Breastfeeding is the hardest thing that I have ever done. I am in literal awe of the women who manage it for any length of time, because I just couldn’t do it. So Benjamin is a bottle fed baby, and has been on formula for at least a month. And you know what? I think we are both happier for it. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bottle vs. breast debate. To me, fed is best and everyone has to do what’s right for them – and it turns out, bottle feeding with formula is what’s right for us. It took a little soul-searching to get to that point, but I feel like the discussion so often leaves out people who are *happy* to have made the decision to bottle feed so I wanted to throw our story into the ring in case someone who needs to hear this (like I did just a few weeks ago) happens upon it.
I had all the best intentions of breastfeeding. I *wanted* to breastfeed, but I was under no illusion that it would be easy. I wasn’t, however, prepared for how difficult I found it – both physically and emotionally. It makes sense that it’s not a walk in the park – both you and the baby are new to it, after all. I did find it amazing to watch my tiny baby so clearly learning every day, but progress was slow and I was in agony by the end of the first few days. They say it’s not supposed to hurt if you’re doing it right, but I call bullshit on that – even if you’ve got a good latch, you’re still essentially chafing a sensitive body part for up to an hour at a time, maybe ten times or more a day. It takes time to get used to that. Plus, unless you nail it first time, you’re bound to do a little damage that you have to work through in the first few weeks and days.
We were incredibly lucky that we received a lot of breastfeeding support. I know that is a key reason why many women give up, and I want to be clear that wasn’t the case for us. Every single person who came to see us, from midwives to dedicated breastfeeding support workers, was absolutely lovely and so supportive. We were assisted constantly at the hospital, and visited almost daily for the first week. There were plenty of places to go for support after the home visits stopped, too (at our request – we could have asked for more). I know that’s not necessarily the norm across the nation, and I am grateful for all of the wonderful people who helped us out and never pressured me in any way.
It wasn’t just the physical pain that was wearing me down, though. It was the emotional burden of trying to feed my hungry baby and feeling unable to do so. On many occasions I was in floods of tears as Paul helped Benjamin latch on, reassuring me as I cried that my baby deserved a better mother. The cries of a hungry baby are hard to take at any time, let alone when you’re in pain and sleep deprived, knowing that you’re the only one that can help them but feeling that you absolutely can’t. It’s an overwhelming thing to go through, and I was thinking about quitting from just a few days in.
The pain became enough that I really felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, and so we caved and gave him a little cup of formula within the first week. I was beside myself, convinced I had already failed my baby. Although, as I said earlier, I truly believe that fed is best and I would say so to any friend of mine going through the same thing (or any stranger, come to think of it), it was hard to apply that grace and forgiveness to myself in the moment. One little cup became a bottle, and a bottle every now and again became regular bottles. I needed a break to try and heal (at one point my nipples were bleeding, which is really not an ideal situation…), and Benjamin needed the food.
Thoughts of breastfeeding occupied almost all of my waking moments. I worried that every bottle we gave him was hurting my chances of breastfeeding long term (even though I didn’t really *want* to breastfeed long term). I was feeling guilty for desperately wanting to stop, and even when he wasn’t feeding I was in pain. It turns out we both had thrush, which wasn’t helping matters, but by the time that was diagnosed I already felt beaten by the whole thing. I was dreading him wanting to feed, and I didn’t feel confident enough at latching him on to feed him when we were out and about. It wasn’t the happy, bonding time that I had hoped for and I remember saying to the midwife at our three-week-ish appointment that I just wished someone would tell me it was okay to stop. She essentially did just that, which eased a little bit of my guilt, but I persevered for another week or so after that, intermittently feeding him myself and bottle feeding him when it all felt too much.
I’m not sure what it was that made me decide to give up entirely. I think I just got to the point that I knew I was going to at some time in the near future, so why not make it that day? I held on for a bit longer because I didn’t want to regret it, but really I knew that I was going to stop within days and I was just going to have to live with that decision. But really, I’m not just living with it – I’m happy that we made that decision and know that it really was the right thing for us. I am more relaxed now that I am not in constant pain, worrying about the next feed (which is helpful, because Ben is still feeding every two hours at best during the day most days – that’s a lot of time to spend worrying!). And I have no doubt that having a relaxed, happy mother is better for my baby than any benefits he would be getting from breast milk. These few weeks have been a joy rather than a stress, and I attribute that to being able to feed my baby a bottle when he’s hungry – knowing that he’s had enough for him, and without me becoming an emotional wreck each time. Not to mention that I don’t have to be the only one that feeds him in the middle of the night if I really need to sleep, and that I can leave him for a few hours if I want (or need) a bit of time to myself.
Do I wish that I had been able to breastfeed? Yes. It would be cheaper and more convenient if I had been able to get the hang of it, and I know that breastmilk has all that extra goodness that can never be replicated by formula. But do I regret my decision to stop breastfeeding? No. I am happier and so Benjamin is happier. I think we all need to give ourselves a break when it comes to parenting, and so this is the break I am giving to myself.