The goal was to breastfeed, but go easy on myself if it didn’t work out.
So when my baby was having a hard time nursing, I did the next best thing: I became an exclusive breast pumper. I pumped several times a day and had a strict routine that included sterilizing bottle parts, preparing bottles and taking care of my “girls.” It was exhausting.
But my baby was getting breastmilk. To me, that was worth it.
After suspecting that he had silent reflux and a potential milk intolerance—and two GI appointments later—I came to understand why my little guy probably had a strong instinct not to nurse. The doctor said he was showing signs of a sensitivity to milk proteins as well as silent reflux.
Long story short…It was time to go on formula, which I was fine doing.
In the process of trying to stop my body from lactating, though, I learned a few things.
Truth #1: It’s depressing.
As annoying as it was to pump, it was still sad to force my body to stop lactating. I’m not sure why, and I’m sure every woman does not feel the same. I suppose it was because I plan on this being my only child, so knowing that I’d never nurse again was sad. I was kind of into the bonding thing, and even when he didn’t nurse, it marked the end of my pregnancy in some weird way.
Truth #2: It feels like you did it for nothing.
The breastmilk still helped my baby, but I felt horrible for not listening to my instincts sooner that it was causing him discomfort. I kept telling everyone, including my pediatrician,that I thought I should stop dairy to see if that was the cause of his unease. By the time I did—no, Starbucks chai isn’t the same with almond milk…nothing is—I chose to put my baby on hypoallergenic formula because I didn’t want to spend weeks eliminating things from my diet if it wasn’t going to ease his pain. It kind of felt like I had breastfed those three months for no good reason.
Truth #3: It hurt.
One doctor told me to bandage myself tightly and “deal” with the pain for a day. All I got were clogged milk ducts and more fear about getting mastitis. I chose to decrease my pumping time and the number of times I pumped a day.
Truth #4: It took a few weeks to stop lactating.
After all that effort popping Fenugreek and Brewer’s Yeast, and eating every sort of food I could that included flax, I had built up quite a supply. I was a lactating machine with a freezer full of “poisonous” breastmilk—and it was a reminder of Truth #1—how depressing it was. Here I was, feeding my son formula that improved his condition and still spending time pumping and wearing nursing tank tops. That led me back to Truth #2, until I had a grand idea…I would donate my breastmilk.
Truth #5: You can’t always donate your breastmilk.
Due to the medications I was taking—and the herbs that helped boost my supply in the first place—I was unable to donate my breastmilk. I tried several avenues and was turned down by a huge children’s hospital not because of what was in my milk…but because I didn’t have a child there. I accepted that donation banks had rules, but still, it was frustrating because I wanted to find the “good” in this whole lactation journey, and I kind of couldn’t.
Up until last week, I realized there was still a little milk in there. It was another reminder of this whole breastfeeding fiasco, and how I still haven’t come to terms with it. Of course I am happy my baby is feeling better—he’s still not close to 100 percent, though—but I find it frustrating that I can’t come to peace with this whole thing. That’s uncommon for me.
Everything happens for a reason, I believe. I’m still not sure why it all went down like this. One thing I do know is that the female body is a miraculous creation. Even when we don’t understand it, our children are reminders of what matters most in life—even when we just can’t seem to figure it out.