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Why I Need to Stop Breastfeeding to be a Better Mom: Jenn’s Story

Ending Our Breastfeeding Journey: How It Actually Brought Us Closer During A Time That My Postpartum Anxiety And Depression Was Trying To Pull Us Apart

Who would have known that the night before I admitted myself to the hospital at 4.5 months postpartum would have been my very last time nursing my baby girl?  When I think back to that night, it makes me so emotional.  I can’t help but to think that I may have savored that moment differently if I had known that it would have been our very last time and that I would stop breastfeeding her.

woman holds baby before the choice to stop breastfeeding

I felt robbed.  Robbed of something that I was so extremely passionate about. Something that I loved so much and something that I had great success with this time around.  So much success that I had plans to donate my large stash of frozen milk to a mom in need.  

Breastfeeding Became A Trigger For My Anxiety 

The day I was discharged from the hospital and returned home, I quickly realized that nursing my baby was now a trigger for my anxiety.  And once my anxiety kicked in, the scary intrusive thoughts I had been experiencing followed.  I felt trapped while nursing her.  Trapped in the sense that I couldn’t do anything if I started to feel anxious.  These intrusive thoughts haunted me. I wanted to try and avoid them at all costs, even if it meant making a decision to temporarily stop breastfeeding my baby.

I temporarily made the decision to bottle feed her using my frozen supply of breastmilk. The breastmilk I was so grateful I had been procrastinating on donating.  I was an emotional rollercoaster at this time. I went back and forth between being ok with this temporary decision and then feeling like the worst mom ever. It was guilt for not sucking it up and continuing. I had “believed” in my heart breastmilk was the best for my baby.  But you see, that’s the thing. Society makes us moms feel as though breastfeeding is the ONLY way to feed our baby. That if you don’t, then you must be a bad mom.  This is so far from the truth. Mamas – please know that you are the absolute BEST mom for your baby regardless of your decision.  

happy mom who stopped breastfeeding

I Began To Fall In Love With Bottle Feeding

Bottle feeding my baby was a whole new experience for me since I had not bottle-fed either of my girls.  My emotions would sometimes get the best of me. The guilt I felt overpowered any positive feelings I may have felt.  But you know what, as time passed, bottle feeding my baby was something I grew to really enjoy.  Not only did I find comfort in it, but I loved how close I could hold her to my body and face. 

When her eyes looked up at mine, my heart melted in a way that I didn’t always experience while breastfeeding.  I loved rubbing my face on her soft, fuzzy head.  It was a new way of bonding and one that I actually began to fall in love with.  I thanked God because having to make this difficult decision actually brought us closer during a time that my postpartum anxiety and depression was trying to pull us apart.

At this time, I had hopes of continuing our breastfeeding journey once I was healed.  If I am being completely honest, it wasn’t for any reason other than “believing” that my breast milk would help get my baby through the winter without getting sick.  Whether this breastmilk belief is true or not, I’m not sure. But, when you have more than one child and that child goes to daycare, you quickly realize that no breast milk is mighty powerful enough to prevent ALL germs from spreading within a household.

The Permission I Needed To Stop Breastfeeding

I had been pumping and storing my milk this entire time. I did this to keep my supply up to prepare for the day that I returned to breastfeeding my baby.  The pumping sessions added a huge amount of stress to my life. Something I didn’t need any more of while I was healing.  I went back and forth between the decision to exclusively pump or switch to formula after my frozen stash was out.  I was so torn and was looking for help in making this decision.  Of course, I wanted to do what was best for my baby. But also for me and my own mental health because I mattered too. 

Every day, I am so thankful that my nurse practitioner and my therapist could see how stressed I was. This was such a difficult decision and that what I really needed at the time was for someone to help me make this decision.  And just when I needed to hear this the most, my therapist said, “If you want someone to give you permission to stop breastfeeding, then I am giving you permission and it’s perfectly ok.”  It was in that moment that I felt so much lighter. All of those mixed emotions I had been experiencing began to subside.  

The End Of Our Breastfeeding Journey

Once I had made the decision, I never once looked back.  I SLOWLY started to wean myself from pumping.  With each pump session that I dropped, I began to feel stronger and stronger in my decision.  I slowly started to introduce formula to my baby which to my surprise, I was ok with.  Eventually my frozen stash had come to an end along with my pumping journey and we were strictly formula feeding.

So while ending our breastfeeding journey wasn’t completely my choice or what I had intended, I’ve come to learn through my experience that I actually really love formula feeding.  I most likely would never have gotten to experience it if it weren’t for my suffering. But, I am actually thankful that I did.  Formula feeding opened my eyes to a whole different way of bonding with my baby.  It made me better in asking and accepting help since others were now able to help feed my baby.  It is so much less demanding. And, it made life with an infant and a toddler a bit more easier and less stressful on me.   

My Biggest Takeaway from The Choice to Stop Breastfeeding

As I sit here writing this while watching my baby girl play with her big sister, I can’t help but to feel proud of myself for making such a difficult decision and realizing that my mental health mattered way more than the milk that my baby got.  My baby is thriving. She is hitting her milestones. She is happy, healthy, content, is well taken care of. My baby girl feels safe, loved and guess what – she was formula fed for almost 8 months!  I will never regret making this difficult decision and I am a much stronger mom for having done so.  Fed is best!  Don’t ever for a second think you’re any less of a mom because you chose not to breastfeed or stopped breastfeeding.   

About Me

Jenn Wirth is a wife and mom to her 2 girls and her Angel baby in Heaven.  She is a former first grade teacher from New Jersey and a postpartum anxiety and depression survivor.  Her struggles with postpartum has led her in founding Mom’s Maternal Health. MMH is a safe, judgement-free community that focuses on normalizing the hardships of motherhood; the stuff no one really talks about.  She offers tips, takeaways, resources, and support to help you on your journey from trying to conceive to pregnancy, postpartum, and beyond.  She invites moms to share their story; the good, the messy & the emotional rollercoaster of mom life in hopes of helping moms feel seen, heard and less alone as they navigate motherhood. 

IG: @momsmaternalhealth

Website: www.momsmaternalhealth.com  

E-mail: hello@momsmaternalhealth.com

motherhood, Postpartum

Improved Maternity Leave in the US Could Save Lives

Imagine a world where women did not have to rush their body recovery after giving birth. A world where women did not have to choose between feeding their babies and going back to the workplace. A place where women are given the time and support to mentally and emotionally recuperate after a huge life transition. Imagine fathers and partners with more opportunities to get to know the newborn and help their partner heal. Where employee turnover rates after birth were not so high. This is imagining a world with maternity leave policies that support and care for families.

Get it now: 5 Questions to Ask Before Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

We Should Not Have to Dream of Better Maternity Leave

To cut to the point we should not have to imagine this. We should be able to live it. The United States is a progressive country. An adequate maternity leave and parental leave policy should not be hard to imagine. According to the UNICEF Office of Research, the United States falls last on parental leave policies of high and middle-income countries. The United States is the only country in the world that does not guarantee paid parental leave. How progressive. How “land of the free, home of the brave.”


This is bullshit.

As a Postpartum and New Mom Coach, I get to work with clients around the world. Most of my clients are in the United States. These clients face the struggle of deciding if and when to take maternity leave, and how to make up for unpaid time off. My clients from other countries come with different experiences. Places like Canada, France, and Ireland (to name a few places I have had clients from), share their maternity leave with a different approach. You can see how the US compares to other countries when it comes to maternity leave policies.

The Result of Shitty Maternity Leave in the United States?

-Increased rates of mental health struggles.
-Increased rates of divorce or marriage strain.
-Decreased rates of breastfeeding.
-More turnover within the workplace.
-Unaddressed pelvic floor issues.
-Higher rates of infant mortality.

Yes, lack of maternity leave is a deadly problem in the United States and one of the most pro-life things we can do is to address and improve parental leave and care.

In a recent study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16% of employees in 2018 had access to paid family leave. SIXTEEN PERCENT. That is not a lot. This same study found that 88% of employees had access to unpaid family leave (FMLA). This leaves 12% with nothing to protect their job if they decide to take any time off for the birth of a child. For those of you who have not birthed a child, allow me to include here that it is no small task. Time to recover without losing your job should not be a luxury. Time to recover, maintain your job, and get paid should not be a luxury.

There are currently only 8/50 US States, and the District of Columbia which have a State Paid Family Leave law. These laws differ by state, but go beyond the federal laws and offerings.

https://www.fastcompany.com/3056957/this-is-what-paid-leave-looks-like-in-every-us-state

 

The Struggles We Face With Poor Maternity Leave

When we are not providing adequate coverage for women after giving birth, we are taking away from her and her family, and our society as a whole.

Our capitalistic values can only go so far before we hit a wall and see a breakdown in families and individuals. We are already seeing it.

Infant Mortality & Wellness

According to a 2019 study in the International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, the implication is made that “Providing a needs-based income replacement policy to mothers who wish to take parental leave after the birth of a child may be the best policy to decrease IMR for infants from all socioeconomic backgrounds.” There are a number of factors that could impact this outcome. The mental health of the mother being a big factor. Another leading factor is when a mother has paid leave time, she is not forced to use all of her PTO for maternity leave, allowing her to save hours and days to attend necessary pediatric appointments and keep tabs on her baby’s wellness.

Women can also experience healthier prenatal care when they are not concerned with saving all of their paid or unpaid work leave for the postpartum period.

Mental Health of Mothers

There are a number of factors when it comes to a mother’s postpartum mental health. When thinking about maternity leave there are direct impacts. One is the lack of rest a mom gets (in general) and even more when returning to work. The body takes around 18 months to heal. Hormones take months to regulate. Many moms find themselves more stressed with the pressures of childcare, logistics, fitting in appointments, breastmilk supply (if applicable), and more.

Breastfeeding

For families who choose to breastfeed, improved maternity leave policies lead to improved breastfeeding outcomes. A recent California study shows marked increase in breastfeeding duration for women who have paid medical leave.

Partner Involvement

This article is primarily focuses on maternity leave. However, it is important to also note the lack of overall parental leave (including partners) can lead to a lack of partner involvement. Retuning to work early can interfere with bonding and also make relationship balance difficult. Partners who are able to take that time for early bonding, interaction, and involvement are more likely to continue being involved parents.

Employee Morale and Turnover After Maternity Leave

If the benefits for the family are not enough (though they should be), companies and capitalism would benefit. High turnover happens around insufficient maternity leave policies. The cost of employee turnover includes trainings, the loss of knowledge from an existing employee, HR costs and beyond. Maintaining a good employee who is also a mother is in the company’s best interest.

Get it now: 5 Questions to Ask Before Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

Female Workplace Leadership

Women who are able to return to their place of work once they have had sufficient time to recover and enter into motherhood are more likely to advance in their workplaces. The fear of losing a job from taking time off can impact the confidence and performance of a working parent, though women particularly feel this. Also, normalizing and standardizing maternity leave across companies would remove the pressure some women feel to return to work before their leave or not take their full leave in fear of losing opportunities or advancements.

What Women Have to Say About the Benefits of Improved Maternity Leave

Get it now: 5 Questions to Ask Before Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

I asked members of my community to share how paid maternity leave would have impacted their decisions and experience. Here are a few of the responses:

Back to Work with a 6 Week Old With No Sick Days

“The leave I had that was unpaid was nearly impossible. I had saved all my sick and vacation days and would have to pick to use one to three of those days a week just so I had some money coming in. Which meant I went back to work with a just six week old baby and absolutely no time off to use if either of us were sick. It added a lot of extra stress. Taking leave without pay is often a dicey choice and I couldn’t afford to lose my job. It just was an exhausting juggling feat.”

With my Third, I resigned.

I would have still had vacation/PTO to use later in the year, instead I had zero time off and had to work over to cover appointments until more time accrued. For my third I took FMLA until I officially resigned. FMLA was nice as it allowed us to slowly settle into a lower income and get a budget in order before I was totally cut off.

I Could have Returned to Work

I would have had money to save to eventually pay for a sitter /childcare, but instead, I just can’t afford to work. Of course, the cost of childcare is a whole separate issue, but at least this would have helped. Also, I might have felt valued as an employee and chosen to return to my prior workplace.

A Good Policy: Peace of Mind

I took 3 months and was paid by employer. They were fantastic. I did part time work to stay plugged in during the little’s naps, but I had so much peace of mind.

Two Different Maternity Leave Experiences

With Landon I did not have any paid maternity leave so I had to go back to work pretty quickly and even the little time I was off we racked up credit card bills. The amount of stress that I was under was crazy! And you know stress causes other problems to like lack of milk production which just made me stress even more that I wasn’t producing enough And I wasn’t back to work and we had 1 million bills. It was a viscous cycle.

Fast Forward 8 1/2 years and with this pregnancy I had maternity leave and disability pay because I was on bedrest and never went without a paycheck.. My overall pay was decreased because we get 80% of our total pay and I also was not working on the ambulance or at the college so there was 0% for that… Even the 80% was amazing we were able to readjust our lives. I was home all the time so we were eating in more and we were watching our spending and somehow during my leave we were actually able to even put Money into savings. Way less stressed this time around.

I Didn’t Take Care of Myself Because of Costs

Being first time parents is hard enough without added extreme financial struggles to the mix. I had postpartum anxiety and depression that I didn’t seek treatment for until a year postpartum because I worried it would cost too much. I wasn’t eating healthy foods because cheap foods are less healthy. My husband and I went on one date in the first year and one again during the second year.

Postpartum Depression

I had terrible postpartum (depression) that stemmed from having to leave my daughter before I was ready. I had 6 weeks of 60% pay from long term disability and 2 weeks of vacation. If I had been given the opportunity to stay home longer, I honestly think my mental health would not have suffered as significantly as it did. My mental health was the biggest area that was affected by short term “leave”.

America is Better than This: We Could Thrive With Improved Maternity Leave Laws & Policies

With all of this information both anecdotally and research-based, we can conclude that paid and sufficient maternity leave is beneficial for our society as a whole. Imagine a whole generation with adequate time to adjust and recover. There is progress happening on a number of fronts, but it cannot happen fast enough. If you believe in this, here are a few things you can do:

1. Share this post. Share it with friends, family, your HR director, on LinkedIn, etc.

2. Talk to your company about maternity leave policies. Ask what it would take for these policies to be approved.

3. Keep your eyes out for petitions and advocacy opportunities in your state or on a federal level.

4. Speak up. Use your voice and your story to continue the conversation and influence change. 

Get it now: 5 Questions to Ask Before Returning to Work After Maternity Leave