Listen to yourself

I Wish I’d Switched To Bottle Feeding My Kids Sooner

I bonded with them just as much as I would have breastfeeding — and I wasn’t miserable anymore.

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My firstborn wasn’t even 48 hours old, and I already felt like I was failing him. He’d been up crying all night when we returned home from the hospital, which I’d heard was normal. But nobody warned me that he might be crying because I wasn’t able to breastfeed him.

I’d been trying all day; each time, he was only able to stay on for a few minutes. My nipples went from feeling a bit raw to bloody. Each time he’d clamp down, pain shot through my breast. We were both crying, and I kept thinking, How am I going to do this?

The next day wasn’t much better. I was in more pain. I wanted nothing more than for someone to go to the store for me and stock me up on bottles and formula, but I was too afraid to say anything. So we persisted.

Eventually, my son got the hang of breastfeeding, but it took months before my breasts stopped bleeding. They stuck to my nursing bras, and the only thing that helped was to apply gobs of Lansinoh and hold my breath each time I fed my son. We both got thrush. My boobs were so big I could barely get my hands on the steering wheel of the car.

I asked two friends who were nursing if it hurt, and they looked at me like they had no idea what I was talking about. They loved nursing their children and said it made their bond stronger. As the months ticked by, my son wanted to nurse for hours. And hours. One day, I held and nursed him for over four hours — because every time I tried to slide my nipple out of his mouth, he’d cry.

I didn’t mind the closeness. I was obsessed with my child and never wanted to leave him. I felt like we were the only two people in the world, and my love for him was so strong I didn’t know what to do with it. But I hated nursing. I wanted my body back. I didn’t want to be in pain, and I resented the fact that every time my child cried, he would get passed to me and everyone expected me to whip out my boob and take care of it.

I started feeding him cereal and solids as soon as his pediatrician told me it was okay in hopes it would cut back on nursing time. I wanted the days to fly by so that we could reach a time when I felt like I could stop nursing him. I was afraid to admit how much I dreaded feeding him with my body because I felt like I was the only one. I’d be sitting there holding him as he gulped away and people would ask, “Isn’t nursing just the best?”

I’d nod my head but I wanted to scream, “NO! What is wrong with you people? This hurts, I don’t like it! Stop saying how magical it is because it isn’t for me.” But I never did.

When my son was ten months old, I finally bought formula for the first time. I mixed him a bottle and sat on the sofa with him. He took it right away and wrapped his fingers through my hair. I could see his milky smile and I couldn’t stop watching him. Now, this is bonding, I thought. My life changed that day, and I felt as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

And yet, when my daughter was born two years later, I told myself breastfeeding would be easier and I would enjoy it more. I was wrong. It hurt just as much, I bled just as much, and I felt just as much guilt every time I wanted to throw in the towel and strictly use formulas. I stuck it out until I got pregnant again eight months later and she didn’t like the taste of my milk. I still remember shaking up her first bottle, thinking, why did I wait so long to do this? I sat with her on the floor as I fed her, and her brother helped. He was so excited, and she gobbled it down. I felt more at peace than I had in a long time.

I looked down at my belly and promised myself I would not put myself through months and months of breastfeeding again if it didn’t feel right. I didn’t have to give anyone any reasons either because this was a decision I got to make.

And I’m glad I finally reached that point because my boobs didn’t care if he was my third child. They were still going to crack and bleed and get an infection regardless. I struggled to keep up with him — my baby was big and he wanted to eat all the time. But every time I nursed him, he cried for hours and had horrible gas. My pediatrician told me he was allergic to milk and that I should give up dairy. I did, and things got better — but damn, I love sour cream, cheese, ice cream, and butter.

I got my first jar of formula for him when he was three months old and I was going to be gone for the afternoon. My then-husband was going to be with him for about six hours because I had an appointment, and I wasn’t able to pump enough because he was nursing all the time. After his first bottle, he slept for four hours; another life-changing moment when I decided to let go of breastfeeding.

That was over sixteen years ago. I still think about how I should have listened to what my instincts were telling me: You are not less of a mom because you don’t want to breastfeed your children. I could have saved myself months and months of misery and started enjoying feeding my children a lot sooner had I formula-fed them like I wanted to. Not everyone has a magical experience with breastfeeding. I was one of them, and in the end, bottle-feeding my babies helped me bond with them. I wish I’d known that the day I had my first baby, and so now I’m telling you: don’t be afraid to switch and don’t let anybody make you feel bad if you do.

Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.