How to Know When It's Time to Stop Breastfeeding
If you’ve clicked on this link, odds are you’ve been debating this question and are looking for someone to give you an answer.
The truth is I cannot make that decision for you. I could barely even make that decision for myself. I can only share with you why it was necessary and better for me and my family that I stop breastfeeding. You do you, boo. But if this helps you get to your decision more quickly, then keep reading.
What Happened With Breastfeeding Though?
I was three months pregnant with Jack when I had lunch with a friend who had just had a baby and casually mentioned how “easy” breastfeeding was, and how the people who struggle are just doing it wrong. “Make sure you have the whole nipple inside the baby’s mouth. Then you’ll be fine.”
I was six months pregnant when I started giving advice on Facebook mommy groups about using breastmilk for an eye infection. (Please don’t do this. Please see a pediatrician.) I had plans to breastfeed for “at least a year.”
My body had other plans.
Almost as soon as my son was born, I created a perfect latch with him. Or so said every expert witness to my ability to breastfeed.
I was praised for my eagerness and willingness to breastfeed. I was applauded for not using any formula. I felt like I was a shining beacon of the survival of the human race!
But Jack lost a full pound in a week and was turning jaundice. We were ordered a bilirubin light, and he was forced to be swaddled in it 24 hours a day for three weeks. Every other day, we somehow left the house to go to the pediatrician to retest his billi levels.
I was encouraged to feed him formula until my “milk came in” to help him gain weight and process jaundice out of his system. This is the first time I was ever shown how to use formula.
It’s been nearly four years, but only now I realize: No one told me anything about formula the entire time I was pregnant. No one even told me how long it would take for my milk to come in or what it would feel like when it did so I had no idea if it had.
No one told me any of the dangers of things like starving your child if your milk didn’t come in (which is ultimately what was happening). I did, however, feel overwhelming guilt about “giving in.”
Jack was dangerously underweight. In the 4th percentile at his lowest. I stubbornly believed formula would be temporary.
I drank the teas, sipped the herbs, ate the “breast milk cookies,” drank tons of water, ate oatmeal, but still, I was forced onto a regimen of feeding him for ten minutes on each side, and then ten minutes on the pump, every two hours, no matter what.
I spent hundreds of dollars on meetings with private lactation consultants where they weigh the baby before and after breastfeeding, and my sweet, orange-colored child (from jaundice) ate 0.5 ounces in 45 minutes of sitting on my breast with his goddamn perfect latch.
Even worse I had developed debilitating carpal tunnel from the hormones involved in breastfeeding. Which no one told me could happen. In fact, anytime I asked about the pain in my wrists, doctors, pediatricians, lactation consultants showed me how to adjust my hold to mitigate the discomfort (which was absolute bullshit because nothing could alleviate the pain at that point). No one told me anything about a hormonally induced carpal tunnel. Google to the rescue for that one.
The Beginning of the End for Me
At three weeks, I cried to my doctor that I was trying so hard and yet still, I couldn’t produce more than an ounce and a half in a 30-minute sitting, and I wanted to know what I was doing wrong.
He said, “ You’ve given it a good college try, Beth. I think it’s okay to do formula.”
I hung up the phone furious with him, how dare he tell me I tried!?
I told my husband that my doctor was an idiot and that he has no idea what it’s like to have all this fucking responsibility!
Two more weeks went by, and my carpal tunnel was so painful I couldn’t even lift Jack up to change him without Chris having to massage my hands open. I took everything for the pain, and nothing seemed to give me relief.
I Googled again and learned that odds are good once I stopped breastfeeding, the pain would go away within a few weeks.
I sat attached to a pump every three hours, while my husband bonded with our baby and fed him actual food.
I sat attached to a pump every three hours while my husband and baby slept.
I sat attached to a pump, drinking tinctures of supplements, gagging on how awful they are to produce a whole one ounce of milk. I’d feed this glorious, “liquid gold” to my baby, who would promptly spit up most of it.
This became the new trend. For every ounce of breastmilk I managed to pump, he would spit up half of it.
The pediatrician tells us that he has acid reflux. The pediatrician puts him on an antacid.
The pediatrician tells me that I need to cut some foods out of my diet to help with the reflux. The pediatrician tells us to change to a particular formula designed for acid reflux. It was all so much fucking work. And I was so fucking tired.
I cry that I have failed my first and most essential motherhood responsibility after giving birth to this beautiful baby boy.
Chris hugs me and lets me cry grieving tears for the body that I do not have.
At six weeks, I am still only producing two ounces of pumped breast milk in a half an hour. My carpal tunnel keeps me awake in the few precious hours I can sleep.
I choose to stop fighting this monumental uphill battle. I decide to bond with my child and feed him the real liquid gold. (Get it? Cos it costs money. Formula. #momjokes.)
And while I grieve, aching, profound grief. I’m also so incredibly relieved. I sleep for a solid six hours that night and wake up sad, but rested.
Giving Breastfeeding a Good College Try
I attempted to breastfeed my second born son when he was born. I spent the entire day, latching him on (another perfect latch over here!) and pumping, and sure enough, there was the carpal tunnel. This time it started about four weeks before he was even born.
The first night in the hospital, Sam woke up scream/crying and I could hear his stomach growl through the cries.
I vowed not to make the same mistake as I had with Jack and shamelessly whipped out the formula I had packed, just in case the hospital gave me shit about wanting to feed formula and fed him without any of the shame. He slept for four fucking hours. And so did I. I lasted a full week breastfeeding Sam, and this time I didn’t pump at all at night, and I didn’t even really pump all that much during the day because I knew how this story ended and I didn’t want to read it anymore.
Life After Formula
Today I have two charming, hilarious, wickedly smart boys who eat old cheerios they find in between their car seats just like the toddlers who breastfed for a year might do. And I could give zero fucks about any of it.
Breastfeeding may be the OG way of feeding your baby.
But, the DGAF way is to do whatever the fuck you want to do to make sure your baby is fed and that you’re happy and healthy and surviving too. #Fedisbest.
What I’m trying to say is, there is a disproportionate amount of pressure put on young mother’s to do what’s “best” for baby, and unfortunately what is best tends to be considered the breast. It almost feels as if there are no other options. And if you’re not into this option, then you’re on your own sister.
How to Know If You’re Ready to Stop
I firmly believe breastfeeding is a choice that comes down to two things: What are you willing to sacrifice? How long are you willing to sacrifice it?
For me, I knew I was missing out on cuddle sessions with my baby, who would often fall asleep in my husband’s arms after he fed him formula while I was pumping. I was so envious of this connection and of this time. I was also so obsessed and stressed out about staying on some sort of breastfeeding schedule, taking the supplements, and pumping. I was focused on that, and not on my baby. It was a gut check to realize where my energy and thoughts were focused and how that needed to shift.
Also, I was suffering intense pain that would stop soon after I chose to stop breastfeeding.
The combination of these two bits of knowledge was a dull aching sensation in my body that told me it was time to let it go. The first clue of my mommy gut check. I could have been stubborn and fought it for weeks, months, even years.
Soon, after I switched to just formula, there was no shortage of cuddles. Within six weeks, after what little milk I was producing dried up, the carpal tunnel disappeared for good.
Listen to your mommy gut with this one. No one else can tell you what is right for you or your family. If you’re worried about being judged, the odds are good you will be.
There will probably be some people who will comment on this post suggesting all the ways I could have "tried harder." Someone’s always going to judge your parenting choices no matter how difficult and well thought out as they may be.
If breastfeeding is enjoyable for you and your baby, then keep on keepin on. If, however, it's stressing you the fuck out, DGAF that shit, and make a change. You need to be the best version of yourself so you can be the best mom you can be for your little one.