One of the most challenging moments I faced as a new mother came when I was grappling with breastfeeding my third child. My milk supply was dwindling and, despite my best efforts, my son wasn’t gaining weight as he should have been. I was plagued with stress, feelings of inadequacy, and the baby blues – bordering on postnatal depression (PND). It wasn’t until a doctor asked me a simple yet profound question that I realised I had a choice in the matter. “Do you WANT to carry on breastfeeding?” This question changed everything for me and ultimately led me to prioritise my own wellbeing for the sake of my child and myself.
Before diving into the rest of this story, I want to make a light-hearted disclaimer: 1) I absolutely love my child and am incredibly grateful for him, and 2) I am well aware of the multitude of benefits breastfeeding offers, and I am not disputing them. So, I won’t be reiterating these points throughout this post. Instead, I want to share my personal experience and the importance of balancing the benefits of breastfeeding with the wellbeing of the mother.
The moment of realisation
As I left the doctor, I realised that it was the first time someone had given me permission to consider my own feelings and desires in the equation – three children later. And the truth was, I didn’t want to continue breastfeeding. It was causing me physical and emotional distress, and it was no longer working for my son or me. The realisation that I had a choice in the matter felt like a weight being lifted from my chest.
The importance of a healthy mum
I ultimately decided to stop breastfeeding and switch to formula. To my relief, my son began gaining weight, and I felt a significant improvement in my emotional wellbeing. I was able to be more present and engaged with my child, and our bond only grew stronger.
It’s crucial to recognise that a healthy, happy mother is just as important as the health benefits of breastfeeding. While breastfeeding has undeniable advantages, it shouldn’t come at the expense of a mother’s mental and emotional health. A healthy mother is better equipped to care for her child and to create a nurturing environment for them to thrive in.
Finding support and understanding
This is a message I really want new mums to know – that if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for them, or they simply do not want to breastfeed, it’s okay. It’s essential to seek support from trusted friends, family, or professionals and to trust your instincts as a mother. Surrounding yourself with understanding and empathetic individuals can make a world of difference in easing the pressures you may face.
Learning to set boundaries and advocate for myself
Navigating motherhood and breastfeeding challenges with my third child taught me the importance of setting boundaries and advocating for myself. This was something I should have learned earlier, but better late than never! I needed to learn how to say “no” when needed, express my feelings and needs, and stand up for my choices.
Faced with unsolicited advice or judgement from others, I had to remind myself that I had the right to make decisions that were best for my family. When I felt unsupported or disrespected, I sought out alternative sources of support that aligned with my values and needs. By doing so, I gained the confidence to make the decision to stop breastfeeding, knowing that it was the right choice for both my child and me.
Societal pressure and the importance of balance
I feel like this is the crux of it all (with a sprinkle of mum’s guilt, of course). Society places an enormous amount of pressure on new mothers to breastfeed. This pressure can be especially difficult to navigate for those experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding or struggling with their mental health. The expectations can often make women feel guilty, isolated, and inadequate if they can’t or don’t want to breastfeed.
It’s important to remember that the choice to breastfeed or not is deeply personal, and every woman’s situation is unique. While breastfeeding has numerous benefits, it is not the only path to raising a healthy, happy child. Formula feeding can also provide the necessary nutrients for a baby to grow and thrive. What matters most is that a mother feels confident and supported in her choices and has the resources to make the best decisions for her family.
Challenging the ‘perfect mother’ myth
One of the most pervasive myths about motherhood is the idea of the ‘perfect mother’ who does it all effortlessly – breastfeeding included. This unattainable ideal can put immense pressure on new mums, leaving them feeling like they are falling short if they don’t meet these unrealistic expectations. In reality, there is no such thing as a perfect mother, and every mother’s journey is filled with ups and downs.
Remember that facing challenges and making mistakes along the way is normal. Struggling with breastfeeding doesn’t make you a failure; it makes you human. Give yourself permission to let go of the guilt and shame that often accompany these struggles and focus on finding solutions that work best for you and your child.
The power of self-compassion
When caught in the whirlwind of new motherhood, it’s easy to forget to be kind to ourselves. I know I was my own harshest critic, but I quickly learned that self-compassion was vital in navigating challenges. By treating myself with kindness, understanding, and patience, I created an environment where I could grow and thrive as a mother and an individual.
Take the time to acknowledge the incredible work you’re doing as a new mum, and remember that it’s okay to ask for help or take a break when you need it. Self-compassion also means recognising when something is not working for you and giving yourself permission to make a change, as I did.
A message for new mums
So, to all the new mums out there battling the baby blues, the pains of breastfeeding, and the pressure from society – remember, you know yourself and your child best. Allow yourself the grace and space to make the choices that feel right for your family, and don’t be afraid to prioritise your own well-being. A healthy, happy mum is the foundation of a thriving family.
Embrace the support of friends, family, and professionals who understand and empathise with your unique situation. Trust your instincts and remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to motherhood. Every family’s journey is different, and the well-being of both you and your baby is what matters most.
Ultimately, you are the expert on your own life and your child’s needs. By recognising and respecting your own boundaries and mental health, you are setting a powerful example for your child and nurturing a strong, loving bond between you. No matter what choices you make, always remember that you are doing your best, and that’s more than enough.