the guilt-inducing practice of placing unnecessary pressure on moms to breastfeed “exclusively” as the health department would like us to. It leans too easily in the direction of shaming moms who do not breastfeed exclusively (many of whom may not be able to breastfeed at all).
Breastfeeding is complicated (although some state otherwise) but in my opinion, it is often a road traveled that brings along emotions that mothers struggle with, feelings of guilt, pressure, and misunderstanding from the community that should make them feel accepted, safe, and worthy of the term “mother”. There are so many different scenarios to motherhood and breastfeeding, and this kind of pressure undermines the complexity and variety of contexts that mothers face.
Let’s take a moment to consider just three of these. (And, yes, of course, there are moms who make horrible and selfish decisions. But I’d like to believe that most of us are doing the best we can, so we’re going to consider these three scenarios in the best possible light. Shall we?)
Firstly, there is the mom who exclusively breastfeeds… Kudos to you!
It is one of the most beautiful and rewarding moments of a mother and child’s life. This mom has decided to feed her child the way that nature intended. It by no means indicated that this journey is easy, painless or continuously satisfying. It just simply illustrates this mother’s choice to do the best she can for her baby (oh wait… isn’t that true for most mothers!?).
Secondly, there is the mom who chooses to combination feed.
Some will ask: “Why?”
Why combination feed when you are already producing milk? Why not just stick at it? It will get easier. If you feed more frequently your supply will increase. Eat more lactation cookies, drink more jungle juice. Persevere, they say. But what if work demands don’t allow this kind of freedom, or the workplace doesn’t have a safe and clean space to express? Here is a mother who is trying to balance the realities of her life with the desired hopes and dreams she has for nurturing her newborn child. Well done to you, mom!
Thirdly, there is the mom who chooses to formula feed.
This is where it gets interesting. Why on earth would you feed your child an “unnatural’ product? If you just tried a little harder, breastfeeding will become easier, forget about your own mental frame of mind, this is what your body was meant to do. It’s so much more effort than just “whipping out” the boob. It doesn’t allow for that special bonding time. You will never get those days back… But here is a mom who is probably doing all she can to make sure her baby gets the nutrition it needs even though she may not be able to produce it herself (whether her reasons are physical or emotional is completely irrelevant!)
Don’t Shame A Mom Who Hasn’t Breastfed
I guess I could go on and on, but I’m not here to write about that today, you see, breastfeeding week has brought so many emotions to the fore in me. My eldest two sons are adopted, and I will never forget that beautiful moment when I laid eyes on them. It was as if my heart exploded over and over again, not fully able to comprehend the emotions that were flowing through me. Similar to birthing a child I would say…
How can I say that? Because I birthed three children after that, and the feeling that overwhelmed me while lying on that table is no different from that glorious day when I got to meet and hold the two little boys that made me a mother.
This is where it gets deeper for me. So many mothers out there, (and yes, I am calling you out) link motherhood to breastfeeding, the ability to give your child that liquid gold that flows from your very being and sustains the life of your newborn child – much like you did for the months the baby spent in your womb.
But what about us, what about the moms (and dads) who have received their beautiful children through the arms of another. Now, I can see you all shaking your heads and saying it’s not the same. Why? Because they are adopted?
Just like the mother who cannot or doesn’t want to breastfeed, I too am a mom, there is no need to have the prefix “adoptive” in front of that. I am a mom that only wants the best for my children. Like every other mom out there.
What if, just what if I never got the chance to breastfeed because my womb wouldn’t carry a child. Am I not allowed to feel that longing? Am I excluded from the conversation because… wait for it, my children “aren’t mine”? Does my voice not matter, my hurt, my desire to experience every possible part of being a mom not MATTER?
I realize that the concept of breastfeeding week has an incredibly important and yes beautiful driving force behind it. But just like every other mother out there, I too am a mom. I wasn’t given a choice whether to breastfeed or formula feed.
What I was given, was my children.
So, as breastfeeding week comes to a close, let’s remember this one thing. Parenting is hard. We are all doing what we think is best, let’s show a little grace, look into the world of another parent, be compassionate, and be a little more understanding.
Previously published on Parenty