Why I regret exclusively breastfeeding by Sarah Kowalyszyn @the.mothership.x
This is a bit of an unusual statement. I know most mums don’t regret it at all and had a magical time exclusively breastfeeding their little ones. But I also know there will be mums who understand exactly how I feel.
Don’t get me wrong. I know how extremely lucky I am to have been able to breastfeed in the first place. The night Archie was born he latched right on and chowed down with no problems.
I’d lost a lot of blood during the labour, so in the first week of his little life I didn’t produce enough milk for him and we had to top him up with formula a few times. We accepted that he may need to continue being bottle fed, but before we knew it he’d changed his mind and was a full-time boob man.
I’ve been super lucky in other ways; I’ve never had sore nipples, never struggled with supply since that first week, the cluster feeding phase didn’t last long and it’s been bliss having milk on the go all the time.
I’ve even managed the odd night out where he’s just drank a bit of formula while I drank wine.
But Archie is now almost 11 months old, and I recently realised that breastfeeding can actually really bite you in the ass.
The original plan:
When Archie turned 6 months old back in November he weaned amazingly well. He’d eat anything and everything we gave him and we also discovered that he’d drink some expressed breast milk from his Doidy cup. He absolutely refused ALL bottles and sippy cups, so the plan was to start getting him used to drinking milk from his Doidy cup from then on whilst getting used to 3 meals a day.
Where it started to go wrong:
November went well. He was easygoing and none of his food went to waste. He still wasn’t keen on milk from the cup but we persevered. We’d sleep trained him which went really well and I was only having to get up to quickly feed him once or twice a night. It started to feel like things were going right and that I’d soon be able to share the load of feeds with Archie’s Daddy.
But then December came. Archie turned 7 months old and we still weren’t very far ahead with his milk from a cup plan. Instead, he began teething and learning to crawl, which of course meant going back to Archie frequently waking up in the night, relentless screaming and trying to get Archie to actually lie down and go to bloody sleep rather than practice crawling at 3am.
We struggled but we expected this, and we were still getting 3 or 4 hour stretches of sleep in between his wake ups. I still managed to go out for local drinks and to my work Christmas party despite Archie stepping backwards a little.
But then Christmas day came, which is when the problems really started.
He woke up that morning in his “My 1st Christmas” pyjamas and enjoyed ripping the wrapping paper off his presents, but I noticed he had a bit of a cough that sounded wet. By the next morning it had gotten worse and a cold appeared with it, but it wasn’t a big deal as he was well otherwise.
A couple of days later we both had a stinking cough and cold, and any feeding of milk in cups was well and truly thrown out of the window. It got to the point where Archie had to sleep in our bed at night as we needed to keep an eye on him. He wouldn’t settle without me anyway.
But that wasn’t the issue.
Archie’s cough got so bad that he was gagging hard with it, which made him projectile vomit everything he’d eaten and drank several times , day and night. We’d be feeding him in his highchair one moment and wiping it all up off the tray the next as he’d just cough and bring it all back up. Or I’d wake up to him having a coughing fit and then vomiting all over me and the bed at 4am.
Breastfeeding became more important than ever as it was the only way to get fluids and nutrition into him – he’d be scared of eating food and as mentioned before, wasn’t that keen on drinking from a cup anyway.
This cough went on and on. We brought in the New Year by mopping up his vomit at a friend’s house and not long after we finally went to see a doctor about it. We were told it was just all part of him growing up, that some babies just catch a lot of viruses. They weren’t wrong there.
It’s now almost the end of March and Archie has had a virus pretty much every other week since Christmas. We have been unable to start sleep training him again because of this, and even when we did try, he’s now bigger, stronger, more demanding and more curious than he was at 6 months old.
He doesn’t know how to self settle anymore and he doesn’t want to know either.
This means that my husband and I are woken every couple of hours by a very upset Archie waking up and wondering where we are, and the only thing that will calm him down is if I breastfeed him back to sleep.
Made a rod for my own back? Sure have. But I don’t think I really have a choice with him being so frequently ill and me getting increasingly exhausted and run down.
He began going to nursery twice a week in February and the bad habits have been a problem for him there too. Archie prefers breastfeeding so much that he will go an entire day at nursery with no milk, despite how many times they offer it to him there. They have to wrestle him down to nap, which can go on for quite a while. And even then, his naps don’t last long there. He loves nursery and doesn’t cry for me or his Daddy all day - he’s too busy playing and takes comfort from the staff easily. But he comes home absolutely exhausted and desperate for my milk! The problem there? I am now back at work three days a week from 7am to 7:30pm, so me and my boobs are no longer at home waiting for him when he comes in from nursery. I give him a big feed in the morning before I leave and when I get home he’s already in bed, and seriously lacking in the amount of milk he should’ve had that day. Archie’s solution? Reverse cycling, AKA feeding him through the night instead, when I’ve just completed a 12hr shift on a busy hospital ward! Of course, being at work all day without breastfeeding him also causes problems for me (ending up with gigantic engorged boobs at work).
The psychological damage:
Dramatic I know, but taking on almost the entire responsibility of feeding Archie comes with some consequences to my mental health. Going out in the evening with friends brings many mixed feelings, from “Sod it, he’ll just have to toughen up and take some formula from Daddy if he wakes up and cries, let’s partyyyyyyy!” to “But what if he’s woken up and he’s really distraught and does that thing where he won’t catch his breath when he cries really hard?” the next minute. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but to me it’s extremely worrying. This applies to when he’s at nursery too and I get very worried that he’s dehydrating and feeling sad that I’m not there to comfort him with a good old breastfeed.
It also means I cannot bring myself to be away from him overnight; my parents constantly offer to have him stay at their house overnight, and even though I know he’d be safe there I just can’t face the thought of him being desperate for milk overnight and having a massive meltdown for hours.
I am DESPERATE for a full night of sleep; lack of sleep is definitely one of the major things that have caused some psychological damage. But the thought of Archie being so upset traumatises me more. It’s not even like I can say “well he doesn’t actually need the milk overnight” because he does – he’s normally fighting a virus on top of not eating or drinking enough during the day, so he’s very likely to be hungry and thirsty overnight!
A few weeks ago Archie suddenly became OBSESSED with breastfeeding, 24/7. It was bloody awful. Possibly some of my darkest weeks during Archie’s life where I wondered if I had delayed post-natal depression. I couldn’t even comfort him when he was constantly crying because every time I picked him up he thought I was going to breastfeed him yet again. Day time rolled into night time as I found myself feeding him around the clock, as he bit my nipples, kicked, slapped and punched me whilst writhing with frustration at how empty my boobs were because he’d only just been fed an hour beforehand. I’d give up going to his room every hour as I found myself shivering and falling asleep sat up in the rocking chair, and take him to our bed yet again so I could lie him down next to me as he fed through the night whilst physically assaulting me. I had a fair few breakdowns and shed many, many tears during those weeks. Thinking I was going to lose my mind is an understatement.
I’m very glad to say those days are now behind me (for now) and that perhaps he was just going through an enormous development leap or a growth spurt. Or at least I bloody hope so as I’d hate to think that we’d gone through those weeks of hell for nothing!
Some positivity. Things have just started to look up. In the past week Archie has started taking formula from his Daddy, which means that he’s successfully been managing to do his bedtime routine all by himself. It is LIFE CHANGING.
Not only this, but the other day Archie suddenly started eating well again! As in, refusing the glop from jars that we resorted to feeding him (we couldn’t face cooking any more food for him only to watch it go in the bin) and suddenly going back to baby led weaning! Stuffing vegetables, fruit, bread, omelette and pasta into his mouth like there’s no tomorrow!
He has calmed down with the breastfeeding now, and has recently started showing some improvement with his sleep at night. Hopefully none of these are flukes.
Despite my complaining, it’s not all bad. I have also loved my breastfeeding relationship with Archie for obvious reasons. The bond is undoubtedly a wonderful thing and it has proven to be extremely handy in situations where Archie has been too ill to comfort with formula/expressed milk, as well as convenient and free. It’s just that it has been more of a sacrifice for me than I realised it would be. It never occurred to me that a baby could reject bottles, cups, formula and/or expressed milk. I just assumed that by this age he would begin to wean off the breast.
So far the plan is to continue breastfeeding Archie until he is one, but I’m open to the idea of continuing sometimes if he wants to. There’s no sign of him weaning off yet but a lot can change in a just a month, so I guess I’ll just go with the flow (of milk).