Breastfeeding: A Mother's Dilemma (cont.)
So I was a mess, but Julian was fine. Four years later, he's healthy, beautiful, and bright. It's absolutely impossible to tell which of his peers were exclusively breastfed and which weren't. It simply doesn't seem to matter. And I have come to see that my efforts didn't necessarily prove what a wonderful, devoted mother I was. Rather, they demonstrated how pervasive the mentality of "breast is best, at all costs" has become and the extremes to which a supposedly rational person can go to pursue this ideal.
A New Strategy
With this realization, and hazed by my first experience, I determined to do things differently the second time around. I decided that I'd give it everything I had for four weeks and then give myself permission to quit, guilt-free, if breastfeeding wasn't working and if I was miserable. I amassed the paraphernalia I'd need: a breast pump, a baby scale to monitor the baby's weight gains and losses, a new supplemental nursing system, and yes, clean bottles and fresh cans of formula powder. I informed everyone around me of the plan and insisted on their support, both for the up-front effort and for whatever I decided afterward. I was ready.
Things got off to a good start with an easy birth, and brand-new Eliot came home with me the second day. On day three, my milk came in, and I was actually thrilled by the aches and pains of engorgement. Nevertheless, I still didn't make enough milk to exclusively breastfeed. The difference this time, though, was that I was content in feeding him what I had. I no longer saw supplementing with formula as a failure of motherhood.
My new lactation consultant was not only knowledgeable on the issue of low milk supply but compassionate and supportive as well. She also armed me with information about Reglan, which I persuaded my doctor to prescribe for me. (Reglan, a prescription medication ordinarily used for gastrointestinal problems, is reported to be an effective lactation-inducer.)
With that extra boost I made it to the end of my one-month "trial" period with a well-established, though not exclusive, breastfeeding relationship, which my 1-year-old and I still enjoy today.
A support group called Mothers Overcoming Breastfeeding Issues (MOBI) connected me with a large number of women whose experiences were almost identical to my own. I also learned about treatments, like Reglan, which could help promote milk production.
While resources like MOBI and my lactation consultant helped the second time around, no woman should endure the guilt trips I suffered. Women who want to and can breastfeed deserve every support -- medical, societal, and legislative -- to do so. But breastfeeding is not the be-all and end-all of motherhood. Women who can't or choose not to nurse also deserve support and respect. Feeding your children enough -- and with love -- is what really matters.
Naomi Williams is an editorial production manager for WebMD.
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