Breastfeeding Revisited

Dear Claudia, How do you feel about the importance of breastfeeding? Do you think it matters? This is my first baby and I’m trying really hard to keep nursing, but I’m really tired.

Nursing in Norwood

Dear Nursing,

Welcome to the world of parenthood, and congratulations. You are already dealing with the sacrifices you have to make for your children, and you should feel proud of yourself. You should look at your baby and be thinking “I am a good mother and this is a wonderful baby.” You should feel exhausted in a satisfied way.

You probably need someone to let you “off the hook” and tell you that it’s OK to bottle-feed your baby and allow your spouse or other adult take over some of the baby’s care so you can rest. The fact that you are trying really hard to keep nursing, however, also tells me that it’s really important to you. If you stop doing it, therefore, you might feel like you have failed. I want to let you off the hook and tell you it’s OK not to breastfeed, and your baby will be fine, and you should give yourself a rest. But I know it’s not that simple, because of “guilt” which, as a new parent, you now have.  

What a good mom you are for trying so hard. I know how tired you are. The bottom line is this: how much is the exhaustion keeping you from enjoying the baby and your life. Look deep into your baby’s eyes. Are you loving her and enjoying her as much as you can? Is the breastfeeding  keeping you from drinking her in with complete love or is it just a hardship that is over when it’s over.

It is so difficult to determine the fine line between pushing yourself now so that you can enjoy having achieved something you value, versus being a martyr to perfectionism. If you push yourself out of perfectionism, your baby will sense that you’re consistently not enjoying him or her. I have seen plenty of cases where mothers couldn’t bond with their babies enjoyably because of their anxiety about “good” parenting. If you are really at the end of your rope, a prisoner to resentment and exhaustion for more than a week or two, I suggest you just let go. Let go of pride, let go of “shoulds” and let go of the goal. Many mothers find that taking warm baths with their baby, napping with their baby and gazing into each other’s eyes provides the satisfaction they need to know that they are wonderful mothers.

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