I quit breastfeeding. There, I said it. I QUIT breastfeeding.
I put emphasis on the ‘quit’ because I haven’t quit many things in my life, especially ones that seemed so essential to do.
Before Gabriel arrived, I was like any other new mother; I devoured anything and everything about breastfeeding to the point of exhaustion. I mean, even though myself, husband, sister, and many other friends and family members of mine were not breastfed, the benefits of it couldn’t be denied or ignored. “Breast is best” and I heartily agreed.
There was a problem with the “breast is best” statement, however. It wasn’t best for me, but it still gives me pangs of guilt every now and again knowing that I quit.
(Gabriel getting his fix!)
After Gabriel was born, we stayed in the hospital for two days where the breastfeeding seemed to be going fine. At the hospital, the lactation consultants visited me a few times to make sure everything was OK and gave me tips and suggestions to continue at home. I felt confident before leaving the hospital that breastfeeding would be fine…I mean, it certainly hurt, but I was willing to endure that pain knowing what the result was gonna be. Unfortunately, when I got home, all hell broke loose when my milk came in. My breasts became uncomfortably engorged (think Pamela Anderson breasts on my 4’11” one hundred-pound frame) and Gabriel could not latch on comfortably to feed.
Those of you who know me know that I do NOT do uncomfortable well. Actually, let’s just be real and say I don’t do uncomfortable at all. Within the first two days of being home, I was ready to quit, but my husband, mother, and best friend Heather encouraged me to give it some time before I gave it up completely.
Well, at this point, I had no interest in having Gabriel actually latch on to my nipples. Him latching on was so painful and I dreaded every time it was time to feed because I knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience. So, I decided that I was only going to pump…and looking back, this was probably the worst decision I could have made.
See, your breasts have to learn how much milk to make. This happens when the baby breastfeeds; the breasts will make more or less depending on the baby’s habits. With breast pumping, it’s much more difficult to regulate because unlike a baby, a pump doesn’t stop unless you stop it. And that’s where my problems began. Because I didn’t want Gabriel latching on anymore, I started pumping exclusively every two hours for about twenty minutes around the clock and my breasts started producing huge amounts of milk…sometimes five ounces from one breast. Since no newborn baby drinks five ounces of milk in one sitting, I started freezing the extra (and believe me, I definitely had/have tons of extra milk).
(This is what we like to call "milked out.")
So, Gabriel was still entirely drinking breast milk, but just from a bottle rather than directly from my breast. That I was happy about. But pumping every two hours (twelve times total in a day) quickly started to wear me out. Because of the constant pumping, my breasts would almost immediately get painfully engorged if I went over the two hours. Consequently, I couldn’t sleep more than an hour and a half at a time, and everywhere I went, I had to make sure to have my pump in case the two-hour window was up before I could get home. Needless to say, pumping in the car on the interstate isn’t all that easy or fun (although I must give props to Babies “R” Us for their “Mother’s Room”).
For three weeks, I carried this schedule. For three weeks, I cried everyday. For three weeks, I hated every moment of it. For three weeks, the IntheNOLA house was not fun to be in.
I thought labor and delivery had been a doozy…obviously, breast pumping wanted to be a part of the competition.
After three weeks of no sleep and constantly engorged breasts, I was not willing to do it anymore. Although my husband wanted me to continue, he could see the wear and tear it was having on both my body and mind (I was not doing well mentally at this point either…a post for another day). I thought that I could wean myself from breast pumping by going longer in between pumping sessions, but the engorgement continued to happen. So even though I knew that I shouldn’t, I quit pumping cold turkey and that was one of the best decisions I made.
(Who needs milk when I got my thumb?)
Of course, since my breasts were accustomed to producing so much milk, they quickly became huge (now imagine Dolly Parton) as they filled with milk that wasn’t being expressed. Once my breasts figured out that they didn’t need to produce anymore, they became hard and for about a week and a half and I couldn’t hold Gabriel at all because they were too swollen, hard, and painful. Although I was certainly physically uncomfortable, I was relieved that I wasn’t at the mercy of the pump anymore.
The highlight, if you wanna call it that, was that I produced a massive amount of milk during the three weeks that I pumped, so much so that Gabriel was exclusively “breastfed” for six weeks. In just three weeks, we had about 750-800 ounces of milk in the freezer!
Unfortunately, 800 ounces of milk wasn’t going to last forever, so before it completely ran out, we began combining the breast milk with formula (we use Babies Only Organic Dairy Formula) for the first few weeks to get his stomach accustomed to it until all his bottles eventually became all formula. We still have about 100 ounces left in the freezer and we give him some every so often and we’re saving the rest to mix with cereal when it’s time.
Every time I see mothers breastfeeding their babies, I still feel a little guilty that I chose to quit. But I have to remind myself that I did what was best for me and my family. Yes, the positive effects of breast milk are undeniable, but breast milk is not end all be all. Do I still believe in breastfeeding? Of course. But I do ask myself what I would do if I ever had another baby (don’t worry, baby Gabriel is an excellent form of birth control). Would I try to breastfeed again having experienced what I did? I would like to think that I would, but who knows…
One of the best things that I did was get out and talk to other mothers. When you’re holed up in your house, it’s really easy to feel like you’re the only one going through so much trouble. The La Leche League of New Orleans (meetings are held at ZukaBaby on Magazine) and the Fussy Baby Network (they will actually come to your house to help you out for free!) are two great local resources for mothers to talk about how they’re feeling and what’s going on. The support and encouragement you receive from each other is immeasurable. These women know and understand exactly what you’re going through and just knowing that you’re not alone in this journey is an awesome consolation in itself.
Breastfeeding is a mentally, emotionally, and physically demanding activity. You are the sole provider of nourishment for your baby and if you can’t breastfeed or you don’t want to (as in my case), the guilt and anxiety that causes is terrible. Writing this post was quite painful as I still question my decision to quit. I wonder if I’ll continue to question my decision years from now…
For those mothers who breastfeed, you are amazing. For those mothers who don’t, you are amazing. Mothers, you are amazing!
See LaTesha's previous posts:
There’s no turning back now!
Why couldn’t we just lay an egg?
I'm doing it ALL natural...
After 8 months, I finally bought maternity clothes.
Gabriel is here!
An epidural saved my life.