Giving myself permission to stop breastfeeding

07/20/2011 at 9:52 am | Posted in Motherhood, PPD | 30 Comments
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It’s a head versus heart battle.

That’s the best way I know how to describe my breastfeeding experience.

The type-A Virgo part of me wants to know exactly how much this baby is eating. I need schedules and dependability. I crave numbers, in the form of ounces and hours. The selfish part of me wants to be able to eat and drink whatever I want. To be able to leave the baby for a few hours without an act of Congress. And mostly, I want to sleep. Because we all know that formula-fed babies sleep longer.

But. My heart yearns to feed this baby with my body. To hold her close in our little belly-to-belly cocoon and nourish her. She is comfortable there, as if she’s lived there for years. Oh yes, I imagine her thinking, this is my favorite boob. And this is the one I like to rest my cheek on like a pillow.

She can eat and snooze and eat. All with just a turn of her little head.

It is bliss.

But again. Breastfeeding means less sleep, loss of freedom, and riskiest of all for me, it leaves my body in this bizarre hormonal state that isn’t very good for my mental health. In fact, for that very reason, my doctor advises all of her patients who’ve survived postpartum depression not to breastfeed.

I’ve waved the white flag a handful of times. After horrendous nights where my supply just couldn’t keep up with her demand. When I felt beaten down, my nipples sore and my eyes burning with tears. I loaned my pump out to a friend in need, vowing never to use it again.

As crazy as this sounds, I wished for mastitis or for my supply to dry up like it did last time. For any reason to be let off the hook. Because, no, I hadn’t been able to give myself permission to stop. And when I researched ways to wean my baby — after each  declaration of quitting — there is virtually no information on the internet that supports that decision. In fact, one of the articles I came across that was titled something like “How to wean your baby from the breast” rambled on (for two pages) about the benefits of breastfeeding and all of the related “shoulds” before begrudgingly addressing the topic in its title.

I wanted desperately for someone to force me to stop. To tell me that it would be okay and my baby would be healthy and forgive me. Not even the fact that Lily was a formula-fed baby and is healthy as a horse (never an ear infection, barely a handful of colds) mattered to me.

I couldn’t grant myself the grace.

Our culture is too punishing, and I buckle under this sort of pressure, whether perceived or real.

But those occasions in which I was desperate to quit were few and far between. And always, I picked myself back up the next day, unhooked my nursing bra and fed my baby.

I honestly can’t believe I’m still feeding her this way. Eleven weeks and counting. This is virgin territory for me. I only nursed Lily for six weeks before PPD robbed us both. And I have believed for all this time that breastfeeding was a trigger for my depression. In my preparation for Sophie’s birth, formula feeding was just as much a part of the plan as filling my medication and booking therapy sessions. I bought Similac and cleaned bottles.

But when she was placed on my chest in that hospital bed, my heart took over.

And each time she latches (with such great ease!) and gulps so contentedly, I feel peace like I’ve never before experienced.

I’m following her lead. It’s taken this baby to tell me the right thing to do. To ignore as best I can all of the “shoulds” and act on what I think is best for Sophie and for me.

So I continue. Who knows for how long. Prepared, much to my surprise, to try to pump from work when I return there in a few weeks.

But not because some article or well-meaning person tells me to.

Because I want to.

And because I finally give myself permission to make these decisions. To follow my heart. Or  my head.




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  1. I read this earlier this morning. It might be helpful: (Dont’ you love the title? Fearless Formula Feeder writes Breastfeeding Promotion Tips. It’s a really good post about feeding your baby.)

    Congratulations on 11 weeks. You have done and are doing a great job, and you will still be doing a great job after you make your decision.

    If you keep breastfeeding, I hope that you haven’t been talked out of co-sleeping. It makes all the difference in the world for a lot of breastfeeding mamas. It’s not forever – nothing with kids is, of course.

    Much love to you.

    • It’s taken me forever to reply, but I want you to know how much I appreciate your encouragement. And that article was wonderful. So comforting. Thank you.

  2. You have done an amazing thing and making it this far is a great accomplishment! Be proud of yourself. Breastfeeding is hard. It is a giant commitment. When I was tied to the pump after Ian was born there were a million times I wanted to quit, but like you I just couldn’t seem to give myself permission for the longest time.

    One website I have always used for help with breastfeeding or pumping is Here is the page on weaning – It is a pretty pro-breastfeeding site, but still has great information.

    • Thanks for the links, Ann! I can always count on you for baby resources. Hope you’re feeling well!

  3. I breastfed K until he was 4.5 months old and I just couldn’t keep up. He was a hungry baby! He had started sleeping through the night at 2 months and then stopped at 3 months because he was hungry. All the time. When we switched to formula he was a completely different being. Contented through the day and he slept through the night! But I felt guilty. My SIL breastfed both of hers for almost a year.

    I was determined to “do better” the second time around. We rented a pump from the hospital and I spent time pumping after each feed. The difference was amazing. For a while anyway. Then we returned the pump and I went back to using our smaller pump. And I opted for sleep over pumping. P stopped gaining weight as much weight. She wasn’t upset and crying for food all the time but I felt that something was wrong. She’d gone from being a chubby baby to a little thin for my liking. With our doctor, we switched her to formula and started feeding her cereal. She plumped right up. And wouldn’t you know, it happened at the 5 month mark.

    I guess my body can only handle about 4 months of breastfeeding (not that I plan on checking that theory out!). It’s very hard to stop when the majority of the literature is telling you that you aren’t caring for your baby the way you should.

    Forget the literature! Do what feels best for you and your baby. That’s what makes you a good mother.

    • We experienced much of the same with our first baby. Once we switched to formula, her disposition and physical appearance improved. Thank you for your encouragement. It’s so difficult to be kind to myself in situations like this!

  4. Oh man, I hear you. I have a crap milk supply, and with my first, we had to start supplementing with formula right away because she was starving and losing weight rapidly. I tried to do both – I gave her bottles, but I still nursed her every 3 hours and pumped in between. It was exhausting. And at her 1-month pediatrician visit, her doctor put her hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s ok, you can stop now.” I cried with relief.

    So with this baby, I knew going into it that I’d probably have the same issues with low milk supply. And I do – she gets a ton of formula every day. But we nurse in between, so I know she’s getting a few drops of breastmilk in her, and I feel ok with that. I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to do it since I’m pretty dead set against pumping, but I figure we’ll take it as it comes.

    11 weeks is awesome. You do what feels right. If it’s time to stop, then stop. Sophie won’t remember how she got fed as a baby. As long as you’re healthy & your babies know that they’re loved, that’s all that matters.

    And like my current pediatrician says, they found baby bottles in the ruins of ancient Egypt. Women have been supplementing for a LONG time. And the human race has survived. So you’ll be ok, I promise.

    • Baby bottles in the ruins of ancient Egypt — love it! You’re so right — we just need to do what’s best for our babies AND ourselves.

  5. I’m so glad you wrote this. I told myself the same things after struggling with Madison. I said if it was ever so hard that I spent my nights crying and struggling that I wouldn’t give it a second thought… I’d quit & formula feed and we’d all be happy. Except when it came down to it and Hannah went on a 36 hour nursing strike and I cried and she cried… and I pumped and sobbed while I watched my husband bottle feed her all the while wondering why she could eat from a bottle and not me. Crying that it had been going so well and I was fearful of losing that… and realizing that I hadn’t REALLY given myself permission to quit. I still don’t know if I have. I hope I can get to that place because I want to keep doing this as long as it makes us both happy and for now it does.

    Wow, I’m rambling & writing the most incoherent run on sentences but I just want to say I know exactly where you are coming from and I hope I can get to the point where you are sometime soon. Until then I vow to take it one day at a time.

    • It’s amazing how similar our experiences have been with these second babies. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s really comforting to know I’m not alone. Hope Hannah’s colic backs off soon. Hugs!

  6. I so understand where you are coming from with this post. I had a really difficult time breastfeeding R. I had to undergo some medical tests when he was about 8 weeks old that required me to pump & dump for 3 days (the tests involved radioactive isotopes). My supply was never that great, but during that time he learned that he liked bottled. A lot. So I had to up my pumping. Then I had surgery and the anethesia tanked my supply. But I kept pumping for six more weeks…pumping several hours a day to maybe eek out enough for one bottle. The closest I came to PPD was during this time. I’d read articles about upping my supply, and would get bombarded with information that made me feel like I’d be a quitter and hurt my baby if I stopped giving him breastmilk. Even though pumping tore me away from him for hours a day. Finally (and here’s the part that’s relevant to you), I asked my sister-in-law if it was okay to switch to formula — R was about five months old. She’s a pediatrician. And here’s what she said:

    “I’m not going to lie to you, so I will tell you that R is getting benefit even from just a little bit of breast milk every day. But it’s also a cost-benefit analsyis. Do you feel like you are able to be less of a mother to him because of all of the time you spend pumping, and because of the emotional toll it’s taking on you? Do you feel like the pressure of keeping it up is shadowing everything else in your life? It’s okay to stop. You’ve given R what you can, and that is a gift.”

    I quit pumping cold turkey. And felt such a burden lifted from my shoulders.

    So I guess my point is this…you sound like you are at a good place with continuing to breastfeed at this point. And that’s great! But when you know in your heart that it’s taking it’s toll on you, it’s okay to stop. I needed to hear someone tell me that before I could allow myself to do it.

    • Oh wow. Thank you for sharing your story. And your sister’s words are especially validating. Thank you.

  7. I am so glad you wrote about this. Don’t you feel better already?

    With Oscar, I was terrified of doing anything that would compromise our breastfeeding relationship. I really stressed about it alot. He was 11lbs at birth and lost almost 2lbs the first week. I refused to supplement and basically killed myself pumping and feeding around the clock. I had hoped to exclusively BF until 6months and continue for a year.

    By the end of 4 months of no sleep and a hungry baby we decided to add 1-2 bottles of formula at night. It was a miracle. Our boy slept better than ever and Jerry gave those feedings so I could have a break. I realized that it doesn’t HAVE to be all or nothing and I was able to partially breastfeed until 15 months. I went from hating and resenting the process to being truly grateful that we had a way to make sure everyone’s needs were met.

    That might be something that would work for you and help take away some of the pressure. And I TOTALLY love the sentence, “Our culture is too punishing, and I buckle under this sort of pressure, whether perceived or real.” This is me me me with almost every baby related decision and currently the choices I am being faced with as I am overdue with our 2nd boy. It’s time we say shut up to the world and do what is right for OUR OWN families. Hugs.

    • So much wisdom! Thank you for sharing your story. It’s incredibly comforting. Hope your recovery is going well. Calvin is a real cutie!

  8. Ohh boy!! ….I understand you perfectly. Breastfeeding for me was a totally frustrating time. I always was worried … am I producing enough milk? is my baby getting enough to eat?, etc … my milk production was never the best and the situation got worse when I had to take some medications contraindicated during breastfeeding. Although all this I did my best to continue breastfeeding, but suddenly, when my baby turned 3 months did not want to latch on anymore.

    • It can definitely be maddening. Sounds like your baby communicated his preference and you’re just following his lead. So cool.

  9. I’m a firm believer that breast-feeding is wonderful (in part) when it’s easy. If it’s not easy for the mama, it’s not such a wonderful thing. And when you’ve got a preschooler and an infant, you need to have only easy things in your life, as much as possible.

    One other thought… breast-feeding doesn’t have to be exclusive. It’s okay to give yourself permission to breastfeed when she wakes up in the morning and when you put her to bed, but give her formula for her other feedings. Doesn’t have to be all or nothing — IF that’s what YOU want to do. And it’s only your decision — which means, by definition, you’ll make your own right choice.

    • I’d never thought of it that way … it really doesn’t have to be a black-and-white proposition. Thanks for shedding light! Takes away some of the worry over pumping at work.

  10. I am the ultimate breastfeeding traitor, because although I’m 7 months into my second successful breastfeeding relationship with a baby, there are days I hate hate hate it. When she won’t take a bottle. When she bites me so hard I bleed. When I can’t be gone more than 2 hours EVER. When the crazy nursing hormones make me feel…crazy.

    Just take it one day at a time. You don’t ever have to decide anything. There is no paperwork processing time needed if you switch to formula and no one will come to your house and point fingers at you. And despite my complaints, no one ever showed up with my medal for nursing my first for so long.

    • So well said! Taking things one day at a time definitely isn’t my strong suit, but it’s really the only option. No processing paperwork — love it!

  11. Funny you should post this today. I nursed Daniel for 20 months, and Matthew has suddenly quit at 13 months. He had a terrible week teething and now screams and yells whenever I offer him a chance to nurse. He’s so healthy and happy, and I feel like I’m pushing the issue with him too much. I guess at some point we all have to let go. I was lucky with Daniel that it was easy for us and I should be thankful for the full year I got with Matthew. Thanks for being vulnerable. Sometimes we don’t get to call all the shots.

    • So true, my friend. I’m going to ride this out as long as it lasts. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  12. Yes, yes, yes & yes! Thank you for writing this post, for saying out loud what can be so hard to say. Give yourself permission. All will be okay. Hugs to you.

    I’m going to be bookmarking this page to refer to your words, and others’ wonderful comments, for my future reference and to be able to share with friends. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. I’d really hoped this post would speak to people. Scary to publish, but so worth it. Thanks again for stopping by!

  13. Sue,

    As you know I struggled with this same issue lots with my first! With my second, I swore I would not listen to the hype & fall depressed from what so many think is a failure. It is nothing close to a failure…if you do what’s best for you & your baby, that is a success no matter how it is accomplished!

    Now that my oldest has finished kindergarten, I know all my worry was so silly! Ask yourself, can you point out those kids that were formula feed vs those that were formula feed in his kindergarten class? No you can’t!! Our 1st was formula feed after 6 weeks & scored the highest in his class on his end of year tests! He is an awesome kid that has lots of potential…none of which was taken from him b/c he wasn’t breast feed for a year!

    I say do what works best for you & your family…nothing else matters!

    Your Friend,

    • Thanks, Cat. You are right on. And your kids? They’re amazing.

  14. ah, i love this. you are so wise.

    • Thanks, Grace. You always say the nicest things. I hope your pregnancy is going well. xo!

  15. I’m so glad you’re out there writing this. There are so many baby-related issues that are unneccesarily political. If everybody just focused on doing the best for their family and themselves we’d all be a lot better off! I think you’re rocking it and your girls are lucky you care so much about their well-being. But no matter what the age, I truly believe that if we don’t take care of ourselves as parents & human beings, we can’t really do squat for anyone else.

    • Amen, sister.

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