When Breast Isn't Best: Making The Decision To Stop Breastfeeding

Sometimes, I don't believe the worst mommy wars wage between moms. It seems to me like the deadliest wars often wage within a mom. While I'm not immune to judging another mother, I wouldn't say it's something that I often do. But I seem to always be judging myself.

Stopping nursing was one of the hardest decisions I made as a mom and I felt like a world-class failure for a long time, both before (for even contemplating it) and after. Everything in me wanted to stop and be done with it long before I actually did, but my desire, determination, and ultimately - pride, kept me going long after it was probably worth it.

After I wrote a couple of posts on the topic (here, here and here), I received a few emails and messages about how I came to terms with my decision - what finally made me quit. The short answer: Breastfeeding became an idol and a source of pride for me - and so I killed it.

The long answer: When Eli was first born, I had an oversupply. I didn't know anything about breastfeeding, but I knew it was the "cool" thing to do for your baby these days, and it might just increase my kid's IQ a few points and help him stay skinny when he's older. Plus, selfishly I wanted to lose the baby weight while still being allowed to eat seven and a half desserts a day, so breastfeeding and I worked well together.

Time went on, and many of you know the story, breastfeeding was quite painful for me, so I began to pump more and I started to lose my supply for various reasons. At five or six months, I actually started to like breastfeeding and it really did become that "bonding experience" so many people talk about, but then at seven months I found myself having to supplement and by nine months I was back in regular camis and my nursing camis were packed far, far under my bed because I didn't like being reminded of my failure. (In case that short synopsis wasn't enough for you, you can read my story in full here and here.)

Now you see, along the way, about the eight or nine month mark - just before I finally threw in the towel - I began to realize something. Breastfeeding had become an obsession for me. Because I was struggling with maintaining my supply, it consumed probably 50 to 70 percent of my thoughts - it was what I prayed about, talked with Mike about, stressed about and what I Googled about. I was always looking for new things to try to get my supply up, worrying about how much Eli ate, and thinking about what I could have done differently. Mentally, it was consuming, overpowering and exhausting.

At one point around eight months, (when I barely had any supply left, but was clinging to the little I had) Mike said, "This isn't worth you worrying about it so much. Let's just go all in with formula." At the time I bucked and reeled against the thought, telling him (and myself) that I have what it takes, I could make it to the year mark.

And I'll be very, very, honest here: I probably could have (by supplementing).

But it would have cost me my sanity, my attitude and my happiness.

You see, because I lost my supply mid-way through, I had to answer questions from other mothers as to why I think I lost it, and that meant I had to admit that I was a failure. That the things I did, the decisions I made were wrong and not in the best interest of my son. It meant that I had to listen to unsolicited advice from other mothers and lactation experts about what I did wrong and how I could have prevented it. It meant that I laid awake at night mulling over the reasons I lost it or how I could get it back. It meant worry and frustration, tears and many, many ugly cries.

My thought process reasoned that since I had more than enough to nurse my son at the beginning, by having to quit earlier than I wanted to, I must not have been a good steward of what I had been given. It was hard for me to admit that my body worked just fine in the beginning, but it was probably my decisions and actions - the things I had control of - that didn't work.

My efforts to continue nursing, using all my time and energy to try to solve my "problem" of not having supply - was really just pride. Breastfeeding my son until one year old was an idol in my life.

When I realized this, that's when I knew I needed to stop.

Giving in was a really good feeling. Besides choosing a brand, there's not a lot to think about when formula feeding, which freed up a lot of mental space pretty quick. Of course sometimes I miss the breastfeeding bonding time with Eli and while it is different, it's still awesome. I roll him in close to me and we snuggle in the nursery glider with the space heater humming at my feet. He still touches his pointer finger to my face and I still rub my nose on his forehead. It's beautiful, bonding and bliss to bottle feed my child. Just like it was when I breastfed. Sure, it looks different, but we're both just as happy. Actually, one of us - me - is a lot happier.
If you're struggling through the decision of whether or not to continue to breastfeed, I just want to tell you today whatever decision you make is totally okay. There are many reasons to stop breastfeeding and there are many, many reasons to keep doing so! But if it is something you've quietly contemplated quitting, I want to encourage you to examine the affect it's having on your attitude, time and heart and to even talk with someone about it. When I finally admitted aloud what I had been thinking to my husband, I found great relief in just talking through my feelings. Confessing my thoughts and fears was ultimately when I realized breastfeeding was a source of pride for me. For us, the decision came easily once I finally laid down my shield.

There is a fine line here, and I know that I am toeing it. Please, please, hear my heart in this - if breastfeeding is an idol in your life, it still doesn't necessarily mean stopping is the best answer for you. It might just mean reevaluating your priorities mentally and emotionally, but still continuing to breastfeed. The key is identifying what breastfeeding is to you, then working to figure out the best path forward.

Sometimes what's best for baby isn't breast, it's having a mother that's not stressed, worried or anxious about breastfeeding. I know the decision is incredibly difficult and ultimately only YOU can make it - which makes it that much harder. But I think taking time to consider these things will help you know the answer that's right for your family. And no matter where you are on your breastfeeding journey, please remember you are not a failure, you are a success.

13 comments:

  1. Great post, Laura! I haven't done much research, but I have read that when a mama is stressed it can affect the mama's milk, not just the supply! My sis blames some health probs on the stressed out milk my mom was producing when she was watching coverage of the Gulf War. How much of that is true is yet to be determined....

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  2. It took me awhile to get over my decision to quit--and I threw in the towel WAY sooner than you!--but now...I'm sorry that I'm not sorry that I quit. Time has given me that perspective. If I knew then what I know now, about how much happier I was afterwards, and how my son THRIVED on formula, I might have even quit sooner. We get SO caught up in doing what's best that we forget that OUR best is not always someone else's best. People say stay-at-home moms are best for children, but that's not possible for my family. Sending my kid to private school is probably best, but that's not possible for my family. What I did back then, and what I do today, is what's best for my family. I can't let someone else's ideal cloud my judgement and color how I feel about myself. At the end of the day, I support moms who do their best, no matter what that "best" looks like.

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  3. I had so many of the same feelings. Even though I was still depressed when my milk totally dried up and I had no choice but to go all formula, I was glad that at least I could stop pouring my efforts and thoughts into pumping and searching for ways to get my supply up and instead focus on enjoying our time together.

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  4. Totally agreed, when you're stressing about supply so much, you miss all the other great things about spending time with your babe!

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  5. Crazy, I've never heard of that! But stress can do some weird things!

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  6. Well said! No one's best is someone else's and it shouldn't affect how we feel about our best. Easier said than done though, I suppose. :)

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  7. Thank you for your honesty. I know that this is exactly what some moms need to hear and you are a rockstar for sharing this struggle.

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  8. Thank you for this. This is exactly what I am going thru and went thru. I too had over supply and over active let down and Ben was so gassy and fussy so I was block feeding which I think may have decreased my supply or not (his weight gain has always been consistent but I just feared I wasnt producing enough) and I just became obsessed cause I was trying to pump a freezer supply at that same time that I was one-side feeding and wasnt getting much at all when pumping. I was a wreck and ultimately had to take more time off work cause it caused me so much anxiety. I am still breastfeeding but returning to work April 1st and am having those same struggles and totally feel like you did that it has become a pride thing. I look at the cloth nursing pads I barely need any more except for when I am actually feeding and I will have one for the opposite side but dont need them around the clock and I can just cry thinking that I will probably be putting them and my nursing tops away for good soon. I am still clinging but feel I am being selfish actually by continuing to BF cause I am not giving my best by stressing over this. Ugh!!! The emotions of BF!!!!
    So Thank you! It is so much support knowing you went thru the same emotions i now am.

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  9. Hey Sydney - I feel for you! It's such a tough road and there never seems to be one clear answer! While breastfeeding usually tends to be pretty selfless of us moms, I do think sometimes we (me!) can continue on for selfish reasons, which is still really just a pride issue. I wish I could give you a hug right now - know everything will turn out and that the fact that you're giving it so much thought and effort does show how much you care and love your baby!

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  10. Thanks Laura xo

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  11. This speaks to my heart! I swear, sometimes when I read your posts it's like I'm reading my own thoughts. I stopped breastfeeding for an unusual reason. I had a traumatic separation of my pubic symphysis at my son's birth, which caused me not to be able to walk for a couple days after delivery, moderate pain for weeks, and then on-going instability and soreness. I found out about 6 months postpartum that breastfeeding makes the issues linger on because of certain hormones, and also that my damaged vaginal muscles would not be able to heal while breastfeeding. There were a few other reasons why I decided to stop, but I always felt and sometimes still feel that those reasons aren't enough- that I should have kept enduring the pain for my son's benefit. I still hesitate to tell anyone I've stopped, because I'd have to explain everything to try to justify my decision, but they wouldn't understand. Anyway, I just love that you get it. Thank you for your honesty!

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  12. Oh Taylor, that's a huge deal and a lot to go through! I've never heard of that, but I can't imagine how painful it would be. Good for you for finding and making the right choice for your family. I totally feel you on feeling like the explanation sometimes isn't worth the effort - and yes, I completely get it!

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