I was preparing to breastfeed my baby at Bible study when I leaned over to the mom next to me and admitted, “I hate this.” She said, “I hated breastfeeding, too! I thought I was the only one.” So for any other woman out there feeling guilty about her mixed feelings (or straight up negative ones) about breastfeeding, know you aren’t alone.
I am getting ready to wean my second breastfed child (I have four other children I have bottle fed) and the only words I can use to describe my feelings right now are “relief” and “joy.” I have known so many moms that have grieved the closing of that chapter. And I get that, as it does symbolize the end of the baby days of your child. The kid drinking from a sippy cup sure looks a lot more like a toddler than the little one snuggled at your breast. I feel the sadness of the passage of time and the ending of that special closeness (whether breast or bottle feeding), but I am eagerly looking forward to being done with the actual breastfeeding process. I literally had a sobbing meltdown the week before my second biological baby was born, not in anticipation of labor, but because I was realizing the year of breastfeeding madness was about to begin.
Don’t get me wrong– I have not been cursing under my breath as I breastfed my child. I’ve done my best not to let my negative feelings about it impact our breastfeeding relationship. I do my best to fake it and do all the things I think people who like breastfeeding would do. I don’t want to lose the sweet relational benefits of breastfeeding by being a jerk about it. It’s just that I think we could actually encourage more women to stick with it if we were straight up honest about the toll it takes on you instead of painting it with this ridiculously rosy brush.
Sometimes breastfeeding is miserable. I think everybody has that experience for some small portion of their breastfeeding journey, but for others of us it is kind of the only part of our breastfeeding journey. Breastfeeding can be painful (and just because it wasn’t for YOU doesn’t mean it isn’t for other people or that other people are just doing it wrong), it is messy, it is costly (not as expensive as formula, but it is NOT “free” as people like to claim- lactation consultants, nursing bras, nursing pads, the extra food you have to eat to make milk. . . let’s be honest here), it can be stressful, it is inconvenient, and it contributes to the overall “touched out” feeling moms of little ones struggle with.
I know, know, KNOW that isn’t everyone’s experience, but I think those of us who didn’t enjoy breastfeeding but kept at it should be the new spokespeople for breastfeeding. Let’s retire all the rainbows and unicorns and let those of us who did it even though we didn’t find it personally rewarding, emotionally fulfilling, and it didn’t really burn off our excess pregnancy pounds explain why it’s worth it. The women who find it wonderful (and who are capable of breastfeeding) will always be happy to do it. Let’s let the jaded and cynical among us make the case to those women who are struggling. I’m not sure the best thing we can do for them is to promise them it will get better. Maybe it won’t. But when did we women let a little thing like personal misery keep us from doing what’s right for our child? (Sarcasm! I promise!)
If I hated it so much, why did I continue to do it for a full year with each of my biological sons? Because I felt it was the right thing to do for them and my body could handle it. I was actually making enough milk for my babies. That in and of itself is kind of amazing. I know there are health benefits to breastmilk, so even if this wasn’t something I found super fun, I could do that for them.
I find some of the common reasons to breastfeed fall flat when compared to my actual lived experiences of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. I did not feel closer or more bonded to my breastfed babies. In fact, the struggles I experienced with breastfeeding actually injected more stress into our relationship and complicated the bonding process that had seemed so simple with my bottle-fed babies. My breastfed toddler has had the most ear infections, random rashes and digestive illnesses of any kid in the family. Because I haven’t seen some huge difference in the level of health or attachment (or intellect at this point), I’m just not inclined to add to the guilt and pressure women already feel about breastfeeding.
This was the bottomline for me: I’m exceptionally cheap. Free milk = worth it. I would literally occupy my mind during breastfeeding by thinking about the money I was saving. As someone who had formula fed four previous children, I knew exactly how much those cans of powdered gold can cost. That became my pep talk through the months of frustrating nursing experiences. Think of the date nights you’ll be able to afford! The cute skirt you can buy! A new shade of lipstick! Even though I was too cheap to go out and splurge, it was rewarding to think I was doing something to provide for our family just by making milk.
So that was my major reason to continue breastfeeding. What’s yours? I think that’s the most helpful question we can ask someone who is struggling with breastfeeding. Can you keep doing this because of a particular health benefit? The money saving aspect? Do you enjoy the bonding time? Are you too exhausted to wash bottles and measure formula every couple hours? You’ve got to find a reason that works for YOU and it may not necessarily be one on the breastfeeding pamphlets. And if at some point it doesn’t work for you anymore, THAT’S OKAY.
Try it. Do it if you can. Stick with it if you can. Even if you don’t really like it, it’s still a good thing to do. I appreciated having a pediatrician who always encouraged me to just give it another month, another week, another day. It was hard in those first few weeks to imagine doing this for a whole year, but I could always imagine doing it just one more day and eventually those days added up to about 365.
If you love breastfeeding, that’s awesome. Do it with joy and my blessing. If you don’t love breastfeeding, that’s okay. Your baby probably doesn’t know. You can do it and hate it and your baby will still benefit. Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be fun to be good.