Having issues with my body was not a new feeling. Growing up, I had been called fat, masculine, and even “two by four head” …whatever that means. I resented my body for being plagued with Celiac disease and asthma. I had called my own body every mean name in the book.
When my husband and I decided to start trying for children, I braced myself for bodily changes. I embraced the constant nausea, a growing belly, and swollen ankles because these were signs that my body was doing something right. After labor and delivery, I felt like a champion – my body had come through for me.
The lactation consultants were kind and well-meaning. They truly believed that “breast is best” for babies and they wanted me to succeed. However, sometimes the best intentions can have devastating consequences. After days of pumping and nursing without a single drop of colostrum or milk, I started to believe that I was a second-class mom. All of that newfound confidence was swept away when I learned my breasts could never feed my baby.
I truly believe that so-called “lactivists” mean well. They want happy babies. However, when someone says that breastfeeding is the best way to feed a baby, they imply that formula-feeding parents are doing less than their best. That’s the last thing any new parent wants to hear.
I’m not here to argue or make the rift between parents even deeper. Instead, here is my plea to those who would say that breast is always best:
Please think of the moms who wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t. Think of the adoptive parents who may already struggle with feelings about infertility. Think of the breast cancer survivor whose breasts were taken from them. Think of the two dads who are just creating a family they never thought they could have. Think of the transgender parents who already struggle with body image issues. Each person’s body is unique and worthy of love. We can celebrate the beauty of pregnancy and breastfeeding without putting down all of the other bodies in the world!
In the difficult first months of motherhood, when every move is criticized by everyone, parents need support. Saying “breast is best,” though well-intentioned and admittedly catchy, is not supportive. It’s divisive and unproductive.
There are many ways to be a parent, but lactivism divides the full umbrella of parenthood into two groups: the “best” parents and everyone else. “Breast is best” excludes loving parents from the narrative. The catchphrase is cis-centric and heteronormative because it does not consider the unique needs of same-sex couples and trans* parents. It builds a wall where there should be empathy.
We are all trying to be the best we can be. When someone says that their method is the best, it means that they believe my method is less-than-best. When you’re giving your tiny human everything you’ve got to give them a great life, the last thing you need is to be told you could be better if you were someone else.
The truth is that breastfeeding might be best for you. In that endeavor, I will always support you. I will fight for your right to breastfeed in public. I will fight for your right to have lactation rooms and pumping breaks at work. I will fight for you.
In return, I hope you’ll fight for the rest of us. Parenthood is hard. It’s so hard. The last thing we need is to make it more difficult for each other. Let’s lift each other up. Let’s learn from one another. Let’s be examples of kindness and understanding that our children need.
My beautiful baby is now 8 months old and as healthy as can be. She is funny, determined, and loving. I was lucky enough to have supportive people in my life who reminded me that I am not a failure. I am just a mom doing her best.
Doing your best is best.