By: Alison Dunn Apr 13, 2010

There wasn't a question in my mind. Of course I was going to breastfeed my new baby! It's natural! My body can automatically do it! It's better for the baby! It's free!!! I mean, really, in the face of all that evidence, how do women even consider not breastfeeding?

Famous last words. Seven years later, I realize just how naïve I was when it came to breastfeeding. It's one thing to read all the evidence and make a decision. It's quite another to be faced with a screaming newborn, sore, bleeding nipples and the crippling exhaustion that comes with being a new mom.

As you probably guessed, breastfeeding didn't quite go as smoothly for me as I anticipated. My son and I had a number of problems, from a poor latch to a not-quite-plentiful milk supply to his dehydration shortly after birth.

I wasn't alone, either. It wasn't until after I became a mom that I realized how hard breastfeeding could be, and that other moms experienced the same thing. It can actually be quite a polarizing issue among new mothers. Those who find breastfeeding goes well (or who are eventually able to make it work) don't understand why other mothers bottle feed. Those who have a tough time often give up after weeks (or months) of agony, and feel like they've failed their baby. And those who chose not to breastfeed right from the start worry other mothers will ostracize them for the choices they've made.

I certainly don't think any mom out there would dispute the medical findings on breastfeeding. (For some of the benefits, be sure to check out "Breastfeeding basics" this week on Primacy Life.) But the truth is there's a lot more that goes into the ultimate decisions we make about breastfeeding. Our family situations, our breastfeeding experiences, our work situations, our own health, the baby's status, our fatigue level (don't discount that as a factor), finances and so many other factors come into play. It's impossible just to make the decision on the health benefits alone.

After my own breastfeeding experiences, I made a vow never to judge another mother until I've walked a mile in her nursing bra, so to speak. You can't tell what a new mom has been through just by looking at her. I also swore I'd be supportive of any friends, regardless of their decisions. If a friend wanted to exclusively bottle feed, that was her decision and I'd support her. If one wanted to breastfeed her baby until he was two, that was her decision and I'd support her. The most important thing was that both mom and baby were okay – mentally and physically.

All I could do was make my own decisions for myself and my babies. Yes, I did end up breastfeeding both my children. But I also supplemented with formula, because of some of the difficulties we encountered.

And really, it wasn't the end of the world that I had feared at the time. At ages seven and four, my kids are perfectly healthy and happy. They have healthy diets, are active and are doing well in school. And that's not because I breastfed or didn't breastfeed – it's because of everything my husband and I have done as parents up until this point. Yes, early nutrition is important, but it's just one tiny part of your child's life. If you keep in mind the ultimate goal – raising and nurturing your children to become happy, healthy, productive adults – you can't go wrong.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.