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Jessica Shortall
Contributing Writer

Your Worth As A Mother Is Not Measured In Breast Milk Ounces

Meet Jessica Shortall, a working mom with a career dedicated to the intersection of business and doing good. As the former Director of Giving for TOMS Shoes, she literally circumnavigated the globe with a breast pump.  Pre-order her upcoming book by Abrams, “Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom’s Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work,” out Sept. 8.

There are more breastfeeding support groups on Facebook than you can shake a tube of nipple cream at, and they all have their own flavor. Some will NOT let you discuss formula of any kind. Some are pro-attachment parenting or pro-scheduling. Some are lovely places with very strict rules about being mean or judgmental. But many have members who are highly opinionated about breastfeeding and who will pursue their line of thinking no matter what the context. You need to know this, because you might blithely join some of these groups for support, and then in an hour of need actually post on them for help. And you might be surprised by what you find.

I need to pause and say that I've gotten and given an enormous among of help on some of these groups. Most of my experiences have been positive. Asking for help in breastfeeding is hard, because everyone has an opinion. My friend has a newborn, and her 75-year-old male neighbor weighed in on her, totally unprompted, the other day. Asking online is even harder, because it's impersonal, and people's opinions are on steroids. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it — there are a lot of helpful people out there, and the internet has saved my new-mom butt on so many occasions.

But now that I am past the stage of breastfeeding my own babies, and just hang around a few groups to be helpful, I have some perspective on — and the ability to laugh at — the patterns that seem to emerge in these little communities.

Let's say, for example, that you decide it's time to wean your baby. Your reasons for this decision could be anything: work or spousal pressure, supply issues, pain, emotional distress or mental health concerns, exhaustion, tongue or lip tie or latch issues, reaching a goal and being happy to leave it at that, or something I haven't even thought of, since it's your body and life, not mine. But let's say, for the sake of this example, that you have totally made up your mind. You're going to wean that baby, and now you would like some help on how, so you don't end up with mastitis and/or a cranky baby.

You post something that is very clear about your decision and the help you need, like: "Hi mamas! I've decided it's time for us to end our breastfeeding journey. We are down to two breastmilk feedings a day. Any advice on how to do this so I don't get engorged?"

I can basically guarantee the rest of the thread will look like this:

Jen: Sorry to hear that, mama. Why have you decided to wean?

Sara: Have you seen a lactation consultant who can help you keep breastfeeding?

Aimee: It was really hard for me, too, but I hung in there and I am SO glad I did. You won't regret it!

YOU: Thanks, ladies, but I really have decided that it's time. (Insert reasons here, which are really totally your business.) So...any advice?

Jen: Is there anything we can help with, if you don't want to wean? 

Sara: Yes! Go see a lactation consultant. She can solve your problems so you can keep breastfeeding!

Kelsie: Uhhh guys? I think she said she has decided to wean. Let's just help her do that.

Aimee: Yeah, but I really don't want her to regret her decision! I'm not judging, just trying to be helpful.

YOU: (Starting to feel a little defensive/guilty, you enter a longer post, with more detail about why you've made this decision.)

Kristen: (Insert one detail from your explanation here) sounds totally addressable. I bet you could keep going if you just __________!

Jamie: Try a nipple shield!

Amber: I sell these AWESOME lactation cookies, if u wanna give that a try!

Sara: So...did you talk to the lactation consultant yet?

Kelsie: Here: (Provides link to an actually helpful article on how to wean safely)

If you find yourself in this situation, do yourself a favor: Walk away and go find help that meets you where you are, not where people want you to be. Weaning a baby can cause a lot of guilty feelings, and you don't need anyone to add to any of that. If you know it's time, it's time. There will be some sadness at the end of any breastfeeding journey, but if you know it's right for your life, you have to trust yourself. So don't engage in this stuff. If you want to help the next person who comes along, you could post some simple feedback like, "Thanks for your good intentions. I tried to be really up-front that I had already made the decision and was looking for help on how to do it, not whether to do it. If anyone has any practical advice or links, I'd appreciate it."

But whatever you do, remember this: Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces. You're the mom and you're the decider. Stay your course. You got this.

PHOTO: Shutterstock