My Decision to Stop Breastfeeding
Another personal post for me today on my decision to stop breastfeeding. I have talked about my breastfeeding experience so far in the oh so cheerfully titled post "My Breastfeeding Nightmare" which you can read here: https://www.thelearnermum.com/post/my-breastfeeding-nightmare
Since my initial post, I have been continuing to combination feed my baby. I breastfeed and then top up with formula, still attempting to express in-between feeds where I can to increase my supply, or at least to maintain it. This has still been hard work, but it is nowhere near the exhaustion I experienced in those early weeks of non-stop expressing.
I am certain that using formula was the right decision for me and my baby - my milk supply has just never been adequate. Using formula has undoubtedly allowed me to enjoy spending time with my baby and enjoy what breastfeeding I could manage, rather than obsessing over how much I was expressing and spending hours with the breast pump.
But recently, just short of reaching 6 months, my baby suddenly was reluctant to latch on in the daytime. I found he would happily take a bottle, but would turn his head and refuse the breast. However, at night he would breastfeed contently. This suddenly meant that I was needing to express rather than breastfeed in the day, and slowly but surely a pattern re-emerged, where I was once again obsessing over expressing. I needed to make sure I was expressing as much as he would normally feed. I found myself spending longer and longer at the breast pump, practically ringing out my boobs to get every last drop (apologies for giving you that visual). My supply was a source of angst once again.
It was my husband who first said those vital four words to me... "Why don't you stop?". I instantly shook my head, my initial reaction was a firm no - I had not gone through all of this stress to give up now. But over the next few days, I began to realise this might be the best next step for me and baby.
I think I have done well to reach 6-months particularly considering everything I have been through. I had a traumatic and stressful start to motherhood, but I'm now starting to finally feel like myself again. I'm getting to actually enjoy being a mum. Expressing every day is going to cause me stress and potentially take me back a step. I want to be a happy, fun mum to my baby, not a crying, exhausted mess. The other factor in this is the fact that my baby has started weaning, so I feel like he is naturally growing up and moving on to a new stage for me.
In terms of the reality of stopping breastfeeding, I have found this incredibly easy – again a sign that my milk supply has just not been adequate. I stopped expressing between feeds, and then began to reduce the number of times I was expressing. I have been doing this for about 5-days now, and have found I am already able to just express twice a day, and the amount I am expressing is decreasing. I have still been breastfeeding at night, so the next step will be to introduce the bottle for night time feeds. My baby still wakes 2 to 3 times per night, and I think that giving formula at night may mean he is fuller and will sleep better compared to breastfeeding, but we will see how that works out!
I feel immensely sad to be giving up breastfeeding. In those early weeks, it felt like this was something that would be in my life forever, and to think that is it all over fills me with sadness. I will miss the bond between me and baby while I breastfeed, I will miss feeling like my body has a role that I can fulfil, even in part. I feel like I worked so hard for this, and now it is going to go away irreversibly. But I also know that I bond with baby when giving him the bottle too. And that my body works to look after my baby in lots of ways other than breastfeeding. I need to be the best version of myself that I can be for my little boy. For me, it is time to move on.
I need to stress that I have so much respect for women who choose to continue breastfeeding for months and years to come. I would not encourage others to stop breastfeeding at 6-months - but that is because I wouldn't encourage other mums to do anything in relation to feeding, other than what works best for them. A few weeks ago at a visit to the hospital, I saw a mother breastfeed her 11 month old girl and saw the lovely bond they had. It was genuinely beautiful.
In an ideal world, I would have an endless milk supply and I probably would keep breastfeeding my baby. I do think it is important to acknowledge that breast milk is scientifically better for baby than formula. But I personally think that the benefits of breastmilk must be balanced against the mother's mental health and overall picture of wellbeing for each individual family. I support mums who choose not to breastfeed and use just formula. I support mums who choose only to breastfeed. I support mums who choose to combination feed. I support mums who breastfeed until one week and I support mums who choose to breastfeed for years. We as mums should support each other.
So I wave goodbye to this chapter in me and my baby's life, a chapter of ups and downs. Breastfeeding has been a nightmare and yet it has also given me lovely moments with my baby. If I could go back and give myself advice, it would be this; breastfeeding is not the be-all and end-all. Do what works for you. Focus on enjoying time with your little one, as the cliché is unfortunately true - they grow up fast.
Sending love and support to all my fellow learner mums.