My Beef with Breastfeeding

So, you may or may not know that I’m not the biggest fan of breastfeeding. I’ve expressed my sentiments before, both here and in the comment sections of other blogs. Here I talk about how I personally am not a big fan and I try to explain why. On other blogs I generally just support other women who didn’t have great experiences, or assure women who weren’t able to breastfeed for some reason that it’s not always the amazing experience that others say it is. (And in expressing that, I’m not trying to belittle their feelings of sadness or disappointment about not being able to breastfeed, but just trying to let them know that not everyone has a really positive experience doing it).

Of course there are upsides to breastfeeding. The two major ones (for me) being (1) it saves money* and (2) it provides increased immunities to tiny, otherwise indefensible, babies. These are the reasons I haven’t given up yet because (a) I’m broke and (b) I have a 3.5 year old who brings home every germ within a twenty mile radius. For these two reasons, I’m intent on continuing breastfeeding for as long as I can manage it. I really hope we make it to six months, a year would be preferable. Of course I go back to work at three months and I can’t pump during my morning classes so I don’t know if my supply will hold up. We shall see.

So those are the reasons that I appreciate breastfeeding. I know other people find it to be an incredible bonding time, some people even describe the rush of hormones to be blissful, like a natural high. That is not what breastfeeding is like for me, and I have to admit, I’m a bit jealous of the women who enjoy it that much.

For me, breastfeeding is about the following, none of which I enjoy very much at all. Here, is MY beef with breastfeeding.

(1) It’s messy. I have a lot of milk. Some nurses call it oversupply, some refer to it as overactive letdown. Whatever it is called, it creates a huge mess. Every time I feed my baby milk gets every where. I usually need to change my shirt or my pants (or both) after every feeding. We also go through dozens of towels, burp rags and baby clothes daily because of milk spraying this way and that.

(1b) All this mess creates A LOT of laundry. And when you have thrush, everything that gets milk on it needs to be sanitized, which means a 90 minute laundry cycle that includes bleach and vinegar in the rinse. It makes for a lot of time spent washing all the shit that got milk on it. Also, oversupply is what causes our thrush, so yeah, that is another reason I hate it.

(2) It’s uncomfortable at best, painful at worst. We’ve been breastfeeding for almost three weeks. The first week was excruciating. I used my Hynobabies techniques more during those early days of breastfeeding than I did during my (albeit very short) labor. The second week the pain got better, but it still hurt. This is also when the thrush started acting up and my boobs began to burn and itch ALL THE DAMN TIME. This past week the pain, burning and itching is not AS bad, but it’s still there. Even when there is no pain from a bad latch (we’re still dealing with this) or thrush (we’re also still dealing with this), my boobs almost always feel full to bursting with milk. Because of the oversupply we only nurse from one breast at a time which means one of them is always hard and heavy. I never feel completely comfortable and I probably won’t for months, until our supply issues even out. (I should also add that breastfeeding my daughter never felt good, but it did eventually become bearable.)

(3) It makes people uncomfortable. I’m not one to care much if other people are stressed out about my nursing, but it does kinda suck to make people feel uncomfortable. It probably doesn’t help that I am totally brazen about it, and parade around in front of both my own parents and my in-laws with my boobs totally bare, for the world (and my father and father-in-law) to see. At this point, I have to spend so much time cleaning, medicating or allowing my breasts to air dry that I can’t possibly keep them to myself. It doesn’t really bother me that my boobs are just around, ALL THE DAMN TIME, but I know it makes my father very uncomfortable (they are living with us this month–fodder for another post). Now that I think about it, my FIL has never mentioned it before, nor does he seem to care, and I applaud him for not giving a shit. There is also the general public to worry about, and when you care as little as I do about who sees what, you’re bound to let more show than unsuspecting passersby would like to see. I guess in the end I don’t really care much about this one, but it can be an inconvenience to whip out your tit whenever your kid needs to feast, especially when society in general is not very accepting of it.

(4) It puts an unfair burden on me (the mother). I’m the mom and I have the milk producing chest, which means all the responsibility of feeding my child falls to me. Even if I do choose to pump so that my partner, or a caregiver, can feed my child, I have to pump again later to make up for the feeding the baby gets by bottle. My body is intimately tied to my child in ways that can’t be avoided. This means that not only am I bound to my child physically (making it impossible for me to enjoy prolonged time and space to myself) but I’m the one who has to endure the pain of breastfeeding, I’m the one who has to make sure my child is eating enough and I’m the one who has to troubleshoot any issues that arise. So when things aren’t working out, I’m the one who has to research online or call the lactation consultant for advice or schedule an appointment. And then of course I’m the one who has to attend the appointment, and learn new techniques and assess whether they are working. Basically, the most important aspect of my child’s life falls completely on my shoulders. It’s an incredible responsibility, and source of stress, that I wish I could share with my partner, at least in some small way.

(5) It promotes an unequal parenting dynamic.ย This is obviously closely tied to #4 above and I want to write more about this, but the to summarize here, breastfeeding makes it harder for a partner to participate meaningful in the early days of parenting. Eating is the most important and time consuming thing a newborn does; it dictates the majority of their days. This means that I spend way more time with my son than my partner does. It also means that I end up changing way more diapers–and baby clothes–than my partner, not to mention soothing and rocking my baby to sleep way more frequently. If a partner is not incredibly willing, able and prepared to help–and knows how to step in and do what needs to be done without prompting or coaching–it’s almost impossible for him or her to involved in a significant way. At least that is what we have found at our house. Of course this time around, my partner is doing a ton of parenting, it’s just with our toddler. Having a baby has brought them together in ways that nothing else could. But as far as parenting the newborn, that falls almost entirely to me.

6) It is uncertain and complicated. I find breastfeeding to be rather difficult. We have trouble with our latch. We had one position down and after a week of practicing a good latch in that position we had to change everything up because of the oversupply issue. Now we have a shitty latch in that position and I don’t know how to fix it. Also, the advice I get can be completely contradictory. One LC tells me to position my baby this way, while a second tells me to do it another way. One says our latch is fine and the other says it’s awful. One says I shouldn’t pull him from the breast but try to correct while he’s eating, the other says pull him off over and over again until he gets it right. The LC says I should use gentian violet for 7-10 days, my pediatrician says never more than 5. Everyone has different advice and information and they’re all supposed to be experts, which means *I* have to figure out what to do. The conflicting information is so frustrating and leaves me unsure of what path I should take. In the end I just end up making more and more appointments, trying to get a third and fourth opinion to see if it matches something someone else already says. I swear the experts are almost as unreliable as Dr. Google. It’s just infuriating.

Breastfeeding is also uncertain in that you can’t know how much your child is eating, which can be very stressful if you’re having issues with weight gain. I’m so lucky in that I don’t need to worry about this much, if at all, and yet there are still times when I wonder if my son should be sated after such a quick turn at the breast. It’s just hard not to know how much they are eating and if they are getting enough.

7) *Breastfeeding is not actually that cheap. At least it wasn’t the first time around when I had to by the pump and pump parts (Holy shit, each extra part costs like $20! And there are so many different little parts!) Then there are the nursing bras, which I needed to get a lot of last time because my boobs just kept getting bigger. You also may need a few nursing shirts, or some stretchy camisoles at the very least, to wear under your regular tops. There are also all the accoutrements, like the My Breast Friend (I could not breastfeed without this thing). Some women like to get a snazzy cover so they can easily see their baby while their breastfeeding but so that no one can see their breasts. Then there are the nursing pads to keep from embarrassing yourself with milk stains on your shirts and the bags to store breast milk in. It doesn’t take long to realize that anything that is sold specifically for breastfeeding costs three times more than it would otherwise. The industry is insane and it makes the whole ordeal not very cheap at all.

{And if you get thrush, you’ll spend hundreds of dollars on the nursing pads (you have to change them EVERY TIME you breastfeed), medications and laundry. I’ve already spent over $200 trying to combat this bout of thrush and we’re not even over it yet.}

This time I don’t have to buy any of that stuff, as I have it all from last time, so breastfeeding is much cheaper than buying formula, but I honestly don’t think I saved any money the first time around. So yeah, breastfeeding isn’t all that cheap, at least not if you have to go back to work, you have any kind of issues or you get a breastfeeding-related medical condition.

So these are the reasons I’m not that jazzed about breastfeeding again. While I’m so thankful that I make enough milk to meet my son’s needs, it’s definitely a difficult exercise for me and I REALLY hope it gets a lot better, or the next three to six to maybe twelve months will be really, really challenging.

I understand that other people have VERY different experiences with breastfeeding and might love it (or hate it) for very different reasons. I hope I made clear that this post is about MY unique experience with breastfeeding and that I’m only expressing my own issues with it. I’d love to hear other people’s experiences because I know they will be very different from my own.

What was (were) your breastfeeding experience(s) like? What did you like about? What did you find challenging?

9 responses

  1. Thank you for posting this. Somehow the topic of breastfeeding in our society has become emotionally charged and some women feel like they can’t even talk about it for fear of being judged/ridiculed. I NEEDED to breastfeed. I never got the opportunity with Oscar and Bella or Tittle, so I was determined to breastfeed Gus. Unfortunately, due to some pre-term contractions I missed that week of our birth class. So, my introduction to breastfeeding (other than what I had read in books) was given to me by the L&D nurse. Eventually the hospital’s LC visited me, but within 2 weeks of us being home I had cracked and bleeding nipples, my supply had really gone down so that Gus wasn’t gaining weight as well as he was supposed to and I consulted with a private LC. She was wonderful. She gave me the analogy of two adults trying to feed each other with one person hold the spoon and the other receiving the spoon in their mouth. She said I should assist Gus, if he was showing he wanted to go to either breast and scoot his butt to help him move, but otherwise I needed to let him work for his meal and let him be in control of finding his way to my breast (aka spoon), instead of me trying to shove the spoon at him and hoping I don’t choke him by putting it in too far or not getting a good latch because it wasn’t in far enough.

    Because my supply had dropped so much, I also took fenugreek, Mother’s Milk tea, and was pumping out after ever breastfeeding session to get my supply back up. While I did breastfeed for 13 months, a lot of my time was devoted to pumping (I went back to work at 14w). It was a huge time commitment, but like I stated above, it was an opportunity I didn’t get with my angels, so I was hellbent on making it happen with Gus. And, once the initial cracking and bleeding went away, there was no pain, nor any natural high, it just felt “normal”, that I was finally able to do something that normal women who’ve just given birth get to do with their children.

    As for the privacy issue in public, we have a state law that says that a nursing mother can nurse her child in public anywhere that a non-nursing mother and child could be, so I felt somewhat “protected” in that if anyone gave me any shit, I had the law on my side.

  2. First, much admiration for you and this post. It is with a sigh of relief that I read your post without feeling like a horrible mother. I did try to breastfeed my first daughter. After a month of trying, I, for lack of a better term, gave up. I was more concerned about her dropping weight so we went to formula. At $45 a week…times that by 4…and 52…got real expensive. On came the guilt…the empty pocketbook…the whole feeling like I missed out on this awesome bonding experience…and getting ridulculed by Moms everywhere.

    So with my 2nd one, as sad as this might sound, I wanted more time with her…not focused on BF…Just her. So, we went straight to formula. It was my decision. I don’t regret it for one bit…but I would encourage others to try again.

    And a side note, again, thanks for writing this great post. I can clearly see that you’re doing everything you can for a great BF experience. I hope the thrush goes away, cause honestly, that sounds like a bitch. {sorry, it does…yikes!}

  3. I have a very similar experience to yours but with less thrush (only once that went away with oral meds and getting lucky), slightly more mastitis (only once with this baby! yay!), and choking on the baby’s end at every stinking feeding. It’s irritating. The first 6 full weeks with both girls were quite awful and at this point after around 9 months the second time, I don’t really mind but I hate the oversupply/attack let down combo. Pumping is so miserable. I’m not even sure I have words for how much I despise it. I’m ambivalent about nursing but pumping I actively hate. The rosy, cheery, oh how lovely and natural stinted conversations we (as a culture) have just bug me so I usually don’t talk about it at all (probably a mistake). It amuses me at every doctor visit how the nurse and doc are just shocked she’s still nursing at 9 months (or even at 6). Maybe if we were honest with people that nursing is HARD and not always pleasant and certainly not without a gigantic learning curve they’d stick with it longer. And now it’s time to stop being a bum and go get my pump parts clean so we have enough milk for daycare in January. UGH.

    Ok, just kidding. A bit more to comment. For us, at least in the beginning, all I did for the baby was feed her. I didn’t change hardly any diapers, did very little rocking, just the feeding. With the older kid I also did half of colic walking/singing/gentle rocking duty too. I think that it was a good system for us to establish that whatever my spouse wanted to do was fine and that I wasn’t the only capable parent. Now with the two girls, I do more baby care and my spouse does more elder kid care but I think it evens out mostly.

    • My son also sputters, chokes and coughs. Sometimes he feeds relatively easily and sometimes he gags. It’s hard to not understand why sometimes it’s not an issue and sometimes it keeps us from feeding well. Just another way breastfeeding is so hard.

      I also loathe pumping. I was lucky enough to be home with my daughter for six months and only pumped once a day during the last three months to building up a stock of milk for her for when I went back to work. Then I lasted three weeks pumping at work, just to get me to Xmas break, and then I stopped. I just couldn’t do it, I hated it so much.

      This time I’m working after three months but I’m part time. I teach for four periods straight with only a 15 minute recess break in the middle. I really should be pumping during that break but obviously it’s not enough time. I’m not sure if my supply will keep up if I don’t pump because it will be a good six hours of no breastfeeding/pumping if I can’t pump in between classes. I might try to pump on the way to work and then again coming home but that would SUCK (not to mention I drive a girl to school half the week–awkward!) and I wouldn’t be able to feed my son right when I got home. I’m not sure how it will work; I’m still trying to figure it out. But yeah. Pumping totally sucks.

  4. I’m so glad you wrote this post. Breastfeeding isn’t all rainbows and unicorn farts….I so hear you on the being covered in milk. I’ve started collecting my milk as it leaks to feed my baby after each nursing session. Saves clothes and keeps air moving over my thrush covered nipples. Pumping sucks, but I’m so immune to it after being an EPer for my daughter. I think you’re putting in quite the effort. For me it’s a desire to experience it since I was robbed of it with my daughter. And you know the whole free thing isn’t too shabby either. I have had to invest in more bras this time around because of my leaking issue, though I’m really hoping to have figured out a way to keep this from ruining all my clothes. I’m doing way too much laundry because of being covered in milk. If I don’t change, my dogs go crazy because apparently my breast milk is some form of crack for them. You hit on so many points I would love to comment on, but a general HOO RAH to you for letting the “ugly” side of breast feeding be seen. It does exist and it should be shared. As much as I’ve struggled to get this thing down, but even if it works it’s not always perfect! Thank you for being so upfront and honest about your experience. Definitely puts things in a different perspective.

  5. Breastfeeding was very hard for me too. With my first, I couldn’t get her to latch and she was losing weight, so I gave up and pumped for the first six weeks. This was after seeing different LCs and trying everything I could until I broke down sobbing in the pediatrician’s office after her 2 week weigh in. Not an idyllic beginning.

    I tried to breastfeed her again at 6 weeks just to see what would happen. Well, she latched on and all seemed fine until it started to hurt like hell and she started spitting up blood. The next night I ended up in the ER with mastitis. Good times ๐Ÿ™‚

    I drove to the local breastfeeding boutique to rent a pump for the long haul and it was there that I met the only LC who was able to help me. I straightened things out and breastfed for 8 months. After those first 6 weeks, I really enjoyed it, but the first few months were awful and not at all what I expected.

    I also got conflicting advice from the so-called experts. I would leave each consultation more confused and less confident that things would ever be fixed. You’re right- it is maddening! It’s a huge responsibility too, and the stress was almost unmanageable for me.

    Thanks for being honest about your experience. I felt like I was the only person who struggled with breastfeeding ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. oh man,thrush is fucking evil. I’m so sorry you have to deal with that, i really hope you kick it soon and don’t have to deal with it again. I deal with oversupply too, mostly in my right breast and I have to put K to that breast for 3 feedings in the morning for her to finally empty it. It’s so painful then and I don’t nearly have it to the extent you do. It’s so annoying bc it will just drip and drip. Eventually my supply did even out last time. I hope you get there this time and have at least a bit of no thrush no pain and good, easy breastfeeding. I think it’s great that you are open and honest about your feelings on BFing, because there are a lot of women who struggle too.

  7. I had supply issues (the other kind: lack of) and was never able to feed the twins more than 50% exclusively, and I worked with awesome lactation specialists who never made me feel bad about it, thank goodness. I loved the actual act of breastfeeding: I got that endorphin rush you mention. I still feel pangs of failure sometimes that my supply was so crap, even though I know it wasn’t my fault.

    Breastfeeding is hard. To gloss over this reality can be harmful, I’ve found. Thanks for this honest post.

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