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.
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.
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.
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.
Even in 2020, there is still a lot of pressure to breastfeed or explain how you choose to feed your baby. Phrases like “breast is best” and “liquid gold” circulate mommy blogs and instagram posts. Whether you are deciding between breastfeeding or formula feeding, deciding the best formula to give your baby, switching from breastmilk to formula, supplementing or mixing breastmilk and formula, or any other kind of feeding, the reality is there are a lot of opinions. If anyone talks to you about this by making you feel guilty for your feeding choices or needs, you have permission to ask
The Best Way to Feed Your Baby is the Way that Works for You
At Postpartum Together, we believe the best thing for your baby is taking care of yourself. We believe in making choices that are informed and empowered. We believe the pressure to breastfeed can damage new moms and families. How you feed your baby is not the mark of how good of a mom you are (because there’s not a “better” way) and we believe that you deserve safe spaces to explore and make choices.
Below, 4 women have shared their stories about the feeding choices they made, the feelings they went through, and the ways they have taken care of their babies- all in different ways. If you are here for an answer on what you should do, you will not find that here. But what you will find are real stories, real moms, real choices and a ton of support for you as you take care of yourself and your baby.
Ashley’s Story: However You Feed Your Baby is Okay. There Shouldn’t be Pressure to Breastfeed
What is the biggest thing I wish I would have known after having my son? That society puts way too much pressure to breastfeed or to feed your baby a certain way. That you don’t have to listen to what society thinks. ALSO…It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
At my son’s 1-week check-up the informed me that he had lost 10% of his body weight. His doctor said that this was because he wasn’t getting enough breastmilk and that I needed to start supplementing. In my head, I instantly blamed myself. “My body is failing me.” “It seems so easy for other moms.” “I am one week into being a mom and I already suck at this.”
Introducing Formula to a Newborn When You Planned to Exclusively Breastfeed
Introducing formula was devastating to me. I planned on exclusively breastfeeding. At this point, I was breastfeeding, pumping, and formula feeding every two hours. It was exhausting, my mental health was suffering, yet, friends and family STILL put an emphasis on how he needed my breastmilk. So, I kept on breastfeeding while I suffered silently with horrible anxiety and didn’t listen to my intuition.
At 4 months I decided enough was enough. We switched to 100% formula. It was sad but it was honestly the best thing I could have done. I wish I would have listened to myself earlier in the process. And, I wish I would have had someone say that it was okay and that I wasn’t failing.
Your Mental Health and Breastfeeding
Now, I wish that other moms who see this know that however they are feeding their baby is okay. That your mental health is also a priority. And that there is so much support out there to help you with whatever decision you make. Whether you breastfeed, pump, formula feed, or all of the above, you should never feel like a failure. You are doing what’s best for you and your family and nothing else matters.
Ashley Lyon DONA Certified Postpartum Doula Founder of Bloom Mama
Devra’s Story: “Failing” as a Crunchy Mom The Crunchy Pressure to Breastfeed
We had my first daughter in ’07, back when blogs were just beginning and there was no Facebook or Instagram. From what I’d been able to learn about feeding babies from books or talking to our midwife, I thought there were two options: nursing or formula feeding. Because I was in my crunchy-granola earth mother phase and thought formula was evil, I wanted to nurse so badly. But nursing was painful for me–like someone was pulling shards of glass through my nipples painful. Latch checks and weight gain all seemed to say she was getting enough milk but I was in tears at every session.
After about six weeks, I said to my sweet patient husband, “I feel like a failure but I don’t think I can do this anymore.” I’d already started pumping when I went back to work managing a live-performance theater, so he said “Why don’t you just pump more and we’ll bottle feed her?” And thus our journey with exclusive pumping began.
Turning to Exclusive Pumping
Jump forward 12 years and we were surprised with another precious daughter. Again, I longed to nurse, because that is what we’re built for, right? Thank goodness we now have Instagram and amazing people like @postpartumtogether, @exclusivepumping, and @pump_momma_pump. Along with Sarah Lester, my local IBCLC, when my second nursing try started to go the same painful way as my first, they were able to get me on a great exclusive pumping plan to keep LO thriving now for 10 months.
Jokes on me, too: dried up naturally at six months with the first and we won’t quite make it to a year of frozen milk with the second, so formula still made an appearance. I’m fully committed to “fed is best” and I know we’re doing everything we can to make sure our girls are healthy.
Katherine’s Story: Fairytale Motherhood Plans Changed No More Pressure to Breastfeed
I believe most women imagine an idealized fairytale version of childbirth and motherhood. So many resources encourage developing a birth plan or at least thinking about your preferences. Unfortunately, so few resources tell you that your plans will change. The more prepared you are to go with the flow, the more at peace you will become.
Child birth and motherhood are so unpredictable. The birth of my son did not go the way I always envisioned it, but many of the decisions were my own. I didn’t realize how not getting any part of my idealized birth story would affect me. It manifested in an “obsession” to breastfeed. Thankfully, once my milk came in, breastfeeding was relatively easy. I had a dreadfully slow eater; most feedings in the beginning lasted an hour; but he steadily gained weight. This motherhood thing is definitely a marathon.
I exclusively breastfed (and pumped a few times a day due to an oversupply and the desire to build a freezer stash) for six months. During this time, my husband and I had several conversations about timing around a second child and what it would take to get pregnant again. We needed the support of a reproductive endocrinologist to get pregnant with my son.
Weaning and Pregnancy
Many of these conversations got quite heated because I would have preferred to breastfeed for the entire first year. There was an ultimate compromise to start weaning when my son was six months old. I did not want to wean. But marriage is all about compromise, or so they say. The spacing between our children has always been extremely important to my husband. He is ten years older than me. We did not rush into marriage and we did not rush into starting our family (fur children excluded). Deep down I knew future me would appreciate our children being close in age. I know how much it means to my husband; he has a chronic illness and is overtly aware of his mortality.
Weaning was slow. And deliberate. Although extremely anxious and uneasy about weaning, I convinced myself that starting around six months made the most sense, as I was also starting solids with my son at this time. I could not stand the sight and smell of the first formula I started to supplement with, and so the research began. I was quickly able to settle on a much better looking and smelling formula that my son didn’t mind.
Adding Formula to Breastfeeding
I was convinced my son would hate me forever. I felt the pressure to breastfeed. Cue the extreme mom guilt. I have no idea what I did to deserve it, but I was blessed with an angel from above. After about a week of my son being unsure about formula, we fell into a weaning routine. Every week or two, I would cut out a breastfeeding session and replace it with formula. At the same time, I slowly cut down on the duration of my pumping sessions. It took us two months to wean completely. My son then got frozen breastmilk twice a day until my freezer stash was gone, which was a little after his first birthday. Thankfully my son never really pulled at my shirt or chest. And there were never any real meltdowns about taking a bottle instead of my breast.
I hated having to deal with formula. Breastfeeding was easy while I was on the go with my son. If there wasn’t a private, quiet place to feed, there was always the backseat of my car. I found formula feeding annoying. Did I pack enough formula? Do I have extra if we get stuck or our plans change? Do I have enough water? What about a way to warm it up a little bit? Do I need to bring a hot water bath, or can I get something while we are out? This continued to feed my guilt and angst.
Shame, Guilt & Breastfeeding
My shame and guilt eased up as I saw how adaptable and resilient my son has become. His personality really made weaning easier on me. Cue Covid-19. All the shame and guilt came rushing back. Why didn’t I keep breastfeeding? My son would benefit immensely from the continued antibodies. How can I comfort him without breastfeeding? Then our fertility office shutdown. Cue even more guilt and frustration. Why did I even stop breastfeeding?! My son is going to get sick and I can’t even get pregnant now. Again, my son remained my anchor. Everything about him remained cheerful and resilient. He was growing and developing perfectly. With everything going on in 2020, this was starting to feel right.
Sarah’s Story: We are Both Alive Because She Formula Fed
I knew very quickly that something was wrong. My baby couldn’t latch and had earned the nickname “Miss. Chomper” from the many lactation consultants we saw. But I was determined. My mom is a big breast feeding advocate in the community, everyone knew my name and always asked how breast feeding was going. There was such an intense shame that it wasn’t going well. To top off my experience, no one warned me that let downs can come with this horrible sense of dread and overwhelming feeling of just nastiness. Let downs were few and far between, which at the time I was thankful for because it meant I didn’t get this overwhelming desire to just get my kid off me instantly.
While still in the hospital, I knew something was wrong with both my baby and myself. I could not sleep and was having obsessive and intrusive thoughts within hours after birth. Baby couldn’t latch. I remember her screaming as the LC attempted to just jam her face into my breast. Crying and crying until this sweet nurse ask me if I wanted to try SNS. I said yes, and for a brief moment I felt relief as I knew my baby was getting something. Then, I had to sign a waiver to give my baby formula in the hospital. Unfortunately, postpartum OCD took away SNS feeding from me. Cleaning those tiny tubes is a pain and no matter how hot of water I ran through them, I was convinced they were not clean.
Trying a Bottle After Struggle to Latch
They held me a few days due to the fact my kid couldn’t latch and the LCs made follow up appointments so I could be discharged. The sweet nurse who saw my struggle asked me as I was being discharged if she could show me how to give her a bottle. I cried so much in that moment and the nurse showed me how to just pop the bottle in her mouth. Cue instant mom guilt but my baby was fed. I tried really hard to only give her one or two bottles a day and I honestly had no idea how much she needed to have per feeding. She was drastically underfed by both my body and by my lack of knowledge in formula feeding.
The next weeks were a blur but the highlights are: 1) being told that I am giving my baby a burger instead of a salad and I shouldn’t have such a problem breastfeeding because I was well endowed 2) a swarm of LCs and doctors appointments, including having to give my week old baby a suppository because she wasn’t getting enough from me to get the merconium out 3) a trip to the ER at 3 weeks with the official diagnosis of feeding problems.
At this point, 3 weeks into my daughter’s life, we knew breastfeeding just wasn’t for her even after had felt the pressure to breastfeed. And I tried exclusively pumping for a week. These feelings of just being out of my body and feeling just generally distraught with let downs just being came worse and worse as I tried to pump. Not understanding why I felt like this, I began to dread the pump. My postpartum OCD just spiraled out of control. No one ever mentioned D-mer. Never.
I assumed that I just hated this experience so much that it was manifesting in physical symptoms. It felt like my mental health was slipping away 30 seconds at a time every pumping session. Finally, I snapped. My mental health was deteriorating to the point that I did not want to exist. That I regretted this choice to have this very much wanted and loved baby. I even thought about fleeing the country and starting a new life. I’m serious. It was a full fledged plan. That is when everyone told me to just stop. And I did.
I gave the baby to my husband, I slept 6 solid hours, pumped once for relief that day, and that was it. That was the end of my breast feeding journey.
I was able to start medication for my postpartum OCD and depression without fear of impacting my breastmilk. And, I was finally able to bond with my baby as she happily drank her bottles of formula and smiled.
Anyone who tells you bottle feeding hurts your bond, slap them for me. This can absolutely improve your bond. It can save your life. This can save your baby’s life. It is not this demon or great shame.. It is there for a reason. And in a heart beat, I would formula feed my child again. She is healthy, strong as an oxen (just as stubborn too), and our bond is strong and beautiful because of bottles of formula.p
My life and her life is better because she was formula fed. We are both alive because she was formula fed. The pressure to breastfeed could not take that away.
A Reminder To You, Momma
This motherhood shit is beautiful and it’s hard. No matter how you feed your baby. No matter what diapers you choose. If you stay at home or go to work… it’s beautiful and hard all at the same time. The pressure to breastfeed or bottle feed is just that, outside opinions and pressure. Really, it is a choice. It’s a choice that you are equipped to make. It is a choice that does not define who you are. It is a choice that you can use to prioritize your health and wellness and that of your baby. Feed your baby in the way that works for your family and do not let shame sneak in.