As a sophomore in college, I interviewed my grandmother, a hero of mine, for a "Women in the West" history class. Graduating in physics as the only woman in her class (and a pregnant woman at that!), she was recruited by Boeing and relocated to Seattle, supporting her family while my grandfather attended pharmacy school. She raised five children (in addition to half the neighborhood), taught physics, and lives a fulfilling life. When I asked her what she was most proud of in her life, her answer came quickly, "breastfeeding."
"Breastfeeding?!" I asked.
Having heard my confusion, she elaborated "Yes, breastfeeding. Your body is doing exactly what it was meant to do."
I was mesmerized. This woman had done it all, and yet the simple act of breastfeeding was the top of her list. From that moment on, I was ecstatic about being a mom and experiencing the bliss that is breastfeeding.
Fast forward 10 years and I have my own bundle of joy. A semi-rare condition (symphysis pubis dysfunction) made my pregnancy painful and the labor ended up being extremely difficult (24 hours and no drugs), so I was looking forward to the joys of breastfeeding my little one. All that came crashing down within days after his birth.
From the get-go, things were painful. My son had a terrible latch. Long story short, his latch caused my nipples to crack and bleed. No amount of nipple cream seemed to help the pain (not to mention it stained all my nursing bras). The pain was just part of it though. Since he had such a terrible latch, breastfeeding took ages. It was common for a feeding session to last an hour. An hour!
Not to be a stater-of-the-obvious, but when you have to feed a baby multiple times a day, as in up to eight times, and a session can last up to an hour, that pretty much means your entire day is breastfeeding.
People kept reassuring me that the pain was temporary and that your breasts “toughen up” within a week or so. Not true. And no amount of help seemed to remedy the issue: I talked to my doula, doctor, read and watched videos about fixing a baby’s latch. Nothing. There might have been a small improvement, but nothing dramatic.
It got to the point where I would tighten up and become anxious every time I nursed. I dreaded feeding him. It got so bad one night that my husband insisted we go buy formula.
Man, what a sight we must have been. While standing in the aisle with my baby and trying to decide which formula to buy, a huge wave of guilt washed over me. Everyone knows that “breast is best” since it provides all the right stuff for your little one. And people are very, very vocal about this.
All of these feelings and thoughts were rushing through my head, while my husband just kept grabbing formula after formula, asking “What about this one?” “How about this one?” I didn’t know what to do and had a melt down (which involved snapping at him and crying my way back home).
I hadn’t explored the idea of formula, since as far as I was concerned breastfeeding would of course work out. The women I had talked to loved breastfeeding, and all the literature I read emphasized how important it was not only for the baby’s health but for bonding too. But the truth of the matter was, I didn’t feel anything but pain and annoyance while breastfeeding.
The oxytocin, aka happy hormones, that’s supposed to be released? Yeah, never felt it. Not to mention I never felt the “let down” reflex everyone talks about (a tingling sensation that happens when your milk is released from your milk ducts).
All those things I read about, they never happened. But I was too ashamed to say this to anyone for fear that I would be judged as a bad mom. The reality that I might not be cut out for breastfeeding started to really sink-in as I realized that I just didn’t like it.
I ended up finding a formula I liked, but was determined to keep at breastfeeding, only using the formula to supplement when I couldn’t handle it any longer for the day. This seemed like a good plan, and I was starting to feel hopeful.
But I was still determined to fix my kiddo’s latch (I might not enjoy breastfeeding, but that doesn’t mean it has to be painful), so I went to a lactation consultant. Oh boy. I was not prepared for the wrath of a lactation devotee.
Although it was helpful (I learned how to position him more comfortably to help him feed and help my back since he is a giant baby), it was also extremely discouraging.
I mentioned that I had been supplementing with formula since I didn’t think I could produce enough milk and I didn’t like being so uncomfortable all day long. The consultant looked utterly disgusted when I mentioned formula.
When he was weighed to see how much breast milk he consumed during the session, she showed me the number (6 ounces) and said, “See, you don’t need to feed him that poison.”
Poison?! Lady, are you kidding me? That “poison” is what helped women get back into the work force. That “poison” helps saves a lot of babies from starving and ensures they get the nutrition needed. And although I knew these things to be true, all I felt was guilt. Every time I would make a bottle of formula, I would question it. “Am I giving my baby poison?”
At this point I started to pump as well. Now mind you, pumping isn’t glamorous by any means and it is not comfortable, but it was a lot less painful than my baby’s latch.
I decided for my own sanity that I needed to create a cut-off time for my little one. Come 5 pm, I stopped breastfeeding until his first night feed around 11 pm. It gave me a bit of sanity and gave my body a break. Yet the guilt persisted.
Questions surrounding my maternal instincts and abilities would rear their ugly head with every bottle I made. I just wanted what other women had – to be able to provide for their child and feel that “bliss.”
Granted, I’m one of the lucky ones who can produce enough milk, and I’m sure many mothers would be sickened to learn that I will make a bottle of formula if I’m out of milk in the fridge and it’s evening.
But what I’ve started to really internalize is that to be the best mom I can be, I need to be happy. And breastfeeding doesn’t make me happy.
Once I started to share my frustrations with other women, I was completely shocked by the number of women who had similar feelings! During one of my parent support groups, I sheepishly admitted that I hated breastfeeding, and to my surprise a few of the other woman said they didn’t like it either.
Every woman I’ve talked to has a different story, but at the core they all said the same thing, “no one told them” that it could be hard/painful/unpleasant, really just pick your adjective.
No one talks about it. And although I’d like to say I’ve become more truthful about disliking breastfeeding, I still sheepishly avoid the topic. When a waitress went on a tangent about how she “can’t believe some women don’t breastfeed their babies,” I smiled and nodded my head in agreement. I couldn’t bring myself to say, “Actually, I can!”
Other times I’ve had women ask lead-in questions, “You don’t use formula, right?” followed by “but only for emergencies, right?!” Sigh. Really? Are you going to revoke my mommy-card because I don’t like breastfeeding?
For all the women who can breastfeed and love it – yay! That is so awesome, and I wish I could relate. But I can’t, and neither can a lot of women. So be mindful that though medically “breast is best” there are a lot of other factors that come into play, like the mother’s emotional connection to her child.
I’m still breastfeeding my little guy (shocking, I know), but less and less. It no longer hurts since his mouth is a lot bigger, but even without the pain, I am just not a fan.
I’ve finally come to a place of peace, providing what I can physically and mentally. Instead of worrying what other mommies think of me, I’m focusing my energy on playing and cuddles. We’re both a lot happier.