Why I Wish I Had Stopped Breastfeeding Sooner
I feel like I’ve probably written and talked about breastfeeding juuuust enough to earn me the moniker of “That girl from The Hills who talks about breastfeeding all the time.” But I don’t see that title as something to be ashamed of. I wear it as a badge of honor because honestly, I could talk about this stuff all day. Breastfeeding was my personal Mt. Everest of motherhood, and now over a year after my last encounter with a breast pump, I think it’s important to share my experiences with other new moms facing similar struggles.
For me, breastfeeding was difficult from the start, and thinking back, I wish I’d stopped breastfeeding earlier and not put myself through all the torture that I did. At the time, I thought breastfeeding was the BIGGEST deal, and the stakes felt impossibly high — as if my little Sonny’s life was solely dependent on my success. I remember not being able to see outside this narrow view that I had created in my mind of what was acceptable as a new mother and what wasn’t. I agonized over every feeding, dealt with immeasurable emotional and physical pain, and put so much pressure on myself that I managed to get mastitis not one, not two, but three times.
Mastitis: The Mother of Breastfeeding Challenges
Mastitis is basically an eight-letter word for the excruciating condition of clogged, infected milk ducts. I know… it sounds awful, and it is. My boobs were beyond tender. It felt like knives were jabbing into my chest, not to mention the crushing accompanying flu-like symptoms. When I got mastitis, my doctor suggested I take coconut oil pills to lubricate and make the milk oily so it would be easier to release when it got stuck. He also recommended sunflower lecithin, which he said can reduce the “stickiness” of the milk so it can move through my breasts more easily.
Each time I got mastitis, I told myself and my husband, “If I get this ONE more time, I’m going to quit breastfeeding!” but I continued to succumb to my own self-doubt and went back again and again. As a result, I don’t remember those first six months of Sonny’s life very fondly. Breastfeeding put a dark shadow on his early infancy, and I wasn’t able to just enjoy having a newborn. I see now (with my magical 20/20 hindsight) that had I not pushed myself so hard, the whole experience would have been a lot healthier for both me and my son. And if I decide to have another baby and try breastfeeding again — that’s a big if for both — I’m not going to force myself if it doesn’t come naturally. I know that that might be easier said than done because I’m not facing the dilemma at this very moment, but I refuse to have a repeat performance. I lived, I learned, and I don’t want to put my baby, my breasts, or my brain through that gauntlet again.
From Nip to Pump
For the first month of Sonny’s life, I gave breastfeeding my all. I tried everything to make it work, and began to feel like a failure as a mother. When I got flustered, I think Sonny used to pick up on that energy, and then he would get frustrated, and then the whole cycle would start again. I even started to resent him because he needed me so much, but all of my efforts to nourish him ended in discomfort for us both.
After a month of pain and frustration, I switched to pumping and giving Sonny bottles. For the five months that followed, I exclusively pumped and found great freedom in bottles because now my husband could help with feedings. But even with that said, I wouldn’t recommend 100% pumping like I did. It’s so hard on your body and made me feel like a milk machine, not a mom. Breastfeeding is supposed to be this amazing time to emotionally bond with your child, and being hooked up to plastic tubes all the time made the experience far less meaningful for me.
New Year, New Mom
Six months into the madness, I was done. For real this time. The start of a new year was coming, and I made a deadline for myself: wean Sonny before New Year’s Eve. It also didn’t hurt that we were planning a big party that night and I wanted to let my fun flag fly. Dancing and champagne aside, that night became a significant, symbolic transition in my motherhood journey because it marked the moment when my body was my own again.
Once I stopped pumping, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I saw the light and started to find so much more joy in being a mother. The act of stopping was like instant recovery — no long healing process required. I no longer had to worry about pump parts and nipple pain, and I could start focusing on the cute, cool, crazy little person that we had created.
My relationship with Sonny became more positive, and he was actually great in the transition. I chose an organic formula because it’s what a trusted friend who had done a lot of research picked for her baby. I’m not sure if it was just Sonny being his unfussy self or if it’s because we introduced the bottle so early, but he took to formula easily, and it was the start of much smoother sailing for our family. All the earlier chaos soon diminished into a blur, which makes sense, I guess. Like giving birth, we remember the pain of mom-ing so vividly, yet so vaguely all at once.
After Sonny was born, I encountered the same questions ad nauseum. Are you breastfeeding? How long are you planning to breastfeed? Sometimes people would ask out of genuine curiosity, but I think many would ask to compare. It’s an innate part of being a mom to search for the validation that “what I did was good enough,” and it’s easy to compare ourselves to others. This appears to be especially true around breastfeeding, and I wish that wasn’t the case. There are so many theories out there, and what’s true for one woman may not be true for another. It’s up to all of us to normalize the conversation with compassion and empathy, and not allow an unspoken competition to degrade into judgement.
Strangely enough, Sonny just recently got sick for the first time at 18 months, and I find myself wondering if those months of breastfeeding boosted his immune system or if we just got lucky. I don’t have a definitive answer, and I don’t think I ever will. But I do know one thing: I couldn’t have made it through my struggle without the support of other moms. So, to all the women out there whose boobs just don’t want to cooperate: you’re not alone. Just remember that everything is just a phase, and you’ll get through it — sore nipples and all.
This blog post originally ran on Refinery 29.