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.
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.
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.
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.
- How To Give Up Breastfeeding And Not Feel Guilty About It: Part 1 (porchphilosophy.com)
- How To Give Up Breastfeeding And Not Feel Guilty About It: Intro (porchphilosophy.com)
A few days ago I posted the intro to my breastfeeding series. Then I got into an car accident and I’ve been busy with car repairs. So that’s why there was a delay in my follow-up post. My sincere apologies.
Breastfeeding. It’s supposed to be the epitome of motherhood — of womanhood. It’s what the educated woman does. The informed, conscientious mother offers her breasts to her newborn to give the milk of life and health.
I’ve experienced this with two of my babies. I was blessed with the ease of breastfeeding. My nipples seemed to form to their little newborn mouths perfectly. There was only brief pain in the beginning. The only challenge being that my first child was attached to me constantly for the first four weeks of his life — so much so that I looked at the formula samples in my cupboard with envy. What if I had my husband feed him just this once? Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a little break?
I was told formula was inferior.
Not just inferior — practically poison.
Only “uneducated” moms fed their babies formula. I knew some moms had genuine difficulty breastfeeding — that sometimes there were health issues involved that prevented breastfeeding. But I had it in my smug little head that such situations were rare. And besides — if they really wanted to breastfeed — they could pump — or go to one of those breast milk banks. I mean, WHY would you give your baby something inferior unless you were — I don’t know — uneducated or misinformed?
I know this is a story that’s been told a million times. The breastfeeding story. But I strongly feel that you can never offer your fellow sisters enough encouragement when it comes to breastfeeding. Next to abortion, it’s one of the other major female dilemmas of choice. But it’s a dilemma of choice that we should have — and a choice that we should not be ashamed of making regardless of the decision we make.
The difference between the choice of abortion and the choice of breastfeeding is — obviously — stark. In one, you’re eliminating the zygote or embryo for your own human physical and mental well-being — in the other, you’re offering your body for the physical and mental well-being of another.
But there are similarities. With abortion, you’re told by old white republican men what to do with your body. With breastfeeding you’re told by upper-middle class white liberal women what to do with your body. I’m speaking in generalities here, of course.
Women just can’t win.
My first two babies were champion nursers. I supplemented with formula with my first baby after I went back to work, but he mainly got pumped breast milk. My job offered my a very generous lunch break so I could run to my in-laws house and breastfeed my infant. With my second child, I exclusively breastfed. I don’t think she ever got a bottle. She went straight from breast to cup.
As it should be! — I thought.
I had friends who tried and “failed” at nursing. I heard various stories from them. It hurt too much. The nipples were inverted. The breasts weren’t producing enough milk. The baby had thrush, or the mom had mastitis.
I nodded sympathetically.
Yes, yes. Of course I understand. I would say. But just get through the first four weeks. Once you get over that hump it gets so much easier. You just need to fall into a rhythm. Just stick with it!
Of course I had good intentions and I don’t necessarily think that I gave bad advice. Didn’t all the research point to the fact that breast milk is the perfect food? Who wouldn’t want a smarter, healthier, disease – free child? Why would you switch to formula and risk your child getting diabetes later in life, or becoming obese, or getting a kazillion ear infections, or getting RSV, or — or — or — yeah. Like, shit. There’s a million things that can go wrong if you don’t breastfeed.
But I’m sure these women had heard those words of “encouragement” from all the lactation specialists, La Leche League, family, friends, blogs, etc. As a breastfeeder I was told that there is so much pressure NOT to breastfeed — that we must resist the evil formula companies, avoid pediatricians who support supplementing, say no to those formula gift bags that the hospitals send home with you — that the media is filled with mis-information about breastfeeding and we must avoid the negativity towards breastfeeding at all costs and stand-up for our rights as breastfeeding women!
A blog that I used to read and agree with whole heartedly was PhD in Parenting — a smart and educated blog about parenting and other subjects as they pertain to women and family. In this particular post, the author talks how she was disturbed by another mother’s comment that encouraged women to give up breastfeeding after 2 weeks it it wasn’t working. The author, Annie, went on to say that she was saddened by this woman’s attitude. I see Annie’s point of view — and I know that breastfeeding women need support — but her comment drove me crazy:
A woman wrote an honest first person account of her difficulties with her attempt to breastfeed her baby. Her story is sad. She had significant difficulties breastfeeding. She got questionable advice. She had people judging her instead of helping her. In short, the cards were stacked against her and she was set up for failure. I don’t blame her. This happens to a lot of women and it is unfortunate. I can’t say for sure if she would have been able to breastfeed successfully if things had been different and even if she could have, hindsight is 20/20 and there is no point in rehashing that now. So while I was saddened by her story, I don’t judge her (or anyone) for choosing formula if they feel that they cannot breastfeed for whatever reason.
It’s this particular attitude that gets me. And I used to have the same attitude. It’s the idea that the woman was misinformed — she received “questionable advice.” Poor lady. If only she had the right information, she would probably still be breast feeding. Right?
I know this may sound terrible, but — who cares?! If she can feed her baby with a nutritiously sound alternative, then why not? And what if she gave up breastfeeding because — I don’t know — she wanted to — because it’s her body? Annie goes on to say:
I sympathize with the woman that wrote the original post and I know her heart is in the right place when she tells people they should give up at 2 weeks, but I don’t think she realizes that she is undermining them if they do want to continue and that recommendations like this can have disastrous results for breastfeeding rates and subsequently for our healthcare system.
With all the information that’s out there, with all the education that’s available for women — I hardly think that this type of attitude will affect breastfeeding rates. Women need to be given a bit — a lot — more credit.
But this does not mean I’m anti-breastfeeding. I’m just pro-choice when it comes to boobs.
On the other end of the spectrum, I believe women should be able to breastfeed in public without people throwing a fit — even uncovered. I think it’s good for people to see how babies can be fed, regardless if there’s a boob showing or not.
But I will tell you this — when I started supplementing formula with my third baby, when I stopped offering my breast when he was three months old, when preparing bottles with this so-called poison — this so-called “baby junk food” — became the norm for my husband and I — that’s when I felt it. The judgment. Not just my own feelings of failure — but the condescending nature of lactation specialists and breastfeeding mothers. Not directly. Not to my face. But the message was clear in mommy forums, articles, blogs like Annie’s, and books.
And the consensus was this — You didn’t have enough information. Did you read this such and such article that explains the benefits of breastfeeding? You just needed to stick with it a little bit longer. It’s not too late! Start pumping again and you can get your supply back! It’s so easy to give up in the current anti-breastfeeding climate.
Holy fucking hell.
I was filled to the brim with education on breastfeeding. I was very successful with my first two.
But on top of that — my boobs were on fire.
But I’ll get to that tomorrow in Part 2 — wherein my nipples become open wounds. And how I had a chance to continue breastfeeding — but decided to quit.
- How To Give Up Breastfeeding And Not Feel Guilty About It: Intro (porchphilosophy.com)