Don’t Let Breastfeeding Guilt Get You Down
Shame and guilt. Two words that should have no place in motherhood, yet they plague every mother at one point or another. One of the earliest sources of guilt is breastfeeding guilt. And it touches every mother – whether she chooses to breastfeed or not.
Mothers who choose to breastfeed but have some difficulties with it are often shamed by pediatricians or family members into supplementing with formula. In their opinion, the child is not getting enough food. (Check out some other breastfeeding myths here). On the flip side, mothers who choose to formula feed are shamed for essentially poisoning their children (seriously?!). There is often no winning side. No matter what you do, mommy shamers will find you and let you know their opinion.
Dealing with the Mommy Shamers
All this begs a question: How do we (mothers) combat these feelings of breastfeeding guilt and shame?
Well, one obvious solution seems to shrug it off and carry on with what you’re doing. Sounds simple, but it’s much tougher to do than it appears on the surface.
First, postpartum moms are flooded with hormones and are recovering from one of the most difficult things in their life. They feel vulnerable, sad, in pain, and unsure of themselves in their new role. They are looking for support from their community but are often met with shaming and dismissal. It’s not easy to handle when you’re already experiencing a heightened response to everything around you. But all you get is judgment from a close family member. It hurts.
Second, new mamas often need to hear that they’re doing a good job to feel validated. So, in such a situation, shrugging off hurtful comments becomes next to impossible. You need support and that’s absolutely normal.
So what do you do when you feel you can’t handle these messages on your own? Involve your partner.
Postpartum they are your gatekeeper, shield, cheerleader, and any other role you may need them to serve. Your partner needs to help you navigate any hurdles that come with breast or bottle feeding. They should remove shamers out of your space and not let them guilt and shame you about anything. They need to build up your self esteem and offer unconditional support if those shamers already got to you. And the most important part: They should never be the ones to shame you for anything or guilt you about anything! If they are, find support elsewhere. Your support can come from a friend, a family member, or therapist. Consult my Resource Library if you need help finding one in your area.
Are You the Mommy Shamer and the Source of Your Breastfeeding Guilt?
But what to do when the guilt or shame is internal? What if you are your own mommy shamer?
The first step is to forgive yourself. You are merely reacting to the barrage of information that seems to be designed for you to feel shame and guilt. Once you’ve forgiven yourself for this shortcoming, try to see what the guilt is about. In most cases the guilt is about not being able to feed your child properly from your breast. And the biggest reason you feel this guilt is because of the societal messaging that “Breast is Best”.
Lately, we’ve all been bombarded with this message to the point that we feel that if we can’t breastfeed exclusively for at least 3 years, we have failed as mothers. While the message is not a bad one and wants to promote the optimal nutrition for the baby (because let’s face it, breast milk is superior to formula in many ways), it fails to acknowledge that formula is food and not some sort of poison. So there should not be any shame or judgment attached to formula feeding a child. As long as you’re feeding your child age appropriate nutrition, they’re happy and growing – that’s all that matters!
Overcoming Your Breastfeeding Guilt
Obviously, every mother wants what’s best for her child, and it’s easy to obsess about breastfeeding in the beginning of your baby’s life, but you need to put things into perspective. Are you always going to feed your baby organic from the garden fruit and vegetables, serve eggs from your chicken coop, and feed beef from a cow that you raised and butchered yourself? I’m guessing, no. But if you are, I bow down to you, amazing goddess!
You will at some point in your life give your child sugar, a chicken nugget, a hot dog or some other completely unhealthy but super fun food and your child will survive. Say what? Yes, you will not be perfect and your child will be OK! Were your parents perfect? No, and you are still on this earth and doing just fine.
And if your worry is stemming less from the nutritional side and more from the bonding side, I encourage you to read “Why Breastfeeding May Not Feel Like Bonding“. In this article, I talk about the fact that sometimes breastfeeding can actually get in the way of bonding. If it’s making the mother’s life miserable, there is very little bonding happening with the child. And there are so many other ways to bond.
So next time you go to make your baby a bottle of formula don’t feel bad. You are feeding your baby and doing the best that you can – that is the most important part. A well fed infant is a healthy infant.
Quote of the day:
“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we are not good enough.” – Brene Brown
Mental Health Tip of the Day:
When you are feeling the guilt rise up and threaten to overtake you, take a moment and breathe in and out slowly. Do this for about 10 seconds. After you feel more calm think of at least one thing you are proud of (I swaddle this baby like a boss) and concentrate on that. There is nothing to feel guilty about!