Dear Mom who struggled with breastfeeding,
I see you. Whether you're near me on Cape Cod or the South Shore or far away, it's everywhere. As you travel the internet this week, you are inundated with images of women who are seemingly effortlessly nursing their babies. In most of the pictures, the moms have clean hair and their babies are content and clean. No one is crying in these pictures. It looks so beautiful, so painless, so easy in these pictures. And it hits you like a punch in the gut, every time. The articles touting the benefits of breastfeeding, the experts saying it's a 'no-brainer' to nurse your child. Maybe you feel some guilt or shame because you didn't meet your breastfeeding goals. Maybe you feel anger at a system that promotes breastfeeding but doesn't actually support nursing parents appropriately. Maybe you feel like a failure, like your body let you down.
I hear you. And however you feel? Is okay. You get to have your feelings, because you are a grown ass adult. And you need to know some things. Are you ready to get some truth bombs laid on you? Because here goes. I'm getting my caps lock warmed up.
- Please notice I'm saying YOUR breastfeeding goals. Why? Because those are the only ones that should matter to you as an individual. In the public health world, we talk a lot about goals for the country and goals for the world. We make recommendations for individual families, and I stand by those. But there is a difference between population-level statistics and each person's own circumstances and wishes. YOU GET TO SET YOUR OWN GOALS. And those goals are allowed to change. You are the captain of your destiny.
- YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. Let me say it louder for the people in the back: YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. If you didn't meet your breastfeeding goals, for WHATEVER reason, you did not fail. In fact, I'm willing to bet that you WERE failed. Because our medical system, our government, and our culture fail nursing parents on the regular. We tell parents that they should breastfeed, and then fail to support them or help them in any meaningful way. So if you didn't meet your goals? I'm betting it wasn't for lack of trying. Most often, parents who don't meet their own breastfeeding goals have little to no support.
- YOUR ABILITY TO EXCLUSIVELY BREASTFEED DOES NOT CORRELATE WITH YOUR ABILITY TO BE A GOOD PARENT. Please read that again. Exclusively breastfeeding is not, and never has been, a metric for measuring how adequate of a parent you are. Are you taking care of your child's basic needs? Are you loving on them as you are able? Are you teaching them not to be a total dick? Then congratulations, my friend: you are a good parent.
- YOUR BODY IS AMAZING. Yes, it is. Even if it didn't do what you needed it to during breastfeeding. Even if you had all the support in the world and did everything right, and it still didn't do what you needed it to. Even if it's shaped differently than it used to be. Maybe your body grew a tiny new person, maybe you came to parenthood some other way. Either way, your body is still amazing: it's your baby's favorite place to be. Your arms hold your child, your mind guides them, your heart is full of love. Your body has done amazing things, and I honor it. I want to encourage you to honor it too, or at least make peace with it.
- THOSE PHOTOS ON THE INTERNET LIE. Yep, I'm spilling the beans: new parenthood does not in any way resemble those beautiful photos we are seeing most of the time. Even when things go as smoothly as we can expect them to go, life with a baby is hard. And messy. And exhausting. And we do it because we love our little people, but that doesn't mean it's effortless. This is just the lie that social media tells us.
- YOU DESERVE BETTER. You deserve not to have condescending comments made to you about how you feed your baby. You deserve to have a health system that supports you in your reproductive choices. You deserve to have medical professionals who actually have training in breastfeeding management so that they can support you IF you choose to breastfeed again with a different baby. And you deserve medical professionals who will have a kind, respectful conversation with you and respect your wishes if you decide NOT to breastfeed with a future child. Part of supporting bodily autonomy is supporting other womens' decisions about their bodies whether it's the choice I would make or not.
So please know that you are seen. You are heard. You are loved. And World Breastfeeding Week is, in many ways, for you. Or for the moms like you who deserve better support in the future. Because in the end, it's not about shaming folks who don't or can't breastfeed. It's about creating a culture where profits are secondary to people, where folks who choose to breastfeed have the structural support to make that possible while folks who make an informed choice to not breastfeed have the support to feed their babies the best way that they can.
Please know that you are enough. You are SO enough. You deserve a world where ALL new parents are supported. We are here for you.
Peace and love,
The Rising Tide Women
Serving all of Cape Cod, the South Shore, and Greater Boston
Liz Libby is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, a Certified Lactation Counselor, and a CAPPA-certified childbirth educator. She lives in Brewster, MA with her three wild boys, canine sidekick, and her partner. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org.