A Measure of Worth?

Pajarito Lactation  

True confession. I fed my babies formula – at least for a little while.

There. It’s out in the open. And guess what? I feel no shame. 

It’s World Breastfeeding Week and the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force, Los Alamos Chapter, is highlighting community support for breastfeeding. However, sometimes highlighting an issue can trigger strong emotions.  

World Breastfeeding Week, including the Ban the Bags campaign, is meant to protect and promote breastfeeding as a healthy choice for mom and baby. Not every mother understands the significance of breastfeeding on the health of her child, or recognizes the subtle mistruths she may have absorbed through the media or in the community. Hence, there is a week set aside to highlight breastfeeding, in an attempt to give mothers the information they need to make an informed choice for themselves and their children.

Breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally, though. I called La Leche League for help a number of times until the exasperated Leader finally said, “If you’re not going to come to a meeting, at least buy the book!” So I purchased The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. But I still refused to attend a meeting. And while I attended night classes, my husband gave our baby formula.   

Fast forward four-and-a-half years to baby number two. So many struggles, including  formula  supplementation for two months. I went to my first La Leche League meeting with a bottle of formula in my diaper bag, in case my baby needed to be fed. 

There is no question that breastmilk is superior to infant formula. But we’re not privy to the circumstances of those who choose formula – short or long-term – not having walked in their shoes. Some choose it because they encountered a problem and didn’t find the help they needed. They can feel abandoned or angry. They can feel guilty.

There are also mothers who don’t make milk, or as much milk as their baby needs. When mothers have a deep desire to breastfeed  but can’t, it can be devastating, and mothers often grieve deeply. In these instances, mothers can hopefully, eventually find a healthy place of peace. 

Unfortunately, many of us measure a good chunk of our worth as mothers using breastfeeding as a yardstick. 

With my second child, I left a pediatric visit with instructions to give my baby formula because he wasn’t gaining weight. I called a lactation consultant and a local La Leche League Leader, both of whom supported me during the long, slow process of getting my baby to breastfeed. 

Information and support can be powerful tools. Our community is rich in breastfeeding support – we may well have one of the higher per capita rates of lactation help in the state. 

I hope every mother with breastfeeding challenges reaches out for help, that the hospital refers her to someone who can follow-up upon discharge, that her OB/ pediatrician refers her to someone who can give more long-term and focused attention, and that she finds a way to meet her breastfeeding goals. 

But the bottom line is this: No one gives out prizes for breastfeeding, or for breastfeeding the longest, or for making the most milk, or for wearing the cutest nursing bra. It just doesn’t happen. And that’s a good thing. Because being the best mother you can be doesn’t depend on those things. Being the best mother is more subtle and immensely beautiful, with immeasurable qualities that can’t be fit into a box. Each mother and each child is unique, developing their own unique relationship. It’s only when we compare ourselves to someone else, or compare someone else to us, that we lose our perspective on our value as mothers or our compassion for others. And that’s the real shame. 


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