I Breastfed for 11 Months & to Be Honest, It Was Too Long
Most experts recommend breastfeeding your infant for at least the first year of life. But this one-size-fits-all approach did not work for me.
Most experts recommend breastfeeding your infant for at least the first year of life. But where are those experts when you're stuck breastfeeding your baby 10 times a day, trying to squeeze some semblance of a life into two-hour increments? They don't have much to say when you're tied to your house every single night at bedtime because your newborn won't take a bottle from anyone, including your husband.
I breastfed my son for 11 months, stopping just short of the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommended year. Honestly, I wish I'd stopped sooner. Between the all-consuming pressure that comes with being another human being's sole source of food to the crushed look on my husband's face when he wasn't able to feed my son (again), I'm just not sure the marginal health benefits were worth it.
I've read the reported benefits of breastfeeding for babies, which include lower risk of health issues like ear infections, asthma, type 2 diabetes, eczema, SIDs, respiratory infections, and obesity. But I don't think they tell the full picture. Besides, my son already has eczema and studies have had inconsistent findings between breastfed babies and the risk of being overweight as children.
These benefits also don't take into account the mental toll breastfeeding takes on mothers. In my case, I believe it sparked a bout of hypervigilance and possible postpartum anxiety. During baby-free outings, I'd scan parking lots for backup lights, double and triple checking that I could cross safely and get home to feed my baby. When I drove, I avoided highways or roads that required high speeds.
I had awful thoughts that something catastrophic would happen to me, rendering myself unable to breastfeed. Would my son scream and refuse the bottle of pumped breastmilk, even though he was hungry? Would he succumb and take a syringe of breastmilk? Could I refuse pain medication for a hypothetical injury and breastfeed from a hospital bed?
While I was never formally diagnosed with postpartum anxiety, I know that it was possible. In fact, more than 15 percent of pregnant and postpartum women experienced anxiety or a related disorder.
Exclusively breastfeeding also meant that though I had a great support system, I wasn't able to properly utilize it. Throughout my pregnancy, my husband never missed an appointment. He was an active participant in labor and delivery, watching our son tumble headfirst into the world. He even took four weeks of paternity leave.
But since he wasn't able to feed our son, there were only a few hours per day when he could actually be hands-on with him. Our normally easygoing baby screamed anytime someone tried to give him a bottle—grandparents, my husband, and even myself. We spent hundreds of dollars on different types of bottles. None of them worked.
So during his paternity leave, my husband spent a lot of time completing projects around the house or doing other household chores, like making dinner or going grocery shopping. It helped, but it wasn't how he wanted to help. To be fair, I know that not all breastfed babies refuse the bottle. But do a quick Google search, and you'll find the issue is common. The time commitment needed for breastfeeding can also be intense for a new mom who's recovering from the trauma of birth herself. For the first month of my baby's life, he breastfed at least every hour and a half during the day and several times at night. I was quite literally, at his beck and cry. (Get it?)
This schedule made it impossible for me to do anything for longer than an hour or two—freelance writing assignments, doctor's visits, self-care. I knew this schedule wasn't sustainable for the long-term. So when our son was nearly 11 months old and still breastfeeding four times a day and once overnight (in addition to three full meals of solid food), I knew it was time to cut him off.
- RELATED: Nursing 101: All About Breastfeeding
Surprisingly, the transition was easy. My son took to sippy cups like he had never waged a full-blown war on the bottle, and I was able to cut out breastfeeding completely in about a week. Some moms say they feel emotional when they stop breastfeeding. I felt relieved.
I know that I'm lucky to have had the ability to breastfeed my son, and that it's a privilege to work from home and breastfeed on demand. (Though, to be fair, it didn't always feel that way.) And yes, breastfeeding my son was an incredible bonding experience.
But like anything in parenting, I'm just not sure the standard breastfeeding recommendation is a one-size-fits-all solution. For my family, it wasn't. And that's OK.