You planned the nursery – from paint colors, to crib sheets, to wall art and throw rugs. You planned the birth – thinking about pain medications, positions for pushing, and relaxation exercises. And you planned infant feeding – taking a breastfeeding class, buying a nursing bra and setting up a nursing nook near your rocking chair.
But what happens when breastfeeding doesn’t go as planned? What if it hurts? What if you don’t make enough milk? What if your baby isn’t gaining weight? What if even getting the help of a lactation professional doesn’t resolve the issues? What happens when your expectations are dashed, your plans are foiled, your best intentions aren’t enough?
Society doesn’t make it any easier. You’re bottle-feeding expressed breastmilk because your baby won’t latch, but you feel judged for using a bottle. You’re using formula because you have insufficient glandular tissue and cannot produce enough milk, yet you feel anxious lest anyone think you’re not doing your best for your baby. These ‘mommy wars’ may be exploited by marketing departments, but the reality is often difficult to navigate.
One of the great things about the modern world is that we have a safe alternative for infant feeding – formula. Your baby will grow and thrive even if you can’t breastfeed. Or maybe you can produce some milk – so you’re pumping regularly. Again, thank you modern technology for the ever-evolving breast pump, which may not be exactly like baby but is enough to maintain a milk supply.
But there’s a definite emotional aspect when breastfeeding doesn’t go as you had planned. Hilary Jacobson’s recent book, Healing Breastfeeding Grief, delves into this issue. She shares women’s words - like guilt, worry, rejection, anxiety, jealousy, and even self-hatred – to illustrate the feelings enveloping women when breastfeeding doesn’t work. If you’re struggling, this book is a must-read.
Consider that what you’re feeling may actually be grief. The loss of breastfeeding often causes the same symptoms in the brain that other trauma produces. And your emotions may go through the same stages as they would with any other type of grief. The good news is that with some tools, you can heal.
- Identify and label your feelings, sort out your emotions, get to the heart of what you’re feeling. Consider journaling – even if the words are for your eyes only.
- Read other women’s stories – books, websites, online forums, Facebook pages, blog posts. Just realizing you’re not alone helps some women move past the pain and on to healing.
- Practice relaxation and mindfulness. Healing from difficult emotions takes some work, and learning these new coping techniques can make the process shorter.
- Find support. MOBI Motherhood International (http://www.mobimotherhood.org/) is a fantastic online community for moms who experience problems with breastfeeding. You may even find groups in your locale dedication to supporting moms with breastfeeding difficulties.
- Forgive yourself. You haven’t failed at mothering. Your baby still needs and loves you. You are doing your best. Parenting is hard. You are a good mother.
Moving past your grief over the loss of an ideal will help you to enjoy your baby. As your baby grows, you will see how small a part of the big picture this is.