I Quit Breastfeeding After Getting Mastitis & I Felt Like A Failure
When I had my first baby, I was in a state of pure bliss. After trying to conceive for two long years, every moment from that first positive test on felt like a blessing from above. I felt such insurmountable joy the first time I got to hold my sweet little boy. But moments later, when my nurses encouraged me to start breastfeeding, I was blindsided by self doubt. Even though I'd read What to Expect When You're Expecting cover to cover, I was still intimidated to start the process of breastfeeding. And when things did get under way, I had such a hard time with it. Actually, I eventually ended up with mastitis and quit breastfeeding entirely.
I wasn't prepared for how hard breastfeeding could be. I honestly thought that it'd be simple and that I wouldn't need to try very hard, which is naive, I know. And because my newborn son had jaundice, the nurses pushed me toward giving him formula in between breastfeeding sessions. The stress of keeping my son on a specialized BiliBlanket (which, according to the University of Medicine and Health Sciences Newborn Care Committee, provides the highest level of therapeutic light available to treat jaundice) only made things worse, because all I wanted to do was hold my new baby and I couldn't. I remember crying hysterically when the doctor told us we had to stay yet another night in the hospital before going home.
Eventually, the jaundice subsided and we were sent home. Finally, I thought, breastfeeding will be so much easier now that I'm home. But boy, was I wrong. I had this picture in my head of breastfeeding my baby that was so serene. I thought it'd be easy, tranquil, and our breastfeeding sessions would be filled with bonding time. Little did I know the extreme pain and difficulty latching that I was in for. Little did I know how badly I'd want to quit breastfeeding.
After about five weeks of aimlessly breastfeeding, pumping, and trying to survive my new role as a mom, I hit a breastfeeding wall. I told myself that I'd fight to make breastfeeding work for two more weeks, then I'd throw in the towel and wean. But just days after I set that goal, I woke up one morning feeling absolutely awful. I tried to breastfeed my son and the normal pain I felt from his latch seemed multiplied by a thousand. My breasts ached as if fire was shooting through them. I told my husband I knew something was wrong and after he felt my forehead, he agreed. I had a fever and called my doctor, who was thankfully able to see me a few hours later.
I felt like my mastitis was somehow my fault, like I'd done something incorrectly and this was the result. I came home to my husband in tears, telling him how badly I wanted to give up. He promised to support me no matter what, and instead of listening to the voice in my head urging me to just "power through it," I gave up.
After examining me, my doctor told I had mastitis. According to the Mayo Clinic, mastitis is a breast tissue infection that results in breast pain, swelling, warmth, and redness. She sent me home with antibiotics and told me I had to pump (or breastfeed) from the infected breast and simultaneously massage the milk (and clog) out. I wasn't thrilled to have to even touch the painful breast, let alone massage out the milk, but I knew it was the only way to get better, so I went home and started pumping.
But after a day of painful pumping, I only felt more defeated. I was extremely emotional and so tired of being in pain. I felt like my mastitis was somehow my fault, like I'd done something incorrectly and this was the result. I came home to my husband in tears, telling him how badly I wanted to give up. He promised to support me no matter what, and instead of listening to the voice in my head urging me to just "power through it," I gave up. I put on the tightest sports bra I could find and started weaning right then and there. And after a few days of gradually pumping less and less, I was no longer producing milk. I felt instant relief that I didn't have to endure the painful latch, endless pumping, or uncomfortable letdowns I'd been living through for the past six weeks. But I also felt really guilty for giving up.
As soon as breastfeeding got too hard, I quit. I felt ashamed and, to be completely honest, like a failure. Mastitis was hard, but my feelings of defeat were even harder to cope with.
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, everyone told me "breast was best." And before giving birth, I was determined to breastfeed. Obviously, that didn't happen quite liked I'd planned. As soon as breastfeeding got too hard, I quit. I felt ashamed and, to be completely honest, like a failure. Mastitis was hard, but my feelings of defeat were even harder to cope with. My husband tried to comfort me, telling me that breastfeeding was not the only thing that made a good mother. He reminded me that every time I rocked our son to sleep, settled him when he cried, and fed him (through bottle or breast), I was being a good mother. Though his words definitely helped me, I'd be lying if I said that I instantly let go of the guilt and forgave myself for giving up so quickly.
No; it took a few more babies for that to happen.
I thought breastfeeding was supposed to be this "natural" and enjoyable experience, so why was it so darn hard for me? And why was I letting a simple thing like breastfeeding make me feel like a failure as a mother? I thought it was society forcing me into a shame spiral, but honestly I realized the only person who was making me feel awful for not breastfeeding was, well, me.
When my second son was born, I was determined to make breastfeeding work. I gave myself the same goal I'd made when my first son was born: make it to a year, then wean. But after supplementing in the hospital due to yet another jaundice diagnosis, I felt like I was once again off to a rough start. He had such a hard time staying latched and seemed to be starving the minute he finished eating. And feedings took so long that by the time we finished one, he woke up a short time later looking for more. I wondered if I wasn't making enough milk or if he wasn't latching right. By the time we got home, getting used to exclusively breastfeeding proved challenging for us both. I was so scared of getting mastitis again that I started to wean way earlier than I'd anticipated. Instead of fighting for what I wanted, I decided that chasing my toddler around while breastfeeding my newborn was just too hard — especially when it never seemed to satisfy him.
After just four weeks of breastfeeding my second baby, I gave up — yet again. Once again I felt defeated, ashamed, and kind of alone in my experience. I thought breastfeeding was supposed to be this "natural" and enjoyable experience, so why was it so darn hard for me? And why was I letting a simple thing like breastfeeding make me feel like a failure as a mother? I thought it was society forcing me into a shame spiral, but honestly I realized the only person who was making me feel awful for not breastfeeding was, well, me. I had extremely high expectations for myself, and that included being good at everything — especially breastfeeding.
As time passed, other women I knew who also had kids started to ask me about my experience with breastfeeding. I knew I had two choices: I could be prideful and tell them everything went "fine," which in the end wouldn't help them feel prepared for the sometimes stressful road ahead, or I could lay it all out there and bare my soul in hopes of helping other women through their own experiences. And I decided on the latter.
At the end of the day, I realized giving up on breastfeeding wasn't the one thing that would make me a failure or any less of a mother. Yes, there's a reason that some people believe breast is best, but formula is full of nutrients designed to help babies grow strong and healthy as well. And I realized that my job as my babies' mom was to make sure my boys were fed, taken care of, and loved — and my kids had all that and more. In every sense of the world, I was doing OK. Not breastfeeding didn't hurt any of us. In fact, in made all of our lives easier.
Now that I've had three very different babies with three very different breastfeeding experiences, my opinion of breastfeeding has changed. I think it's such a wonderful bonding experience, but that doesn't mean it's not without its own difficulties. If I could go back in time, when I was struggling to breastfeed my first and second sons, I'd tell myself to take each day as it comes and leave the guilt behind. I've realized I have nothing to be ashamed of.