There are many ways to feed a baby. If feedings are stressful or there is family conflict, read on.
When breastfeeding is going well, all members of the family have a positive relationship with their newest member, and each has an important role in bonding and caretaking. Both parents feel connected to each other and their baby, and they know their role is essential in the baby’s feeding and soothing. Likewise, the baby experiences that their need for milk and comfort will always be met; and as they grow into eating solids, saying words, and toddling around, they learn that there are also different ways to be comforted and fed, and their relationships with their family members are unique..
Breastfeeding can be hard, especially in the first 4–6 weeks. Though most mothers enjoy it after that, not every mother does. Your feelings and needs are just as important than your baby’s. The saying about putting your own oxygen mask on first is very true—you have to be ok in order to take care of your baby—and you deserve to feel good as a human being.
Some mothers find that breastfeeding is helpful to their mental health, but this is not universal, and there is nothing wrong with you if you don’t. If you are experiencing negative emotions, it may be useful to talk with your doctor or a mental health professional to evaluate you for postpartum depression or anxiety (PPD/A). Here is a screening tool for PPD as a place to start.
Fathers often wonder what their role is in early feeding and caretaking when the mother is breastfeeding. Some fathers feel pride in supporting the breastfeeding relationship and develop ways to bond with their babies that are uniquely theirs. Other fathers may feel left out. They can feel envious of the intimacy between the breastfeeding mother and baby, and concerned that they don’t have what is needed to have an equally intimate relationship in the first months.
It is not crazy to feel this way, and there should be no shame put on you if you do. In order to address your feelings, it is important to acknowledge them and brainstorm ways the family can support your important relationship with your baby. Some families find that doing some bottles of pumped breastmilk works best for their family. Other families find unique ways the father can bond that are not feeding-related. Fathers can research and strategize ways to solve breastfeeding problems that the mother may not have the energy to do. He can take over baby care for a while; this allows both self-care time for mom, and quality dad time with baby.
It is important that both parents have time to develop their parenting skills. Caring for a baby requires so much more than just feeding—babies need parents to read their cues for sleepiness, physical discomfort with full diapers or excessive heat/cold, signs of illness, overstimulation, and many other things.
Parents’ mental health, happiness, and relationship with their babies are actually very important to the baby’s optimal health and development, and solving problems that arise from feeding issues is an investment in family harmony!
Every family is unique and has their own values, resources, and stresses. It is ok to discuss with your partner and support system how best to feed the baby, and make the decision that is right for everyone—the baby, the parents, and anyone else who loves your baby and helps care for them.
There are many ways to successfully breastfeed, and it is ok to partially or fully formula feed your baby, even if it’s just because you don’t feel like breastfeeding is right for you or your baby. It is also ok to heavily prioritize breastfeeding when that is what is best for everyone. Whatever you decide to do, know that decisions made in your parenting journey are models for what your family values. Meeting your own needs teaches your child that taking care of oneself is important, that self-care isn’t selfish.
You may consider the saying “don't quit on your worst day,” get help, and see if breastfeeding gets better. Many problems can be solved. A different approach to feeding may be needed (whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding) to allow it to be more enjoyable and a bonding experience for you and your baby.
Whether you’re exclusively breastfeeding, combination feeding, or exclusively formula feeding, you should feel proud of your hard work in feeding your baby! By meeting everyone’s needs during your babies’ infancy, you are setting the stage for your family’s happiness for years to come.