I am a breastfeeding failure. Okay, that’s a bit drastic. I’m not a failure per se. Sure, I may have had some lactating difficulties with my first child. For the entire three months I breastfed her, I struggled to make enough milk to keep my daughter satisfied and to keep her weight on track and “in the clear.” I tried it all – lactation consultants, orders of Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle, lactation cookies, Mother’s Milk Tea, constant pumping, constant cluster feeding…
However, after three months had passed, I was forced to come to terms with the truth. I learned the hard way that sometimes our bodies fail us in ways we can not control.
When I stopped breastfeeding my first daughter at that three-month point, I felt like a breastfeeding failure. It literally stung me to make her bottles of formula, and I felt like that very last connection we had shared since she was first conceived had been cut. We had lost something that so many other mothers and their babies were able to share so effortlessly. The only way to describe it was to admit that my decision to formula feed made me feel like a horrible mother and generally just despicable.
As if the looming guilt and pangs of failure were not enough, there was more to the dilemma. To make matters worse, my baby rejected the bottle. She literally would not feed or even latch on to any bottle nipple whatsoever. When feeding was initiated with the bottle, she would wail; she was not having it.
So there I was, unable to make enough milk for my firstborn and unable to help or convince my baby to accept a bottle.
It left me feeling responsible for her starvation, for her cries of hunger. This small creature who was my entire existence and relied on me completely couldn’t be nourished because of me. The feeling is indescribable: it was just terrible.
I did what any mother would do, everything. I practically spent my life savings on every single bottle and formula on the market. I lost a total of three extra weeks of unpaid work to stay home and acquaint her with bottles until she could go without my milk. I tried every trick in the book (pun intended, but in this case, the “What to Expect” series). I tried every bit of advice my world had to offer – my mother, my future mother-in-law, and Google, alike. At the end of it, I survived, and so did she. At 2 years old, she is a healthy, thriving little girl who adores milk, bottles, and everything I struggled with 18 months ago.
Over time, I let myself accept that breastfeeding beyond that crucial point wasn’t for me, and quite frankly, it wasn’t meant to be.
I remembered a conversation I had with an acquaintance early in my pregnancy. We were chatting about our due dates and plans, and upon hearing she would be exclusively formula feeding, I made a smug look in her direction. Looking back, I have to ask myself, why? Who was I, as a pregnant first-time mother, to judge her decision? Who is anyone to, really?
What was so elite about the decision and ritual? Sure, I knew there were benefits because they said so in the parenting class I went to. But I had never done legitimate research to substantiate my smug look and lousy attitude. Most of all, I didn’t know her reasoning, nor did I ask. I never inquired about her situation or reasons. I was just judgmental, as so many of us can be.
And so, I had breastfed my first child for a total of 3 months. My daughter had access to antibodies and the benefits of breast milk – benefits that some babies may or may never experience.
My breastfeeding failure didn’t make me a “bad mom” by definition, even if I felt that way. Instead, it gave me the courage to accept my first challenge as a new parent and do what all mothers must do every day – find out how to cope with my new life.
After the birth of my second child, I was apprehensive about trying to breastfeed again, as I’m sure anyone else in my situation would be. My fiancé and I make our family decisions together. He preferred that I “try.” In respect of his choice and input, and also to follow my own heart and feelings to do right by baby number two, I did that – I tried. I breastfed my second baby for a little more than one month before committing to exclusively formula feeding.
She’s 6 weeks now. My breasts ache with a pain I can’t describe. The mere touch of them makes me want to wail and scream in agony. Earlier today, I stuffed cabbage leaves down my bra, and it wasn’t a pretty picture. Trust me; it’s a place I never expected to go with vegetables. But I decided to stop because I have every right to. The formula was created to nourish. My child is healthy and has gained the perfect amount of weight.
I do everything I can for her in every way. I spend my nights sleepless, I rock her until my arms throb, and I have filled up my iPhone camera roll with cute baby photos approximately 14 times so far.
The reasons I stopped this time were my own.
As a mom who works full-time (maternity leave ending in a week), the idea of pumping around the clock was exhausting, and that’s just the idea! By not pumping, I can accept more help. By not feeding on demand, I can sleep when possible. By choosing to end my time lactating, I can return to taking my medications I have been unable to take since I became pregnant – medications I had relied on for years now.
By not breastfeeding, I can get through my day without wondering where we need to stop if I’m wearing appropriate clothing to nurse or a breastfeeding station nearby where I will sneak away if someone caught a nip slip in public. It’s a decision I have made for myself. If the pediatrician feels that my baby will be nourished with or without MY milk, why should I question that?
I’m sharing this information because I truly believe that it’s not selfish to decide that benefits yourself in parenthood and life. It’s not selfish to weigh the pros and cons and, in the end, to decide to lean towards your own personal feelings regardless of those results.
With a toddler at home, feeding on demand made me anxious and stressed. I felt stretched too thin. Without breastfeeding, I can return to my migraine, ADHD, and anxiety meds, which can help me be a better mother to my daughters in other ways that may benefit them more than breast milk may ever be able to.
And so, I encourage any mother to follow their heart. Don’t allow someone else or something that’s a mere “generalized truth” dictate your decisions in parenting. You know you, you know your children, and you know your family. Do you what you can and understand that your body will speak for you. It will tell you what you can handle and what you can’t.
Don’t be afraid to accept a consequence different than your “plan” or different than what society is screaming at you. Being a breastfeeding failure doesn’t make you a ‘bad mom,’ if anything, it acclimates you to the critical factor of new motherhood – rolling with the punches.
There’s nothing to be ashamed about taking it as it comes and doing your best; it’s what we all aim to do. If anyone tells you differently, remember, you don’t have to answer to anyone. And at the end of the day, all you have to do is love that beautiful baby of yours. I speak confidently when I say I know that’s something I can do in any and every way possible.