I want to elaborate on yesterday’s article, The Good & the Bad of the Breastfeeding Movement. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many supplements we take, how many coaches we consult, or how we change our diet. As much as we yearn for it, as hard as we try, breastfeeding just doesn’t work for some of us. There are a couple of medically indicated reasons to stop breastfeeding and several reasons to stop in support of our mental health. If you are struggling with any of the situations below, I encourage you to consult with a medical or mental health professional before making changes. After all, I am a blogger, not a doctor.
- Using medication that could be harmful to the child: Some psychotropic drugs (such as anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and even anti-psychotic) used to treat mental health disorders (including postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety), chemotherapy and other cancer treatments, and medication for high blood pressure, epilepsy, migraines, and a slew of other issues prevent many women from being able to breastfeed without endangering their child. I have heard some women tell me they were devastated to have to stop breastfeeding for these reasons, and I’ve had other women say they were thankful it was not a choice but a necessary step encouraged by their doctor. There is so much shame for women in this area.
- Clogged milk ducts, breast engorgement, and mastitis: Despite attempts to fully drain the breast, some women experience clogged milk ducts, which can lead to breast engorgement and mastitis. All of these are painful experiences, but mastitis includes flu like symptoms and can require the use of antibiotics. I have met several women who experienced persistent and painful breast issues, despite consistent efforts to fully empty the breast.
- Lack of milk supply: Some women simply do not produce enough breast milk. This is how it was for me with the twins. I was exclusively pumping after struggling to get them to latch, but they weren’t gaining weight fast enough after a few weeks of expressed breast milk, and my pediatrician encouraged us to supplement with formula. Then, once my girls began sleeping through the night with formula full bellies, my milk supply dried up.
- Milk is not caloric enough: I didn’t even know that was a thing until my pediatrician told me about it. My singleton wasn’t sleeping more than 30-60 minutes at a time, even after a few weeks. She could cluster feed or feed for 5 hours straight. It did not matter. She was fussy and wasn’t gaining weight. She would only sleep for more than an hour when we formula fed. It felt like when she breastfed, she was basically just drinking water. She would take a full formula bottle after breastfeeding, regardless of how much time she had spent on my breast. My husband took extra time off work to watch the twins, so I could dedicate myself to breastfeeding. But it just wasn’t working, and I felt like I was struggling for nothing.
- Need to restore balance to the body: I was a hormonal mess after I delivered, especially with the twins. I was nauseous, starving, parched, and raging all of the time while breastfeeding. It didn’t matter how much I ate or drank water; I was a bottomless hole. I was also vomiting so often, I thought I was pregnant again. Then there was the hormonal sweating, where I had to change my pajamas every single time I got up in the middle of the night to feed. I also had to change the towel I was laying on, and my hair was drenched like I had just showered. When I stopped breastfeeding, all of these symptoms disappeared. I finally began to feel like me, and after a rough pregnancy, it couldn’t come soon enough.
- Other difficulties: Then there are just some of the common deterrents to prolonged breastfeeding, such as nipple pain, breast tenderness, difficulty latching, pumping pain, nipple leaking, baby doesn’t sleep as well as with formula, baby’s allergic to something in mom’s diet, feeling like a milk machine who never gets a break, and isolation. I had a really hard time being half naked in front of everyone to feed. With twins, there was no way for me to cover up, while trying to get them to latch, and I found out just how conservative I am about my body. I’m very comfortable around other women breastfeeding, and I believe we need to end the stigma around breastfeeding in public. But I would just become overstimulated trying to juggle the latching, while trying to cover up, so I could relax enough to successfully feed. And I could even tell that some people would watch me struggle and want to come over and help, so I began to feel pressure to perform, which just ramped up my anxiety. I would isolate myself to feed, and I became very lonely.
With each birth, I tried so hard to breastfeed, and each time I had to put my mental health first. Breastfeeding, in both cases, was a tipping point in my stabilization. With the twins, I lost my sister two weeks before I delivered. I could barely function in the most basic sense. All I felt was numbness, and the frustration of breastfeeding made me lose my mind. Same with my singleton. I had all of the same struggles I did with the first round of breastfeeding, but now I had potty training toddler twins running around who needed me. It seemed like an impossible task, and in both instances, I stopped trying when I began to resent my children for being hungry. I felt that formula had to be a better option than a complete-hot-mess-mama who felt she couldn’t love her children.
We have to do what is realistic for us and for our families. Every child is different, and every family is different. What worked for me, may not work for you, and vice versa. We are all doing our best to survive in this crazy world with our little rascals running around. And we often have no idea how much someone may have struggled to achieve something that was easy for us. So please be kind to other moms who do things differently than you. You know what’s best for your family, and they know what’s best for theirs.