I am a mother of a 3 1/2 month-old boy, and I do not breastfeed. It took me about three months to be able to say that sentence without feeling like I need to crawl under a rock and hide afterwards. Here is how I got to this point.
As a first-time mom, I did a lot of Internet reading before I had the baby and read up on countless tips on how to take care of a newborn, what kind of gear to pack in a diaper bag, what exactly a “receiving blanket” is, etc. I didn’t read anything about breastfeeding because I thought that was going to be the easy part. In all of my Internet browsing, nothing ever jumped out and said “Make sure you read up on nursing, because it is going to be harder than you think!” That would have been tremendously helpful, because I had no idea how difficult it was going to be, both physically and emotionally.
Why wasn’t this like the pictures on all of those breastfeeding books with the tranquil woman nursing her baby with a serene look on her face?
I gave birth to my baby boy and nursed him while we were in the hospital without much instruction. It seemed to be working okay, but it hurt. A lot. Sometimes it was difficult to get him to latch properly. A couple of lactation consultants stopped in here and there but, like I said, there wasn’t a huge emphasis placed on education in this particular hospital. We went home a couple of days later and things only got harder after that. Breastfeeding continued to be extremely painful to the point where I would be biting down on the inside of my cheeks, curling my toes into a ball, tensing up, crying, the works. Baby boy continued to have some problems latching, so we’d try over and over to get it right, but most times it just led to me feeling frustrated and very sad. Why wasn’t this like the pictures on all of those breastfeeding books with the tranquil woman nursing her baby with a serene look on her face? Why wasn’t SHE crying??
A day or two after being home, I was in even worse shape. My boobs were a wreck (Earlier Internet reading had intimated that some nursing mothers may experience things like “dry, cracked, or bleeding nipples,” which always TERRIFIED me and was something I hoped to god I would not experience. I did.); things like showering or just wearing a bra became painful. We took baby boy for his first doctor’s appointment, where we found out that he had not put back on any of the weight he had lost in the hospital. This is where I started to get really concerned. Not only was this whole breastfeeding thing turning into a horrible experience – but now, I wasn’t even sure if the baby was getting enough of the nourishment he needed.
I finally broke down and gave him his first bottle of formula.
We went home and after another failed attempt at getting a good latch, I finally broke down and gave him his first bottle of formula. I don’t know if you’ve done any Internet research on breastfeeding, but in case you haven’t: people feel VERY STRONGLY about its importance, and EQUALLY STRONGLY that FORMULA IS POISON.
So let’s recap. I just had a baby. I was an emotional wreck as it is. I am a physical mess. On top of that, I now felt like a complete failure as a mother and a woman in general. Mothers are supposed to be able to feed their babies, and I could not do it. Everywhere I turned for support, I was met with the “breast is best” mentality and was encouraged to keep it up, because it would get better. This is not to say I did not appreciate the support and advice I received from friends and family. I truly did want to breastfeed because I realize that, of course, there are antibodies, etc. in breastmilk that you can’t get in formula.
ENTER THE PUMP.
A day or so later, I admitted to myself that traditional breastfeeding was not going to be a viable option. Just thinking about it kicked off all of these feelings of anxiety, which I knew would hinder any efforts I would make when we actually sat down to try it again. I knew that if I kept it up, I would fall deeper into this depression that I could already feel forming inside me. So, I pumped and I pumped.
I pumped every 2-3 hours for three weeks. When I first started, baby boy was probably getting about 75% breastmilk and 25% formula. As he got a little older, his intake went up, but my output stayed about the same (3oz max per pump). So, the ratio started to shift a bit in favor of formula. Then, another problem came up. Instead of my milk supply going up with all of this pumping, it actually started to go down. And yes, I did it all. I ate oatmeal. I took fenugreek. I drank tons of water. I ate a lot of calories even if I wasn’t hungry. Nothing helped. The only thing worse than the agony of breastfeeding was looking down at those bottles after pumping and seeing 1oz in each one.
It took me a while to give up on the pump. I was still feeling pretty much like a failure and this was going to be the final nail in the coffin. What ended up finally swaying me in the right direction was how much of a time suck it was. Baby boy was eating every two hours – so, I would feed him, then put him down and pump. And repeat. And repeat. When I added up all of the time that I was spending hooked up to the pump just to get a few measly ounces of breastmilk, it quickly accumulated to hours that I could be spending holding, cuddling, and bonding with my baby.
Three and a half weeks after having my baby, I ditched the pump and never looked back. The guilt still remained for a while, but as my baby grew and became more awesome every day, it became less and less of a concern. He is happy and healthy, and his mom and dad are happy, and that’s all that matters.
There were other people that gave their babies formula and–hey!–the world kept spinning.
During all of those hours I spent hooked up to the pump, I would often scour the Internet on my phone for any personal accounts of other women who opted to formula feed instead of breastfeed. These types of blogs or articles are few and far between, but when I did find them, they made me feel so much better (FYI – you can’t just search “breastfeeding” or even “breastfeeding problems.” You need to swallow your pride and search for terms like “I hate breastfeeding” or “I want to stop breastfeeding.”). I just needed to know that there were other people out there in the same boat as me. There were other people that gave their babies formula and–hey!–the world kept spinning. And that’s why I came out of blog hibernation to write this. I wanted to add this post to the small number of formula-feeding stories on the Internet that hopefully you will find hidden among all of the “breastfeed at all costs” stuff. Again, I AM NOT KNOCKING BREASTFEEDING. I think it’s great and I wish I could have done it. I think what people need to understand is that it might not be meant for everyone. So, if you’re like me, don’t let the negative stigma get you down. Go with your gut because deep down, you know what’s best for you and your baby.
Further reading that helped me a lot:
The Case Against Breastfeeding (The Atlantic magazine)
The Ideal and the Real of Breastfeeding (New York Times)
10 Reasons I Hated Breastfeeding (Scarymommy.com)