Breastfeeding Was Detrimental To My Mental Health, And I Wish I’d Stopped Sooner
All I heard was how important it was for the baby. What about the mother?
I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision whether I was going to breastfeed my son or not. Looking back, I suppose I was just indifferent about it. I wasn’t opposed to it, but it wasn’t something I was I felt especially passionate about, either. It was a given throughout my pregnancy that my son would be a breastfed baby. After all, throughout my prenatal care all I heard was when you breastfeed, not if you breastfeed.
It almost felt like a foregone conclusion long before I even became pregnant.
I knew there was always the possibility that I could have supply problems or perhaps my baby wouldn’t latch, but I still did all the preparation. I took a breastfeeding class, practiced the different holds using baby dolls, and researched breast pumps.
My thought was always that I’d breastfeed for three months and then decide how it was going. I never argued the benefits of breastmilk, but I wanted to also give myself permission to stop and evaluate the situation at some point. Besides, I told myself, I can do anything for only three months. Even if it’s awful, he’ll at least have those three months of benefitting from what I kept being told was “liquid gold.”
When my son finally arrived, not only did he have no problems latching on, but my milk production was endless and helped him thrive. Lucky us, right?
Lucky him, because I absolutely hated it. I had a painful letdown — each time he latched it felt like I was dipping my already-raw nipple into a pencil sharpener — and I saw a lactation consultant weekly to try and help ease the pain. Also, he ate a lot. We didn’t go longer than 90 minutes between feedings some days, and he wouldn’t take a pumped bottle. It was all me, all the time.
I found myself dreading our breastfeeding sessions. Instead of feeling this wonderful sense of bonding with my baby, I’d outright cringe and tense up when I held him.
I didn’t see how my misery could be good for either of us.
At one point I cried to my husband that I was done, that I wanted to stop. And he offered to go to the store to get formula, but we realized we knew nothing about it. The differences between the brands and types, how much or how often to feed. We’d only been prepared to breastfeed.
At my son’s next pediatrician appoint, we inquired about switching to formula. Unfortunately, that was also the day he was diagnosed with acid reflux and we were strongly encouraged to continue. A wave of guilt washed over me for even considering stopping.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was also in the midst of what would be a long battle with postpartum depression and continuing on my breastfeeding journey didn’t help that — in fact, it fed my depression. I was in pain, not sleeping and miserable.
I should have stopped. I wanted to stop. But not only did nobody ever say it could be an option, I was outright told to continue. All I heard was how good it was for the baby. But no one ever mentioned how it affected me.
Eventually it got easier. Second nature. I became okay with it, though I also would have been okay if I’d stopped. And I know that my mental health would have been better if I’d stopped.
I’m glad I breastfed, yes. But I’d also be glad if I had formula fed.
Now that I’m on the side, I see another layer to breastfeeding. It’s a major factor that can affect a mother’s mental health, and that doesn’t seem to be taken into consideration. We know the benefits of breastmilk and breastfeeding for a baby. But it’s time we also value how it impacts mothers.
I wish I’d heard more people say that it was okay to stop or change my plans when it wasn’t working for me. That a baby needs a happy mom more than it needs the benefits of breastmilk. And that sometimes our mental health isn’t compatible with breastfeeding.
Moms, it’s time to amend the narrative. You don’t have to breastfeed. Ever. Of course you should if you can and want to. But it’s okay if you don’t.
As much as I believe in breastfeeding and strongly advocate for women to have support and resources, that we end the shame surrounding it and stop sexualizing breastfeeding women’s bodies… I also believe in stopping when it’s not right. There are no medals handed out for “mom who kept trying to breastfeed the longest, even though she hated it.”
It’s good to breastfeed. It’s also good not to.
Fed is best. And being fed by a mentally healthy and happy mother is even better.
Becky Vieira been wearing mom jeans since 2016. She writes for a variety of parenting outlets, and can often be found oversharing intimate details of her life on Instagram. She's immensely proud of the time she thought to pee in one of her son's diapers while stuck in her car, as opposed to her pants.
Becky's debut book about the real realities of the first year of motherhood will be published by Union Square & Co. in May 2023. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, son, dog, three cats and a partridge in a pear tree.