What would happen if you didn’t breastfeed? Or simply didn’t want to? Tara tried her absolute hardest to breastfeed her son but it didn’t work. This is her story.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m a 37-year-old living in Minneapolis, transplanted from good old Fargo, North Dakota. I’ve been married for almost 5 years and have the best 14-month-old boy a girl could ever hope for. I’m a social worker that essentially does medical social work, which is a much needed change from the previous eight years of my life when I worked with teenagers.
I spend a lot of time with the little guy, but I also spend a lot of time reading, thrifting, playing with dinosaurs,eating chicken wings, and watching Teen Mom (yes, I’m 37). I have a pretty awesome life with great friends, close family, a pretty cool job, and lots of things to look forward to!
Before you had your son, what were your thoughts about breastfeeding?
When I was younger, I always that I would feel awkward about breastfeeding. I was born at a time when formula feeding was the recommended way to go, so it was surprising to me that I was really into the idea.
I was pretty dead set against using formula, just because “breast is best” and I wanted my son to have the best start possible. I thought that it was important that he receives all the antibodies from the breast milk and, well, it’s cheaper than formula.
What did you imagine breastfeeding would be like?
All my friends did it so it must be easy….? Also, I think that I had some idea of what it would be like, but I guess I figured that since it was the “natural” thing to do it would be a happy, wonderful time full of bonding, right?
One of my best friends who had a baby a few months before me would always stress the fact that it wasn’t going to be easy. She was constantly telling me to read books and prepare for any difficulty. I eventually bought a book and it was so dry that I could barely get past page four.
We also took a breastfeeding class, but from what I can remember, the instructor didn’t say a whole lot about problems that can occur and how painful it would be. I’m sort of a go with the flow person (aka not a good planner) and I just thought that “it’s not going to be that difficult for ME. Oh, no, for ME it will be perfect.”
Tell us about the first time you tried to breast feed.
Actually, the first time I tried to breastfeed, it worked. He was only ½ hour old or something and he latched right on. I remember that the nurses were pretty excited and I was excited, too.
I also remember wondering “What in the heck everyone was talking about. Difficult? This isn’t difficult, this is great!” Boy, was I wrong. The subsequent times that I tried to feed him in the hospital, he wouldn’t latch on properly and it was excruciating, like nothing I had ever felt before.
The nurses turned into vultures circling my bed, barking orders at me, telling me that I was “doing it wrong”. I remember at one point there were three nurses, inches from my face, telling me what to do and jostling the baby around. When it still wasn’t working, they brought in a pump and had me try that.
I also met with a lactation consultant twice. She was pretty helpful, but in a general this-is-what-I-say-to-everybody sense and no one was interested in looking deeper to see what the problem might be besides the problem being ME.
How did you try to cope with your breastfeeding struggles?
The whole thing was really anxiety-inducing. I felt like I would be a bad person if I didn’t keep doing it, but it was so painful that even the idea of having to do it again made me want to shrink up and die.
Instead, I decided to pump and feed him with a bottle, but while one breast was giving up some milk the other one was not doing it’s job. I remember sitting in the living room with two breast shields strapped to my chest, bawling because I was so overwhelmed. I didn’t cope very well, needless to say.
When did you decide to switch to formula?
My husband persuaded me to go to the lactation consultant one more time. I was sitting in her office with my husband, holding my son with no shirt on and she was attempting to show me how to breastfeed.
At one point, I was grimacing in pain and the lactation consultant unlatches him from my breast and, literally, a chunk of my nipple went flying through the air. I feel like we all watched it in slow motion and my husband finally agreed that this wasn’t anything I “had” to do. The lactation consultant finally relented and said that maybe this just wasn’t meant for me at this time with this baby, but that it may work with future children.
She was very kind and stressed that I should not feel guilty and that everything will turn out okay. I had also come to realize that breastfeeding is an all-consuming thing. With the anxiety that I was having already with having a newborn, combined with lack of sleep and patience, it was turning into something that I dreaded instead of something that made me happy.
How did the people in your life respond when you stopped breastfeeding?
My friends attempted, kindly, to persuade me to keep going, that it was hard, but that the more that I practiced the easier it would get. I had a friend who brought me nipple shields and fenugreek to stimulate milk production, but I just couldn’t do it.
I know that they were trying to be helpful, but ultimately it just increased the guilt I had about going with formula. My lovely doctor was extremely supportive and reassuring and said that she was proud that I was even able to pump for two weeks.
There were also concerns about PPD occurring due to my past history, so she stated that if I needed to go back on medication it wouldn’t be an issue if I was formula feeding. She really stressed the fact that if I wasn’t going to be happy, my son would pick up on that and that wouldn’t be good for him, either. After I spoke with her, I felt 99% less guilty about the whole situation and I’m grateful for that.
How did you feel when you stopped breastfeeding?
I felt a relief like no other. I felt like much of my anxiety was gone and I was able to try and focus on being a loving parent instead of panicking about having to pump again in two hours.
On the other end, I felt like people were judging me whenever I went into the formula aisle at Target or whipped out the formula in a restaurant. I feel like society puts so much pressure on mothers to be able to do this, a lot of times at the detriment to the mother. No one wants to provide a better life for my son than I do, but when it comes down to it, breastfeeding wasn’t meant to be part of the equation.
What advice would you give to other mothers who are struggling?
My advice is pretty simple – really think about what is best for you and your baby. If you’re able to power through the first few weeks, you’re more likely to breastfeed successfully.
I, unfortunately, was not able to do that and decided that having the extra anxiety of trying to breastfeed and pump wasn’t worth it to my son. I knew that at that point I wasn’t the best mother I could be because my thoughts were consumed with “Oh my god, I have to wash these pump parts, maybe relax with the little guy for 15 minutes, position myself on the couch, strap everything on, eek out tiny bits of milk, wait he’s screaming, but I need to finish this” (you get the point).
It’s difficult to not feel some guilt, but I think that new moms should give themselves a break. Being a mom is a hard job, and there are infinite amounts of information out there that will tell you that you HAVE to breastfeed and that you’re a bad mother if you don’t. You are not a bad mother if you choose to formula feed.
I feel like I am intelligent enough to have made the decision I made and I assume you are, too!