Q: I have been breastfeeding my 3-month-old baby since she was born. My body’s milk supply is going down since I returned to work, and I’m having real guilt issues because of it. It seems like no matter how much water I drink or how much I pump, I can’t get to where I was a few weeks ago. Now the baby seems ferociously hungry all the time, so I can’t tell if the problem is a combination of my decreasing supply and her having a growth spurt. I know she will still be OK even if we switch her to formula, but I feel like I’m letting her down, especially since I was able to breastfeed my first child for at least 6 months.
A: Dear Guilty,
I’m calling you Guilty because that seems to be the issue we’re dealing with here. I mean, let’s think about it. You are not producing as much milk as the baby wants. That’s just science. I can suggest all kinds of methods to help you increase production (one of my personal favorites was drinking Guinness. I’m pretty sure it didn’t really work, but it was a fun little side trip on the journey of newborn motherhood). But even if that helps, I believe you’re going to have the guilt issue come up again and again in your child’s life. So instead of putting a Band-aid on a gaping head wound, let’s attack the underlying problem.
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Unfortunately, some amount of guilty feeling seems built in to the role of Mother. In our time, we know too much. It feels like whatever you do, there could be a better choice. So the first thing YOU need to do is shake that off. Just the fact that you wrote in shows that you are a conscientious mother who wants the best for her baby.
Keep telling yourself this: You are doing the best you can.
So you went back to work. That is a huge whammy for a mother of a newborn, one that is so fraught with societal expectations and hormonal reactions that it is hard to put feelings of guilt aside in order for you to do what must be done. Your return to work may or may not have anything to do with your milk supply going down, but unless you can change your mind and stay home longer with the baby, you might as well stop worrying. If you are powerless to change the situation, you have to deal with what is.
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So you nursed your firstborn for six months. Does the baby know this? Does she have a tiny scorecard tacked up in her crib that compares how you mothered her sibling with the way you are mothering her? (Don’t get any ideas, Pinterest freaks.)
I’ve got news for you: This is going to happen for the rest of your life. You will always worry about the differences between your first- and second- (and even subsequent-) borns. You’ll feel guilty that you didn’t take as many pictures or videos of the baby. You’ll worry that you don’t have as much energy for her because your firstborn continues to suck it away.
You’ll worry about the firstborn, too. Will he or she be getting enough attention now that a baby sister exists? Save your energy. There is nothing you can do about that now, either.
Keep drinking more water, because that’s good for you. Keep pumping as long as milk comes out, because that’s good for you and the baby, too. But drop the guilt and the worry, because unless you can quit your job or put the baby back inside your body, there’s nothing you can do besides love the children, and do the best you can.
And you’re already doing it.
Do you have a dilemma that’s too big for your girlfriends, but too small for a therapist? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I may choose to answer it in next week’s column. I’ve got your back, sister.