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Is Breast Always Best?

A few days ago I was watching Packed to the Rafters (an Australian soap on Star world about family and probably closer to Indian sensibilities than our Indian soaps will EVER be) and the episode’s plot involved the protagonist, mother to a newborn baby struggling with breastfeeding issues.

Is Breast Always Best?

It was heartening to see her cope with a baby who was refusing to latch, her inability to let the issue go and supplement her feeds with formula and generally take it easy. Mind you this was no spring chicken mom but a seasoned mom with three grown-up kids under her wings.

The episode really hit home because I could relate with the angst the mom was feeling as she thought of herself as being unable to satisfy her baby’s basic need – hunger. I went through a similar phase when my daughter was born and refused to latch for the first three weeks. I nearly went into postpartum depression because I thought if I can’t feed my baby then what hope is there for me as a mom. The words of the well-meaning breast-feeding coach who was counselling me for my first week as mom kept ringing in my ears – “Breast is best”.

I went through hell and back during those early days, combined with a new mom’s exhaustion and healing from a c-section delivery, was the guilt of not being the “perfect mom”. Each session became a crying marathon with the daughter crying with hunger and me crying with shame. I refused to supplement my feeds with formula and pumped till I couldn’t do it anymore. Mastitis and sore nipple notwithstanding I kept pushing my mind and body just because I wanted to live up to the “ideal mother” picture I had created for myself.

Every time a relative or friend visited to see the baby I was crossing my fingers that daughter would not want a feed during their visiting time and they did not witness my “handicap”. My husband’s sensitivity and my practical to the core Mom got me back from the brink of crazy and helped me get rid of my insecurities. I decided to just focus on my baby and let everything else go. As was destined to happen, in a few weeks the baby and I both got the hang of it and things fell into place.

Don’t get me wrong, I am ALL for breastfeeding. Breast milk has some benefits that formula can never mimic. Influential organisations like the WHO recommend that you exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of your baby’s life.

What I do resent though is the feeling that breastfeeding has to be treated as some kind of competition. I resent when the “breast-brigade” will make you feel that you are not mom-enough just because you could not breastfeed like an angel, did not continue breastfeeding till your child was in preschool, because you could not pump enough to last in the freezer for the next six months or you weaned too early.

Books, magazines and even web forums will have you believe that unless you can breast feed you are not Mom enough. What if a Mom just can’t? What if she just doesn’t get the nitty-gritty of it even after trying really hard? What if she doesn’t want to breastfeed? Should she be judged as a bad mom because of this one fact?

There is medical research which states both sides of the coin, some which irrefutably claim that breast milk is the holy grail and formula is poison and others which show that there is hardly any perceptible difference between the health and weight gain of breast vs. bottle fed babies over a period of time.

What I want you think about is, whether in the light of the fact that mother’s mental state and the stress she undertakes definitely affects a child well-being, is breastfeeding still an unwavering choice when the mom is not doing it purely out of love but just to prove that she is good enough?

I think moms face a lot of bullying from other moms (sadly) in various aspects of parenting and breastfeeding is probably the first issue on which new moms tend to be judged mere moments after giving birth. An uncertain, vulnerable and fearful mom who is made to feel less of a mom because of whether she can breast feed or not, can easily be pushed to the realm of depression.

I feel we need to relax and lower the expectations from moms to be “perfect” all the time. And who defines perfect anyways? Parenting is all about doing what’s best for your child and sometimes that can mean doing what’s best for YOU.

Swapna Thomas is a Work at Home Mom and a professional blogger who left the corporate rat race to raise her daughter. She loves shopping, writing, black coffee and DIY decor, in no particular order. You can catch her parenting blog and join her on Twitter @themomviews.