Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The end of breastfeeding

About a month ago I mentioned that Callum had more or less started refusing to nurse. I kept trying, but it never got better. He would latch on, suckle once, and immediately pull off and start screaming. My supply hadn't changed--there was as much as there ever had been, which is to say not much--so I can only assume that he got sick of working so hard for such little reward and preferred the faster, fuller gratification of the bottle.

So, I switched to exclusively pumping. And if I pumped many, many times a day, I would get MAYBE an ounce of breastmilk. Combined. All day long. As in, a few ML per pumping session. As in, basically nothing at all.

My goal had always been to make it to four months with the nursing, and so when Callum turned four months old, I was pumping less than an ounce most days, and he wasn't nursing at all, I made the executive decision to stop. It wasn't worth the time, effort, and frustration of pumping. If I'd been getting enough to make a meaningful contribution to his food intake each day? Sure, I'd have kept it up. But all that time spent harnessed to a pump and washing pump parts, only to pull a few ML? Not worth it. So the day after his four-month birthday, I stopped.

After three days my breasts started to feel slightly tender and sore. I couldn't lie on my belly without feeling pain. It was the closest I've ever come to feeling engorged. So I pumped one more time. I got 10 ML, the most I'd gotten in a single pumping session, ever. I haven't pumped since, or tried to nurse. Callum is exclusively bottle-fed. This also meant that we were able to switch to the faster-flowing, level 2 nipples, because we didn't have to worry about matching the milk flow to the nursing experience as closely as possible.

The funny thing is, it's been almost a month since the last time I pumped, and I still have milk. I even leaked a little bit just the other day. And my breasts still feel kind of sore and engorged. Not horribly, not enough for me to feel the need to pump, but enough to notice and enough to feel a little bit uncomfortable.

It's so weird. It's like, no matter what I did, I couldn't increase my supply, and now, with zero stimulation whatsoever, I don't appear to be able to decrease my supply either. I would have thought that within a week or two I wouldn't be producing any more milk--but that's not the case. Rationally, I know that at some point my supply will dry up entirely--but I feel like there's this thought at the back of my mind that my body will just go on vaguely producing a few ML of breastmilk every day for the rest of my life.

And you know what? Even though I'm pretty much over the disappointment of not being able to exclusively breastfeed, a small part of me is GLAD I'm still producing milk. I knew it was the right choice to stop pumping, but I felt really sad about it too. I felt like it was wasteful to give up what little supply I had--even though it made up maybe 3% of what Callum was eating each day--it felt like I should be taking advantage of what I had and that it was somehow shameful or wrong to let it go.

So even though I'm not doing anything with my supply, and I could really do without the vague engorged feeling and occasional leaking, there's a little part of me that's glad it's still there. Even though I KNOW it's useless, and I KNOW it's just a silly irrational part of my brain that wishes that breastfeeding had worked out better for us.

Over the last few months I've truly accepted our feeding situation. The feelings of shame and guilt that I wasn't able to produce the food needed to nourish my child are fully gone. It would have been nice if it had worked out differently, but it didn't, and that's fine. I've had my moments when I've really wished that I could have breastfed exclusively--such as when we went out to dinner and didn't realize until we got to the restaurant that we'd forgotten his bottle and had to go home to get it--and when he was nearing the upper limit of how much formula his pediatrician wanted him to eat and we had to carefully track his intake and worry about overfeeding him, and it would have been so nice to just pop him on the boob when he was hungry and not worry about it--but for the most part it doesn't cross my mind. That's not our life and I don't spend any time or energy thinking about it.

And I don't miss the bonding time--breastfeeding was always such a struggle for us, always always always, that it was never that peaceful simple moment of bonding. It was a two-handed experience, always, even once we both knew what we were doing, that involved continuously re-shaping my breast and re-latching the baby, over and over again. It's actually much simpler and more peaceful to hold Callum on my lap and feed him with a bottle. So I don't miss that part of it either.

I do still hope that if/when we have another baby someday, my body will know what to do and will get it right the second time around. I would like to exclusively breastfeed, if possible. But, at this point I've learned enough about the silver lining of bottle-feeding that if it doesn't work out, I think I'll be OK. I'll be a little more prepared, and I'll know from the beginning that formula isn't the end of the world. I'll know that there are actually some benefits to bottle-feeding, and if it turns out that we have to go that route in the future, I'll try to look straight to those. And I think I'll probably do a pretty good job at it.

It's just funny--I'm so totally OK with the way things have worked out, on every rational level. I don't feel the need to justify to anyone, and when people find out that I'm not breastfeeding and try to say supportive things like how formula-fed babies are just as smart and healthy as breastfed babies, I just smile and nod, because I know that, KNOW it, have fully internalized it and don't need to hear it or get validation from any external sources--and yet, I'm still glad that my supply hasn't dried up entirely. Even though it serves no purpose whatsoever at this point.

I guess I'm just contradictory. And I guess that's OK.


  1. I had a hard time giving up breastfeeding too. I'd been able to exclusively breastfeed my daughter until her first birthday and I had every intention of doing the same with my son. But it wasn't to be. By 4 months I had to supplement, because he was losing weight, and by 7 months he was not interested in nursing at all. Kudos to you for pumping every day. I just hate that pump SO MUCH there's no way I could have done that. Matter of fact it never occurred to me to try when he was disinterested in nursing!

  2. Milk coming out of the breast was a MAJOR inconvenience for me. I didn't even feel the feelings of shame and guilt for not even trying it. Of course I got all the lectures one expects to get when asked if breastfeeding.

    And I am most satisfied now that, at 19 months, my little girl knows her ABC's and can count to 15, as well as every nursey rhyme song out there. TAKE THAT BREASTFEEDING NATZIS!!
    So, in other words, good for you for making that decision, I know it wasn't easy for you but you can be a hell of a better mother when you aren't constantly frustrated and worrying over something if it just isn't working out.

  3. I give you a lot of credit for sticking with (a) pumping and (b) low supply for four months. I did it for six weeks and kept telling myself that anything I could provide Gavin was better than nothing. But, when he came home from the hospital, I about lost my mind with pumping. It was taking away so much precious time with my little boy. I decided the kangaroo time I could spend with him far outweighed what little supply I had. And as far as bonding goes, I feel incredibly bonded to my little bottle-fed boy.

  4. I'm amazed you kept it up for four months. I pump once a day, and I hate THAT.

  5. This is so good to read right now. I have to admit I am seriously nervous about the whole breastfeeding thing - and it's just good to know that it's okay - regardless of what happens it's okay. I can always count on you to be so well adjusted. :)

  6. Aww, hugs. I know these feelings. Conflicting is the perfect word for them, really. We had a terrible latch (no latch, really) so I ended up pumping exclusively for 10 months, at which point my supply just sort of disappeared, no matter what I did (and believe me, I did EVERYTHING short of Reglan). I had all these same emotions when it all came to an end for us.

    I think that no matter how it turns out there is a little bit of grieving for what COULD have been, even though what it IS is perfect.

    So glad that all is well in the end and your boy is growing, healthy and happy!

  7. I love that you've been able to find peace with this whole situation, *especially* because it's not like you DID anything to result in having a low supply.

    It's just so rational and...not a big deal. :) You're a good example for others, Jess!

  8. Even years after I've weaned my kids, I've been able to squeeze out a few drops of breastmilk... so I wonder if once you lactate, maybe there always IS a little bit there?

    Also, I wonder if your sense of peace about it all is because you know in your heart that you truly did every. thing. you could to nurse that boy. And since you know that you really did give it an honest shot, you also know that this is how things are, and you're able to move forward w/o justifying it?

  9. " That's not our life and I don't spend any time or energy thinking about it."

    My word, you are mentally sound. :) I need to apply this more often. Glad you're content with what you've got.

  10. You certainly left no stone unturned in the quest to breastfeed! Good for you - living with regrets about something like this would suck. Breastfeeding isn't always as easy as La Leche League would have you believe! Both my boys had trouble latching on and I had to use a shield every time. When I finally threw up my hands (with way less effort put into it than you did, Supermom), I felt lousy, but my lovely mother said just the right thing - "thank goodness it's not 1898 and you don't have any other option!'

    True 'dat.