Let’s talk about breastfeeding. Everyone knows that nursing is healthy for both moms and babies. We’re told it provides nature’s perfect food for infants. Hell, even the formula labels tell us so. It’s believed to be the most natural thing in the world.
Except when it’s not.
And for me, it wasn’t.
Before I get into the meat of this article, please let me say one thing. For those out there that nurse your babies for any amount of time and you enjoy it, it comes naturally to you, and you think any other choice is a bad one, this post isn’t for you. (Unless of course, you have the desire to hear another perspective. Then by all means, read on.)
This post is for all the moms out there that really struggle(d) with nursing. I’m going to share my nursing experience with all three of my kids, with nothing but the intention to help other struggling moms feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. Because choosing to quit nursing, while the best choice for all concerned, was the hardest choice I’ve ever made as a mom.
It’s probably best that I start at the beginning…
My First Baby
To say I was blindsided by motherhood would be an understatement. I read all the books, took all the classes and was straight-up prepared for my amazing adventure as a kick-ass mom who made the best choices for her children. Andrew was born on April 7, 2009. I lost my mind somewhere around April 9, 2009.
I was ADAMANT that I would nurse my children. The pressure I felt to do it robbed me of my newborn experience. We both got thrush, he was extremely unsatisfied and colicky, and his latch wasn’t quite right so every time I nursed him, I was in pain. (This was after being seen by several lactation consultants.) It should also be noted that one of these consultants told me, while I was crying with pain, that all women can breastfeed and women should breastfeed. Wow…thanks for the boost of confidence, lady.
The worst of it was that I felt almost no bond at all with him. I nursed him for 7 weeks before my mom looked at me and told I me that I didn’t need to continue nursing. The day I quit nursing, the fog lifted, my heart lightened, and I started to enjoy being a mom.
Now, when people hear this, most of them say, “Oh, I’m so sorry you had all those troubles. I can understand why you quit.”
I used this experience to justify why I quit.
It seemed if I had significant physical troubles, people were somehow less critical of my decision and I felt like I had given if enough of a try.
Then Came Carter
With Carter, our second child, I again, planned to nurse. Carter was jaundiced and because ensuring he got enough nutrition was important to keep him healthy, I quit nursing the day we came home and just pumped my milk so I knew how much he was getting. When I was ready to quit pumping only after a few weeks, I didn’t have the guilt or shame I’d experienced with Andrew. I really didn’t struggle with the decision at all.
I was confident in my decision and never really looked back.
The Cherry on Top
With Miss Brynlee, I started having nursing anxiety before she even got here. I had never shared my experience with nursing publicly, and I hoped and prayed that with my third baby, I’d have a different story to tell. I hoped I’d be able to persevere through nursing and write an amazing post to encourage other moms to keep trying even if you had troubles with previous children.
I felt a bigger sense of responsibility this time because I write a blog that people read. Some of what I write about relates to parenting. Mommy bloggers do what’s best for their kids. And clearly, nursing is the best, and good moms do it.
As I’m sure you’re guessing by now, that’s not how it went down.
When I started nursing Brynlee in the hospital, I felt we were off to the best start I’d ever had with my kids. By day 4, my milk had rushed in and her latch wasn’t great, she had broken my nipple open and in the middle of the night when I tried to give her just an ounce of formula to settle her, because she just never seemed satisfied, it took me 20 minutes to get her to take a bottle. The panic I felt was palpable and I nearly lost my mind.
I knew right then and there that this wasn’t to work for me.
I’ve never had more shame, guilt or self-loathing about any other thing in my life as I have about the fact that I don’t want to nurse my kids.
The things I told myself that led to the shame…
I’m a smart woman. All the research points to nursing as the only option smart women make.
I’m not a quitter.
I’m not a wimp. I delivered all 3 of my babies without drugs. I should be able to handle a little boob pain.
I do things ‘right’ and the right thing to do is to nurse.
What kind of a mom am I that I’d choose something I know to be less healthy for my baby?
The things I felt that were hard to ignore…
Trapped. Broken. Tied down. Defective. Suffocated. Panicked. Frustrated. Chaotic. Unscheduled. Not bonded to my baby. Anxious. Resentful of my baby. Sad. Guilty. Shameful.
It seems as long as I had a good reason that nursing didn’t work, like getting thrush with Andrew, people were generally very understanding of my reason to quit nursing.
But what about the woman who chooses from the start not to nurse? What about the woman who knows herself well enough that she chooses to quit because nursing actually impedes her ability to love being a mom? Is it wrong for a woman to choose an option that is easier for her because her sanity depends on it? Where is the support for that woman?
I am that woman.
I made the choice to quit nursing because I know it’s not what’s best for me and my baby. While all the studies out there indicate that breastfeeding is best and don’t get me wrong, I believe them, I wish someone somewhere would do a study of women who tried to nurse and struggled with emotional issues like I did.
If there were a way to actually measure the negative impact of a mom being so anxiety-ridden and nearly resentful of her baby while nursing, I think we’d find the results to be astonishing.
It only seems logical the energy of those negative feelings would affect your baby’s health.
I believe wholeheartedly, it does. At a minimum, it deeply affects the relationship between mother and baby, and that can’t be a good thing, regardless of the physiological nutrition of the food.
We aren’t talking enough about the fact that some women are not mentally or emotionally wired to nurse a baby. Physically, my milk came in and the pain I experienced (even the bleeding nipple) is normal and would have straightened out with time. Physical issues are the only reasons that people deem allowable when a woman decides not to nurse. (I’m not kidding. Read a forum or two online discussing the breast v. bottle debate. It’s ugly, judgmental stuff.)
I chose to quit nursing because to be successful at it, I’d have to practically become a different person. I’m very Type-A, I like order and predictability, and I like to accomplish things (even something as simple as doing laundry). Being at the whim of an infant and their on-demand feeding schedule doesn’t work for someone like me. It still feels gross to even write that line, but this is who I am. Having a baby doesn’t change everything about who we are, even though society would like us to believe it will.
The bottom line is this: there is no one ‘right’ way to be a mother. As women, we are all different and so are our babies. Anytime we declare there is only one ‘right’ way to do something as a parent, we are standing in judgment of others. Unless you are that other person, you really can’t tell them how to be.
We seem to get really hung up on the ‘hows’ of motherhood. How we feed them, how we discipline them, how to potty train them, how we play with them, etc., etc. And yes, those things are important. But if one way seems wrong or simply doesn’t work for you, try what does.
This is why we were given intuition. We need to listen to it and follow it. No book, online resource or other person can live your life for you, so the choices you make need to make sense for you and your individual situation.
No matter stage of mothering you’re in, it’s not the methods you choose that determine whether you’re a good mom. The important thing is that those choices are made in love. A balance of love for your child and love for yourself. That’s what makes you a great mother.
The entire journey of motherhood is a dance. A dance where we balance out what our children need with what feels right to us. Honoring yourself as a mom is never a wrong decision. After all, one day, isn’t it our hope that you little ones will honor themselves? We show them how by modeling it for them.
I now feed my baby with a bottle and I can look at her, talk to her, kiss her and snuggle her until she’s ready to eat again. And when she is ready to eat again, I feel no stress, no panic and no negative feelings about it. It feels like the most natural thing in the world.
For those of you that experienced bliss while nursing, I really do admire you. I think you’re an amazing mom and your babies are blessed to have you.
For those of you that tried nursing, hated it and stuck it out because you thought it was best for your baby, I’m proud of you. I think you’re an amazing mom and your babies are blessed to have you.
For those of you that didn’t want to nurse or quit early like I did, you aren’t broken, defective, selfish, or lazy. I think you’re an amazing mom and your babies are blessed to have you.
Let’s continue to honor each other even if our journeys look different.
I’d love to hear your feedback and your personal stories. I just ask that we keep the comments constructive. There’s enough pain around the subject as it is.
Motherhood should feel like a club where admission is not based on the individual choices we make but by the fact that we have the role to begin with.