Sunday, January 31, 2010

Curse breastfeeding

I've been thinking a lot lately about stopping breastfeeding.  I've touched on my difficulties at times on this blog, but never in detail.

With initial help from several lactation consultants breastfeeding went very well.  I exclusively breastfed and managed to stockpile some milk for about the first month.  I was no longer stockpiling but still keeping up for the second month.  Right before her 2 month appointment I finally had to start supplementing.  My husband talked me into it, I was very opposed.  But she was crying a lot, and she was much happier when we gave her a bottle (and we were happier when we knew she'd had enough to eat.)  So we started supplementing.  It started at a bottle a day, then slightly increased to maybe 2 bottles a day.  I was okay with it over time; she seemed much happier, it gave me a bit of a break.  It turned out to not be the terrible thing that I had built up in my head.

But then we travelled, right when she turned 3 months old.  Feeding had been going fairly well, and with the traveling I became a bit lax.  It's so hard to breastfeed when your schedule's all out of whack, you're toting a baby and a carseat and a suitcase and a stroller and a diaperbag and and and.... I figured if my supply dipped a bit, I could pump to get it back up.  Then the rest of the week my schedule was still out of whack.  We took an overnight train to San Francisco, there were more bottles, and by the time we got to California my supply had tanked.  Never to return, apparently.

In retrospect, I hadn't realized how fragile my supply was. I was under the impression that it waxes and wains, but with concerted effort you can get it back up, at least to where it had been in the past. Turns out that's not true. I wish I'd appreciated it more. I've now taken fenugreek, had multiple all day pumping sessions, but I seem stuck at producing about 6 to 8 ounces a day. Not very much, really. And every time I pump at work, in my little storeroom without windows, I find it a reminder that I screwed up something that was going reasonably well. It is totally my own fault, and every time I pump I kick myself. I question how much good my measly 6-8 ounces is doing. And my supply seems to be dwindling even from that, even with a continuing ingestion of 5,400 mg of fenugreek a day (fenugreek burps are the worst!) No wonder, considering I'm only breastfeeding and pumping ~5 times a day. It's hard to motivate more than that when I get such a measly amount. And it's hard to find the time.

So I've started to question whether it's worth it. Should I wean. She'll be starting solids soon, so her formula intake will go down. So I started to try to find studies that analyze whether the benefits of breastmilk are exponential or linear. I.e. does the benefit gained from breastmilk scale linearly with the amount ingested, so 6 ounces yields only a little bit more benefit than 4 ounces? Or does 6 ounces yeild a lot more benefit than 4 ounces?

And the amazing thing I have discovered is that studies really don't show that breastmilk is the magical elixir I had thought it is.  I'm not bashing breastfeeding here, I think it's beautiful and important.  I definitely think it helps with illness.  I just don't think it's as all-important as everyone makes it out to be.  Particularly if you get to the point of having to pump.  Yes, it's natural, we're meant to breastfeed.  But we're also meant to reproduce at 15, and you don't hear anyone suggesting that's a good idea.  All in all, doing some research has made me feel better about all of this.  The evidence is not as clear cut as it was for, say, smoking. 

I'm not going to post links to actual studies because most people don't have access to them.  But here are a couple of articles that touch on this.  I blatantly admit I am just trying to make myself feel better, but it turns out to be a lot easier to do than I expected.


  1. I had a hard time and switched afte 4 weeks. I never looked back. We are a happier family and formula wouldn't be around if it weren't a good option! Good luck, but remember a happy mom is a happy baby!

  2. I had a hard time with both my kids, too. When I went back to work, my supply barely kept up with their needs. I felt like I was constantly pumping, which was stressing me out at work. I managed to keep it up until their first birthdays, and I remember feeling very proud and was glad that I hung in there. Being a working mom, I felt like it was a gift I could give to my kids.

    No matter what you decide to do, it will be the right choice and a good choice. You seem like a very well-informed mother, so whatever route you take, you'll be fully informed. That'll make it a good decision. It's nice that we do have choices, right?