Breastfeeding Isn't Best For Me, and That's Okay

I had lunch with a fellow new mom in early December. We both brought our little ones to lunch with us, and we both brought pumped breast milk with us to feed our children. While Claire didn't wake up hungry, my friend's son did, and while he was eating, we started talking about breastfeeding. Initially, my friend didn't really say very much other than that planned to continue to breastfeed as long as possible. Then, she asked me how I felt about breastfeeding.

"I hate it," I said.

"Oh, you do? Oh gosh, I hate it too. But I feel like you can't say that to anyone," she responded.

Here we were, two friends enjoying lunch out with our new babies, and mom-shaming was looming over us. Every time I turn around, I feel like there's something new to be mom-shamed about, but I feel like there is no issue that brings the judgment as quickly as the issue of breastfeeding.

When I was pregnant, and the subject came up, it was never a question. Of course I would breastfeed. And I'd do it for at least a year. Maybe longer, but definitely not any less. Breastfeeding was going to be wonderful and beautiful and of course, there were all those other benefits - weight loss, less sickness for my child, and one day a higher IQ!, just to name a few. And with breastfeeding, my child and I would bond in a way that we wouldn't if I didn't breastfeed.

I talked to other pregnant women about breastfeeding and every time it came up, we talked about how we would obviously be breastfeeding. I had a conversation with my best friend in July after she had her son about how we couldn't imagine telling a nurse at the hospital that you wanted to formula feed because the hospital staff was so aggressive about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding seemed so inevitable that it was impossible to imagine that I wouldn't embrace it. But, as it turned out, I didn't.

On November 1st, shortly after my precious daughter had been laid on my chest for the first time, the nurse asked if I was ready to start breastfeeding. I said yes, but before she helped me position Claire for her first time, she handed me a nipple shield. A nipple shield is a short plastic cover for your nipple that is supposed to be help the baby latch and help extract your nipple, and - bonus! - keep it from getting blistered or chapped as the baby eats. I took it without a second thought and Claire latched right on and it didn't hurt - at all! I had heard a lot of stories about it being painful and so I was so relieved to not be feeling pain. I met with a lactation consultant twice while I was in the hospital and she showed me different positions to use and was generally helpful. We left the hospital feeling optimistic about our breastfeeding journey.

The next day, at our first pediatrician visit, the doctor suggested that while I was waiting for my milk supply to come in, I should supplement with formula. I smiled and nodded politely and said I wanted to wait as long as possible before we turned to formula. When we left the appointment, I was almost in tears. My milk wasn't coming in? Was I failing as a mother when my daughter was only 4 days old? What if my milk never came in? Only a monster would turn to formula, right? I immediately texted a very pro-breastfeeding friend, who connected me to an incredible group of pro-breastfeeding women on Facebook. They encouraged me to keep breastfeeding as much as possible and that my milk would come in and they were right! Just 2 days later, my milk came in and Claire started gaining weight right away.

The women in the Facebook group also suggested that I see an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) to work on latching so that we could wean off of the nipple shield. And so, with their help, I found an IBCLC in my area and she made a home visit the next day. She worked with me and Claire for almost two hours and told me to keep working on it and that over time, Claire would eventually latch on without the shield. Except that she didn't. No matter how hard we tried, Claire wouldn't latch without the shield and would scream and cry if I tried to force her to do so. Occasionally, I could get her to latch for a few moments, but it was a struggle and honestly, the shield was just easier to use, so I kept using it.

The day after my visit with the IBCLC, I started feeling like I had the flu. I took my temperature and discovered it was at 101.3 and only got higher every subsequent time that I took it. I didn't know what was wrong and I panicked and became hysterical. I called my doctor's office in tears and they had me go to the hospital to be checked out. Josh and I rushed to the hospital with Claire at our side (I was breastfeeding and not yet pumping) to find out that I had mastitis. I was given a very strong antibiotic and told that I would be just fine. I went home, only a little worse for the wear, started the antibiotic and was feeling better within 24 hours. 

So, I kept nursing, but slowly started to dread it. Yes, I loved the connection I was able to have with Claire, but I didn't feel good about myself while I was breastfeeding. I felt self-conscious about my body and the idea of breastfeeding in public was out of the question with the nipple shield and my desire for modesty. 

Slowly, I started finding that other people hated it too. In fact, a lot of other people hated it too. Some girlfriends of mine brought their sons over one afternoon and both of them were using formula and both said that they'd hated breastfeeding. Another close friend has just switched to formula as she prepares to go back to work, not wanting to spend her days at work pumping. With the support of these non-breastfeeding fans and - importantly - my husband and my daughter's doctor, I decided that I would continue to breastfeed but slowly wean so that not only would I not get mastitis again, and so that Claire would get to use to the change gradually. At one time I had been ready to take on the challenge of pumping at work, but was dreading having to pump in the classroom and finding time in my teaching schedule to pump. I started to slowly wean, and I, to no one's surprise, got mastitis again.

This time, I was prepared. I called my doctor and immediately got another prescription written and returned to nursing and pumping in spite of the pain. At that point, I decided that when it was time to officially wean, I would do it cold turkey. That way, if I got mastitis again, it would be once, and I would deal with it as best as I could. I went for my postpartum checkup a few days later and my OB/GYN said that that stopping by going cold turkey was a good idea and so I set about with a plan in motion. I would slowly replace all feeding with pumped breastmilk and 2 formula feedings except for the middle of the night feeding. Then, when I was ready, I would just stop pumping. 

And one week ago, on January 1, I did just that. I stopped pumping. I woke up Sunday morning and never had time to pump and then that night I decided to skip pumping just to see how it would go and it went well. I did start taking Lecithin a couple of days before I stopped in preparation for stopping pumping (it is suggested that Lecithin helps to prevent clogged ducts) and I have had absolutely no issues in the last few days. I have not yet replaced her middle of the night feeding with a bottle and as long as my milk doesn't dry up, I will continue to nurse her as long as she is waking up to feed in the middle of the night. 

I've talked with a lot of people about this. Josh and I talked about it and we were both on board with switching to formula. While it was ultimately my decision, it was important to me to have Josh's support. We also have the support of our pediatrician with whom I discussed that I wanted to stop breastfeeding at our 1 month appointment. He said that he understands that breastfeeding isn't for everyone and that it is most important that we are feeding our daughter. "Yes," he said, "fed is best."

But, we haven't been met with support from everyone - namely, other moms who breastfeed. At a play date for the new moms group I joined, I had an interesting conversation with a mom who is adamant that more women should be given nipple shields because it causes less pain and she thinks it would encourage women to breastfeed for longer amounts of time. The women at the moms group were lovely, but most of them were adamant breastfeeders and seemed a little in awe that I didn't love it. When I went for my postpartum appointment with my OB/GYN, she also judged my decision to stop. She asked why, and when I told her that I didn't like it, was uncomfortable with it, and didn't want to pump at work, she ignored these reasons and asked if I thought I could stretch the breastfeeding to three months at least. When I said that that was really not an option (I will return to work at 11 weeks postpartum), she coldly said okay and dropped the subject. It definitely got a little awkward, as it has with other pro-breastfeeding moms, but at the end of the day, these women are not me and they are not in charge of feeding my daughter.

Last week, Josh sent me this article from the Washington Post and as I read it, and the studies and articles it mentioned, the tears streamed down my face. I had just made a few notes, that would be the beginning of this blog post, on the subject and it was such a relief to read similar stories from other women. So much of what was in the Washington Post article and the Atlantic Monthly article mentioned in it (linked below) hit close to home. And, the Post article shared some fantastic studies and other articles, one a groundbreaking sibling study from May 2014, another a study about asthma and breastfeeding, this amazingly hilarious Jezebel article, and an Atlantic article that I think everyone - those who breastfeed for years and those who never plan to do it - should read. Many of the studies that have been done are flawed and there is a large amount of research that supports women who want to formula feed their children. These studies demonstrate that there are benefits to both breastfeeding and formula feeding, and that no mother should be made to feel poorly about the way in which she chooses to feed her children if they are healthy and thriving.

When we have another child, I hope to breastfeed for the first couple of months and then stop. But I will be prepared for the possibility that I might not want to nurse for that long, or that I might want to nurse for longer. With our next child, I won't beat myself up over whatever decision that I make because I will be more educated, regardless of the decision that I make. I will be ready to back up my decision if questioned about it (not that I should be, but I know that I will be) and I will be sure that our decision is the best that we can make. For now, I am confident that this is the right decision for us. For me, for Claire, for our family. And that's okay.

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2 comments:

  1. Elizabeth H├ębertJanuary 9, 2017 at 8:01 PM

    I couldn't stand breast feeding either! I was determined to do it for as long as I could, but Jacob is a guzzler and started to get frustrated, then lazy when eating, so I had to supplement. Once he discovered how easy the bottle was at 2 months, that was it! For the last 2.5 months he's been fully formula fed and not only is he thriving, but we're both happier for it!! (Tip, the ready to eat formula is cheapest at Costco. In Jersey at least)

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  2. I'm so glad you shared this blog! I literally could have wrote this myself- my experience was exactly the same including the nipple shield causing some major latching issues along with an abscess. I chose not to breastfeed as well and my Pediatrician said regardless of what you feed your baby, a happy mom = a happy baby so you have to do what feels right and works for your family. So proud of you, thanks for sharing �� More people need to be talking about this and stop all the shaming!

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