When should I stop breastfeeding? It a question every breastfeeding mother has asked herself countless times. I’ve been super open about my breastfeeding journey on Instagram stories, but something about writing it all out makes it feel so much more personal and vulnerable. Everyone’s breastfeeding journey is different. Some people choose not to breastfeed at all or simply can’t. I’m in no way at any point in this blog suggesting that anybody else should breastfeed as long as I did or even stop when I did. I’ve just gotten many hundreds of emails, DM’s, and comments from you guys saying that you wanted me to write about my breastfeeding journey so that’s exactly what I’m doing today. I call it MY breastfeeding journey because it is my journey and mine alone. So let me say first that FED is best. I wholeheartedly believe that with every ounce of my being. That’s why parts of my story almost seem contradictory – keep reading and you’ll see why. Even though I know in my heart fed is best, I put so much pressure on myself to keep breastfeeding because I told myself I was a failure if I didn’t. But let’s start from the beginning.
I breastfed Molly for a year. Just over a year to be exact. I made up my mind when she came into this world that I was going to breastfeed her for one year because that is what the pediatrician recommends. It’s funny because when people would ask me how long I wanted to breastfeed, I would always say six months. It’s almost like I wanted to give myself a buffer just in case I didn’t make it for the year. I didn’t want to seem like a failure in their eyes. So silly that we do things like that to ourselves. People would’ve thought it an accomplishment to make it to 6 months! And those who didn’t, to heck with them! Regardless, I didn’t want to say I was going to go a year and then only do 6 months. I didn’t want to be judged about something so personal and I truly didn’t know if I could do.
It’s hard for me to recall all of the specifics when I was breastfeeding Molly because it was two years ago. But essentially I remember that I mostly breastfed, and pumped twice a day. Once after the 1st feed of the morning and then once again at the end of the night before I went to bed. And my supply was pretty good up until around 8 or 9 months. I feel like I remember around 8 months it started to go down a little and then by 9 months I found myself struggling. By 10 months, I thought “oh my gosh how am I going to make it to a year?!?!” It didn’t seem possible.
What about supplementing with formula? I very well could’ve supplemented and easily made it to a year with no stress – maybe even way past a year! But someone once said to me something that stuck with me and I couldn’t get it out of my head. She said “my kids never had formula”. I want to say up front that I know she didn’t mean an harm by saying what she said – I truly believe that. But those words stuck with me like you wouldn’t believe. I would repeat them in my mind every time I thought about buying formula. Every time I thought about supplementing I would see those words in my mind over and over and over. If her kids never had formula why would my kids have to have formula? The “have to have” being the key part of that thought process. Almost like she would look at me and think “poor little formula fed baby”. As you can see, my mind got the best of me. My mom guilt and shame got the best of me.
“My kids never got formula”. I want to take that sentence and throw it in a bonfire somehow. Consider this blog post my metaphorical bonfire. I want to burn every last letter of that sentence until it’s erased from my mind. It’s a toxic thing to think. I was even hesitant to even put those words in this blog post cause I don’t want somebody else to read this and somehow take it completely different way than how I meant it to be read. In other words, I don’t want anyone to internalize those words like I did. Instead, I want you guys to know that I was able to let go of those words with Riley – I gave him formula. And I am so glad I did. He is a happy and healthy baby!
It’s a scary thing for me to admit that I had these thoughts because like I said at the beginning of this post, I truly in my heart believe that fed is best. We all have different lives and different stories and no one‘s situation is ever going to be the same. And it was easy for me to breastfeed Molly at first. I was able to stay home on maternity leave for 6 months! SIX MONTHS! It’s not lost on me how incredibly lucky I was to do that! I’m certain that was a major reason why I was able to breastfeed for so long. Things were a bit different with Riley.
But before I get to Riley, let me just finish my story about my breastfeeding journey with Molly to say that I struggled so hard to produce enough milk to keep her fed and happy every day. I would stay up late to pump and pump in the middle of the night. I would stress so much at the end of the night if I gave her a bottle and she didn’t drink every last drop! I remember at one point she was drinking 6 ounces at night before bed. And then all of a sudden, some nights she would only drink 3-4oz and I would absolutely freak out! I didn’t want to heat up less milk because if she needed more, stopping in the middle of feeding her would sometimes make her stop eating. But then I didn’t only want to heat up a little because I wanted her to eat as much as possible so she would sleep through the night! I didn’t want to heat up too much because I didn’t want her not to finish it. And I didn’t want to breastfeed because I couldn’t tell if she was getting enough to feel full all night. I was exhausted. Heck just typing all that out and re-reading it is exhausting!
I think I told you guys this before but Molly nursed every 3 hours for the first 9 months of her life. Which meant I was up every three hours until she was nine months old – all through the night. That’s when we did sleep training. Which I blogged about here if you’re interested or curious about that.
The stress was eating me alive. I was stressed out about breastfeeding, about lack of sleep, about my marriage suffering – I was stressed about just about everything! And for what reason? Why? Because someone told me their kids never got formula?! I wasn’t gonna let this happen to me with Riley. At least I didn’t think I was going to let it happen.
Let’s talk about Riley. I breastfed Riley exclusively until just over 6 or 7 months. Honestly I can’t even remember at this point because it’s just not that important to me anymore. I was able to let go of those words and not stress so much about how long he was exclusively breastfed. But things are different with Riley. I couldn’t quietly nurse him in my arms when he woke up in the morning or after his afternoon nap. I have a toddler now that’s running around my living room screaming “Let it go!” at the top of her lungs! Not exactly ideal conditions to nurse the baby in. So as much as I tried to breastfeed him, I found I just couldn’t keep him focused on breastfeeding! That’s when I had to switch to pumping for a bunch of his meals. I found the only way I could get him to have a full feed was to pump and then give him a bottle otherwise Molly would distract him. So I was pretty much only nursing him when he would wake up in the middle of the night, for the first feed of the day, and maybe once throughout the day. That was from about 3 months to 7 months.
Around 7 or 8 months, and again the exact timing is fuzzy, I bit the bullet and began giving him formula. I was honestly pretty distraught about the decision at first. I kept saying I was going to start giving it to him and then I would push it off a couple weeks. I kept putting it off because I felt like a failure (SO crazy right?! Post-partum hormones make me crazy!). Just because I didn’t hit my “goal” of of year. I’ve always been competitive with myself like that. I told myself once again that I was going to make it to a year and once again told other people 8 months. Again giving myself a buffer zone in case I “failed”. But once I gave him those first couple ounces of formula mixed in with breast milk it was like ripping the Band-Aid off. All of the stress and things I have been told and pressure I put on myself all the sudden melted away. And he liked it! He wouldn’t drink it straight right away. But then again I didn’t even want to give it to him straight right away. I needed to ease them into it as much as he did. So from about 7 months to 9 1/2 months, almost 10 months, I supplemented with formula. It was such a relief that I thought, oh my gosh I could breast-feed until two years old at this rate! Supplementing took the pressure off of me to produce a certain amount in order to keep him full. I highly recommend it to any breastfeeding moms out there! Don’t feel bad about it, as moms we go through enough.
At 8 1/2 months is when the major bite happened. Some of you may have seen on Instagram stories that Riley bit me so hard when feeding that I was bleeding pretty bad. My breast milk looked like strawberry milk. That’s right, bright pink strawberry milk! And even a little clumps of blood would come out in my nursing bra. Sorry if this is TMI but I just want to be upfront about what it was like. The first time I did it I thought OK I can get through this and fight through the pain and keep nursing. The second and then third time I was done. It was just too much for me. So then I started exclusively pumping. I have the absolute best pump in the world! I talked to you guys about the Willow pump – it seriously makes a mothers life so much easier when breast-feeding! But because I was pumping so many times a day, between six and seven times a day, my breasts were becoming broth. So I kept exclusive pumping for maybe a month and then when Riley was 9 1/2 months I started bleeding pretty bad again. And this was just from pumping! No biting involved. I decided at that point I was done. I think I pumped maybe a week longer and almost made it to 10 months. And it was hard! It’s still hard. My milk stopped coming in pretty easily, I didn’t have to put cabbage in my bra or anything like that. But I remember 10 days after I stopped breastfeeding I noticed that there were STILL little lumps of milk in my breasts. I had to express them out when I was in the shower. And of course I was immediately flooded with a ton of guilt. Guilt thinking that I could’ve made it longer. Guilt thinking that my body wasn’t ready to be done. So so so much guilt!
But I shouldn’t feel guilty. I should feel so freaking proud! 10 months! I made it 10 months breast-feeding with two kids two years old and under! That is a freaking accomplishment. And even as I say those words right now to all of you, there still that little glimmer of doubt in the back of my mind. Thinking I should’ve done it longer. So as much is I can preach to all of you that whatever you’re able to do to feed the baby is the right thing, I can also openly say that even as I say it makes me feel doubt about myself. And that’s what mom guilt is. We all go through it and we just have to do our best to find ways to let go of it. Writing this blog post today is a way for me to let go.
Cheers to all you moms out there whether you bottlefeed, breastfeed, exclusively pump, or whatever you have to do to feed your child – know that I see you, I feel you, and I am you!
This post has really meant a lot to me, so I would love to hear all of your breast-feeding stories in the comments below. How long did you breast-feed? Did you breast-feed at all? Why did you decide not to breast-feed? Please share your stories and everyone else commenting please be respectful of those who are sharing their stories. I want this to be a judgment free zone. I love you guys!