I wept with relief when my daughter was born healthy, and immediately took to breastfeeding. I now look back with deepened compassion to my first-born son's challenges with breastfeeding, and the emotional toll it took on me. Despite countless visits to lactation consultants, we simply were unable to make breastfeeding happen. Exhausted and defeated, it took me six weeks to switch exclusively to bottle-feeding and several more months to find emotional acceptance.
I now know countless others who’ve suffered similarly as they struggle to square their own complex experiences with common, well-intentioned “breast is best” messages. Surely, clinicians and community groups should continue providing patient-centered infant feeding care. We received valuable lactation support for a painful latch when my daughter was two weeks old, and she’s still breastfeeding nine months later. But substantially more resources should be dedicated to helping parents navigate the myriad practical and emotional challenges of raising young children.
Fittingly, when my daughter cries, my son now comes running with a combination of peek-a-boo and a container of the formula she occasionally has; after all, he’s the one who taught me formula can deliver freedom and sanity. Let’s approach postnatal care like my preschooler: with compassion, openness, joy and comprehensive care.
Katherine Hoerster is an assistant professor in theDepartment of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at theUniversity of Washington School of Medicine.