Feeling guilty about stopping breastfeeding
I didn’t love breastfeeding like some mums seem to. It didn’t feel like a special time that brought me closer to my babies.
On a good day it was something I did to nourish my babies because I was supposed to. Other days it was something that made me feel trapped and resentful; the incessant routine and prioritising of breastfeeding above all else. I didn’t love it.
It took a lactation consultant, a nipple shield and about 360 hours to get my first baby breastfeeding well.
For the first three weeks I had him on the boob up to 14 hours a day, trying to get him to latch well, trying to get him to feed. We made it through and I nursed him for just shy of 12 months, during which time I went back to work full time and fell pregnant with my second child.
I was four months pregnant and exhausted when I weaned Max.
My second baby latched well and settled into a fast and sweet breastfeeding routine, before self-weaning at about five months old. I was secretly so relieved, but for weeks I tried to get Arabella to return to breastfeeding, because the experts told me it was the most important thing I could do for my baby.
She wasn’t having any of it, despite me continuing to offer her the boob before every feed for weeks and weeks. Eventually something inside me decided that I had tried my best, so I stopped offering and that was that.
By the time my third baby arrived, I had two toddlers at home. Due to Max’s ongoing sleep issues, I was the most tired mother on earth. At the hospital, Lottie went for the boob with the perfect mouth for a latch, but then … didn’t suck. Nothing would get her to breastfeed during my stay at the hospital (extended due to my c-section and her reluctance to breastfeed). The nurses and I – and eventually the lactation consultant too – tried every trick we knew. But Lottie didn’t change and eventually she was given a bottle because she was starving.
I left the hospital with a bottle-feeding baby and a promise to “keep trying”.
But I didn’t really try that much. Instead, I would offer her the boob, she would latch and then just look at me, we’d stare at each other for a moment or two, I’d take her off the boob, give her the tiny amount of breastmilk I’d been able to express, then feed her a bottle. I would then place her beside me to sleep, switch on the breast pump and express for an hour or more to pull a tiny bit of milk for the next feed.
This went on for over two months. Feed after feed, night after night. Let me tell you, the hiss and thump of an expressing machine in the middle of the night is the loneliest sound in the world. But it was also the sound of a “good mother”. As long as I was expressing, I was trying. I was doing my best.
Now I look back and I’m surprised I felt not a trace of guilt during that time. Unlike many other mothers I know, I have never been a “guilty mum” – provided I can convince myself that I’m giving my best, I’m good. Lottie turned nine this year and for some reason, this is the year that the guilty feelings caught up with me. I know I didn’t give her my best. I know I sleep-walked through trying to get her to breastfeed. I know I could have done so much more for her. I let her down.
The thing is, I think the guilt isn’t actually attached to the breastfeeding itself. Rather, I feel guilty for bottle-feeding my third child when my other two were breastfed. I feel like I tried harder with my first two babies. Just your typical third-child guilt, most probably. Third children (and fourth and fifth and beyond children), just don’t receive the same attention as other kids. I didn’t have the time to sit for 14 hours a day teaching Lottie how to breastfeed. It was time I had to give to my son, but not my second daughter, and that seems so unfair.
I thank the stars every day that this silly guilt didn’t hit me when I was in the trenches with my newborn. What a hopeless, useless emotion guilt is. The relentlessness of caring for three kids under four was enough – adding the burden of guilt to the mix would surely have undone me.
Instead, I quietly expressed for 10 or so weeks. When the paltry amount of milk I was able to express dried up completely, we all went on with our days.
But really, my daughter thrived in the same way her brother and sister had thrived. No guilt needed there.