Not Really Breastfeeding

To the author who (while telling a story, in her own post) followed up: “How long did you breastfeed?” with the additional question: “No, how long did you exclusively breastfeed?”


I’m trying to say this in the kindest way possible, because I think we both want the same thing, which is for people to have the best breastfeeding start/experience possible, and not to be undermined by unnecessary supplementation or stories that emphasize the challenges. But I’m wondering whether that can be done without implying that those of us who use pumps, SNS, lactation aids, galactagogues, and supplementing at the breast (even with formula) for months on end aren’t REALLY breastfeeding. I nursed three children for a total of nearly 4 years, but only 6 weeks of that was “exclusively”. In total. That was despite nearly constant nursing support, up to and including going to see Jack Newman.

It took me years of work to accept that I had done my best, and I’m having a lot of trouble not hearing what you just said as, “Whatever it was you were doing there, with all that effort, for all those months, for all those years, it wasn’t really breastfeeding. It doesn’t really count.” And I’m sure that was not your intent.

15 responses to “Not Really Breastfeeding”

  1. I’ve learned one thing really really well during my time thus far as a parent.

    There will always be someone who will dismiss what you’ve done as “doesn’t really count”.

    Ultimately, you do the best you can do for your child and anyone else’s opinion? Ignore it – they don’t live your life, they don’t know squat.

    • It’s truth. It’s just that it was messages like that that undermined me in the first place, and there are lots of other women in the same boat. It is advocacy that doesn’t allow for failure, challenges, or redefined success, and it causes pain.

      That’s all. I’m fine, mama ‘nita.

  2. This reminds me of when my girls were born by cesarean and I had to listen to so many sympathetic comments of, “Oh, that’s too bad,” and deal with other mothers’ attitudes that I had not really given birth to my children or really “become” a mother by going through a long labour that ended in a vaginal birth.

    Guess what? They were born. I gave birth to them. Yay, me!

    • That sucks. Major abdominal surgery is bad enough without also being undermined by the sense that it’s not a “real” way to give birth. Yay, you for having your babies!

  3. There are always going to be voices like that, and I’m ashamed I’ve been one of them at times — and, conversely, been on the receiving end as well. For instance, we supplemented with formula for the first few days of Mikko’s life, and I still feel bad when people post something about the immature gut and imply that I basically ruined him for life. Sigh.

    I think what you went through to breastfeed is nothing short of heroic. For us, after that first week, things got easy — so who am I to stand on a soapbox and tell other people they should have it easy the way I did or they’ve failed? It’s stupid, and I can see why it would be so hurtful to you.

    Thanks for posting this in solidarity with the other caring parents who feel condemned by thoughtless remarks.

  4. Thank you for sharing this! Any breastfeeding at all is a gift and should be commended!

  5. Yes, this. Thank you. We actually did manage to exclusively breast feed for several months…after we weaned off the formula supplementation. In some circles I am made to feel only slightly better than someone who fed their kid rat poison, because I let him have formula. And breast milk.

    In which case, how would my acquaintance’s daughter whose child has only had formula (because said child cannot DIGEST milk, due to galactosemia) feel? There are no allowances made, usually, unless someone says “well, but–” and it gets kind of tiring to be the well, but, I would imagine.

    • Yes. It is tiring to be the “well, but…” Also, I shouldn’t feel that I have to justify it, explain it, or try to pretend that it was something other than what it was. Or that, because I had so many difficulties, I have no right to talk about breastfeeding, because only “success” qualifies as a story worth telling. And that only exclusive breastfeeding qualifies as success.

  6. Thank you so much for this. I think I just realized that the loudest “not really breastfeeding” voice is the one inside my own head. I had to take a break from some of the more hard-line bf blogs for a while, as I slowly come to terms with our breast/SNS/bottle convoluted feeding system.

    • Oh, Eileen, I read your last post, and I am SO there with you… not now, because my youngest is 4 years old now, but, that was completely like my experience. It’s so exhausting, and HARD, and then to have everybody sort of imply that it doesn’t really count just made it that much worse, but I did it to myself far more than other people did. It took me a long time to get my head around it, but even longer for the heart.

      I know this part feels like it lasts forever, but someday you will be answering letters from the teacher, and the experience of this will only exist in your memory. Let me know if there is anything else I can do or say to help you a bit.

      Also, I hope that you will pick up the blogging again as your baby gets older. I look forward to seeing the reinvention. (I poked around in your older posts, too.) 🙂

      • Seonaid, thank you! I really appreciate a glimpse into the long view. I’m working on allowing myself to grieve while still moving forward and focusing on my boy and his health (we’re starting baby-led solids soon, which is a great new focus!)

        And thank you also for the kind words about my blog, I’ve been spotty but hope to get back to it 🙂

        More love and appreciation ~ Eileen