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Why Are We Tiptoeing Around Breastfeeding?

When I read a fellow mom.me blogger's recent article titled "Opting Out of Breastfeeding Was the Best Thing I've Ever Done," I had exactly two thoughts:

1. Good for her for knowing what was best for her.

2. But at the same time, there's more to the story.

Allow me to explain.

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While I think it's wonderful that we have no shame about formula—because hello, it's food for your baby and that's all that matters—I also feel like a lot of our discussions about breastfeeding and formula feeding have been reduced to what makes Mom the happiest.

And the truth is, breastfeeding doesn't necessarily have to be about what makes you feel the most fulfilled as a mother. In fact, I think it's OK to admit that it can majorly suck—but that it's still an acceptable choice to make for your baby, even if it's not your ideal.

New mothers may hear the common refrain of "do what's best for you" when it comes to making the decision of whether or not to breastfeed, and while I recognize that not all women even want to try breastfeeding and that many physically can't, I also think that new mothers may be missing the message that it's OK to sacrifice what might feel easiest for you as a mom when it comes to your child.

I do feel like we're missing a lot of opportunities in our careful tiptoeing around the issue of breastfeeding to simply tell new mothers the truth about breastfeeding.

We sacrifice a lot for our kids as mothers—our time, our bodies, our patience, our dinners (why do kids always want to eat off our plates?)—and for a lot of moms, breastfeeding is no different.

I think, in a lot of ways, we've made breastfeeding and formula feeding a reflection of ourselves as mothers, when it really doesn't have to be that way.

It's important to give both sides of the story: Breastfeeding doesn't have to be about personal fulfillment, and encouraging breastfeeding is not a personal reflection on you as a mother. It's possible to not really enjoy breastfeeding but still make it work. I guess, in a lot of ways, I hate to see the task of nourishing a baby—either way—reduced to a personal "choice" that's a reflection of women, because shouldn't it be more about the baby?

Basically, I just want us to able able to say, "Hey! It really is OK to talk about the benefits of breastfeeding and be honest about it not being a joyous personal decision for you as a mom without shaming formula feeders." It's almost like we're so afraid of offending moms who can't or choose not to breastfeed that we're afraid to encourage moms to breastfeed at all. And frankly, I think that's offensive.

There is a very fine line to walk when talking about this topic, because for some women, the sacrifice of breastfeeding really is too much. Postpartum depression could literally make the choice not to breastfeed a life-saving one.

Breastfeeding does not make you a better mother, but neither does formula feeding, simply because you're making the choice that's best for you.

But in general, I do feel like we're missing a lot of opportunities in our careful tiptoeing around the issue of breastfeeding to simply tell new mothers the truth about breastfeeding, which is this:

Breastfeeding can be hard, hard work and it doesn't have to be a choice that you make for yourself. You don't have to love breastfeeding or feel fulfilled by it to do it. It can make you crazy, it can make you feel alone, it can even feel a bit desperate at times—because for some mothers, breastfeeding is a sacrifice in every sense of the word.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Yes, I know self-care and happy, fulfilled mothers are the buzzwords in the parenting circles right now, and those things are so, so important. But like all things with motherhood, it's helpful to be honest about breastfeeding. There are good parts, bad parts and a time and a season for everything.

Maybe everything you need to be a happy, self-fulfilled woman will get sidetracked for a little for a few months or a year or longer while you breastfeed—but that doesn't mean all hope is lost for you! In my experience, breastfeeding has meant being honest with myself about the challenges and sacrifices it will mean for me, my work and even my marriage; it's about knowing my limits. Breastfeeding, for me, means understanding that I won't have everything all at once (Date nights! Uninterrupted work time! My body "bouncing back"!) but also understanding that it really is temporary.

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My point in all this, I guess, is simply to point out that it really is OK to encourage new mothers to breastfeed without feeling like it's an offensive topic, as long as we're being honest about it. Breastfeeding does not make you a better mother, but neither does formula feeding, simply because you're making the choice that's best for you.

Image via Twenty20/nphoto

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