In honour of World Breastfeeding Week: I breastfeed and I hate it.

I’ve breastfed my daughter for twenty months; on all but three of the days she’s been alive.   I’ve breastfed her at every hour of the day and night, and in every room in my house (bathroom included).  I’ve breastfed her on buses, in shopping centres, in parks, on curbs, in hospitals, on airplanes, in restaurants, and the shoe section of Walmart.  I breastfed her as the sun rose this morning, and as she fell asleep tonight.

I’ve chosen to breastfeed for a lot of reasons*.  I’m lazy.  It’s cheap and (sometimes) convenient.  I believe that it can promote early attachment.    I’m sure that I would have forgotten formula every time I left the house.  I’ve read too many stories of shameless formula companies engaged in unethical activities.  Breastmilk is nutritious.  The benefits of breastfeeding are supported by research.  It was assumed that I would, and I assumed that I would.

And I hate it.

When Bingo first latched on, we were in the recovery room of a hospital, wedged between a gray wall and other freshly sutured abdomens. Still shaking from the anesthetic, I felt awkward and unsure. Days later, my milk still hadn’t come in. Bingo’s weight dropped, and then dropped some more. She wailed with hunger and we shakily tipped an ounce of formula into her small mouth. I began to resent that this thing that was supposed to be so easy just wasn’t. And then my milk came in. Round circles appeared on my shirt, and I was embarrassed. My body shifted in ways that were totally beyond my control. The dull ache of nursing turned into pain so sharp that I dreaded the baby’s hunger, physically forcing myself not to pull away. And yet, after a month of breastfeeding, one of our midwives smilingly referred to us as a breastfeeding “success story”—without asking, even once, how I felt about it.

It’s gotten easier, absolutely.  I can breastfeed in any place and any position.  I can breastfeed with my eyes closed (and have).  But I hate it, still.  I hate the way that breastfeeding feels.  I hate the urgency with which my daughter grabs at my shirt, my skin, my body.  I hated the shrill cries that required my body to answer, that have been replaced by a whiny demand of “maaaaalllk!”  I hate the stares and comments of strangers, whether they’re approving or critical (“You’re so discreet, I barely noticed!”, “You shouldn’t be doing that here.”) I hate the demand that it places on me above all others.

A few months after Bingo was born, I looked at a picture of my friend feeding his newborn baby. In the picture, my friend leans against a wall. He leans so casually that he could be waiting for a bus.   He holds his baby close to his chest, and gently feeds him a bottle of formula. I looked at that photo and felt a jealousy so real that I haven’t forgotten about it since.

It’s not that I think formula feeding is inherently better. Feeding a newborn isn’t easy, no matter how you serve it. I’m sure that, at this very moment, another parent is frantically searching a diaper bag for a forgotten bottle, or cursing the formula powder spilled across the kitchen floor, or feeling judged for how their baby is fed, wishing that they could breastfeed instead. I know that the easy moment captured in my friend’s photo was surrounded by other, harder moments. But how much easier would it be, for all of us, if we were all supported to feed our babies in the ways that we choose? What if breastfeeding had been presented as one choice, and not the only choice? What if I had been told in a way that I felt, really felt, that the best way to feed Bingo was whatever way kept us both happy and well? What if I had been able to feed her that one ounce of formula without feeling as if any of us had failed?

I look at all of those what ifs and think: maybe I would have chosen to breastfeed anyways. And maybe I would hate it less.

*None of the reasons why I breastfeed mean that I think anybody else should.  I believe that whatever ways you choose to feed your baby (or whatever ways your baby/life chooses for you) are right and good, if they’re right and good for you and your family.

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7 thoughts on “In honour of World Breastfeeding Week: I breastfeed and I hate it.

  1. Thank you for sharing this. Reading that somebody else hated/hates breastfeeding just resonated ike a gong, taking me back to the first days and weeks postpartum with the boys almost two years ago. I HATED breastfeeding so much (a shock after a paradisiacal pregnancy and birth), and I was shocked by how much I hated it and by how little it seemed to bother anybody else. it made me feel claustrophobic, suffocated. I made it almost a month, got mastitis, and decided we had to go all-formula before my boobs killed me – either directly or indirectly. It would have been so helpful to have read your perspective during that miserable month, and I’m sure it will help others to come across it in the future. I think I have to go write my own post to process all of this 🙂 – thank you for helping.

  2. Unfortunately, I think all too many of us understand. My daughter is 16 months and there has never been a day I haven’t breastfed. We got off to a rough start – not surprisingly – but there has been so many great things too. Sometimes I enjoy the way my daughter wants only me or the way she looks at me and pats me while she’s nursing. And sometimes I get so frustrated. Frustrated and touched out and really jealous that my husband sleeps in whatever position he wants while my toddler pushes me around and pulls at my nipples all night. It’s not easy. But I just wanted to tell you that you are a great mama for pushing past all of that and doing what’s best for your little one. You’re a super hero. And I’m willing to bet we will miss these days when it’s all said and done. 🙂
    – Abby

  3. Thank you. I am struggling with this, wondering how much longer I can keep it up. The complexity of my feelings is almost as overwhelming as the process itself. I’m glad you posted this.

  4. Gosh, no firsthand advice from me, but I think every momma who wants to feed formula or use it as a supplement absolutely should! I’ve read about a lot of moms who are OVER breastfeeding, and I know the decision is complex, but your happiness and sanity are important! Do whatever you’ve gotta do!!

  5. Thanks for writing this. I had very similar feelings. My daughter hated breastfeeding. It was not a bonding experience for either of us. I gave up at six months and just pumped and bottle fed. She loves her bottle and feeding her this way is a lovely bonding experience. At 9 months my milk dried up and I was ok with that. I admire women who feed for extended periods of time, but it was not for me. I really appreciate people talking about how breastfeeding isn’t always awesome as it helps me to feel less alone.

  6. AMEN.

    I think a lot about what a friend said a woman of our mothers’ generation had said on the subject, that she breastfed when she was home and available and the baby got formula when she wasn’t, that she didn’t feel at all guilty about it, and THAT COUNTED. My own mother exclusively breastfed for a few weeks, then combo fed until nine months or so — and that counted, then, though when I tell people that now, they make sympathetic noises that drive me to mention that she was, after all, in medical school, even if I don’t think it’s something that needs extenuating circumstances or excuses. I think so much of the pressure I feel on the topic (which makes me stressed out and resentful) has to do with the purity cult of it all.

  7. I love this! I breastfed for only nine days. Nine LONG days. They were the worst and best days of my life. I received the biggest blessing of a beautiful, healthy baby girl who latched within ten minutes of being born. She was a natural! Me, not so much. It was so easy the first few days. As she grew, my milk supply did not. She was NEVER full. I felt like such a failure. As we got ready for our one week appointment, she would not stop crying unless she was eating. At this point, she was getting nothing but blood from my nipples. I bawled and bawled. The doctor suggested supplementing and gave us a sample. She ate two ounces in literally two minutes. At that moment, I realized I was starving her. I tried for a few more days and I realized that I had to do what was best for our whole family and breastfeeding was not for us. She’s two and a half months old and is a perfect formula fed baby. I love to watch her Daddy and grandparents feed her. I love knowing that daycare always has enough food for her and I never have to worry. I love knowing that I can go to work and not have to take away time from the children in my class who need me so desperately. I know that “breast is best” for many but those of us who didn’t succeed should not be shamed. Thank you!

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