Before my son was born, my husband and I had a mutual understanding that I was going to breastfeed our child, for as long as physically possible. The women in his family breastfed, every article and Google search result said that breast milk was the “best” milk, and all research seemed to point to breastfeeding as being the most logical route to go. Beyond the benefits of a woman’s incredible body being able to produce exactly what one’s baby needed based on DNA, the bond that would build from this method of feeding between mother and baby, as well as the money that we would’ve save, it was a no brainer.
3 days after my son was born, I wanted to break down in despair about breastfeeding.
Among the things that no one tells you outright when you’re about to become a mother, is that breastfeeding can actually be a fairly complicated, painful, thing. Maybe it’s not the majority, but there are certainly enough women out there for it to be something that I wish someone would’ve made it a point to tell me.
My son had trouble latching, and when he did latch, it was painful. When he got into a comfortable latch, he was so tiny, and so sleepy, that he’d fall off and be unable to latch back on. It was the most frustrating and depressing thing in the world, watching my baby trying to feed, unable to provide for him.
I felt like I was failing my child, and that only compounded upon my baby blues.
Western society has made something of a joke out of the hormones that a woman goes through as she prepares to give birth, and though more attention is now being paid to postpartum depression, it still felt like I was totally unprepared for the two weeks directly following my baby’s birth. I may go into more detail about my experience with this later, but to stay on track? The breastfeeding and pumping only made things worse for me.
When my breasts became engorged, I had yet to receive the electric pump that our hospital nurses ordered for me, and so I was in a lot of pain, whilst left to hand pump. It took me 25-45 minutes to squeeze out a 2-3 oz. bottle of milk for my son, and he was eating every 1-2 hours at a time then. For two days, as I waited for the electric pump, I barely slept for more than 30 minutes at a time because of this insane pumping and feeding schedule, whilst still trying, and failing, to get my son to latch.
When I finally got my electric pump, I felt a wave of relief… for a short time only.
The breast pump allowed me to, at the apex of my pumping, get out 10 oz. of breast milk every 6 hours, in a 15-20 minute pumping session. So, I was producing about 40 oz. a day, which was something like 16-20 more oz. than my son needed, so we ended up being able to freeze quite a bit of milk. However, I realized at 3 weeks, that the pumping was actually still making me depressed, though I felt tenfold better in the time in between.
I thought it was strange that I was totally fine, happy and calm, before pumping, but the moment I began to pump, became extremely depressed. Then I found out that there exists Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. There’s more information at D-MER.org, but in short, my body was just as unhappy about pumping as my mind was.
I stopped producing breast milk at week 4, and the “mommy” guilt was strong.
At about 3 weeks, I determined that the only way for me to get the sleep I needed, to provide the sanest, happiest, and healthiest mommy for my son, was to cut down on the amount of pumping I was doing. We started to supplement with formula, and I went down to pumping every 8 hours. By week 4, I had decided that I needed to stop pumping, due to the discomfort, the inconvenience, and the negative feelings it gave me.
I weened myself pretty quickly, going a few days of only pumping once every 12 hours. But I felt terrible about it. My husband had wanted me to provide for our son what his mother had given to him, what his sister provided for his nephews, and what science was saying was the best way. All of these moms fighting for their right to breastfeed in public, other moms not knowing when they should ween babies off, it seems like breastfeeding is what everyone is doing, and what I’m being told everyone should be doing. All of the reasons that I wanted to quit didn’t feel valid enough to stop, yet, I knew that it was the best thing for me, and in the end the best thing for my son.
It turns out that while breast milk has many benefits, there is no evidence to suggest that breastfed babies have any higher IQ or intellect than formula fed babies.
It also turns out that I was never breastfed as a baby, and somehow I managed to learn how to speak seven different languages. My breastfed husband can speak one, and maybe 1/2 of another, and not very well. I’ve only retained a good two of those languages, as well as bits and pieces from the other five, but I figure once my “mommy brain” slowly unfries, I can get back to re-training myself on those other languages.
In speaking to other women, it turns out, something like 25-30 years ago, formula feeding was the way to go, with doctors and society pushing for women to formula feed instead of breastfeed. As we progress, things will undoubtedly change again. What’s important though, is that your baby is fed.
It is really that simple.
You have to do what makes you comfortable, and keeps your baby healthy. If your baby is being fed, and growing healthily, you’re good.
Some women breastfeed until their kids are four years old, and that’s what makes them happy. Some women pump, but don’t breastfeed. My son had breast milk until he was almost 6 weeks old before our frozen supply ran out. Now, he’s a full fledged formula baby, and he usually sleeps a good 8-10 hours through the night. It’s kind of awesome.
But it’s also just what works for me, and my family.
We go through quite a bit of formula, I wash a few more dishes. Yet I know that these are only small inconveniences, and so worth the time I get to enjoy my son when I don’t have to carve out intervals of 20-30 minutes of very depressing pumping time every day. Also, as my son grows and gets more alert, I have no idea where I thought I was going to get all of that time from in the first place.
When it comes to breastfeeding, it’s not really about breastfeeding. It’s about making sure your baby is fed, and that’s really it.