I share my story about how comments about having a different bond with my breastfed baby vs my bottlefed baby caused me anxiety and mom guilt.
Being pregnant and giving birth in a pandemic wasn’t exactly how I envisioned bringing my second (and probably last) child into this world. There were plenty of struggles and challenges related to pandemic postpartum life, but there are three major perks compared to my first.
One: I’ve received a hell of a lot fewer comments related to “baby weight”. I basically don’t leave the house, and when I do, I’m padded up pretty well in a huge winter parka, faux fur hat and mask, so you wouldn’t know me from Santa Clause on the street. As a result, there has been far less body checking than when I gave birth to my eldest where every gym visit would be accompanied by a dozen comments about how my body looked.
Two: Having no where to go, and no one to bother you at home really does foster a good environment for learning how to breastfeed. You don’t have people dropping by unannounced so you can literally just sit around with your boobs hanging out for skin to skin letting that newborn cluster feed all day long. No one is asking to hold the baby or feed the baby, it’s just you (for better or worse).
And three: We’ve gotten to spend more time together as a whole family because my hubs and I are both working from home (and this is a blessing and a huge challenge, of course).
My Postpartum Experience with E
This was a huge departure from my first postpartum rodeo where I left the house for a national TV segment two weeks postpartum (thank you Spanx).
If you know my story with E, you know that breastfeeding didn’t come so easily to us. E had “one of the worst” lip and tongue ties the pediatric dentist had ever seen, and as a result, even after the release, his palate prevented him from latching at all. He also had colic and literally just purple screamed for 4 months straight until his digestive system worked itself out. To top it all off, like so many first time moms, I also struggled with supply.
What our feeding routine basically looked like for the first two months was that I would attempt to feed him at the breast, he would scream and get frustrated (from low supply, and poor latch), I would then feed him on the bottle and then I would pump. It was a whole process that lasted pretty much up until it was time to do it again. Obviously this was unsustainable for me, so others in the household also started to do the feeding while I did the pumping, and after two months of fighting to breastfeed and over $1000 in lactation consultants, physio and osteo, we decided it clearly wasn’t going to work.
I made the decision to exclusively pump.
For those who haven’t breastfed or pump, know that this is NOT an easy task. Pumping is uncomfortable, it often causes blocked ducts (I had mastitis 5 times), it takes a LOT longer to get the milk out, and it requires a military like schedule. Throw in supply issues, and you’re pumping every one to two hours on the clock. For me it meant 8 pumps each day, and 3 pumps each night. Hours of my day attached to that ball and chain for 13 miserable months.
I quickly became the milk maid.
I would sit at the table with my nursing cover on making the milk that someone else got to feed my child. My husband, my nanny, my mom, dad, in-laws, friends. Literally anyone could come over, pick up my baby, stare into his eyes and enjoy the rare moment of silence and contentment in between his shrill like colicy cries.
My Postpartum Experience with O
Thankfully, that hasn’t been the experience with O.
After a quick tongue tie release in hospital, and few lactation consulting sessions, O was happily breastfeeding exclusively from day one. He is a happy smiley baby, barely cries, and lights up with the most sparkly blue eyes when I walk in the room. I’ve spent 24/7 with both of my kids since March 2020 and only really leave the house once a week for a few hours to pump out a few videos once a week. That has meant a lot of quality time with both O and E.
And while I’ve managed to dodge the daily body checking and comments about “baby weight” in this postpartum pandemic era, it’s been replaced with a comment even more unsettling.
“You have a very “different” bond with O than E, I’m sure it’s because you’re breastfeeding O.”
What they’re saying is a compliment. What they probably mean is:
“Wow, he’s a real mamas boy”.
“Aw, he looks at you with such desire and love.”
“So sweet, your kid adores you.”
And yes, those are all lovely things to say and to hear. And I believe those things are true.
But what does my postpartum anxiety and mom-guilt ridden brain actually hear instead?
“Your bond with E is suffering because you didn’t breastfeed him.”
“E loves daddy more than you.”
“You should have worked less and stayed home more with E like you did with O.”
I actually recall hearing a similar comment when I was in the early days with E and someone would ask about how our breastfeeding was going. While the breast-bottle-pump routine was really taking its toll on my mental health, everyone kept telling me to “keep it up, you’re doing great, it will be so nice to have that bond when you get the hang of it!”
Even though these were seemingly innocent comments, my stubborn and guilt-ridden brain interpreted as a suggestion that if I didn’t get that kid on my damn breast, I would be ruining our relationship for life. This puts moms like me (who are really struggling being the sole provider of her baby’s nourishment and comfort) under a lot of pressure to continue something that may not be what’s best for them (or babe).
Thinking back about it, I question if I made the right decision to exclusively pump, and if I should have swallowed my pride about the benefits of breastfeeding and breastmilk, and exclusively formula fed from day one. Postpartum anxiety and mom guilt is so pervasive it twists even the most well-meaning comments into devastating (largely false) beliefs. When I’m feeling tired (read: all the time), I’m particularly vulnerable to this faulty logic about success at being a mom.
So I wanted to offer myself and others an alternative narrative that is better grounded in reality than the one my sleep deprived brain can craft.
- My bottle fed son absolutely adores me. He cries for me when he is upset (read: doesn’t get his way), he tells me he loves me daily, he hugs and kisses me without prompt. Not exclusively breastfeeding obviously did not “ruin” my chance at a strong bond.
- I have formed a close bond with my whole family this year since we have had the benefit (and challenge) of working from home. This is all just extra quality time (and quality time can also easily be put in on evenings and weekends if I was at work out of the home). This is not determined by breastfeeding or bottle feeding.
- My kids are just different from one another. O is ultimately just a happier kid, he has a “good bond” with everyone because by default, the kid just smiles. E is a sweet, emotionally aware and fun loving kid now but as a colicky newborn , basically just cried for 4 months straight.
- I am glad I gave E the chance to trust others to feed him and care for him. He has always been very social and confident interacting with others, even if his primary caregivers (my husband and I) are not around. That means I can leave him at grandmas or with the aunties without a separation anxiety melt down. Winning!
I am glad health professionals are starting to be encouraged to tell mothers that “fed is best” but the dominant discourse in wellness culture is that while formula provides adequate sustenance, breastfeeding still provides a unique magical bonding experience. I hope we can start to consider the challenges that that assumption may create for struggling moms.
So I hope this blog post connects with those of you who have been made to feel (or just innately feel) guilty about how not breastfeeding will impact your relationship with your child . And for those who are bystanders in these parent-child relationships, I hope it just gives you a bit of insight into the guilt-ridden mind of a new mom and helps serve as a reminder that even well meaning comments can potentially do harm. We don’t always know what moms insecurities are and how those insecurities can be turned into real panic in the face of a seemingly innocent comment.
So if you want to compliment a mom on the bond she has with her breastfed child, I encourage you to stick to the facts. You don’t know if the relationship is because of breastfeeding. You don’t know if its because we “stayed home from work” longer with her kids. You don’t know if it’s because of anything we did “right” or “better” as a mom.
So instead, you can just say “your child loves you” and we will get it. We will appreciate the reminder without any strings attached or pressure to DO something. Because even if we decide to stop breastfeeding, or to go to work, our child won’t stop loving us. Our magical bubble won’t instantly burst.
We are their moms. They’re going to love us no matter what.
More Blog Posts You Might Like
- How to Increase Breastmilk Supply From a Dietitian Mama’s Perspective
- The Mom Guilt of Breastfeeding Failure
- Caffeine and Breastfeeding – Is It Safe?
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian (RD), regulated by the Ontario College of Dietitians. She is a mom, YouTuber, Blogger, award winning cookbook author, media coach specializing in food and nutrition influencers, and a frequent contributor to national publications like Healthline and on national broadcast TV shows.