I breastfed my newborn daughter for only five weeks.
Physically, everything worked the way it was supposed to. I had a normal supply, and latching was mostly OK. I had all the equipment needed for pumping and had a long enough maternity leave to be able to figure it out. There was a nearby breastfeeding support group, and the hospital staff helped so much and answered all my questions before I left.
So, there was no physical reason why I couldn’t make it longer than five weeks. At that point, I wasn’t going back to work for another eight weeks. And I know all the benefits of breast milk from a health standpoint.
But mentally, I couldn’t do it.
I knew breastfeeding and pumping would be a hard task, but I didn’t realize how much it would completely drain me. The stress and the burden of it often left me in tears. I was unprepared for the physical toll it would take on me and how much my life would revolve around this task. I struggled with not having my body back to myself after nine months of sharing it. It also exacerbated my postpartum anxiety. Instead of feeding being a time to lovingly bond with my child, I often felt resentful that it was my sole burden to provide the supply.
After five weeks of being completely drained, I quit breastfeeding and pumping and started exclusively using formula. It’s not something I am extremely proud of, and it’s probably not a popular move, but doing so helped me feel like a brand new person. I was happy and enjoyed the experience of motherhood so much more. I was so much less resentful.
I felt a lot of guilt about this decision and was disappointed at myself for not being able to do what so many other mothers do. I felt guilty knowing that breast milk is amazing for my baby, and here I am, voluntarily choosing not to use it. I felt guilty about making a decision based on my own benefit instead of doing what’s “best” for my child. I felt guilty that a lot of people want to breastfeed but physically can’t, and I didn’t have that issue.
I felt disappointed in myself that so many mothers successfully breastfeed, but I failed.
A few years later, I feel far less guilt. Over time, I’ve come to see how my decision has made a positive impact on my relationship with my baby. And I can also see how wonderful she is regardless of what she drank when she was an infant.
My daughter is a happy, thriving, healthy preschooler. I can look back and reflect that, of course, breast is best for health and bonding, but a fed baby and a functioning mother is what’s most important. I feel empowered to have resisted a huge pressure to continue breastfeeding no matter what and instead, make a decision that was best for myself. My mental health was hanging by a thread, and I did something about it. I feel proud of that.
Once the burden of nursing was lifted, I was able to joyfully consume myself in new motherhood. My happiness and release of anxiety ended up being what was best for my bond with my daughter over the type of milk she was fed with. And I’m starting to see how that – my own state of mind, happiness, and ability to stay present – is more important to her than anything else.
I really appreciate the focus on and strong support of breastfeeding mothers. I don’t think anyone can deny that breastfeeding is a great way to provide nourishment and nutrients to your child. The experience of nursing and the bonding it promotes can’t be truly replicated. But it’s not the only way to provide nourishment and love.
Having such a strong focus on feeding provides a huge opportunity for mom guilt and shame. This specific topic holds so much of our attention when there’s a lot more to being a good parent outside of just breastfeeding or not. It’s not the only thing.
At some point, I will likely be faced with this decision again.
I had such a mental battle with breastfeeding the first time that I often wonder what am I going to decide to do for the next baby. Regardless of what happens, I know that if I plan on giving breastfeeding another go, it will be with a lot more grace and forgiveness towards myself.
I’ve learned that it’s OK to struggle with breastfeeding. It’s also OK to not want to continue. You still love your child, and you’re a great mother. Making the decision to nurse or to stop nursing is personal and unique to each mother and baby – it’s none of our business what anyone else chooses to do.
And it’s certainly not a qualifier of being a good mother.