Breastfeeding: Ball and Chain, Mommy Super Power or Both?

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I am going to start this post with a confession that may surprise you. I exclusively breastfed but it really irritates me when people only portray the positive traits of breastfeeding. While the La Leche League is a lovely group (led locally by our very own Courtney), I think even they would admit that one of their biggest topics of discussion during meetings is the variety of problems that breastfeeding moms encounter. Breastfeeding isn’t a static choice. Instead, it is a choice that comes with challenges that evolve as your child grows and develops. I am writing this post to be honest and to show that no matter how you choose to feed your baby there are always challenges and the grass is NOT always greener.

breastfeeding

The Ball and Chain

Wheeled out of the recovery room and excited to try my hand at breastfeeding, I was shocked when I realized it wasn’t an instinctual thing. Much to my surprise the heavens did not part, and the angels did not sing. Instead of it being a natural, beautiful bonding experience, within just a few feedings I had cracked, bleeding and sore nipples. Thank heavens for a wonderful lactation consultant that stopped by that night as a favor and helped to guide me in proper latch and technique. If she hadn’t stopped by that could have been the beginning and end of my breastfeeding odyssey. While I was lucky I didn’t have supply issues, it was still very hard to be the sole provider for baby in the early days.

Weston loved to eat and eat often. Some nights I would feed him every two hours throughout the night. Evan tried to be helpful by changing diapers and bringing the baby to me, but honestly what was the point of him getting up if I had to wake up to feed the baby anyway? Shouldering the entire brunt of feeding responsibility for a newborn was often exhausting. Sometimes in the wee hours I wondered if it was worth it or if formula feeding moms had it easier? I can remember bargaining with myself many times late at night “You can do it, just one more week.”

Indeed, if you are a new mom looking for a trick to keep yourself going or inspire yourself, one of my best ideas was what I called “The one week rule.” I gave myself permission to give up, absolutely guilt free, if I felt the same way one week after I had made the decision to quit breastfeeding. Luckily, every time I made it to the one week quitting mark things were better and I was able to press on. As Weston grew, breastfeeding evolved to be much less taxing physically, yet it was literally the ball and chain that bound us. If I had to leave the baby for any period of time I was forced to lug along my pump instead. Working and even traveling to New Orleans to rent the house we live in now was so much more challenging dealing with the issues of  where to pump, when to pump and how to store my milk. I remember one trip where I literally pumped for three days straight every 4 hours. I took a flight home where I carried on a cooler with over 100 oz of breast milk. Formula feeding surely would have been easier.

The Mommy Super Power

Health benefits and personal goals aside, I persevered and continued to breastfeed because I started to feel that it was a kind of mommy superpower. In times of illness or stress it was so comforting to us both. It was an automatic off button. It would cease the crying and end the strife. If Weston was up too early, which was a really frequent occurrence, I would bring him into bed with me and he would feed and cuddle for at least another hour or more. Sleep and cuddles are a valuable commodity worth their weight in gold in the mommy world. Once established, breastfeeding was also very thoughtless. All I really needed to carry was some diapers and wipes. No need for bottles, water, formula, or any other products. I loved being able to leave the house with the baby quickly without planning. Knowing that I would never be caught unprepared for a feeding was reassuring and confidence inspiring. Breastfeeding became my ticket to a lazier and more unplanned style of parenting. I appreciate anything that can help make parenting feel more laid back when you are often adrift in a sea of decisions and possible pitfalls.

Depending on your own personal views you might be disappointed that my breastfeeding post isn’t more adamant about what is the best choice. You might find my views wishy washy or even somewhat apathetic. The truth is I am somewhat apathetic. Breastfeeding ain’t easy, and it’s a very personal decision. It is a struggle, a chosen path, a difficult journey and indeed both a ball and chain as well as mommy superpower. If you choose (or chose) the path that I did, I think you’re awesome, but if you didn’t and you’re a formula feeding mom, I commend you, too!  Motherhood is tough, and nourishing an infant, no matter how you choose to has its pro’s and con’s.

If you breastfed did you view it as your mommy superpower, a ball and chain, or both?

Feeding Journeys

24 COMMENTS

  1. I admire your perserverance, Karen! You are right- everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way.

    I love your “one more week” approach!

  2. Such a great post Karen! It is so awesome to read everyone’s personal experiences and know that we all faced difficulties one way or another in whatever decision we made to feed our babies. So true and I loved how you said “there are always challenges and the grass is NOT always greener”. I know your story reached out to both breastfeeding and non breastfeeding moms!

    • Thanks Janie!! I sometimes feel that I am so sympathetic to both sides that some people might think I am almost without feeling about things. But thats not it, instead I genuinely believe that there was only a sliver of difference between myself and people that ended up going completely the other direction. Loved your post by the way. Heading over there to leave comments in a minute!

  3. Thanks for your great post!! It is so refreshing to hear your real story amid all the “breast feeding is so glorious and easy and natural” stories I usually hear. I always thought those people surely must have forgotten some things, just like we forget how tough labor is! I also agree that no matter how you nourish your infant, no decision is easy and the grass certainly isn’t greener on the other side. Being a mom is tough no matter what choices you make in the myriad of choices you are confronted with on a daily basis.

    • Thanks for commenting Karen! Couldn’t agree more that being a Mom is tough and filled with tough choices!! Hope your feeling great 🙂

  4. Karen, did you know that fully 1/3 of mothers/babies will need some sort of intervention to successfully breastfeed, be it because of mom’s anatomy, baby’s anatomy, baby’s size, labor conditions, etc? That shows a huge group that need really supportive assistance! Thanks for coming to the LLL meeting. I’m wowed each month by the response in the community and so happy that we now have a group to share strategies and offer support. MOTHERHOOD is hard so the more supports for mothers that exist in a community, the better!

    • I did not know that statistic Courtney! I totally agree that support of breastfeeding moms is imperative because it just isn’t easy (for most)! You are doing amazing work by heading the LLL and providing that outlet for the community. I really enjoyed being able to sit in on a meeting Thank you for having me. Loved your post, I will head over there later to comment!

  5. I am so glad someone said it! I would get nauseated and anxious every time. I did it, but I didn’t love it. No unicorns or rainbows here, either.

    • I thought the negatives needed to be said as well. Although, not to disappoint you but at some point it was a little glorious 🙂 Not quite unicorns and rainbows but pretty wonderful. haha. It took me a LONG time to get there though.

  6. Thank you for being frank, Karen! I think breast feeding organizations would be doing all women a favor to be frank right from the start, telling moms how difficult and frustrating (and painful!) the process can be. They should also inform pediatricians that exclusiveły breast fed babies need to be measured on a different growth scale than those who receive formula, so that BFing moms aren’t made to feel like their children aren’t thriving and then they give up BFing so their kids can catch up by feeding formula. The more honest, and non-judgemental info that’s out there, the less women will have false expectations from the start. Thanks again for keeping it real!

  7. I am actually writing a post on why breastfeeding is a full time job. I love breastfeeding and was so crushed when we had supply issues with my first, but I was so determined. It is exhausting, especially in the beginning. Now with my second, it’s been easier, but I can’t leave him, period. He will not take a bottle at all which is fine by me, but there are times I would really like it if he would take one just one time. It definitely isn’t for everybody because it is a big commitment.

  8. I can relate to your story. I had bad nausea EVERY single second the baby was latched. There was no eating while feeding him and when growth spurts were on my life was a living hell but still I was convinced that it was my duty as a mom to try a “little longer”. My baby decided to wean himself by 8 months and even though my life was so much easier it was a sad moment.

  9. I definitely had a range of experiences and emotions associated with breastfeeding. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed – right from the start he latched perfectly, and it went very well for the first couple of months. But as he grew, so did his appetite and unfortunately my supply could not keep up…which lead to several weeks of nursing and then pumping around the clock, lots of crying (from both of us), and a lot of anxiety and guilt. I felt like exclusively breastfeeding was what I “should” be doing, but it was becoming such a stressful experience and neither of us seemed to be getting what we needed from it. I finally began supplementing with formula, while continuing to nurse, which definitely turned out to be the right move – we got to continue the bonding experience of breastfeeding for several more months, while making sure baby was happy and getting what he needed. He self-weaned from the breast at about 7 months and has been on formula ever since, and we couldn’t be happier!

  10. This title is exactly how I feel about bf! Both of my boys have been great nursers from feed number one in the delivery room, thankfully! However, I am no milk cow. I seem to make just enough, which means I have to stay near the babies or pump, too. My older son never took a bottle, which was hard. I made my husband wake up at night with me just because misery really does love company! He didn’t have to stay awake, just wake up and acknowledge my sacrifice! ha! Luckily, our boys started to stretch out feeding times at night, which saved him for work. It isn’t kosher, but my mom told me that if the baby seemed healthy to let them sleep, and they would wake up when they were hungry. I did that, and they would go four hours sometimes and started stretching it longer within weeks. I think sleeping at night is what helped me continue with breastfeeding. I quickly moved to only 6 and then 5x a day and never during the night. I agree with an early post that growth charts should be altered for bf babies! I obsessed about my spaghetti-limbed lightweight the first time around! This time, I just kiss those spindle arms and keep on going. My goal before birth was to bf for six months just because it sounded kind of gross but I knew it was good for the baby. I made it to 9 months and dried up because I had gotten pregnant two months earlier with baby #2. Oops! I will go as long as this one wants to, probably, because I have enjoyed it even though I’m tied to the baby. There’s nothing like the natural high from all that oxytocin that gets released! However, I will take a vacation away from home as soon as he is weaned!!!

  11. One week rule, I had a one day rule. I would do it for one more day, and then go from there. Now, he’s 11 months old and still going!!

  12. Karen, I so appreciate your “wishy-washyness.” As a formula feeder, I am always afraid that my nursing mom friends secretly think I didn’t love Jane equivanlently to how they loved their kids. To hear you say that there is no right choice is so wonderful!

  13. As a new mom I’ve been looking through old posts looking for inspiration to continue the breastfeeding challenge. You’re so right, I definitely feel like it’s a ball and chain situation. I’d be lying if I said there aren’t times in the middle of the night where I want to give up, I’m so evious of the amount of uninterrupted sleep my husband is getting! That said I’m going to stick with it and use your ‘one week’ trick! Thanks for your perspective!!

  14. YES!!! Ooooh my gosh, yes!! THANK YOU for writing this post! EVERYTHING I ever read prior to giving birth to my son painted a picture of breastfeeding as this amazing, wonderful, and almost supernatural experience. While there are certainly numerous positive aspects of breastfeeding, I was shocked and felt intense amounts of guilt when I didn’t love doing it the way I thought I should. I thought that surely I must be a horrible person for feeling that way because nothing that I read and NO ONE that I talked to EVER warned me about how incredibly difficult and all-consuming it could be. If I had read your post along with all of the other things I read on the subject prior to giving birth, I would have at least been more prepared for potential difficulties and perhaps not felt like I was letting myself down and my baby down with my intense desire to stop breastfeeding. I, too, found myself setting weekly goals, but when I realized I was just wishing and praying for each week to pass by as quickly as it could, I realized that I wasn’t focusing on the sweet moments with my new son. As soon as I was able to let go of the guilt, I slowly transitioned him to formula and felt so completely free. I also began to enjoy being a new mommy and enjoy each sweet moment with him so much more. I applaud those women who are able to breastfeed their children and truly enjoy it, but I think it is so very important for women to also realize that if the experience itself is making them miserable, it’s absolutely 100% alright to make the switch. At the end of the day, you just have to do what is right for you and your baby – that is truly the most important thing 🙂 Once again, thank you so much for writing this post!! I know that it is going to touch the hearts of so many women, and perhaps help to alleviate their mommy guilt as well!

  15. I just wanted to add that while breastfeeding can be very stressful and filled with road blocks in the beginning, it is not that way for everyone. I was prepared for all kinds of problems with cracked nipples, latch issues, and all sorts of other problems. My daughter, much to my surprise, had none of these issues. She latched from birth right away, my nipples never cracked because I had a wonderful lactation consultant who told me how important it was to apply nipple cream after EVERY feeding, and I never had issues with milk supply. I nursed her for 14 months, I’m a teacher, and I never even had to open a can of formula! I just pumped during lunch and planning,put my milk in the fridge, and I brought it to her caretaker to give her the next day. She never had one issue going from my nipple to a bottle (I stood in a wedding when she was three months old and had to leave her with pumped milk. I am not sharing this to brag about how great we had it, I am pregnant now and I doubt I will have this kind of nursing luck twice in a row, I just wanted to share that I’m glad i decided to try it for myself instead of listening to how hard it was for everyone, because it didn’t end up being a problem for us!

  16. I will admit, when I first saw this post I thought to myself, “Not another post to discourage moms from breastfeeding!” There’s already so much discouragement in southern Louisiana. But I really appreciate that you included both the downside of breastfeeding and some of the really positive things. It’s so nice to just grab a diaper and wipes and head out the door for a quick trip. If baby gets hungry, poof there’s food! For me, while breastfeeding was hard, I totally consider it to be my super power; maybe because it can be so hard. I mean, I know what I’ve endured to make it work and it gives me so much pride to know that I stuck with it to provide the best nourishment I could for my child. So yes, I’m super mom and supermilkmaker!

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