Myth: Breastfeeding is a choice

Yes, at the end of the day, what you do with your breasts is up to you. But the word “choice” implies something far more casual than the “decision” to breastfeed – and then bottle feed – turned out to be.

I started off determined to breastfeed because I read it was much healthier for baby, but I’m not going to deny it: my decision was colored by the fact that it’s a very popular thing to do these days. Fact is, you won’t find much literature out there that claims BFing is not the best thing for baby – and you can’t dispute the ridiculous expense of formula.

Everyone will have an opinion on how you should feed your baby. If you’re even a tiny bit insecure in your position as a new mom, like I am, some of those flippant comments can crush you. Couple the comments with a mother who actually put her nose to my breast and provided play-by-play coverage on how my baby was eating (no kidding), and you will want to kill yourself before baby’s two month birthday.

BFing sounds like it should be intuitive. However, for me, it was insanely difficult and both a physically and emotionally painful experience.

As I explained in this post, K didn’t latch on properly at first. She was an eager eater and her intense suckling left me with one hell of a severely bruised left breast. As a result of this, I let her feed far more often on my right breast and my milk supply came in unevenly. There were times I could pump as much as three ounces from one breast and as little as a quarter of an ounce from the other breast.

After a few weeks, the pain did decrease and my breasts instead felt full, tingly, and slightly uncomfortable if K hadn’t fed in a few hours. I found the discomfort manageable.

What really troubled me was the number of times K needed to feed and the fact that she had lost a lot of weight and wasn’t gaining it back quickly enough. She wanted to nurse every 45 minutes. She’d suck hard, then whimper a bit, and then usually fall asleep on my breast after six or seven minutes. My husband and I would disrobe and tickle her, change her diaper, or drag a cold wet cloth along her face. She would wake for a little bit, suck a little more, fall back asleep, and then scream a few minutes later to eat again.

There was no point in even getting dressed. I walked around my apartment wearing tube tops or just plain naked from the waist up. My bras were permanently stained. I couldn’t leave the house for longer than half an hour because K’s feeding needs were so erratic.

I was exhausted and angry – pissed at my husband for not having to be a part of the stressful feeding experience, pissed at the lactation counselor and my own mother for not just telling me to give up if I was so upset and anxious, and beyond frustrated at the sight of poor, innocent K’s beautiful gaping bird mouth. Where others saw a gorgeous newborn, I saw a need machine. I was frightened to death by my own child’s natural needs.

This was not what I had imagined and it couldn’t possibly be healthy to continue trying to BF.

So I stopped. But, honestly, I have days when I still feel guilty about feeding her formula. After witnessing how difficult it had been, my husband helped to assure me that our daughter would grow up healthy, smart, and happy – with or without breast milk, but I’m sorry to say few people offered the same support – and that was an incredible disappointment.

Equally awful is the fact that, while breastfeeding communities and support groups are aplenty, I’ve spent hours browsing the web for formula-feeding tips and STILL don’t feel I can rely on what I’ve read.

Thanks to groups like The Mommy Playbook, women who bottle feed have a place to share knowledge and unburden themselves of their guilty feelings. But, really, why are some women so insecure in their own ability to mother that they have to make others feel bad?

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