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I Formula Fed My Baby to Save Myself

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I’ve given birth to four children over the past eight years. I breastfed three of them and it was agony. When I breastfed my oldest child, I had no idea what to expect. I was told it would be a magical and beautiful way to bond with my baby. Instead, every time I breastfed him I felt anxiety, nausea and depression.

I thought maybe I was doing it wrong or I just didn’t enjoy breastfeeding. But after quite a bit of research, I found what I believed to be plaguing me — dysphoric milk ejection reflex (D-MER). It made breastfeeding my children feel like an episode in torture. I stopped breastfeeding after my third child and finally decided to get help. When I became pregnant with my fourth baby, I had already made the choice to not breastfeed.

Doing something to improve my mental health should have been an easy choice to make, but it wasn’t. I was worried I would feel guilty for not breastfeeding because I had the means, I had the time and I had a job that would allow me regular breaks to pump. While I was privileged enough to be able to breastfeed, I was also privileged enough to choose not to.

But even with the support of my husband, my OBGYN, my psychologist, and my parents, I was still nervous about making the choice not to breastfeed anymore. I worried my baby would get sick more often because he would be missing out on all of the benefits of “liquid gold.” I worried I would hurt my family financially because of the expense of formula. I worried I would regret my choice. I was mostly concerned my baby and I wouldn’t bond.

And then baby arrived. All 10 pounds of him. He was perfect and beautiful…and hungry. I had heard stories of nurses who shamed formula-feeding mothers, so I was nervous when I asked the nurse for formula. But, I was prepared and I was not going to let anyone shame my choice. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry because my nurse was amazing (throughout my labor and delivery — she even gave me a hug after she helped me to the recovery room). She didn’t say anything negative. She got some formula and my baby was fed.

Even though it was the right decision for me, the next few days were rough. I was engorged and couldn’t do what I’d usually do to relieve the pain — feed my baby. However, I found ways to make myself more comfortable by pumping a little bit, using ice packs and putting cabbage leaves in my bra. And over the next few weeks I formula fed my baby and we bonded. I didn’t feel guilty…not once. Instead, I felt relief.

I had some lows and highs as my hormones attempted to get back to normal, but I didn’t feel the effects of D-MER. I didn’t dread feeding my little one, who at 6-months-old already weighs 20 pounds. I didn’t feel gut-wrenching nausea or that ball of anxiety at every let down. I only felt relief and I wish I had made the choice to not breastfeed sooner.

I had let guilt and duty decide for me, instead of putting my mental health first. I forced myself to suffer through a breastfeeding experience that had severe mental effects on me. But I am so glad I finally realized feeding my baby did not have to be torturous…and as long as my baby got fed, I was a good mom.


Photo credit: LightFieldStudios/Getty Images

Originally published: February 9, 2019
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