A Healthy Mama is Best

By Caitlin Montcrieff 8/10/2020

Breast is Best
Fed is Best
A Healthy Mama is Best

As I was packing my bag for the hospital with my third pregnancy, I contemplated making a sign to hang above my delivery room bed:

10 rounds of mastitis ✅
10 inpatient days of IV antibiotics ✅
History of breast reduction ✅
22mo and 4yo at home ✅

I know you are a “baby friendly hospital” but PLEASE don't ask about breastfeeding, I have thought long and hard about this (plus my hormones are RAGING!).

I wanted to avoid that awful knot I got in my stomach every time I thought about it. That internal tug of war playing out in my mind of wanting SO BADLY to give my baby a hit of that "liquid gold" and the mom guilt that had eaten at me the 9 months leading up to that delivery room where I walked in carrying formula, bottles and a binky. I told my husband to smack me if I even tried to start breastfeeding after delivery. 

I should start by making it clear that I am a pediatric nurse practitioner. I was taught for years in school and practice that "breast is best" and truly believe that breast milk is the "liquid gold” it is chalked up to be.  "Winter baby born in peak viral season? Here--have some antibodies! Cradle cap or eczema? Here--throw some breast milk on there!" There are plenty of studies to support the incredible benefits of breastfeeding. In addition to the scientific data, from my own personal standpoint, there is nothing quite like the bond you have with your baby when breastfeeding. Words will not do it justice.  There is also that incredible sense of accomplishment and pride looking in the freezer at all that pumped frozen gold! (You mamas that have pumped know what I'm talking about!)

But despite my love of breastfeeding, my love of that late-night feed and bond with my babies, I also hated breastfeeding.
  • I hated that none of my friends or family who had "gone before me" had warned me about how hard it is.
  • I hated that I needed 3 lactation consultants, a nipple shield, a boppy, a breast friend pillow, a tongue tie release and for the room to be exactly 70 degrees with a southwest breeze blowing in from the window for my first born to latch.  
  • I hated that despite all my efforts, I ended up hospitalized with a raging mastitis when my first was two weeks old and had to pump and dump my Vancomycin-flavored gold.
  • I hated the vicious cycle of cabbage leaves, sudafed and ice packs in attempts to dry up my supply that only led to rounds 2-5 of mastitis and fevers to 104 (putting me out of commission while trying to be a functioning mama!).
  • I hated feeling like I was just topless all day long.
  • I hated that regardless of the size of the “hooter hider” I was wearing, my attempts to be discrete while breastfeeding in public were always met with the inevitable swipe of the cloak with nothing close to discretion.
  • I hated my inability to do anything remotely social because I would need to feed the baby within two to three hours (and we all know a childless Target trip takes at least 2.5 hours...especially if it's next to a TJMaxx).
Despite my struggles with my first, I insisted on trying again with baby #2 because I now considered myself an uncertified lactation consultant with all I had learned from all of my other amazing lactation consultants and la leche league! Low and behold my 10lb 5oz little porker of a baby boy latched like a champ and was exclusively breastfed for 3 months until I went back to work. "Do I make this patient wait and go pump or just see them quick…ugh I’ll just see them quick” and just like that, as I stretched out my pumping sessions around my clinic schedules, so came mastitis rounds 7-10 and a 7 day admission for IV antibiotics...leaving my husband home by himself to care for a 2yo and 3mth old (SuperDad, I know!-He really is)

Well it was this same SuperDad that helped support me in my decision to ultimately not breastfeed my 3rd and I can tell you it was a decision I do not regret.  Did I still feel tiny pangs of guilt and try to collect every bit of liquid gold that leaked out in the shower and give it to my 3rd? Yep! But did I also avoid a handful of inpatient stays, fevers, and the added stress of all of the above listed stressors? You bet! My mental health was much improved with this decision. I was able to get out more. I was able to juggle three kids under 4 with the convenience of formula, or better yet, get a babysitter and go on a date without needing to pack a pump!

When it all comes down to it, I have had my experiences, and you have (or will have) yours. Some mamas breastfeed for 3 months, others 3 years. Some mamas can’t make enough milk, others make too much. Some have a baby in the NICU and struggle to pump. Some mamas may have a medical condition or need to go back on medication which may not be best for the baby. Some mamas might have had a breast reduction where “all pipes lead to nowhere” and frequent mastitis. Some mamas have a BRCA mutation and have no breasts at all. Some mamas are single mamas and need to return to work right away. Some mamas (or daddies) have adopted and wish they had the option of breastfeeding and can’t decide whether to start their baby on formula or someone else’s breast milk. This list could go on…

Mama, whatever decision you make surrounding breastfeeding is the right decision. You do not have to justify your decision to anyone or feel guilty for whatever choice you make. Likewise, whatever decision your friend, neighbor, coworker, or random mama on the park bench makes is also the right decision. You don’t know their story or how they came to their decision, nor do you need to. Respect that. Boost that mama up. 

I did not need my hypothetical sign in the delivery room to justify my decision. And I am beyond grateful that my labor and delivery and postpartum nurses not only respected my decision, but in the spirit of the nursing profession (I know I'm biased) were kind, caring, and empathetic. If only the voice inside our heads could be equally as kind, caring, and empathetic.

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Caitlin Montcrieff