Well, it’s official. I am done breastfeeding. After 9 months with my son and 8 months tandem with my twins, I am finally done. No more kids. That’s it. It’s bittersweet. I am really excited to have my body back. My boobs are mine again. My hormones are normalizing. I never have to pump again! On the downside, my metabolism is dropping and I now have to watch what I eat and workout harder to lose the extra weight I carried. Body issues aside, the thing I am going to miss the most is the cuddles I got when I fed my children. It’s difficult to describe the intense feeling of love that I felt when they would eat and fall asleep in my arms. I really miss that. Despite the wonderful memories I have of feeding my children, I also went through a lot of struggles in making sure I was breastfeeding my children. Looking back, I have definitely learned a lot about breastfeeding over the past three years and I just want to share my experiences with moms who may be going through the same struggles I went through with my kids.
It’s important for you to know that while I was able to breastfeed my children, I also supplemented with formula. And I pumped. And I used bottles. Doctors and public health services are VERY pro breastfeeding, and with my son Jack I worked very hard to follow those guidelines. Probably to my detriment. With my daughters, I found I needed to find other alternatives to strictly breastfeeding. I did a combination of breastfeeding, pumping, bottles and formula and I have to say, it was much easier the second time around. Remember – it’s important to do what it is right for you and your children, and these are my personal experiences and opinions. If you learn something from it, great! If you are happy with the way you are doing it, that is great too! This is my story. If you want to skip the story, and head straight to what I’ve learned… you can head to the bottom of the page. 🙂
As a first time mom, when I had Jack, I worked very hard to do everything by the book. “Breast is best!” so I avoided formula at all costs. “Avoid nipple confusion!” So I didn’t use bottles unless absolutely necessary. I breast fed Jack by myself, without any help from my husband, just like many women out there because that was what I was told was best for my son. I was lucky because I never had any problems with my supply. I had more than enough milk for Jack after my flow came in. As a mom of one, it was ok to sit on the couch all day and feed my son every 3 hours, with him cuddling me (oh, those cuddles!) during his nap in between. I have to say, I caught up on LOTS of television during those months. I found it difficult to cook, clean, or, God forbid, get some of that all important ‘me’ time because I had to breastfeed. Jack was attached to me and I was attached to him because I was his sole source of food. Dates? They didn’t happen very often either. It was a sacrifice, but in my head it was worth it because I was feeding my son.
The nights were harder. Because I was only breastfeeding Jack, I had to get up with him every time he got up. My husband struggled because he saw how tired I was, and how tired I was constantly feeding Jack. In addition, after feeding Jack, it took us FOREVER to get him back to sleep, only to have him wake up 2.5 hours later and start the process again. It was hard, and I was EXHAUSTED, but I felt like it was what needed to be done and I dealt with the no sleep. Every parent does, and we all survive. No big deal.
After a couple months of breast feeding, I got mastitis. For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, the milk ducts get clogged and you basically get a breast infection. The first time I got it, I was SO sick. Terrible fever, terrible aches. I couldn’t move, and all I wanted to do was sleep. Yet, I had to feed my child. So I got up when he was hungry, despite feeling like I was dying.
A side effect of mastitis is that your milk flow slows down, so a couple days after I got it, Jack started getting really upset. Turns out, he was barely getting any milk. I was so set on breastfeeding my child that I was starving him! Oops. I started pumping so that I could get some milk to Jack, and began supplementing with formula in addition to breastfeeding. He was so hungry he downed the formula. We had tried giving Jack formula and bottles before, and Jack had hated them, but he was so hungry he didn’t care. After finishing the bottle, he had the best sleep he had ever had, and there was a sense of relief being able to see how much he had eaten.
You would think I would have learned from that experience, but I didn’t. I got mastitis about 6 other times, basically once a month. After getting mastitis the first time, I had to work hard to increase my milk flow. Which became too much milk. So I would get mastitis again. It was an ugly circle. I continued to feed Jack, and was unable to find the time to pump, because, who has time to take care of a baby, clean the house, cook the meals, do the laundry, buy the groceries and all that other fun stuff. Did I mention that my husband was working 12 hour shifts? He was gone 14 hours a day with his commute and I was by myself. A lot. So… no time to pump.
When I finally decided to stop breastfeeding, Jack was 9 months old. We had been working hard at getting him to take a bottle for a number of months, and he was finally drinking formula without spitting it out again. I felt a little guilty taking him off the boob, but he was getting bigger, he had teeth, he was walking. He was a little boy. I didn’t want to breastfeed a little boy. A couple days after I had taken him off the breast, I offered him another boob just to finish draining my supply and to give him a ‘treat’ and he didn’t want it. It made me feel like he was happy with the new formula and solid food options he was getting, and that made me happy. He wasn’t suffering because I had made that choice, and didn’t even seem to remember the breastfeeding. So much for all that worry!
*After reading this, Jarrett has asked me to add that throughout the course of my struggle to breastfeed Jack, he had constantly suggested that I bottle feed and supplement with formula so that I could rest and so that he could feel like he was part of the process. I admit, I was too proud to accept the help and because of this, I caused him to suffer from anxiety every time Jack was hungry. I allowed my husband to feel guilt in not being able to feed his son. He also brought up the point that because I was breastfeeding, he felt like every time he wanted to spend quality time with his son, he had to give Jack to me to be fed. Since he was barely home, I was taking away from the precious little time he did have with Jack.
When I started on tound two of breastfeeding with my twins, I found my experiences VERY different. Almost as soon as my girls were born, the hospital gave them formula. Marie was rushed off to the NICU so it was almost a day before I breast fed her. I pumped right off the bat to help with increasing my supply to feed TWO babies and we were mixing formula with breast milk right off the bat. With bottles. There was no talk of nipple confusion. They DID push breastfeeding, but understood that if I couldn’t keep up with their feeding demand then we could supplement with the formula.
I actually found it very interesting in the different way I was treated with my twins verses Jack. With Jack, I breastfed him right away. I was told not to bottle feed for the first couple weeks if I could help it. I had none of that with the girls.
Even before the girls were born, my husband and I had decided to use bottles and do a lot of pumping with the girls so that I could get extra help with the babies. In finding the time to pump, when the girls got up in the middle of the night, Jarrett would bottle feed one baby while I would breast feed another baby, and then we would switch kids. That way, each child was getting breastfed, but we were also topping them up with milk and KNEW they were drinking the milk. They would go back to sleep as soon as they were done, and there was no fighting with us. Sometimes just Jarrett would get up and let me sleep. It was AMAZING! While we were still sleep deprived, Jarrett felt better because he knew he could support me. He didn’t have to sit by and listen to a baby (or babies) cry because they were hungry and be unable to do anything. And I got extra sleep!
For the first couple months, I was able to tandem feed the girls at the same time, but as they got bigger, I couldn’t feed them both at the same time. So, I would do the same thing as at night and do a mix of breast and bottle feeding. If I really needed to get something done, I would sit the girls in their chairs and prop up a bottle in the girls mouths. That way, they could eat and I could play with Jack. Or clean. Or make meals. When I left the house, I brought bottles and then was able to sate both girls and pay attention to Jack. It was SO much easier!
The way I found time to pump was that after I finished breastfeeding both girls, I would sit down and pump the rest of my supply. It actually ended up saving me because I avoided mastitis by emptying my supply ever few hours! (I did get mastitis once, but that was because I had switched pumps and wasn’t used to the different suction levels.) By adding pumping to my life, I found I had so much more freedom! I could leave Jarrett with the kids and spend time with my friends. Or I could nap.
When the girls were about 4 months old, I ended up getting food poisoning and a really bad stomach bug. Pumping definitely saved me because I didn’t have to get up to feed the girls every time they were hungry. I had saved enough milk that Jarrett was able to take care of the kids while I slept. I continued to pump, but my supply definitely went down since I was so sick.
Eventually, the girls decided they did not want to breastfeed anymore. They only wanted bottles. I have to admit, I wasn’t quite ready to stop the breastfeeding cuddles, but they were done, and you can’t force a baby to suck your boob. So… once my 5 month old babies decided they were big girls and only wanted bottles, I did straight pumping and fed them with the bottle.
It has now been 8 months and I have decided to stop feeding the girls breast milk. Everyone has their own reasons for stopping, whether it is because their child now have chomping teeth, because your child doesn’t want breast milk anymore, because they have reached an age where they don’t need it anymore, or because you are just tired of breastfeeding them. Whatever the reason is, it is okay to stop when you want to. Your child will be okay if you don’t breast feed them for 1 to 2 years… depending on which medical suggestion you take.
What I’ve Learned
So, long story, but this is what I’ve learned. It is okay if you don’t strictly breastfeed your child. By supplementing with formula and pumping, you are allowing yourself and your partner a piece of mind that you wouldn’t have when you alone are the only one who can feed your baby. In mixing breast and bottle, you give yourself some flexibility and freedom that you wouldn’t have when you stick to straight breastfeeding. In addition, you allow your partner to be part of the feeding process, and relieve the sense of helplessness that they feel when you are exhausted and they can’t do anything to help you or your child. I also have to admit, I really appreciated KNOWING how much milk was going into the girls, and that they were getting the right amount of food. Plus, they slept better because of it. Of course, it is important to do what you feel is best for you and your child. Many women struggle with breastfeeding, whether it is with oversupply like myself, or too little supply. Whatever your situation, know that while breastfeeding is good for your child, I strongly believe that it is okay to mix breast and bottle.