How To Give Up Breastfeeding And Not Feel Guilty About It: Part 2

Mother Feeding Baby

If you read my previous post on breastfeeding, you’ll know that I was very successful with nursing my first two babies. Just to do a quick recap — I breastfed my first two for over a year — almost to the 18 month mark. I had basically zero issues except for some minor pain in the beginning. My babies latched perfectly.

Perfectly.

So when I became pregnant for the third time, I expected the same ease — the same loveliness and warmth with breastfeeding that I had with my first two.

It never occurred to me that I might have problems. There was just no question in my mind.

I kept thinking: I’m a good, educated Mom. Of course I’ll breastfeed.

Before you hate me for my smugness, let me tell you my breastfeeding story.

Breastfeeding my third baby was pure fucking hell.

In the hospital, the lactation consultant figured I knew how to breastfeed since I was successful with my first two. She basically came in, looked at me, and said, I see you’re experienced. Everything looks fine! And then she walked out of the room. She didn’t even look at my baby’s latch.

And he was latched all wrong. I could feel it. And no matter how I tried, he just wouldn’t open his tiny little mouth wide enough. He would just take in the very tip of my nipple. And this became excruciating.

Excruciating.

By day four postpartum, my breasts were hard as rocks and on fire. I remember looking down at my left breast and thinking, Huh. That’s weird. What’s that big huge red streak doing there? By evening I had a fever of 103 — and full blown mastitis. My mom and my aunt were experienced nursers and encouraged me to continue nursing through it. Every article I read said to continue nursing to relieve the clogs in the glands.

So I did.

And I cannot even BEGIN to tell you how much it hurt. I would throw my head back and wail in pain as my mom and my aunt helped him latch to my bleeding nipples. My precious newborn was literally sucking the life and blood out of me.

Let’s just put it this way. My nipples looked like ground beef. Yes. I want you to visualize that so you can see what women go through to give their baby the “very best.” And of course, since mastitis is an infection, I had to go on antibiotics. And this was when I discovered that I was allergic to Penicillin.

I broke out into an itchy, painful body rash. It was on my face, neck, arms, tummy, legs — you name it. So there I was with bleeding nipples, a horrid infection, a full blown body rash and raging postpartum depression — not to mention, I was recovering from my third C-Section. After a week, I was able to get out of bed, but the rash was still there. After two weeks the mastitis was back again full force. I had to go on another antibiotic and I soon discovered that I was allergic to Cephalosporins. Yes. I broke out into ANOTHER full blown body rash.

All through this, I kept nursing and pumping. Pumping and nursing. Waking up every two to three hours to pump because my breasts were so engorged — and because I wanted to keep my supply up.

I didn’t want my husband to see my breasts because they were so mangled — like open wounds.

By week number three I had to go to the dermatologist to get something for my rash. She prescribed a steroid and told me that I could never take Penicillins or Cephalosporins again — because I could die from an allergic reaction. She basically said that the rashes were my body’s way of warning me to stop taking them.

Nice.

After the appointment, I got into my car — and cried. Sobbed. Wept.

I was exhausted. I couldn’t enjoy my baby. I couldn’t enjoy my children. Plus I was still recovering from a C-section.

And I thought —I’m done. I’m so fucking done.

So I called my husband, and through my crying hiccups and snot and tears — I told him to buy some formula.

And I felt like a piece of shit. A failure. Yes, folks. After all that pure fucking hell, I was still being hard on myself — like it was my fault that I couldn’t breastfeed.

But you know what?

When it comes down to it, I didn’t WANT to breastfeed anymore. I could’ve kept going. Could’ve kept pumping to keep my supply up — but at this point, my baby was just nursing out of my right breast because my left breast was so painful. He wouldn’t even latch on to my left breast — would just straight up refuse it. And he was probably refusing because I would stiffen up every time he tried to latch. He could feel my anxiety.

So my husband bought some formula. I continued to nurse my boy out of my right breast for an additional three months, but we supplemented heavily with formula. Then one day, he didn’t want the breast anymore. He was done. I tucked my right breast away — this time for good.

And he became strictly a bottle baby.

When I made that decision to start giving formula — I grieved for a week. Yes, dramatic. But I did. I cried my heart out. I thought I failed my boy. I was giving him something “second rate.” I was reading blogs that compared formula to fast-food.

I was made to feel that what I was doing was equivalent to child-abuse or neglect.

But you know what happened? Because I didn’t need to pump, I started getting more sleep. My son became a good sleeper (and yes, I know the lactivists say this is a negative thing,) and my breasts healed. I became healthy and happy again — and wouldn’t you know it — my son was healthy too.

He’s two and has been sick twice in his life. I know this is purely anecdotal evidence — but fuck. The breastfeeding movement needlessly scares the shit out of mothers.

Oh, and he’s not “less intelligent.” He’s barely two and recognizes all his letters and knows their sounds. He knows all his colors and shapes. He counts to ten and sometimes beyond. In addition, my first born — who was breastfed for 18 months — has severe learning disabilities and ADHD.

I’m not saying there are no benefits to breastfeeding. What I’m saying is — there are no guarantees either way you slice it. Whether you choose breast or bottle, there are other factors that play a more significant role in how your child develops.

During my grieving phase, I found a website that made me smile again. The Fearless Formula Feeder was my go-to blog for awhile — because posts like this made me feel like I wasn’t alone. It made me feel normal — like a mother who just wants the best for her baby regardless of how he’s fed.

Because anguishing over breast milk vs. formula should NOT be on our to-do list as new mothers. We have other shit to worry about — especially if there are older children to take care of.

Especially because — as women — we need to take care of ourselves.

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8 comments

  1. Sarah

    Thanks for writing this. At 15 months, our daughter’s formula days already feel like a distant memory, but I’m still struggling with feelings of bitterness and resentment toward this movement that represents breastfeeding as so vastly superior to formula that it’s worth putting oneself through absolute hell to make it work. It does a disservice to women and to reality, and it’s always refreshing to hear someone call it out for the nonsense that it is.

    • sonjaessen

      Sarah — Thank you. And sorry for my delayed reply! Three kids have kept me busy! I’m disappointed with the fact that breastfeeding has been adopted by the feminist movement as the “be-all-end-all” of womanhood. I think it’s wonderful for those that succeed! But it should not be at the expense of making other women feel like shitty moms if they can’t breastfeed — or better yet — if they choose not to. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Kylee

    I just read your post bawling my eyes out. At 3 months I stopped nursing my son due his spitting up issues. I decided to try the formula for spit up babies just for two days to see if it helped convinced it wouldn’t just to have peace of mind knowing I was doing the right thing for him. To my surprise, the formula worked wonderfully and his spit up went down DRAMATICALLY! I decided formula was best for him, and even though I didn’t want to quit breastfeeding, I wanted to do what was best for him. He is now 6 months old and I have questioned this decision everyday since. I have felt inferior, embarrased, and a failure for not breastfeeding and not giving him “the best”. Thank you so much for your post and for showing me, a well educated and pro breastfeeding woman, that I am not inferior to breastfeeding mothers and I am not a failure!

    • sonjaessen

      Kylee — I’m so glad you got some comfort out of my post. That was my main objective — to reach out to other women and offer reassurance that we are — in fact — educated, pro-breastfeeding women that embrace choice. The choice to breastfeed. It sounds trite, but every woman must do what’s best for her and her baby. And sometimes formula IS the best choice. There is no need to feel guilt. We need to feel pride. Pride that we found a sound alternative out of love for ourselves and our babies. Best of luck to you and thanks for stopping by!

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