How I Knew When to Quit Breastfeeding: Confessions of a Bottle Feeding Mama

I remember the first time I quit breastfeeding.

My only pumping break that day was interrupted by an emergency in the operating room. When I finally left the hospital (14 hours after I last pumped), I was painfully engorged. I began pumping in the car and drove home crying.

The second time I quit was less dramatic. Just like every other day, I barely had enough time to pee, let alone eat, drink or pump. Exhausted from yet another sleepless night and starving from not eating all day, I broke down and cried in the OR when I realized I had been at work for 12 hours and still had not pumped yet.

No, I didn’t quit because of one bad day.

The culmination of frequent events like this led to my surrender and I finally said, “I give up.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “breastfeeding is the optimal source of nutrition through the first year of life.” They recommend “exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of baby’s life, and gradually adding solid foods while continuing breastfeeding until at least the baby’s first birthday.” I whole-heartedly agree with this statement. I am not here to discourage breastfeeding. But it’s not the end of the world if you can’t reach one year (or even six months!)

Breastfeeding Quote

Breastfeeding is Stressful

As a working mom, breastfeeding was a source of additional stress and pressure. When I quit, I felt liberated! I didn’t have to worry about when or where I was going to pump that day. Would it be in the shower stall of the women’s locker room? Or would I be able to sprint to the on-call room and pump while scarfing down a protein bar and chugging a bottle of water?

Life as a working/pumping mom was overwhelmingly difficult. I have a duty to my children to provide adequate nutrition. But I also have a duty to my job and my patients – I can’t delay an emergency brain surgery or a patient with a critical gunshot wound so that I can pump for 30 minutes.

Decrease in Milk Production

I was able to exclusively breastfeed (via breast and pump) for 8 weeks with my first child and 10 weeks with my second. Not-so-coincidentally, that was one week after returning to work. Despite my decrease in milk supply, I continued to breastfeed and pump until they were around 4 months old while I transitioned to formula.

Low milk production is often due to stress, decreased nursing/pumping sessions, poor maternal diet, and maternal dehydration. Most of these factors are unavoidable in my line of work. I have read many articles on how to increase production (see links below), but some of the suggestions were impossible for me.

  • Nurse or pump at least 8 times in 24 hours: If I don’t even have time to pee 8 times a day, pumping 8 times a day is out of the question.
  • Hire someone to cook, clean, do laundry and watch your toddler: If money wasn’t an issue, this would be fantastic (even if I wasn’t breastfeeding!)
  • Take a nursing vacation where all you do is nurse your baby for 2-3 days: Trying to request a sick day when my kid has a fever is hard enough. I can only imagine the look I’d get if I tried to request time for a “nursing vacation.”

Resources for increasing supply

Self-Care

A happy and healthy mom equals a happy and healthy baby. My happiness and health flourished when I was no longer stressing over breastfeeding and pumping. I spent more time with my family and was able to focus better at work. Even if I was holding a bottle of formula, I still created a strong, unbreakable bond with my children.

Support

Breastfeeding moms and formula-feeding moms are all great moms. We love and care for our children the best way we know how. There are many physical and emotional reasons moms do not breastfeed. Being a new mom is tough, and it’s not fair to add guilt and shame to an already challenging situation. I’m lucky that my mother cheered me on each week I continued breastfeeding, but always reminded me that it was ok to quit if I needed to. I’m not envious of breastfeeding mamas – I’m proud of them! But I know I didn’t fail as a mom. I’m doing what’s best for me and my family.

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