Like so many new moms, my friend Sarah struggled with breast feeding. She felt tremendous pressure to be the sole provider of nourishment for her firstborn child, and she always worried if her daughter was getting enough. And, if she broke down and gave her a bottle, she felt like a failure. Sarah is not alone.
Breastfeeding can be a very emotional issue for new mothers. It can be immensely pleasurable, horribly painful, extraordinarily frustrating, fulfilling, exhausting, joyful, etc. When a new mom successfully feeds her baby with her own body there is a sense of mastery that is created at a time when everything else in the mother’s life is trial and error. On the other hand, when breastfeeding does not go well the mother can be left feeling like a failure.
The research shows that breastfeeding is very beneficial for the child. But here’s what I know, my grandmother and many of yours did not breastfeed. In the 1950s, formula was the state-of-the-art so doctors recommended it. My father, aunts and uncle never had a drop of breastmilk, and they became healthy, successful adults. In the 1970s my mother-in-law shocked her family when she decided to breastfeed her children. Both women made a choice that was right for her at the time.
New moms encounter so many opinions from friends, family, books, doctors and society. The bottom line is that there is no right or wrong answer. Breast feeding is fabulous, but it is not essential. Every woman must weigh the pros and cons and come up with a decision that makes sense for her life. Women need support as they transition into motherhood, not more guilt, criticism or judgment.
As for Sarah, by the time her second baby came along she had learned to be much more forgiving of herself. She happily switched between bottle and breast giving herself much more rest and freedom that she had the first time around.
Rebekah Shackney is a psychotherapist in Tarrytown, and the mother of two. For more information to visit her at http://www.rebekahshackney.com