The following post is an adapted excerpt from the new book for pregnant and new moms, The FAB Mom's Guide: How to Get Over the Bump & Bounce Back Fast After Baby.
Don't be afraid to shut down the milk factory, new mamas. If that's what you're feeling and you just can't shake it, then do it. Get educated about the benefits of breast milk, seek help from a lactation consultant (if you're hell-bent on trying) and then make a choice. Don't look back. Don't question yourself. Don't pay attention to anyone that makes you feel less-than because of your choice.
Opting out of nursing my babies proved to be the best thing I did — not only for me, but for my family. Not breastfeeding bounced me back in mind and spirit.
I know what you’re thinking... What new mother opts out of breastfeeding her newborn just because? Isn't breast best? Is this another smack-talking war over nursing in public? The answers to all those questions are: This one; Yes it absolutely is; and No.
This is about choices for being honest and staying confident, resilient and focused on doing what's best for your whole family as a new mother.
Ask any new mom what her most tiresome, all-encompassing, and challenging duty of new motherhood is and, if she’s like most of the women I’ve known in real life and online, she might tell you that nursing takes its toll in a mental, physical, and emotional way that no one ever warned her about. She might tell you it's debilitating to her self-esteem as a mother. She might tell you she just doesn't find joy in it.
Or, if you're like me: She might tell you all of the above and add how absolutely petrified she was to do it because of her irrational fear into the journey of motherhood in the first place. (I go into major details about this in my new book and describe how I "bounced back" in mind and spirit to get over that bump of scary new motherhood — because staying focused to do right by my whole family after having a baby started with getting my own crap together, you know?)
The reason I did not breastfeed either of my babies is that I simply was too uncertain and freaked out to do it. I couldn't get past the fear of this portion of the mom-program, so I said no to doing the thing that scared me the most.
Opting out of nursing helped me take positive control of becoming a mother. Opting out of nursing also allowed me to feel physically independent, free of pain, and exponentially less exhausted in those early months of motherhood compared with most of my peers who took the traditional route and nursed.
Was I immature? Most definitely. Did I need more education? Probably. But, opting out for me, twice in two years, set me on a most happy, confident, resilient and productive track as a new mother. I took to motherhood much easier because I wasn't doing something that made me feel inadequate or unfamiliar with myself.
I do respect and honor women who nurse (most of my friends have or do), and... breast milk is best! Despite the newly reported findings from the journal Pediatrics (that found breastfeeding irrelevant for making kids smarter for the long run), the American Academy of Pediatrics firmly maintains that the health benefits of breastfeeding, including increased immunity and disease protection, outweigh the negatives associated with nursing.
I also acknowledge and agree with that.
But when you're a scared new mother, trying to figure out how to best take care of your child while trying to control your own anxiety about it, the best thing to do is to make a choice that best serves everyone. You can only do what works for your life's greater good in that moment. So I did.
I don't regret it one bit.
It all started during my first pregnancy when my girlfriends asked me: Why haven’t you registered for nursing pads, detachable-strap bras, and nipple creams? Answer: I just couldn’t picture myself doing all those breastfeeding things. I half-considered nursing as my due date approached, mainly because of the pressure to do it and the facts I learned from the minimal education I got about the benefits for mom and baby prior to delivering.
Finally, I asked my husband (a pediatric surgeon), “Are you going to flip out if I don’t nurse? Am I being stupid about this?” He (and his ten-plus years of medical school and specialty surgeon training) shrugged, “No. It’s your choice.” And it was my choice.
Simultaneously, my most incredible pediatrician I’d found urged me to rethink my grand plan to bottle-feed just before baby was born. The top-notch nurses tending to me the day after delivery were relentless in educating me about breast milk and tried to get me to change my mind. I smiled, resisted, and respectfully shut them down as politely as I could. (This rebel attitude coming from the same woman who fervently believes in listening to doctors and nurses because they know so much more than the rest of us. Confusing, I know.)
The day after my [first] delivery, I was convinced to try pumping thanks to them selling me on the magical, nutritious power of colostrum.
My patience for pumping lasted exactly eight days. I didn’t produce much milk anyway (maybe because of my stressed-out, temporary high blood pressure issues post-birth the first time around) and ended up having to mix my unicorn-made Liquid Gold colostrum with store-bought formula to fill my new daughter’s tiny belly anyway.
Despite the revelation of wow-look-at-what-my-body-can-produce spectacle, pumping was painful, annoying, exhausting, and genuinely draining me physically and emotionally every two hours on the dot. I cannot go on like this and be normal or happy, I remember agonizing. After those eight days, I shut down my milk factory. No guilt, no looking back, no regrets to bum me out.
Exclusive formula feeding it was.
I repeated my pumping pattern for my second-born daughter a year and a half later in an effort to provide each newborn with identical care. But dealing with the physical effects of unexpected engorgement, leaking breasts, painful pumping and handling a newborn after another C-section proved to be even more painful and challenging with another young child in the house. It was all too much. All I remember that first week after my second daughter was born was the piercing pain of milk exploding against my boobs from the inside out and my internal panic about how I was going to overcome the physical torture while also taking care of my older daughter (who was still a year old at this time).
Why am I putting myself through this?!? Screw it. If I can’t give my daughters and husband an able-bodied and happy version of myself, then we’re all going to crash and burn fast. After exactly eight days again, I happily shut down my own milk production. It was tougher to do this time around, but I was relentless.
Exclusive formula-feeding it was again. Guess what? Life with baby — and my toddler — got remarkably easy and really happy, really fast.
Here are immediate perks I found to be helpful and calming by bottle-feeding:
1) I knew exactly how much milk baby was getting. (Sometimes allowing for a whole 3-hour stretch between feedings!)
2) Dad, friends, and family could help feed — no problem. (Many pediatricians recommend breastfeeding moms to introduce a bottle once breastfeeding is well-established, so that family and friends can help... and no, there is no such thing as "nipple confusion.")
3) My nipples didn't bleed. (I'm not even going to offer details on this.)
4) My energy wasn't depleted. (Physically, mentally and emotionally.)
5) My body became mine again, which was more major than I'd ever imagined it to be.
But what about my babies? They were absolutely thriving, content and healthy... and continued to be that way through their first year and to this day. Even with formula.
I kept my bottle-feeding a secret from many of the high-profile parenting groups I was involved with at the time because, if you don’t breastfeed in Los Angeles, then you’re cheating! When friends of mine would talk about nursing challenges or commiserate about how much they wished their nursing days to be over, I’d just stay quiet and silently worry whether my dirty secret would be found out.
It wasn’t until years later that I came clean with my secret to Cheryl Petran, CEO and owner of the nursing support mecca The Pump Station & Nurtury in Santa Monica, California. To my surprise, Cheryl laughed at me and responded with, “Judgment? No, no judgment here!” Cheryl later went on the record for one of my television news segments addressing guilt and formula-feeding moms, saying, “Whether she is unable to or simply making the choice not to breastfeed, no mother should be harboring any feelings of guilt . . . it serves no purpose for the mother or the child in terms of health, well-being, and attachment.” I still smile whenever I think of Cheryl’s words — all this support and wisdom coming from a woman whose beliefs and livelihood revolve around breastfeeding babies. And here I thought she’d wipe me off her friend list.
Since my time as a new mom, a few more realizations have hit me: If adoptive parents and gay couples can feed their children with formula and new working moms can enlist childcare to help them raise their babies while they're at work, then any new mom can also say no breastfeeding and take advantage of safe, FDA-approved formula to feed her baby without judgment or shame from others. We all have the right to our choices, as long as our choices aren't flat-out dangerous to those involved.
Dr. Tanya Altmann, a pediatrician and author of the best-selling What to Feed Your Baby book (and a personal friend of mine), doesn’t waver from the American Academy of Pediatrics' breastfeeding recommendations, yet also doesn’t ignore that nursing can sometimes cause debilitating stress in new moms that affects their ability to produce enough milk and care for themselves in an emotionally and mentally sound way.
"Breast milk offers certain immune benefits that you can’t replicate even with the best formula," Dr. Altmann said, "but if the cost of doing it results in a new mom’s extreme anxiety or her inability to feed her baby enough breast milk for proper growth, then using formula should absolutely be done. FDA-approved formula is not poison."
We live in a breastfeed-or-defend-yourself-to-the-death society, but being honest with myself as a new mom back then (and acting on it), against all popular practice and opinion, made me into a self-assured parent that I am proud to be now. I won't lie: My own sister still doesn’t understand how I skipped out on nursing and feel totally okay with it. But it was a personal choice — the best choice I made as a new mom, actually. It set a most unexpected foundation of fortitude that has stayed with me six years later. Those who aren’t afraid to make their own choices, to do right for their everyone in their families (including themselves), are the best kinds of moms.
Which leads me to say, on the record: If you’ve dreamed of nursing your baby, and it works for you, then do it! Enjoy it! Revel in it! Just don’t complain about it (while continuing to do it) should it not bring the joy you imagined. I say that with genuine admiration and respect for the nursing moms who tirelessly do enjoy it without any complaint...
Stay focused after babies — (Aha, there's the f-a-b... get it?) — for the good of your whole family, including you. Our children need capable and confident moms more than they need our actual breasts. We have choices, so make your own choices (as long as they're safe). It's one of the most fabulous privileges of being a mom.
Jill Simonian is a TV/digital Parenting Lifestyle Personality and mom of two young daughters. Her blog, TheFABMom.com, aims to keep life focused after babies (f-a-b). Jill's debut book, The FAB Mom's Guide: How to Get Over the Bump & Bounce Back Fast After Baby (Skyhorse), is a motivating and resilience-building read — detailing personal choices, celebrity stories and expert lifestyle tips sprinkled throughout — to boost any first-time mom's mind, body and spirit.