Making the choice to breastfeed

Many things influence the choice to breastfeed. It’s a decision that can change your life — as it did for this mom.

Few people know this about me, but my decision to breastfeed actually came when I was 12 years old. My mom took my two siblings and me to a friend’s house for lunch one day. I had been around my mom’s friend Laura on other occasions, but this day was different.

My mom and Laura had finished preparing lunch, and we were just sitting down to eat. Laura had a 5-month-old baby who started crying. She picked him up as naturally as possible and discreetly unclasped her bra and put him to her breast. This was my first time seeing a person breastfeed.

I was in awe of what had just happened. I knew not to say a word at Laura’s, but when I got home, I had so many questions. No one in our family breastfed. All I had ever seen was bottle feeding. My mom answered all of my questions. When I asked her why she did not breastfeed, her only answer to me was that it was her choice — a vague reason for choosing not to do something so natural.

This experience and my own with breastfeeding influenced me so much I became a lactation consultant — a professional who specializes in helping women breastfeed. Since then, I’ve wondered what decisions go into making that choice.

In Kentucky, with just over 60 percent of women choosing to breastfeed, the reasons I see most often fall into these categories:

  • Lack of knowledge about the benefits of breastfeeding, risks of not breastfeeding, what to expect before and during breastfeeding, and how breastfeeding can easily work into any woman’s lifestyle.
  • Misconceptions about breastfeeding, such as bottle-feeding is the “normal” way to feed a baby, formula is just as good as human milk, human milk alone is not good enough, formula gives you fat babies — and fat babies are healthy babies.
  • No family or social support,especially from fathers/partners or friends and family who share their experiences, suggestions and opinions on why not to breastfeed.
  • Anticipated embarrassment in front of family, friends, co-workers and the general public. We all have heard stories of women being asked to leave public places while breastfeeding. Our culture regards breasts as sexual objects. In addition, moms don’t want to feel uncomfortable while breastfeeding, and they don’t want to make others feel uncomfortable, especially close family or friends.

My experience so long ago influenced me to start thinking about breastfeeding early on, but when it came time with my first child it did not turn out quite like I wanted. I fell into two of the categories above.

My mother and mother-in-law highly influenced my decision. They told me how much trouble breastfeeding would be and how hard it was and that everyone in our family turned out just fine without breastfeeding. I finally submitted to what they thought was best. I figured my family would not steer me wrong.

My first husband was not supportive either way. After my milk dried up, I cried and regretted what I had done — I really wanted to breastfeed. I promised myself things would be different with my next baby.

When that time came, I made my decision to breastfeed. Family again tried to influence my decision, but I was not going to let that happen. I read books, went to classes, got help after I was home with my baby and ended up breastfeeding for 3½ years.

I’m not going to say is was easy during the first few weeks. Family members were saying just give him a bottle – “That’s so much easier” and “Formula is just as good.” With the support of my second husband, we did it!

I am so glad I made this decision, if not for the health benefits then the bonding between my baby and me. It was the most wonderful time. Each and every mom will describe her breastfeeding relationship differently, because every mom’s experience is unique. It’s made up of all the little ups and downs that you would do over and over again for your baby because you love them that much.

When I was going through the first few weeks of breastfeeding, there were times I thought I could not keep doing it. I did, though, and that made me proud, empowered and free from feeling like a failure at being a mother because breastfeeding was a part of motherhood for me.

As mothers, we want to give and do the best for our babies. We are everything to our babies — a source of nutrition, safety, security, warmth and soothing.

When you’re breastfeeding and your baby looks up at you and smiles as if to say “thank you,” you will never forget it. That is what it is all about. I met my breastfeeding goal as a mother but was very sad to see it end. It was one of the most fulfilling times in my life.

There is a multitude of reasons for moms to choose not to breastfeed, and I am sure you could name a few yourself. If you’re struggling with this decision, you owe it to your baby to:

  • Educate yourself and make an informed choice. Know you are doing the right and most healthy thing for you and your baby.
  • Be strong in your decision.
  • Educate the people around you if they question your decision.

Norton Healthcare’s lactation centers and services, including the Baby Bistro & Boutique at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital, offer personalized assistance and education in making the decision to breastfeed, along with ongoing support and resources throughout your breastfeeding experience. Learn more here or call our lactation helpline at (502) 446-MOMS.


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