Disclaimer: I’m not advocating formula feeding over breastfeeding. I’m all for breastfeeding. I’m just explaining my experience and voicing my frustration.
By now we all know that breastfeeding is the best way to provide babies with nutrition and protect them from illness. But, man, it is the worst! I’ve been told by doctors and seasoned pros that I may just be facing a difficult start and that it will get better in time. But as I enter week four of misery, I’m about ready to give up the tit and make the switch to formula full time, no matter how much better the breast is for my kid.
I’ve been breastfeeding most of the time. When Tommy’s weight came in low at his last checkup, the doctor suggested I continue to supplement his diet with formula, so I give him a bottle at bedtime and during the day if he’s still hungry after I’ve breastfed him all I can. And I’ve noticed a distinct difference between the two feeding methods.
The problem began with the fact that Tommy and I are just not very good at nursing. He has a bad latch, which caused a cracked nipple that won’t heal, and he’s a sleepy eater. These are on top of the regular challenges of breastfeeding. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the “Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” (Christ, I hate that phrase), I’ll explain what these problems mean at the end of the post. But first, here are the other ways that breastfeeding is just terrible in general.
- It hurts like hell. This is the obvious complaint of a new breast-feeder, I’m sure. Before trying to breastfeed, I would look in amazement at a woman nursing and wonder how that could possibly not be agonizing. It essentially looks like a toothless little monster is chewing on your nipple, so how could it not hurt? Well, it kind of feels exactly like that. From the first attempt, it feels like the baby is trying to rip the nipple off. Over the weeks, you get used to it, and the pain diminishes to a very tolerable single second at the initial latch-on. Unless, of course, you have an injured nipple, in which case the pain doesn’t go away, but gets worse.
- You can’t ever tell just how much the baby is getting to eat. With formula, you begin with a certain amount in the bottle and end knowing how much of that gets into your kid. With breast milk, there’s no way to know how much milk is in your boobs at any given time or how much gets into the baby. If there’s a particular day when the baby isn’t going through very many diapers, you begin to convince yourself that your body is causing your child to starve to death.
- Leaking. Everywhere, all the time, and on everything I wear. I’d be going through outfits faster than the baby—who gets spit-up or poop on himself on the regular—if I didn’t just resign myself to the mess and let it air-dry.
- Babies don’t take your comfort into consideration. A hungry baby will attack your tatas with a startling ferocity. And an infant with little to no control over his movements will, from time to time, suddenly jerk his head around, taking your nipple with him. There have been moments when I was convinced Tommy was trying to tear the damn thing off.
- Feeding in public requires either the ability to brazenly whip out a breast in front of anyone or the use of a nursing cover. I lack the former, so I fuss with a cover whenever I need to feed Tommy out in the world.
Funny story: I had to feed him this afternoon while we were sitting in the stands watching a rugby match. The next row over seemed to be the designated cadet-bro-cheering-section, so I was definitely covering up. While I was fumbling around with the baby and the cover, the ball was kicked pretty much directly at my head. Robin swooped in and saved all of our lives by deflecting the ball. All of this aside, it was one of Tommy’s best nursing experiences because he was alert and ate really well.
- Nursing takes for-freakin-ever. My kid takes way longer to eat from the breast than he does to eat from a bottle. I’m guessing this has to do in part with how fast the liquid can come out of a bottle. And he also doesn’t fall asleep when he’s eating from a bottle. In any case, feedings go much more quickly with a bottle, and we both end up happier.
- I get less sleep when I breastfeed. Formula takes longer to digest than breast milk, so he sleeps longer after he’s had formula. I can get a four-hour stretch of sleep after Tommy’s had a quick bottle, whereas I might get only two after a solid hour of breastfeeding. I have trouble waking up to begin with, and the only way I can stay awake to breastfeed is by keeping my laptop next to the bed to watch 30 Rock on Netflix. I will admit, though, that we get to sleep much easier after breastfeeding because he passes out on the boob. He takes a while to settle back into sleep otherwise.
- I have to wear nursing-friendly clothes. Granted, I’m not really out of maternity clothes yet, so I don’t get to wear most of the clothes I want to anyways. (I celebrated today when I went out and bought jeans that have a button waist even though they’re two sizes larger than I used to be.) But when I do, I’ll have to wear nursing bras and one of the following: nursing camisoles with loose shirts, button-up shirts, loose necklines, or crossover necklines. There goes half of my wardrobe for (potentially) another year.
- I’m the only parent with breasts, so I’m solely responsible for feeding. As a person who has chosen to stay at home with the baby, most of his care falls to me while his dad is at work anyways. I signed up for this and I fully accept it. But when I’m the only one who can feed the baby at 3am, and my husband is able to stay at least partially asleep, I really want to trade. I think to myself, I had to be the pregnant one and the one with the boobs? How is that fair? If only I could kick my husband out of bed to make a bottle and handle half the feedings. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t do that anyways, since Robin has to get up for work and I can sleep late or nap when I need to.
- The pressure to breastfeed is overwhelming. To begin with, nursing far cheaper than formula. But the most pressure comes from the fact that I’ll feel like I’m depriving my baby of precious, necessary nutrients and immunities if I stop. While I was pregnant, I tried to prepare myself for the realities of nursing by reading all sorts of real, not-sugar-coated accounts by moms with a wide range of experiences. A lot of women have trouble breastfeeding, and a lot of them feel this same way. But knowing that I need to do what’s best for both myself and the baby and being able to do it are two very different things. I felt guilty for supplementing with formula when the baby was two days old, and I feel guilty that I’m even considering stopping breastfeeding. Other moms will judge me, society will judge me, and I will judge me. It sucks, but that’s just the way it is.
Yes, breastfeeding is sort of terrible. But I’m still working at it. I’ll keep working on it as long as I can. There are some very sweet moments that only I will experience because of the time I spend breastfeeding my kid, which is a gift. But if at some point I decide to make the switch to full-time formula, or my body makes the decision for me, I’ll probably feel more relief than sadness or guilt.
Breastfeeding problems explained:
A baby latches onto the breast properly by opening his mouth really wide around the nipple and having his lips pooch out on both sides like this:
Well, I can’t seem to get Tommy to open his mouth wide enough, and he always tucks his lips in. So I now have an injured nipple, which makes breastfeeding on that side hurt about a hundred times more than on the other side. I’ve talked to a lactation consultant and have been reading articles on the subject, but haven’t been able to get Tommy’s latch corrected yet.
*Note: while I was looking for an image of proper latching to post here, I found this great article from La Leche League, which has a really helpful explanation of how to correct latch problems. I just tried it out and I’m hopeful.
Tommy is also a sleepy eater, which means that he passes out about as soon as he gets a boob in his mouth. This makes feeding him take a really long time, and I have to constantly work to keep him awake as I feed him. It also means that I pretty much always have to use both hands and pay a lot of attention while I nurse. Therefore I feed about one hour out of every three and can’t do much else with my day.
So if you’re wondering why I don’t post as frequently, it’s because (a) I can’t type because I’m breastfeeding and (b) I’m not doing anything to write about because I’m breastfeeding.
In anticipation of the advice I expect to receive, I have tried or am using:
A lactation consultant
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
All of the nursing holds
Breast milk drying on the nipples
Ibuprofen before feedings
Drinking water at the beginning of feeding
A Boppy pillow