When I was pregnant, I had lofty goals about exclusively breastfeeding. I was prepared for it to be difficult, but I had imagined that difficulty would mostly just be sore nipples. I wasn’t prepared to struggle with baby’s poor latch and low supply. I had also planned on cloth diapering, and let’s just say it’s a lot simpler to clean up what comes out of your baby when the only thing going into your baby is breast milk. So when my baby wasn’t gaining weight and we had to start supplementing with formula, it felt like my house of cards was falling down.
I did everything I could to breastfeed successfully. I pumped in between every feeding, spent hours with the lactation consultant and researching online, baked lactation cookies, drank lactation tea, and took every breastfeeding supplement I could find, all to see my supply slowly dwindle. We spent three hellish weeks slowly weaning her off of supplemental formula with the hope that my milk supply would increase to meet her need. It didn’t, and she was miserable. Now my emotional well-being has become entirely dependent on the amount I get when I pump and I have dreams about cascading streams of breast milk that leave me disappointed upon waking.
It’s hard to pick a day to quit breastfeeding, even though I barely produce anything now. I know that every drop of breast milk that my baby gets is beneficial, so how do I decide to stop?
Aside from that, I have less honorable reasons for wanting to continue to breastfeed. I am terrified of being judged for formula feeding. When we buy formula or give her a bottle in public I feel judgmental eyes on me, imagined or not. I want a onesie for my baby that says “I’m formula fed but my mom nearly drove herself insane trying to breastfeed me so give us a break, okay?”
It’s easy to say “Who cares what people think?” but of course I care.
I want to do the very best for my baby. Even though it hasn’t worked out for me, I still believe that breast is best, and that the benefits of breastfeeding go well beyond just nutrition. It’s hard to hold that belief alongside the belief that I am doing myself (and in turn, my baby) more harm than good by continuing to stress out about breastfeeding.
So I try to focus on the things I enjoy about formula feeding, like being able to choose my outfits based on what I would like to wear, not which shirt is easiest to get a boob out of. We have been able to cloth diaper successfully, even if it’s not as easy as it would have been.
Hopefully the times that we do breastfeed will be even more meaningful and soothing to my baby because they come less frequently. And when she’s curled up and cooing with a full tummy, it’s easy to believe she doesn’t hold it against me if she’s full of formula.
Erin Bowling holds a master’s degree in Folklore, blogs casually and can bake a wicked batch of cookies.
The views expressed in this guest blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization.