My twins are weaned. There. I said it.
My blissful, road-block and pain free nursing experience with Aellyn was NOT repeated with my boys. Breastfeeding – even just feeding breastmilk – was an uphill battle the whole way. I used donor milk. I pumped and pumped and pumped. I smelled like maple syrup from all the fenugreek I was taking. I saw lactation consultants on multiple occasions and fixed latch issues. I tandem nursed. I even exclusively nursed for a whole month! I thought I had arrived. Sadly, Boston did not grow that month at all. He was’t getting enough. I started supplementing with formula.
And then I went back to work. My supply just never recovered. Boston nursed less and less because he wanted the nourishment he got from the bottle better (a mix of pumped milk and formula). It was just like a snowball. Eventually I was only recreationally nursing – e.g. 99% of their nourishment was from formula. And then nothing.
Just writing this and seeing that picture makes me cry. It is heartbreaking. I would give almost anything to nurse my boys again. Trust me I’ve tried. Even Asher, my good nurser, just cries and cries. He doesn’t understand anymore. I’m honestly not coping very well but I want to write out my process so I can come to grips with this devastating loss. Maybe it will help someone else as well.
What is Breastfeeding Loss?
Breastfeeding loss is the mourning process that happens when a nursing relationship is lost or never achieves the expectations of the mother. Maybe you never nursed and have lingering feelings about it. Maybe your didn’t nurse as long as you wanted. Maybe you did nurse as long as the child wanted but you weren’t ready to quit and you have unresolved emotions about it.
The problem with breastfeeding loss is that you often will not feel supported by anyone in your circle. Formula advocates will brush it off as “no big deal” because “tons of kids get formula” making you feel that remorse over not nursing were just silly. Some (not all) lactivists will tell you all the things you could have done which just prolongs the pain.
So what’s a mother to do?
Identify the Real Source of Your Feelings
First, you need to examine your feelings regarding the breastfeeding loss. I think there are several layers that might be present:
- Guilt – you feel like you didn’t do everything you could to make breastfeeding successful. You agonize over what more you could have done. Note that other people do not make you feel guilty. Guilt come from within. If you think someone else is “making you feel guilty” please see “embarrassment” below.
- Embarrassment – you feel self conscious to tell others that you’ve weaned. You think they will think less of you. You don’t want to be “that mom” that “gave up” on nursing. Maybe you run a breastfeeding website and think you’ll lose your lactivist card (cough, cough).
- Fear – you worry that your child will be one of the statistics that get diabetes, chronic ear infections, and other side effects of artificial feeding. You worry that your kid will be the one that gets contaminated formula. You won’t bond as much with the kid and he’ll grow up incapable of love. Gloom. Doom. You’ve cursed your child for life. ZOMG. PANIC!
- Nostalgia – you miss the act of nursing. You miss the milky smiles and contented sighs. Your heart aches to nurse just one more time. Just one. Nostalgia is interesting because it is not necessarily sad or happy but can be both. Memories can make you feel warm and happy or sad depending on your perspective.
- Anger – you feel that someone else is to blame for your lost breastfeeding relationship. Your husband that wasn’t supportive, you job for not giving you adequate time to pump, your doctor for insisting you wean before some treatment. Anger is externalized. If you think you are angry at yourself you are probably feeling one of the feelings above, look closer at your anger.
Accept Your Feelings
The key to coping with breastfeeding loss is to take those feelings and allow them to be. Don’t add a further layer of “you’re so stupid” for feeling the things you feel. It is ok. Feel it.
I don’t feel guilt because I know I did everything I could.
I feel embarrassment, which is why it took me 2 months to write this post. I definitely have a reputation as a breastfeeding evangelist and I feel like a poser now because I’m not breastfeeding three kids in tandem.
I feel fear that I’ve short-changed my boys and not given them the best start. My overwhelming emotion is nostalgia. Painful nostalgia. This is what makes me cry the most. I’m just SO SAD that it is over.
I have anger that my country has no respect for parenthood as indicated by the complete lack of maternity leave. I had 3 months off and one of them my boys were in the hospital. I was afforded time to pump but it was inadequate with preemie twins at only 3 months old. I’m angry that our society says “breast is best” but doesn’t put its money where its mouth is.
Make a Plan
Next step is to take what you’ve learned about your feelings and create an implementable plan for what to do the next time you feel overwhelmed by that feeling. Here are some ideas and I’ll use my plan as an example.
My plan for feeling guilt
Take a moment and make a physical list of everything you did do to make breastfeeding successful. My introduction is kind of my list.
- If you didn’t try to breastfeed at all but feel guilt figure out what you can do to change. Guilt is a useful emotion because it makes us uncomfortable which prompts change. Maybe you didn’t have all the information you needed or you didn’t see an LC. These things might not be reversible but you can decide that, in the future, you will seek more information or use more professionals with parenting help.
- Forgive yourself. Maybe hindsight tells you that you could of done more but you weren’t the same person then and you made the best decision you could at that moment. Or, you didn’t. Either way you are worthy of forgiveness. Tomorrow is another day.[box]I don’t feel much guilt because I really feel I did everything I could. I forgive myself for not doing more. I did the best I could.[/box]
My plan for feeling embarrassment
- Remind yourself that this is about your child NOT about a contest with other mothers. Your only responsibility as a parent is your child not being Mother of the Year according to other people.
- If you only feel embarrassed around certain people, maybe this is telling you something about your relationship with this person. (not always, you might just be neurotic!) Sometimes we have friends that revel in our failures because it makes them feel better about themselves. This is not the kind of people we need to be around. Surround yourself with people that will love you and celebrate your successes.
- Get it out. Don’t make it a secret. Embarrassment and shame hate the light. Shine some light on it and it evaporates.[box]I’m writing this post. Dear World, I, Paige, an avowed lactivist, have weaned my kids before 1 year. Thank you for your support.[/box]
My plan for feeling fear–
- Identify the real fears. Don’t stay in the dark. Read about how formula is lacking. Read about the dangers of formula. Worry prompted by lack of knowledge is worse than just confronting the reality head on.
- Learn how to maximize health when formula feeding. This articlehas many suggestions although I would add a few:[box]I think it is important to really find the least dangerous way for my boys to formula feed. [/box]
- Don’t use soy. I really feel soy formula should only be given by prescription. It is horrible and only needed in less than 1% of babies and yet in the US up to 50% of babies are getting soy formula.
- Don’t use fluoridated water to make formula! Ever. Reconstituted formula “contains 100 to 200 times more fluoride (1,000 ppb) than is found naturally in breast milk (5-10 ppb). In fact, while breast-fed infants receive the LOWEST body burden (mg/kg/day) in the population, they receive the HIGHEST body burden if they receive fluoridated formula(source).”
- Use organic formula if possible. This avoids pesticides as well as genetically engineered foods.
- Give a probiotic supplement. For healthy gut flora.
- Give an omega-3 supplement. For brain development.
- Consider hydrolyzed formula. I don’t because it isn’t organic but if you child is having trouble with regular formula this provides milk proteins that are pre-broken down and easier to digest.
- Practice gentle, responsive parenting. This is good for the immune system and brain development two things that breastfed babies have a leg up on. Practicing gentle and responsive parenting will bathe your baby in oxytocin the love hormone that breastfeeding releases.
My plan for feeling nostalgia
- Don’t avoid thinking about it. Hold your baby and remember breastfeeding. How it felt. What it looked like and smelled like. Make yourself remember the happiness you felt. This memory is a happy memory.
- Make a breastfeeding memory book. If you don’t have pictures, blog it. If you don’t have a blog (gasp! lol) write it in a baby book. What did you love about breastfeeding? What did it feel like? If you didn’t breastfeed write about other wonderful bonding moments with your baby.[box]I’m making a first year book on snapfish and including tons of happy nursing photos and memories.[/box]
My plan for feeling anger
- Anger can be powerful when focused! Talk to the person who undermined you. Let them know how you feel. Tell them how they could have supported you.
- If you can’t talk to the person, find another way to educate others about breastfeeding support. Donate to a worthy breastfeeding advocacy group (like NursingFreedom.org or Best for Babes or KellyMom ). Help organize a nurse in or write a letter to your government officials about breastfeeding. You can see examples at NursingFreedom.org.[box] I’m not going to hide because of my embarrassment about breastfeeding loss. I think Dionna at CodeName: Mama and I have started a wonderful thing over at NursingFreedom.org and I’m not going to give up when the going gets tough! I’m even more energized about supporting legislation that supports nursing mothers.[/box]
Well I must say the few days it took me to compile this post have been cathartic for me. I feel strongly that my continued sadness is just sullying my beautiful memories. I overcame many obstacles to breastfeed premature twins! I nursed for 8 months! Yay me!! I will celebrate my success and celebrate my beautiful children.
I hope that this post can help someone else that struggles with the outcome of their breastfeeding relationship.
What would you add? What do you feel about breastfeeding loss?