We all have a breastfeeding story, however long or short.
Some mamas didn’t want to try it at all. Others struggled through pain, infections and sleepless nights to do it for years and some desperately tried, but couldn’t hit that so-called “gold standard” of breastfeeding.
You had it in your head that you would breastfeed for the entire first year. You were told “breast is best”, that the World Health Organisation (and that sounds seriously official because it’s for the ENTIRE WORLD) recommends six months of exclusive breastfeeding and then six months of breastfeeding and solid foods.
And then the struggle began. The latch seemed impossible to get right. You read the advice and looked at diagrams, but it’s so much more complicated when you’re trying to do it yourself.
Midwives and lactation experts manhandled your boobs, pushing and squeezing to show you how it’s done. When you came to do it yourself, it never felt natural.
And that was one of the biggest problems. You were told it was so natural, so beautiful, the best thing you could do for your baby. If this was natural, then why did it feel so very unnatural?
Then the pain began. Putting your baby to the breast felt like putting a razor blade across your nipples. You winced in the shower and when getting dressed. You wanted to cry when the baby had fed for two hours, then five minutes later cried and rooted around again. Your tensed and gritted your teeth every time they latched on, and wanted to scream in frustration and pain.
You wrestled with your wriggling baby while covered in sweat and dribbling milk from your sore nipples for hours every day.
At the weekly weigh-in, you were told your baby was dropping from their centile.
Everyone told you, it will get easier, it will get easier. But it just never seemed to. And you could not bear the thought of waiting any longer for it to happen.
Maybe it did get easier. The pain stopped. But you were exhausted. The baby feeding every two hours around the clock was taking its toll on you physically and mentally.
Feeds were unpredictable and your body was no longer your own. You couldn’t be apart from the baby for more than 30 minutes at most.
When the baby did actually sleep for more than three hours at a time, your boobs felt so painful you thought they were going to explode, so sleep for you was impossible. If you did nod off, you woke up covered in milk and your boobs looked like they had grown two cup sizes.
There’s often not a final straw when it comes to ending breastfeeding. It tends to be multiple straws that finally break you. That’s because you were so determined to make this work, to get this part of motherhood “right”.
But what you’ve got to know, and tell yourself every single day you think you failed, is that how you feed your baby does not define you as a mother. You are not a good mother because you breastfed, and you’re not a bad mother because you didn’t.
You’re a good mother because you love your baby so very much it hurts. You’re a good mother because you cuddle them when they cry. You’re a good mother because you pull silly faces at them when they’re on the changing mat.
So when you mix that very first bottle of formula, and sob over your decision to quit breastfeeding, remember you’re not getting it wrong. You’re getting it all right. No one cares how you feed your baby, as long as you feed your baby.
And, most importantly, in a year’s time you will not think about this at all. Because then you will have a toddler who steals food from your plate and wobbles around on their feet in your living room. And breastfeeding will be the very last thing on your mind.