(and how it changed my relationship with my baby for the better)
I always tell people that breastfeeding is the hardest thing I ever did.
It started from the moment my daughter was born. At only a few hours old, Luna was struggling to latch and crying from hunger. A little after midnight, the nurses finally brought a bottle of formula and showed my husband how to feed her using a plastic syringe. Nearby, I sat on the hospital bed and tried not to cry. I already felt defeated and it was only the first night!
We struggled through the next few days in the hospital and I was finally discharged. At home, I found a nipple shield I'd ordered a few months back and decided to try it. I was relieved at how much it helped! But even though it resolved Luna's latching issue, she was a slow eater, a grazer. On an average day, she spent 12 - 14 hours at the breast.
Three months passed by. I was exhausted in every way and emotionally drained. Part of me wanted to give up breastfeeding right then. But I also wanted to give Luna the best start possible and everything I read said breastfeeding was the only option.
I was lucky in one big way - it never hurt for me to breastfeed. I didn't get blisters or terribly cracked skin. My breasts were swollen and leaked at times but not painfully so. In fact, I found it relaxing and gratifying at times. I may have even enjoyed it if it hadn't been for the number of hours I was spending doing it every day. It might have even helped if Luna could have focused a little better. But she was easily distracted. I couldn't watch TV or call my mom or even send a text without Luna looking around to see what was going on. By the time she was done with one feeding, I barely had time to change her diaper and have a pee before she was ready to feed again.
I decided to see a lactation consultant.
As I left my first appointment, I felt encouraged. I was armed with a tracking chart and a plan and I was going to make it work. It involved breastfeeding for 10 minutes on each side, bottle feeding Luna 2 ounces of formula, and then pumping for 20 minutes.
At first, I felt bolstered by this change. Anything had to be better than what I'd been through so far, right? Unfortunately, that wasn't the case at all. Instead of spending my whole day attached to Luna, I was now spending half the day attached to Luna, and half the day attached to the pump. Any free moments were spent washing bottles in preparation for the next pumping session.
By month four, I felt isolated and hopeless. To add to the stress, my daughter was sensitive to lactose. I couldn't drink milk or eat cheese or even have a slice of pizza anymore. During what should have been the happiest time of my life, I felt frustrated and alone. I spent hours hooked to a breast pump.
My job as a mother is to always do what's best for Luna. But sometimes that means doing what's best for ME. I wasn't being a great mom to Luna when I was breastfeeding. I wasn't thriving. I was treading water and trying not to drown in the isolation and anxiety I was feeling. For months, I went back and forth about whether to quit. I felt sick from guilt at the thought, so sick that I could barely eat and my milk supply dropped dramatically. I was tired and emotionally exhausted and unequivocally sad. So I made a change.
I woke up one day and decided to take Luna to the park. I packed her normal diaper bag: diapers and wipes and a pacifier and burp cloth. But I added something else, too. Formula.
That day, I pushed Luna on the swing until nap time. Then I sat on a park bench in the sunshine and held her while she drank a bottle of formula. I'll admit, I felt embarrassed. I was afraid that someone would see me and that I'd have to defend my choice to use formula. I was afraid that people would judge me for my decision. But it also felt so good to just sit in the sunshine with my daughter and feel good for a change.
I didn't give up breastfeeding overnight. There was no deadline or cutoff date. I just gradually breastfed a little less and bottle fed a little more until one day I stopped altogether. It wasn't traumatic or sad. In fact, I can't remember it at all other than the fact that it happened sometime around the new year, when Luna was around 7 months.
It's been three months since I quit breastfeeding. For the most part, I don't miss it. I don't miss pumping for hours a day. I don't miss sitting in a room upstairs breastfeeding while my family and friends laughed and talked downstairs. And I definitely don't miss nursing bras! I feel alive again and happier. And I think Luna is happier, too.
I would never tell another momma to give up breastfeeding. And truthfully, I'll probably give it another try when baby number two comes along. But if you're really struggling, if you're feeling trapped and isolated, if you want to try switching to formula but you feel guilty, remember this: happy mommas raise happy babies. And whatever you decide, you are not a failure. You are a mom who is doing her best.
Always with love,