• Alicia Assad

When Food is Love

Regardless of how we parent, there is one thing that motivates us all: We want to be good moms.

Yet the problem with striving to be a good mom is:

There is no clear way to measure success in motherhood and a million ways to fail.

One way I notice we do try to measure success, is by how we nourish our children. The simple fact that if we feed them, they will grow, gives us something concrete to focus on. Sometimes though, measuring our "mom worth" by food can lead to unnecessary distress. Feeding our children "perfectly" doesn’t ensure their wellbeing or our sanity.

I’ve been thinking about this since last week, when a new mom friend of mine was texting me about breast feeding:

My little guy will now only eat at the boob for a few minutes. I think he’s done but then he’s a little fussy still wants a pacifier, etc. so I pumped a bottle and gave it to him right after a boob feeding just to see if he’s still hungry and he drank the entire thing! 4 ounces! Is he not getting enough at the boob? Do I just pump and give him bottle?! I can’t figure this shit out…

Now, I won’t claim to be an expert in motherhood. Still, I am constantly giving advice these days, because it’s like a 4 for 1 deal. Ask me a question, and the answer you’re going to get is four experiences that have been analyzed and rolled up into an answer based upon this theme:

I’ve done [X] four different ways. Each of my kids are equally as amazing as they are irritating. Nurture your children the best you can, but don’t drive yourself crazy while doing it….

In case you are wondering how I fed my kids in the beginning, here are my stats:

Baby 1: Nursed exclusively until 8 months when she suddenly became more interested in being “on the go” than nursing at my breast. I was determined to nurse her for at least a year, but she refused, so I gave her the bottle, and introduced formula, because I hated pumping and weaned completely around a year. To this day she is my most independent, eager, and restless child.

Baby 2: 14 months of exclusive breast feeding, when I finally weaned him to a cup. This one’s my most “impressive” stat by natural mom standards. Now, I'll confess that transitioning from 1-2 kids in 22 months made me desperate for him to take a bottle of formula. He refused, and all those sleepless nights where I nursed and rocked him led to an insane, all-consuming attachment that was exhaustive. Somehow I gave him what he needed and he is now the sweetest of my four….notably the best at snuggling and giving hugs.

Baby 3: Weaned at 11 months because we got thrush (who knew a little yeast on a nipple could be so painful). Pumping was also excruciating, so when my frozen breast milk supply ran out, I gave him formula and never looked back. He is our resident comedian and most charming child, but I’m not sure how this relates to the way I fed him….

Baby 4: She started biting my nipples at 10 months, and when it became a game I couldn’t stop (she thought it was funny when I winced in pain), I weaned her immediately. For a second, I contemplated pumping for the next two months, but a friend told me about a good formula, so I ordered it, breathed a sigh of relief, and never looked back. I notice this spicy little girl of mine loves to do whatever she can to get a rise out of me or her siblings and walks around saying, “Poopey!” because everyone laughs when she does....her nipple biting fun was just another way of doing this.

Given the above experiences, and varying “outcomes,” I said to my friend,

They like the bottle better, because it’s easier to get milk. While any breast feeding advocate would say no bottles, EVER, I say….Do whatever makes it easier. You want your baby to eat, and so do what you must to nourish him.

She is a smart and savvy new mom who knows exactly what she is doing. In fact, she technically didn’t need my advice. What I gave her was my permission to do a little “less” than she expected she would, because “less” always feels a little like we are failing.

This right here is where I think we all get stuck: our kids give us cues....we hear them...but if the cue is to do less than what we expected, it's still easy to feel like we are "failing." Sometimes we just need another mom to say, "It's ok, me too..."

I notice all of my kids let me know when they were done nursing. Well, except for the thrush incident.....that one might have gone on nursing longer. Maybe that's why he slept in my bed until he was 3.5? But whatever, I'm not going there...

Point being, I have long felt motivated to be a compassionate and nonjudgmental advice giver, especially when it comes to feeding our kids because we all are so emotionally tied to nourishing them. We are so hard on ourselves in motherhood, the last thing we need is another mother making us feel worse than we already do.

I easily could have been a prideful nursing expert, because for me, nursing was a sense of accomplishment in early motherhood. Seeing a drawer full of frozen milk in my freezer ranging from gold to ivory always made me think I was really good at something. I clung to my ability to produce milk and nourish my daughter, because after my intervention clad birth, nursing was all this “all natural parenting warrior” had left.

However, I stopped thinking I am better than anyone else with my "nursing talent," when I met my first mom friend in music class. She was struggling to feed her son because he didn't latch after an incredibly difficult birth experience. Still, she was driving herself crazy pumping and producing nothing. She wanted desperately to nurse or at the very least give him the breast milk everyone says is "best," but eventually caved and gave her son formula.

To this day, she dances on her head to get that kid to eat. "Every calorie counts" she tells me as she dips his steak in mayo and follows it with avocado. The way I see it, she has put way more effort into feeding her firstborn than I have into any of my kids combined. Her effort is pure love and it always leaves me in awe. How could I ever judge her as anything short of amazing?

You know what she did when she had her second? She read every breast feeding book in print, went to nursing classes, and rented a hospital grade breast pump. When the baby came, she would nurse, pump immediately after, then freeze. She created a big enough supply to wean her daughter at six months and still give her breast milk exclusively for a full year.

One afternoon, she told me the story of how she was transporting her frozen milk supply when she got into a car accident. “I was so worried my milk would thaw and spoil by the time the police got to us, I called an Uber for my breast milk and sent it home." Any of us who have ever produced an ounce of milk will agree, it's liquid gold....

Anyway, empathy for my first mom friend is what has always kept me grounded on the breast feeding thing. I "failed" at birth so I understood her feelings even though nursing worked so easily for me. Sometimes I think my failure at birth just might have made me a better mom friend. I was just lucky my babies latched and those big old breasts of mine always effortlessly produced milk. Now they are deflated sacks of….well….the state of my breasts after nursing four kiddos is a reflection for another day, but my oldest daughter recently quipped,

“Mom, are my boobies going to look like that one day?”

My advice: Don’t measure your success in motherhood by the way you nourish your kid, just like you shouldn’t measure your worth by your physical appearance….

My baby is now 19 months old. There is one bag of breast milk in the bottom of my freezer that I just can’t bring myself to throw away. I cannot give this to my daughter for it’s long expired, but I’ll never produce a bag of milk again. While I am too tired to even think about nursing another baby, I do miss it…..

I also sometimes miss the passion I once had for feeding my kids. My new mom self was technically much better at nourishing her kid for in crafting this post, I’ve realized that my little one barely consumed her fruit and veggies this week.

While I am slacking, I notice she is thriving as she grows into her toddler chubbiness and big personality. She is happiest when she eats whatever else her older siblings are. I don’t dare give the others dessert without including her, and she took down an entire ice cream sandwich last night.

Now that I’m recognizing the lack of veggies in her diet, I’ll make somewhat of a better effort to get more in starting TODAY, but I’m not going to beat my self up over it. Nope, I’m done with that.

Food in motherhood is an easy trap.

Feeding and growth is a clear way to measure success, and while it's a crucial part of what we do as moms, food is just a small piece of the pie. Our kids also need our love and engagement, and if we are too busy focused on how we are going to feed them, we might miss out on joy.

I might not be feeding my daughter perfectly, but I'm having so much fun with her. I honestly didn't know toddlerhood could be so much fun. We play, laugh, and giggle constantly. Sometimes I think I have this extra energy to actually enjoy her, because I don’t overanalyze things like food as much anymore.

Or maybe, I just know she's my last. Eventually, I’m going to have to throw that last bag of frozen milk away….