No Longer Liquid Gold: Why I Quit Breastfeeding
When my daughter was born, I wanted to try and make breastfeeding work. I wanted to give her the best start possible, I wanted to bond with her, and I read all about the right latch and took a breastfeeding class at our hospital. I wasn’t prepared for how difficult of a journey we were in for.
In late February 2020 when my daughter was born, she latched on nearly perfectly right from the start and it seemed like this might just be easy and natural. She did it! I didn’t have to do any weird tricks or holds, she just did it and ate and after labor and delivery, this felt like such a huge relief.
She was born late at night, almost nearly midnight, and I was obviously exhausted and so was my husband. I fed her, we got settled in, and I placed her in the bassinet next to my bed and started to drift off to sleep.
And then she woke up, crying and chewing on her little fists.
So my husband got her out of the bassinet and brought her over, and I put her on my other breast and tried to feed her again. She latched, she ate, unlatched, and we put her back in the bassinet and tried to go back to sleep. And it seemed like not very much later, she was awake again, sucking on her fists.
Only hours old, and she was already cluster feeding. Cluster feeding is when a baby eats and then is seemingly hungry again almost immediately (or at least it feels that way!). I know part of it is biological, as a way of stimulating milk production, but after 15.5 hours of labor (including 3 hours of pushing), I was exhausted. But I fed her over and over, because she was hungry and that’s what I needed to do.
During the day was easier, but our second night in the hospital, she was waking up seemingly moments after she had fallen asleep, gnawing on her little fists and crying for milk. The nurses offered to take her to the nursery so we could rest or even to give her a pacifier, but I refused. I wanted to make breastfeeding work. She needed to stay in our room so I could feed her and she couldn’t have a pacifier, because what if she used that instead of the breast, and my supply didn’t go up as it should? Her latching and eating was now starting to hurt, and I really just wanted to sleep.
A lactation consultant came around to check on us (and she had actually taught the breastfeeding class we took), and she said my daughter’s latch was perfect. I remembered from the class that if the latch was good, it shouldn’t hurt. But I was in pain when she ate, which didn’t make sense to me. But I trusted the lactation consultant, and continued trying to make breastfeeding a success.
We were discharged to go home, and I was beginning to dread when my daughter would show hunger cues, like rooting around and chewing on her fingers. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and hearing her rustle around in her bassinet, and I’d reluctantly grab the Boppy pillow and try not to hiss in pain as she latched on. I wasn’t enjoying this at all, and it wasn’t the beautiful, blissful bonding experience I had imagined it would be. It was painful and even with all the lanolin I applied, I still couldn’t figure out why every feeding was terribly painful.
At our daughter’s first pediatrician appointment after we were discharged, they mentioned that her weight had dropped, as expected, but they wanted us to come back in a couple days to check it again. The doctor asked how feeding was going, and I felt my eyes well up with tears. It wasn’t going great, and I didn’t like breastfeeding, and was thinking about quitting. He reassured me that I was doing the best I could, and that it was okay to pump or to switch to formula. The important thing, in the end, was a fed baby.
We got back in the car and I wrestled with feeling guilty for wanting to quit. Breastfeeding was supposed to give my daughter the best start in life. In my mind, I knew fed was best. But why wouldn’t I want to make sure she really had the best?
When we got home, I started pumping to build up a fridge supply so that we could feed her out of a bottle and give myself a break. Hopefully the break would allow my breasts to heal, but pumping would keep my supply up so that I could still try and feed my daughter at the breast again. She thankfully took pumped milk from a bottle just fine, and I started to feel a little of the guilt ease. Maybe she wasn’t at my breast, but she was still getting breastmilk.
That night she woke up to eat and we didn’t have any pumped milk in the fridge, so I fed her from our bed. The moment she latched on and started eating, I felt sharp pains shooting all across my chest. Each one of her little sucks felt like torture, and I silently cried through the whole feeding. When she unlatched and I passed her to my husband to burp her so I could try and calm down, he looked me in the eyes and said “This is not worth it.”
My tears fell even harder as I realized he was right. I was putting myself through agony trying to make breastfeeding work, and I was dreading my daughter’s hunger cues. I never wanted to dread anything about her, especially something that has to happen every 2-3 hours for the first several weeks. He said the next time she woke up he was going to make her a bottle of formula, and I didn’t object.
I continued trying to pump so that we could combo feed with pumped milk and formula, but my daughter eventually got to the point where she never wanted to be put down, and it’s hard to pump and hold a baby at the same time. I was starting to feel like I was attached to my pump and missing out on time I could be snuggling with her, so I gradually began pumping less and less. She was also beginning to eat more, and my supply wasn’t keeping up and we were feeding her more formula bottles than breastmilk bottles. The milk bags in the freezer dwindled, and we gradually switched over to fully formula feeding by the time my daughter was three weeks old.
This ended up being the best decision possible, as she started showing signs of reflux and sensitivities around the time she was 3-4 weeks old. Instead of having to change my diet or cut out foods I loved (like ice cream and cheese), we switched to a comfort formula. Her tummy was happier, and she was eating, staying on her growth curve, and thriving (minus the colic, but that’s an entirely different part of our story).
Switching to formula meant that my husband and I could now alternate night feedings, instead of me being responsible for all of them. We could each get some rest, which would help my postpartum depression symptoms once I also began taking medication and going back to therapy. Fatigue exacerbates PPD symptoms, and not having to get up for every single night feeding and getting to sleep in solid four hour chunks did wonders for my mental health.
Breastmilk is often referred to as liquid gold. But believe me, once it starts costing you your mental health, it’s no longer liquid gold. I didn’t just give up and give my daughter formula – I gave her a healthy, present, happy mom, which is worth more than any amount of breastmilk I could have ever fed her. Whatever your feeding journey looks like, whether you breastfed for days, weeks, years, or not at all, if you fed your baby and gave them a healthy, present parent, you did exactly the right thing. Whether they’re breastfed, combo-fed, or formula fed, they all end up eating Cheerios off the floor as toddlers anyway.