Almost eight years ago when I was pregnant with my first daughter I was amazed by the many times I was asked if I was planning to breastfeed. There was no reason for me not to plan to breastfeed so my response was always welcomed with an added conversation of the many benefits. The memory of her birth and our first couple of nights in the hospital is blurry but I clearly remember the lactation consultant. From the first hour with my daughter I had someone in my room handling my breasts trying to help me guarantee success at breastfeeding my first child. Failure simply was not an option and during those first few days not something I even pondered. I had read everything I could during my pregnancy to make sure I had clear expectations and every potential guardrail covered. I knew it would hurt. I knew I would be exhausted. I knew it took consistency. And I knew it would get easier once I made it through the first couple of weeks. I did not know sometimes it just doesn’t work out and sometimes “breast is best” isn’t the answer. Without filling in all the details, both my babies are happy, healthy and formula fed. It took a horrible experience, being guilted and shamed by breastfeeding professionals and other mothers, and seven years between babies for me to be okay with not being able to breastfeed. It shouldn’t be that hard and answering the “are you breastfeeding?” question shouldn’t be stressful for mothers who are not.
I was absolutely determined to breastfeed my first daughter. The lactation consultant at the hospital was also determined to make that happen. I came home from the hospital thinking it was supposed to hurt and if I just kept trying, our fussy hungry baby would finally get the hang of it. A week later our baby was crying non stop which consequently, in combination with my sleep deprivation and crash of hormones, I too was crying all day. Our baby was losing weight and never seemed content but giving up on breastfeeding wasn’t an option because I was convinced once I conquered the hard first weeks, it would be easy. I joined a hospital support group and was congratulated on my excellent choice to breastfeed and told to keep up the good work. Meanwhile my daughter wasn’t consuming enough calories and she was still crying nonstop. Add in my discomfort and the bloody milk I was trying to store in the refrigerator (literally bloody because of my congratulated efforts to make this work), we were miserable. The pediatrician finally suggested we stop trying to breastfeed because our baby was not gaining as she should. Our daughter hadn’t slept more than an hour at a time since birth. Following her first formula bottle she stopped crying and slept for hours. For the first time her tummy was full and she was content. I didn’t share our source of newfound joy with family or friends because as ridiculous as it seems to me now, I was embarrassed. Embarrassed that I wasn’t able to breastfeed. Embarrassed that I gave up. Embarrassed that I didn’t do enough to make sure she was getting nutrients necessary for healthy brain growth. Jump ahead almost seven years and our daughter is happy and healthy. She is smart, witty, and loves to learn. She is physically active and loves to play outside. She is compassionate and empathetic. She’s a great listener and a confident leader. All the things I thought she wouldn’t be because of my decision to stop breastfeeding have been false.
With baby number two on the way, the “are you planning to breastfeed” question came up multiple times. Eventually I decided, for the benefits to the baby, I would pump exclusively until the baby had received adequate colostrum and then transition to formula. My biggest concern was being intimidated by the lactation consultant at the hospital following delivery. I planned to bring my own pump to the hospital but wanted to make sure that was an okay option so I called ahead and was transferred to the onsite lactation consultant. She told me ultimately I could do what I wanted but it was much better for the baby to receive colostrum from my breast instead of a bottle. When I told her I had already decided to use a pump exclusively she advised we could discuss it after delivery. Not changing my mind, I felt confident with my decision but once admitted to the hospital the nurses convinced me to try to breastfeed the first hour after delivery. I agreed to try for the first hour but if it didn’t seem to be working I planned to switch to the pump. Our beautiful baby girl was born and I stuck to the agreement and tried to feed her the first hour with a lactation consultant present. Just as it was time to breastfeed again, with the nurses present, I passed out. I’m not sure what happened but I do know I felt physically horrible and didn’t want to try again. We gave our daughter her first bottle and never went back to breastfeeding, or even pumping. She is now six weeks old and I do not feel badly about our decision. The difference between this baby and our first is night and day. She is gaining weight, settles easily, and is so much more content. Unlike with my first daughter, I experienced no post partum depression and feel so much better. Although bottles and formulas are costly, the overall happiness of our family is a priority.
I am an absolute advocate for breastfeeding when it makes sense for your family. There are so many benefits but that doesn’t mean those that 1) cannot, or 2) choose not to breastfeed should be shunned. I had a miserable experience and our baby was not thriving the first time I tried to breastfeed. With our second baby, after agreeing to try again, I made a decision to use formula and do not regret it.
Are you breastfeeding?
No I am not.
When asked if you’re breastfeeding your baby and you are not, just respond, “no.” Society shouldn’t make it any harder than it already is to be a parent. You are doing the best you can and shouldn’t be made to feel any other way.
So, are you breastfeeding?