“Ayaw niyang mag-latch eh.” ("He just won't latch.")
I've lost count of the number of times I had said that during my son’s first few months. I knew that people meant well when they would give me a pitiful look, or even when they would gasp in disbelief, as if I had killed someone. It was always hard to respond immediately – and calmly.
Moms like me who are unable to breastfeed often hesitate to share their stories. Who wants to admit that she’s incapable of doing such a simple and natural thing that other moms are able to do oh-so-easily? Who wants to get criticized by people who have studied this for years and helped countless moms go through it successfully?
Inside the mind of a non-breastfeeding mom, there is more guilt and self-loathing going on than you can imagine. There is nothing you are thinking that we haven’t said to ourselves yet. But the life of any mom is never perfect, and in the end, we all just want to be the best we can be, especially during these first few months!
Here’s what else we want you to know:
1. If we could, we would. Strangers at the mall would give me a weird look when they saw me bottle-feeding a small baby. I would get all sorts of comments from family and friends: Mag-malunggay ka! I-massage mo 'yung breasts mo! 'Wag mong bigyan ng bote! Gutumin mo! Kung hindi breastfed ang bata, magiging sakitin yan! Iba ang bonding ng breastfeeding! (Eat malunggay (moringa)! Massage your breasts! Don't give him the bottle! Starve him! A child who isn't breastfed will be sickly! Breastfeeding is a good way to bond!)
What people probably didn’t understand was that I had wanted to breastfeed too. With all my heart. But I couldn’t. And I didn’t want to blame myself, get depressed, and resent my son for making me feel this way. I had that choice, and it was up to me – not anyone else – to decide.
2. Our reasons are varied. I was unable to breastfeed – not one drop – because my son couldn’t latch properly. From the time he was born, he just went crazy when breastfeeding time came. He would cry, scream, wail, and hold his breath.
A friend of mine just couldn’t produce enough milk even after she had tried manual stimulation and stuffed herself silly with malunggay. Her body wouldn’t respond to anything.
3. We do ask for help. It’s not as if I kept the problem to myself. I remember asking help from my sister, to whom breastfeeding came as naturally as breathing. A friend of hers who is a breastfeeding advocate spoke with me on the phone and coached me on the proper techniques. I read articles online and consulted with my mom. They were all helpful, but I still couldn’t do it.
4. Just like you, we question ourselves too. Breastfeeding was supposed to come naturally, wasn’t it? I’ve seen my sisters and their babies go through it smoothly, although I knew it wasn’t always pain-free or hassle-free. Not a day went by that I didn’t ask myself what was wrong with my body. Or could it be my mind?
5. It scares us that we can't breastfeed. “What if my daughter becomes sickly or doesn’t get enough nutrients?” wondered first-time mom Helen when she had lost all hope of being able to breastfeed. That, plus the fear of not bonding with your child enough during the early months. This mom constantly compared her baby with that of a sister-in-law who was successful at breastfeeding. She constantly obssessed about the babies’ weight and developmental milestones. It was a tough first year.
6. We make tough choices. As far as I was concerned, I could continue to struggle, or make the most out of the situation. But I couldn’t let this minor bump get the better of me. There was this little baby whose life depended on me. At the hospital nursery, they fed him through a small cup, and we tried to do the same during the first few days at home. When he still refused to latch, I pumped breastmilk like crazy for the first few weeks, and gave it to him through a bottle. He liked it! Of course, the milk I was producing wasn’t enough, so I had to supplement it with milk formula.
7. We totally respect moms who can do it. Okay, it’s more like we’re jealous of them. Who doesn’t know a mom who can just lift her shirt or undo a button and the baby knows exactly what to do? Don’t we all know one who has so much milk she has to donate some of it to an orphanage? My friend Nikka even joined an event which attempted to break the Guiness world record for mass breastfeeding! We secretly envy them, but at the same time, we are in awe of what they can do.
8. Bottle-feeding does have its advantages. I could get into trouble for saying this but bottle-feeding, although not the ideal first choice, proved to be convenient. I’ve been to office meetings where a new mom would have to leave the room to pump milk in her cubicle (or at times, in the bathroom). It was a relief for me not to have to do that, although I did admire her sacrifice. At night, I remember that I could already predict when my son would wake up to feed. Because he was used to this routine, all of us generally slept well. My mother-in-law, who helped us care for the baby when I went back to work, had an easy time as well because feedings were well-timed.
9. We choose to be thankful. Mommy Carol chose to feel gratitude instead of resentment. “Accept God’s will and thank Him for good and accessible milk formula in various brands,” she says. I can’t help but agree. Things could be worse, actually. What if we didn’t have enough money to buy formula? What if we had no other option?
10. Breastfeeding or not, we’re still moms! My son is now six years old, and I don’t see how being unable to breastfeed him affected our relationship. He goes to his dad when he wants to play with his robots, Legos, and cars, but it’s mommy he wants to do his worksheets with and cuddle with at night. We fight a lot, too, but I don’t think that has anything to do at all with his being bottle-fed.
Mommy Carol puts it this way: “I have a great relationship with my son because we spend a lot of time together. We eat meals together, do homework together, do errands together, travel together, study the Bible together. I don't think it would be different if I was able to breastfeed him fully for at least six months.”
Bubbles is a full-time mom to a 6-year old and is a contributing writer for Smart Parenting and Real Living.