Dear Mama: I Support You, Whether You Breastfeed or Not

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Guess who gets to decide how long you breastfeed your baby?

You do.

Guess who gets to decide if you breastfeed your baby at all?

You, again. Plain and simple. Full stop. The end.

I’m tired of all the judgment, guilt, worry, and shame about moms and breastfeeding. Can we just please call a truce about it all? Can we say that we should all stop poking into each other’s business (brassieres?). Can we say we support each other in whatever decisions we make about our babies and our bodies?

I see the critique coming from all sides. I see it from from the moms who can’t imagine a drop of anything other than breastmilk touching their babies’ lips, those who have the audacity to knock down a mother who formula fed when they know nothing of that mother’s struggles or story.

I see it from the other side too. I see it from fellow parents who are grossed out when they see a flash of skin as a mother nurses her baby — or God forbid, a nipple — and feel that is their place to open their mouths and complain about it. Or the mother who finds out you’re nursing your two-year-old, and asks, “Why can’t you just pump and put it in a cup?”

Full disclosure: I have nursed both of my kids forever, and I’m a board-certified lactation consultant. (I accrued a zillion boob hours and education, and took a big old exam to certify). I think breastmilk does matter, that it saves lives, and that all mothers should have the opportunity to breastfeed, if they choose to do so. I wish good breastfeeding support weren’t so hard to find and that insurance companies more adequately covered it.

I also think we all need to CTFD about it all, and start supporting one another — regardless of what feeding choices we make for our babies. In America, where almost all of us have access to some sort of healthcare, (I know that not all of us do, and this is a reprehensible shame), almost all babies will fare well, whether they breastfeed or not. Again, I’m not saying that breastmilk doesn’t prevent diseases or save lives, even in America. There is absolutely no denying that it does. In fact, breastfeeding has lifelong protections. But what I am saying is that no one should go crazy if they find out that a mother didn’t breastfeed. I see now, having raised a couple of kids past the toddler years, that breastfeeding matters in many ways, but doesn’t matter at all in others. What matters most is the overall picture of your child’s health and well-being.

Do you basically feed your child well, slip in whatever vegetables your kid is willing to eat? Do you take your kid out for some amount of running around and sunshine when your sanity allows? Did you cover your babies in kisses, and do you continue to do that no matter what age they are?

Whether you breastfed or not, did you do everything you could, given your particular circumstances, to make sure your babies and toddlers got good care? Did you offer them all the love your heart was bursting with?

Then you’re doing great!

The shame about not breastfeeding needs to stop. Now. Like, yesterday. Almost all the mothers I have worked with as a lactation consultant who didn’t end up breastfeeding, or stopped early, already felt upset about it on a personal level (and if they were working with a lactation consultant, you already know they were trying their damnedest to do it). The last thing they need is judgment from others on top of that.

You never, ever know a mother’s full story, so don’t assume anything about why she did or did not breastfeed.

And by God, if a mom just simply never wanted to breastfeed, don’t say a word. It’s none of your business. I’m sure she considered it. I’m sure she realized it was not for her for whatever reason (again, a reason that is none of your business).

But also hear me out about this: If you see a mom who is breastfeeding with pride, don’t knock her down for wanting to shout out her successes from the rooftops. Breastfeeding can be damn hard, and mothers are given flak about it every day — from family members, pediatricians, fellow moms, and strangers.

And zip your lips about breastfeeding past the 12 month mark. I mean, you know that if you breastfeed a walking, talking child you are a sicko, right? I breastfed my kids when they went to preschool. Can you believe it? I thought they were the only ones still breastfeeding, but of course they weren’t. (I only found that out later).

Also, let’s just clear something up once and for all: When women breastfeed, their breasts are not sexual. They just aren’t. Are breasts sexual sometimes? Sure. That’s awesome. But women get to decide when they want to use them for sex, and when they want to use them to feed their babies. Got it? They get to decide. Not you. And when they are being used to feed a baby, there is nothing sexual about it. Do you need me to repeat it again?

So to all the moms everywhere, especially the brand new ones: If you want to breastfeed, great! If you don’t, that’s cool too. If you’re having breastfeeding challenges, please call a professional (hint, hint). If financial concerns are stopping you from getting help, it never hurts to ask if there is a sliding scale for pricing — many of us are starting to be covered by insurance too. There are also volunteer breastfeeding supporters out there who are more than willing to help. Most importantly, there are lactation helpers out who will treat you with respect (and if they don’t, find someone else).

Also to the brand new moms: I know how easy it is to feel vulnerable to all the critique about how to feed your baby. I know it feels like the decision is weighing down on you and you’ve lost your own ability to interpret the messages you’re getting from everyone and everything. But don’t let others decide your fate.

What happens to you — especially when it comes to matters of your body — are entirely your own. You get to decide what matters to you, and how. Your boobs, your baby, your choice. And that’s all there is to it.

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