Looking at the 3 total ounces of milk I had pumped while at work one day last week, I realized, it was all ending.
Breastfeeding is such a hot topic in the world of pregnancy and parenthood because within the last 20 years, it has practically become a religion in itself. Everyone from pediatricians to lactation consultants to hospital nurses worship at the alter of teat, and if you aren’t a member of that circle, sorry, you are crippling your child for life. I feel for anyone who knows they don’t want to breastfeed, or those who physically cannot. It’s almost impossible for them to exist in this new parent world without someone questioning their actions and suggesting that maybe they should give breastfeeding a try.
I always planned to breastfeed, and I entered the process with cautious optimism. I knew plenty of people who were not successful with their own babies, but like everything else before I gave birth, I was sure it would work out for me. I got schooled early on, and I suddenly understood why people give up before the recommended 1 ENTIRE YEAR of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is HARD. It’s also sometimes painful, emotional, and frustrating. Lily was a baby who wasn’t getting enough to eat in her first days. I’m not sure if that was because of something I was doing wrong, something she was doing wrong, or just my body not making enough milk. She was also a jaundiced baby who required more nutrition than I was providing (add that to the pile of emotions,) and we were instructed to “supplement with formula, but do not stop breastfeeding.” We were handed a “helpful” contraption that would actually drip formula into Lily’s mouth while she breastfed. It required at least two adults to set up and one cooperative 3-day old baby. Most nights ended in tears after many failed attempts to use this device, and a feeling of failure when we had to give her straight formula from a bottle to ensure she was eating. The physical pain I experienced made it so I didn’t want to feed her because it hurt. Google “nipple shields.” That was everyone’s answer. It wasn’t a solution for us. There were times it felt hopeless.
I thought about giving up. I thought about how much more time I’d have to enjoy Lily, take better care of her, and maybe even catch a few hours of sleep if I switched to formula. But I couldn’t bear the thought of not doing this for her. I couldn’t handle the guilt. We soldiered on though the pain, and miraculously, eventually, we got it together. Breastfeeding became much more comfortable, and part of our daily routine. We came to enjoy our meal time together.
Fast forward to my return to work. Time to pump 3-4 times per day while separated from my baby, using that milk to feed her the next day, and so on. I started out coming home with 10-12 ounces a day. Perfect! It was a ton of extra work, but I was excited to see my output was keeping up with expectations. As the weeks went on (and Lily hit her 3-month mark of misery,) I started producing less and less. I felt like I was doing everything right, but still, I watched as my output decreased. Why? Why? Should I be pumping more at work? Eating differently? Waking up at night to nurse or pump (even if she didn’t wake up?) Sleeping more? Stressing less? (HA) Perhaps. I just knew I was doing the best I could.
Lily turned 5 months old last week, and I realized that this month, we will probably be forced to wean. I don’t want to wean. She doesn’t want to wean, yet that is the direction we are headed in. I feel guilty. I feel sad. I feel cheated. I feel a little bit angry. I feel embarrassed. Much of this stems from my own desire to want to go just a little bit longer because it’s so special, and some of it comes from how I feel like I will be switching from this “liquid gold” to “chemical swill.” It’s the stupidest thought, I know. But like it or not, that’s what we’re conditioned to believe.
I know plenty of “formula babies,” my husband included. These are perfectly healthy, happy, contributing members of society. Did consuming formula stunt their life, growth, or well-being? NO. Were they less connected to their mothers because they were fed a bottle instead of the breast? Nope. I wish we would talk more about this rather than all of the ways in which you are doing your child a disservice by feeding her formula.
If you Google “how to wean,” you’ll find a lot of people who choose to stop breastfeeding for a multitude of reasons including that their baby prefers a bottle, they’re returning to work, or it’s simply too much work (because it is A LOT of work.) What you don’t typically find is articles about how to wean when your body isn’t keeping up. The fact that this isn’t something we’re choosing makes it harder to accept, and I didn’t find a whole lot about others with my same predicament. What they won’t tell you about breastfeeding is sometimes you have to give it up before you’re ready to, and it may break your heart.
I had a good cry session, did some research, and now I’m making peace with the fact that Lily will no longer be an exclusively breastfed baby. We had a good run, and I want to remember how lucky we are for that. I’ve learned that just because I can’t provide enough breast milk to feed her for every meal of the day, I may still be able to provide some, and that’s good, too. I’m trying to focus on the added freedom that formula brings. There’s more time to do other things. There’s more people who can feed her. There’s more for her to eat at one sitting without waiting. There are plenty of positives.
For any other mom out there struggling with the idea of weaning, whether it is her choice or not, take heart. I was shocked by how depressed I felt when faced with the idea of giving up breastfeeding “so soon.” I didn’t know that it’s very common to have these feelings, and those damn hormones certainly don’t help anything. Most of all, don’t let anyone else dictate how you should feel about breastfeeding, no matter if you plan to do it or not, have started but want to stop, or have to wean for any reason. Know that it’s okay. It will be okay.