9 Stages You Go Through When You Realize You Can't Breastfeed
If you planned on breastfeeding your baby, but couldn't for any number of reasons, you probably felt a vast mixture of relentless emotions. The stages you go through when you realize you can't breastfeed can feel overwhelming and defeating, especially if you really had your heart set on nursing your baby. I'm here to tell you that even though it probably feels like it, you're not alone.
I, too, was in the same breastfeeding boat a few years ago. I had just delivered my first son and, moments later, the nurse brought him to me and suggested that I try to feed him. I tried, and failed. Not having success the very first time you try to breastfeed is extremely common, so I didn't sweat and assumed that, like most women who want to breastfeed, my son and I would get it down. Instead, what I assumed was a temporary struggle morphed into what felt like an epic one, and I had to quit breastfeeding.
Personally, I never enjoyed it. Actually, I hated breastfeeding, if I'm being honest. Despite my disdain for nursing, there was still this little voice in the back of my head telling me that "breast is best," so I continued in my attempt to nurse my son (though, now, I'm well aware that breast isn't best for everyone). A few weeks into my new role as a mother, I started to experience feelings that made me, well, uneasy. At first I kept them to myself, assuming that I was just exhausted and what I was feeling was relatively "normal." However, my sadness and anger and bitterness began to grow, and it didn't take me long to realize that I was showing signs of postpartum depression. Not just subtle signs, either, but major signs and attempting to feed my son on demand were only making them worse.
When my son was just over two months old, my mental and emotional stability had deteriorated to a point that terrified me. I finally saw my doctor for postpartum depression and was immediately put on medication, which meant that I would no longer be able to breastfeed. Though I felt as if a weight was lifted from my already exhausted shoulders when I finally accepted that I was suffering from something serious, I also felt like a mess of a mother, especially when I couldn't breastfeed my son.
Going through the emotions of realizing you can no longer breastfeed is difficult, at times, but it is also necessary. If you're experiencing those stages right now, know that you're not alone and that it will get better and that you're not a horrible mother. In fact, you're doing a wonderful job.
Stage 1: Disappointment
Even though I hated breastfeeding, I felt disappointed when I had to quit. I felt like I was somehow "less than" as a mother, because I was unable to provide my son with what everyone told me was "best." I was disappointed in myself for being vulnerable, and I felt like succumbing to the beast that is postpartum depression somehow made me weak. Of course, none of this is true, but in those first few days when I was giving my son formula instead of breastfeeding him, the reminder that I didn't have that option anymore was a major disappointment.
Stage 2: Sadness
One would think that since I didn't really enjoy breastfeeding, I would have been thrilled about not having to do it anymore. Of course, one would also be wrong. I know it sounds contradicting, but not even having the option of breastfeeding my son broke my heart. I cried for a week, because I felt like my son was somehow suffering as a result of my own diagnosis, which is ludicrous, but at that time, it didn't feel that way. The sadness physically pained me, and I had no idea why I felt that loss so strongly, when I never loved breastfeeding in the first place. Hormones, man.
Stage 3: Feeling Like You Failed
One of the hardest parts of new motherhood, for me, was feeling like a failure, especially after I stopped breastfeeding for postpartum depression treatment. I felt like I had failed my son. I felt like I had failed myself, and like I had just failed in my role as a mother. I knew that my son was still getting the nutrition he needed via formula feeding, but that didn't stop me from feeling like it wasn't "best," even though it clearly wasn't best for us.
Stage 4: Anger
The anger I felt a few days after I stopped nursing definitely threw me for a loop. The sadness and disappointment, though painful, felt somewhat understandable. The anger, though? Not so much. Maybe it's because formula is so damn expensive or because it smells terrible or because I was suddenly having to wash so many bottles, or maybe it was because of the stigma our society puts on mothers who don't breastfeed (whether by choice, or not). Either way, I was angry.
Stage 5: Resentment
I've got a considerable amount of boob, and it inevitably made breastfeeding more difficult. I've never been a fan of being "top heavy," simply because it's often uncomfortable and trying to find clothes that don't make you look like you're pregnant (or a bra that actually fits) has been a lifetime struggle. So, to say that I once again resented my boobs would be a great understatement. I hated them for making my life so difficult, and for them making breastfeeding such a damn hassle. They had one job, and it was difficult to feel like they hadn't completely failed me.
Stage 6: More Sadness
And more crying and ice cream and melancholy music playing in the background.
Stage 7: Acceptance
Breastfeeding isn't for everyone. Though that undeniable fact was pretty easy to tell myself, and though I hated breastfeeding, it still took me a while to come around to accepting the fact that my son wasn't suffering or getting a sub par product, and that I wasn't a bad mom for not breastfeeding. Eventually, I got there, but getting to that point was, well, difficult.
Stage 8: Optimism
Formula feeding made my life easier in so many ways. Once I accepted it as a normal, healthy, and beneficial part of our lives, it felt like a weight had been lifted. Once we started formula feeding, my partner was able to participate in feedings, and I felt a lot less anxious when getting out of the house since I didn't have to worry about breastfeeding in public (which I shouldn't have worried about that in the first place, but society is garbage). For the first time since becoming a mom, I actually felt positive about my experience, and I credit part of that to formula feeding.
Stage 9: Relief
Getting through the emotional stages of no longer breastfeeding wasn't what I would describe as fun or easy or in any way simple. It was heartbreaking and frustrating, and oddly infuriating at times, but once I came out on the other side, I felt a monumental relief. I felt free, and like I could breathe again, and like maybe I was going to be a good mom after all.