Last week, I went to get a bridesmaid dress I’ll be wearing fitted and the seamstress asked why it was big. I told her that I bought the dress right after I had a baby. As she was fitting the cups, she noted that I’m not breastfeeding. Not that she or anyone else has a right to ask that question, but she did. And it’s not the first time.
When my daughter was about two months old, we attended a family engagement party. We met an older woman who, as I bottle-fed my baby, told us that her granddaughter was born the same week as my baby and had the same name, but this baby’s mother was breastfeeding. Good for her.
I quit breastfeeding after four weeks. I have no regrets about it and I do not plan on breastfeeding any future children. I had every resource I needed within my reach and I still chose to quit. I tried it and it’s not for me, for multiple reasons:
- My baby wasn’t into it. At the hospital, I tried to breastfeed, but my daughter wasn’t correctly latching. The lactation consultant was an awful person who made me cry. She told me it was my fault the baby had a little jaundice, because she wasn’t eating and thank God she got to me just in time. Great way to ease a brand new, first-time mom’s nerves. My husband’s cousin is a lactation consultant. When I was pregnant, she gifted me with La Leche League books. (I read them, excited to try breastfeeding. I knew it was best for the baby and would also help me lose the baby weight and save about $3,000 a year on formula.) She came to the hospital and spent a few hours showing me how to get the baby to latch. But listening for the baby to swallow correctly stressed me out. Instead, the hospital brought in a pump and made me spoon feed the baby. I was pretty much traumatized at this point.
- I want to know how much my baby is eating. I begged the hospital to let me feed my daughter a bottle. I told them I would try pumping at home once my milk came in and that since I was going back to work, she would be drinking from a bottle anyway. They obliged and brought me formula. She downed the whole thing. We all felt better. I couldn’t deal with not knowing if she was getting milk when I was breastfeeding. Bottles gave me visible proof.
- It wasn’t best for my health after all. I have Epstein Barr Virus and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (now referred to as Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease). I survive on B-12 shots, strategically planned activity and plenty of rest. Sleep is very important to my wellness. When I came home from the hospital, I was determined to pump. This way, the baby was able to get my nutrients and I was able to monitor exactly how much she drank and how often. But that’s when the problems began. Like I said, the baby zapped me of all my nutrients. I was so tired that I didn’t have the energy to eat as much as I was supposed to in order to sustain breastfeeding. The rule of thumb for new moms is to sleep when the baby sleeps. But when you’re pumping, you can’t. You have to get up at all hours of the night to pump, even when the baby is sleeping, unless you want rock hard, aching boobs. I would feed the baby and then spend at least half an hour pumping and sanitizing the bottles. It would be an hour before I would get back to sleep and by that time, my little girl would wake up crying for her mommy.
- I wanted my husband to bond with the baby, too. There’s nothing like seeing the man you love hold and feed your baby. Allowing him to participate in feedings also meant I could go to bed early and get a few hours of sleep while he was still up. Then, I could take over the late night shift. I became a much happier person once I stopped pumping.
- Clogged milk ducts and 4:00 a.m. showers. Oh. My. Gosh. One night, I pumped for at least half an hour and nothing came out of one boob. My chest was hot, swollen and in pain, as I recall. Research told me to take a hot shower to get the milk flowing again. So at 4 a.m., in a zombie state, while my baby was sleeping and I should have been, too, I got in the shower. It worked. But then I had to do it a second time that same night. This was probably the first time I sent a text to my husband’s cousin asking about the process to stop breastfeeding.
There was one specific incident that led me to make the final decision to stop breastfeeding. It happened about a half hour after my mom had left my house. I wanted some alone time with the baby without help, so I sent her home. Not the smartest idea, as I was still recovering from a C-section, running on no sleep and too tired to eat. I had sort of an out of body experience where I thought I was going to faint. I spoke, but didn’t feel like the words were actually coming from my mouth. I was exhausted and delirious. I called my husband and he was far away at work. So I called my mom to come back. While I waited for her, I called my cousin so someone could be on the phone with me. The other nearest relatives were 15 minutes away and not home. My cousin told me to put the baby in her bouncer so if something did happen to me, she would be OK. She told me I probably needed to eat. So I went to the kitchen and drank a soda, which for some reason we had in the house (we only drink water). She told me that my body probably couldn’t handle breastfeeding and later when I called my doctor, he agreed that I was suffering from extreme exhaustion.
I decided that it was time to stop putting myself through the torture of pumping. I needed sleep. I felt like I was a milking machine. I missed the first month of my baby’s life because I was too busy pumping and in a zombie state to enjoy anything.
In order to be the best mom, I needed to put my own wellness first.
I cried hysterically and felt like a failure. I wanted my baby to get all the benefits of breast milk. My mom and husband reassured me that everything would be fine. No one in my family breast-fed anyway. And we all turned out damn fine. Doing it for the first four weeks gave my baby nutrients at a crucial stage. And she got about another week or two from my stored milk bags. I counted down those bags, savoring every last drop she drank.
My doctor told me to quit breastfeeding cold turkey. The pain I endured was worse than the pain from my C-section. I left the hospital and took only ibuprofen for my surgery. But let me tell you, I broke out that prescription pain medicine a few times while my milk dried up. It hurt more than getting a tattoo on my foot. And that is excruciating pain. Seriously. My chest was so swollen and rock hard that I could barely let a t-shirt touch my skin. I couldn’t even lift up my arms! Forget about sleeping, too.
Though I was suffering, the baby was doing wonderfully. We introduced her to Gerber Soothe formula. It was a seamless transition. After about a week, my boobs returned to their new normal and I was able to enjoy the last few weeks of my maternity leave. I was so grateful that I stopped breastfeeding when I did so my body had time to heal before I went back to work.
I’ve never stopped bonding with my little girl, either. I’m the person she follows around the house and cries when I leave the room. We’re extremely bonded and still co-sleep. I didn’t lose any of that bonding by putting away my boobs.
There’s so much in-your-face breastfeeding stuff out there on social media right now, that I wanted to write something for the moms who chose not to- or simply cannot- breastfeed.
Breast isn’t always best. Doing what works for you and your family, and what allows you to be the best mom to your ability, is what’s important.
Everyone needs to remember that.
I’d much rather be a formula-feeding mom who is present, coherent, nurturing and fun than a breasfeeding, exhausted version of myself who has to let others watch her baby so she can sleep in her downtime. It’s hard enough being a working mom. The time we get with our little ones is precious and we all need to do what it takes to maximize those memories. Our babies won’t remember how they were fed during the first year of their lives, but they’ll hold onto the bonds we create forever. And those bonds are formed with or without breast milk.