Ep. 31: Why I Chose Not To Breastfeed

Today's episode dives deep into the taboo topic of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. I share my journey of breastfeeding, pumping & ultimately formula feeding. I talk about the impact of breastfeeding and pumping on my mental health, why I switched to formula & the overall effects of making the transition.

Lastly, I talk about my biggest tip for releasing mom guilt: getting very clear on what you value in your life.

Ultimately, I hope this episode shines light on why it's more important about how you feel during feeding rather than the actual method of feeding your baby. There is no one right way to feed your baby despite how much breastfeeding is still pushed in today's society.

As always, if you want to connect with me on Instagram: jeshessels

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Breastfeeding Struggles

Even though it is still very much pushed upon moms that “breast is best” and formula feeding should only be used if you can’t breast feed, Jess chose not to breastfeed Esme.

Before Jess even had Esme and even before she was pregnant, she already felt on the fence about breastfeeding and didn’t really have an interest in it. She didn’t like the idea of her being the only one feeding Esme. For Jess, there was also the insecurity of hating having her boobs touched. She has struggled all her life with not fitting into society’s standards of what a woman’s breasts should look like. And it has been a really big factor in her confidence and how she feels about herself. This is something Jess has grappled with for a long time and she’s struggled over the years with having small boobs.

When Jess became pregnant, the thought of Esme breastfeeding was such a turn off. It actually made her cringe. The idea of a baby sucking on her nipples made her feel weird and gross. Even though a lot of mothers love it and love the bond and time spent together, Jess did not share those feelings.

But she decided to try when she gave birth to Esme. Jess didn’t want to regret not trying just in case it turned out to be a great experience that she missed out on. And so, when Jess had Esme, the midwife tried to get Esme to latch on to Jess and was showing Jess how to do it. The midwife was literally grabbing Jess’s boob, squeezing her nipple and putting it in Esme’s mouth. Even though Jess had a great relationship with both of her midwives and was comfortable around them, the whole situation made her feel weird and she felt right away that she didn’t want to do this.

Jess tried breastfeeding for two weeks, and she hated every single moment of it. Jess has flat nipples, which made it very hard for Esme to latch on because her nipples don’t pop out, making it hard for a baby to suck. Esme would cry while Jess tried to shove her onto her nipple. And it was awful. Jess was stressed and anxious. She didn’t feel like she was connecting to Esme at all and felt gross.

Breastfeeding is very misunderstood and it isn’t something that is talked about enough. For Jess, it was a crazy hard experience. And for a lot of moms, they have to work very hard for breastfeeding to become successful. Even though Jess was miserable and hated every minute of it, she kept trying. But after 2 to 3 weeks, Jess had finally had enough. It was not a bond to breastfeed Esme. And Jess felt annoyed and tired.

Tired of her cracked nipples. Tired of having milk come out everywhere. Tired of being the only one feeding Esme.

Mentally, Jess was not in a good space. And so, she just stopped one day.

Feeling Like A Cow

From there, Jess decided she would pump and bottle feed Esme. That first decision of going to bottles felt amazing for Jess. She instantly felt calmer, less stressed and felt she could connect with Esme more. Rather than manhandling her baby into her boobs, she could simply take a bottle and put it in her mouth. It was great…until it wasn’t.

Eventually Jess realized that she couldn’t stand pumping because she felt like a cow. This stems back to her body image issues. She felt like she was being milked and it was weird and gross. It also hurt because her boobs were being pulled into this suction machine in order to pull milk out. Jess also had to pump all the time. She was pumping every hour and a half or so because she wasn’t making enough milk.

Jess was now back at this stage of hating everything all over again. She would spend 20 minutes pumping and another 20-30 minutes feeding Esme. By the time Esme was fed, she had pumped, and finally got back to sleep, she would only get about an hour of rest. Jess hated having to go pump and she was not into it at all. She was annoyed and hated the feeling. It was not a good experience for her and mentally she was done.

A Mother’s Permission

At the beginning of November, Jess’s partner Emmanuel went to Peru for 17 days. Esme was just over two months old and Jess’s mother came to stay with her to help out while Emmanuel was away.

Jess confided in her mom about not wanting to pump anymore. Her mom looked at her and simply told her to stop. If she didn’t like breastfeeding, then don’t do it. For Jess’s mom, it was all about logic rather than societal pressure.

This was the permission Jess needed to start doing what was best for her and Esme. Pumping was mentally wearing on Jess. After making the decision to stop pumping, she felt relieved and as though a huge weight had lifted off her shoulders. Jess knows now that if she had another baby, she would go straight to formula.

Societal Stigma

This is what worked best for Jess. And you really need to do what works best for you. You can look up the science behind formula vs. breast milk and read about how breast milk is better. That’s great on paper. But that’s not real life. It doesn’t take into account time, sleep, connection, or mental health. None of those things are considered. And all of those things matter, so much! Your world is turned upside down and during those first few weeks of postpartum, a mother’s hormones are re-balancing again, she is discovering a new way of living, and she may even be experiencing postpartum rage and anxiety. Not only is she building a relationship and learning about her new baby, but a mother is also rediscovering herself and her partner.

None of these things are taken into account when it comes to feeding your baby. It won’t do your baby any good if you are stressed out and tired. The best scenario is the one where you are calm, feel good, and feel comfortable. And your baby will respond accordingly.

There is so much stigma around formula feeding and bottle feeding, which Jess finds disheartening. The long-term effects are actually not known because there are other factors that dictate who you become as an adult. None of them is the right or final answer across the board. The right answer is the one that is best for you and puts you in the best head space.

If you have people who push breastfeeding – lactation consultant, friends, family, partner, nurses, midwife, etc – get clear on what you value and understand what is important to you. If you value different things then look for a different option. The key to not feeling like shit about your decisions is getting clear on your values. It’s very easy to feel mom guilt when you don’t know what you value.

Jess knew that she didn’t value breastfeeding or pumping. She doesn’t care how Esme is fed as long as she is fed. She doesn’t feel as though her deepest connection comes from those moments. They contribute, but she doesn’t value breastfeeding the same way other moms do. Instead, Jess has different values.

Not feeling stressed while trying to feed Esme. Her time. Being able to sleep longer. Not having to go through the process of trying to get breastfeeding and pumping to work.

These values made it easier for Jess to step away from it and not look back.

Jess tried breastfeeding and pumping so that she wouldn’t regret not trying. But the real underlying reason for trying was because she knew in her head society was telling her that she had to at least try. She had to give it a good go or else she had failed somehow. Jess understands now that this is complete bullshit.

You are allowed to change your mind. You are allowed to try different things. You don’t have to do things in a certain way. If your baby is safe and you aren’t doing something to harm them, there really is no right or wrong answer. And the second Jess came to those realizations, and especially when she made the decision to stop pumping and go straight to formula, she felt so different. Better mentally, way less stressed, and she actually felt very connected to Esme.

Know Your Values

Get super clear on what you value. And that goes with everything in your parent journey. When you are clear on what’s important to you it’s so much easier to calm the noise around you. Having values makes it so much easier when someone tries to impart their opinion on you because you will be able to handle it better and still continue to do things your own way.

There is no way of knowing things ahead of time because you kind of get thrown into parenthood and have to figure things out as you go. But what you can know is your values. And yes, you can change your values. But at least with your values, you will be clearer on what’s important to you. This will help quiet out the media, society, friends, family and neighbors. It will be a lot easier to shut it out when you know that it’s not the way you do things. And it will result in less mom guilt.

There is also no right or wrong way of mothering. If your children are safe, loved, and being provided for enabling them to live and thrive, then there is really nothing you can do that is wrong. There is a wide array of ways to do things and it’s ok to mix it up, try things and make mistakes. Change your mind and figure things out. Understand that you are not going to mess your kids up with the decisions you make.

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