Hi, my name is Katie, and I hate breastfeeding.
Well, let’s back up a bit. I don’t *hate* breastfeeding, but my little dude and I really struggled with it.
Why am I telling you this? Because in spite of the fact that nursing my second child was an uphill battle, I persisted with it for far longer than I should have for one simple reason: mom guilt.
And you know what? Mom guilt sucks. Mom guilt can go eat a bag of flaming dog poop as far as I’m concerned, but it’s so, so tough to turn it off.
I thought that perhaps, somewhere, someone out there needs to hear that I – the Nutrition Lady – too, hate breastfeeding. And that it might be helpful to hear why I hate breastfeeding and when I stopped, even as we’re bombarded with breast is best messaging, even with 10 years of nutrition education rattling around in my brain reinforcing that idea.
Please note that this post is not intended to try and discourage anyone who wants to breastfeed from doing so! It’s an amazing experience when it goes well. This post is for those who are struggling – if that’s you, I want you to know you’re not alone out there, and I want you to know that you’ve got options.
I hate breastfeeding because I hate the way it feels
I nursed my older son, Niko, for exactly 11 months. He was easy to feed, had a great latch, and would enthusiastically chug down both boobs like a frat boy shot-gunning a beer. After the first week of painful, blistered nipples were behind us, it was a perfectly enjoyable experience.
I appreciated the convenience of it (have boobs; will travel), the price of it (can’t argue with free!) and the fact that I knew my baby was getting nourishing food that was perfectly calibrated to his ever-changing needs.
And then, suddenly, in our final month of nursing, it went from pleasant-enough to a god-awful thing I dreaded doing. I’m not sure what changed, if it was his technique as an older baby, if it was that the letdown took longer since we were only feeding a few times a day, or something else.
Suddenly, though, I couldn’t bear the sensation of him sucking on my boob. I would have to deep-breathe through every nursing session to get through it, desperately wanting it to end, and felt quite sure that I was on the edge of a full-blown anxiety attack each and every time.
So, at 11 months I offered him a bottle of formula one day. He chugged it down and looked at me like, “mom, have you tried this? This stuff is delicious!”
The day after what I thought was our final nursing session, Niko had his first bad fever. Oh what have I done?! The mom guilt!! Knowing that I was still producing milk, and at a loss for what else to do for my poor, sick baby, I offered him the breast one last time.
It was awful! The sensation was unbearable, and it took every shred of my willpower to get through that last session, breathing so aggressively I was borderline yelling with my breath, and doing everything I could to not throw my baby – my sick baby – off of me.
That was it, though. The last feed. My boobs never filled back up after that, so they must have known we were done.
When I was pregnant with Odin I thought about breastfeeding again, and I was hoping that with the frantic, powerful latch of a hungry newborn the sensation would be different and I’d be ok with breastfeeding again.
I was not.
Even from the earliest feeds, all of those feelings came flooding back, to the point that I’d occasionally have to stick a finger into his mouth and pop him off of my boob to get a break from it. It’s a terrible feeling, to hate feeding your newborn.
So, I hate breastfeeding because I hate the way it feels. But I also hate it for other reasons.
I hate breastfeeding because my baby doesn’t want it
For the entire six months that I nursed my second baby, with every feeding he constantly tried to put his hands into his mouth. It drove me insane! I get that they practice by sucking on their hands in the womb and that it’s a normal thing to do.
The lactation experts say not to pin their arms down while you nurse, but if I don’t then he tries to jam his hands in his mouth mid feed, every single time. I keep trying to explain that his hands are not food, but, you know, human babies are kind of idiots. They have no survival skills!
Odin and I started having real battles with nursing from when he was about a month old. He’d be frantically bashing his head into my shoulder and diving for the boob, clearly hungry and looking for food, but when presented with a perfectly good and milk-filled boob, he’d just stick his tiny tongue out and give it a little lick, like my nipple was a popsicle and he just wanted a little taste.
Then he started doing this thing where, again, he’d be frantically looking for the boob, but when he got to it he wouldn’t latch on, he’d just kind of woodpecker on and off of the boob**, spraying milk everywhere and soaking my shirts so I smelled like yogurt all the damn time.
In spite of the fact that he was borderline impossible to feed, he was gaining weight well. Apparently this is common in cases where the nursing mother has an oversupply and / or a very fast letdown.
We started to have shorter, more frequent nursing sessions. I’d also let him “warm up” on his pacifier, then pull it out of his mouth and quickly replace it with my nipple. That worked enough of the time to get us through the worst of it.
What he really wants, it seems, is to be held near my boobs, but with the pacifier in his mouth. He’s like a junkie with that thing; when I finally hand it over his eyes literally roll back in his head with pleasure and relief. As with his hands, I keep explaining that the pacifier isn’t food. It’s hard to reason with a baby, though.
*Regarding pacifier use, note that “nipple confusion” has been proven to be a pervasive myth (you can read studies on pacifier use here and here if you’re interested, the second of which actually notes that restricted pacifier use can actually lead to increased formula usage) and also that pacifier use has been linked to a decreased rate of SIDS.
**When my child was much older and all of his teeth had come in, I realized from the big gap between his front teeth that the issue was likely an undiagnosed lip tie. Still, since he was gaining weight well, nobody thought to check.
I hate breastfeeding because my baby is lazy
Due to my fast letdown, Odin became a lazy feeder. He got accustomed to having milk fire-hosing down his throat in the first couple of minutes, and once it slows down he can’t be bothered to do any work.
Again, we’ve been getting around that with the help of the pacifier. When the letdown slows he pops off the boob and starts frantically looking for the pacifier, mouth gaping open like a baby bird. I’ll give it to him for a minute, then pull it out jam my boob back into his mouth. This works a bit, but less and less as we go.
Our best feeds are the first two of the day, and then it starts to go progressively downhill. By bedtime, he’s basically impossible to nurse. I started giving him a bottle of expressed breast milk for his final feed of the day after I read that another blogger was giving her baby – who is also a fussy feeder in the evening – a bottle for the last feed of the day and I was like, wait, you can do that?!
Yes you can! And while I’d fight to keep him on the boob long enough for a meagre feed before bed, he’ll chug a 7-ounce bottle in no time flat.
It’s ok to use formula
Friends, mommas, here’s the deal. Breast milk is a magical, miracle food that’s perfectly comprised to be in tune with your baby’s needs. It offers all of the essential nutrients your baby needs, immunity, as well as warmth and a bonding experience.
But! But! But! You know what’s more important than breast feeding? That your baby just gets some damn food.
Here’s an excellent study using sibling comparisons to estimate the effects of breastfeeding. It doesn’t come out as far ahead of formula as you might think.
And if you hate breastfeeding or it’s so frustrating that you’re literally screaming at your baby to just effing eat (I was screaming. I mean, I was screaming at him at times) you need to know that it’s ok to use formula.
One night when Odin was four months old, I didn’t have any expressed milk to offer him in a bottle. I’ve been staying up well past my bedtime to pump each night, and the previous night I had just been too tired. When I thought about putting him to the breast and battling through a pre-bed feed, my nipples literally inverted themselves and ran screaming out of the room.
I thought about offering him a bottle of formula and I felt SO MUCH GUILT. But then I decided to talk to myself like I’d talk to a friend. Would I judge a friend for giving her difficult-to-feed baby formula? I would not. In fact, would I suggest she try it? Yes I would.
So, I did. And you know what? It went great. He drained that bottle like he was doing a keg stand, let out a mighty belch, and then went to sleep happy and satisfied. And so did I.
When can I stop breastfeeding?
Whenever you damn well please. That is the truth.
I persisted with breast feeding my difficult to feed baby for six months because it’s convenient, it’s free, and I wanted to get my October baby through cold and flu season with as much immune support as possible. When the going was really tough I was just taking things one feeding at a time.
I’m a bit control freaky, and I liked that my baby depends on me for his food. But, honestly, we were both ready to be done. We introduced solids which he LOVES, and he genuinely seems to prefer the bottle. Once we stopped breastfeeding he became a happier baby, and I became a MUCH happier mom.
There is such stigma around formula, but the truth is that if you can afford it, live in a part of the world with access to clean and safe drinking water, and are down with cleaning and sterilizing bottles, then it’s no big deal.
The breast is best messaging we’re bombarded with should really be shifted to fed is best in most cases.
If you were living somewhere in the world where you had to walk several miles collect water, gather enough firewood to start a fire to boil water with, then formula may not be a good idea. If you live somewhere in the world without access to potable water (this includes some parts of the US and Canada), then formula may not be a good idea.
If you are struggling financially and therefore prone to watering down formula, rely on breastfeeding for pregnancy prevention, etc, etc, etc, then the WHO recommendations of nothing but the breast for six months should absolutely apply.
That is not my situation, however, and I suspect that if you’re reading this blog post, it isn’t the reality for you either.
It’s ok to stop breastfeeding just because you don’t like it. It’s your body, and you get to decide what to do with it. It’s equally ok to nurse your kid well until their toddler years. You do what’s right for you and your baby.
I highly recommend that everyone reads Angela Garbes’ incredible article The more I learn about breast milk, the more amazed I am. Garbes is also the author of one of my favourite books of 2018, aptly titled Like a Mother. I heard her on a podcast recently, and she talked about the pressure women face to breastfeed and how she, who wrote an article about breastmilk that vent viral, was giving her second child formula. I found it really freeing to hear that.
If you’re looking for help with breastfeeding, La Leche League International is a good place to start, although after my recent experience with a formula-shaming lactation consultant, I urge you to find help from someone who will support you in a holistic way, which may or may not include introducing formula at some point.
If you’re looking for help with formula feeding, or transitioning to formula feeding, Fed is Best is a good place to start. I also found The Fearless Formula Feeder a good resource when I was weaning my first child.
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