Dear Moms — No, You Do Not Have to Breastfeed

Dear Moms,

No, you absolutely do not have to breastfeed. Take a deep breath and shut out all the noise and advice from everyone else who thinks they know you and your body. Listen to your heart and your gut. You do not have to breastfeed. You can hear "breast is best" as many times as you want, but that doesn't make it true for every individual mother. You do not have to breastfeed.

How do I know? Because I'm one of them.

"You just have to push through it," my friend said a few weeks after my son was born. I was in tears complaining to her about my cracked and bleeding nipples, engorged breasts, and recurring mastitis. I knew my friend wasn't trying to be cruel, but I also knew she didn't understand. Breastfeeding came naturally to her, and she wanted me to be successful at it, too. Only I wasn't. I tried everything, and nothing worked. The toe-curling pain was unbearable. So when she kept telling me to "push through it," it only made me feel worse. And while my physical distress was horrendous, nothing was worse than my mental state.

With so much pressure (from everywhere and everyone) to breastfeed successfully, I was an emotional basket case. I cried every day. I felt so much guilt for wanting to let my milk dry up. I knew that my baby would be just fine with formula, but I wanted to do everything perfectly. Me. But I was failing at the one thing I thought my body was supposed to be able to do. My baby blues began swirling out of control. Not only was I crying every day, but I also started to deal with anxiety.

Instead of soaking up those first few weeks with my new baby, I was drowning in stress. I couldn't sleep during the few hours I actually could because worry would wake me. And my relationship with my husband? Forget about it. He didn't understand what I was going through but knew that something had to change. Finally, with the strength and support of him, my mother, and my best friend, they urged me to stop breastfeeding. And after another bout of mastitis, I did.

The day that my milk dried up, I became me again. I realized that I was still the natural mother I wanted to be, even if that meant no breastfeeding. My baby boy became my greatest joy, and we BOTH became happier. I truly believe that if I would have continued to "push through it," I would have gone into full-blown postpartum depression. The darkness that hovered both within me and all around me was something I couldn't have "pushed through." And we shouldn't expect or encourage other mothers to, either. Our happiness is worth fighting for.

You don't have to breastfeed if you don't want to. You don't have to breastfeed if it hurts. You don't have to breastfeed if it's taking your hormones to a whole new level of depression and fury. You don't have to breastfeed if your milk isn't coming in or you're engorged. And you don't have to breastfeed even if the guilt of not breastfeeding consumes you. You don't have to do it.

The only thing that new mothers should have to "push through" is the awakening that many of them need to do what's right for themselves, their bodies, and their babies. Trust yourself. Trust your baby. You're doing the best you can.

A Proud and Natural Mom Who Failed at Breastfeeding