I hated breast feeding

"I’d feel guilty and perverse because it was supposed to be a wondrous bonding experience."

"I’d feel guilty and perverse because it was supposed to be a wondrous bonding experience." Photo: Getty images

Pregnancy and motherhood are full of secrets and lies. There’s that one about how childbirth feels like an orgasm. And that one that if you exercise your pelvic floor twice daily, then you won’t pee yourself in Coles.

And then there’s breastfeeding, which for me at least, was the biggest lie of all.

You hear the constant refrain that ‘Breast is Best’, that breastfeeding makes you magically drop those extra kilos, and that it’s what nature intended.

You see pictures of women blissed out of their minds with happy hormones while feeding their beautifully contented child.

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Then there’s the convenience of being able to whip out a boob and provide your child with the optimum mix of nutrients, a small halo made up of the words ‘GOOD MOTHER’ glowing softly above your head, knowing that you’re giving your child ‘the best start in life’.

And then there’s reality.

I breastfed my daughter for a year and I hated it. No really, I HATED IT. Nothing in my life has caused me to cry as much as breastfeeding. I probably produced more tears in that time than I did breast milk.

I would regularly look at my watch and feel sick because I knew it would soon be time to breastfeed again. Then I’d feel guilty and perverse because it was supposed to be a wondrous bonding experience.

Admittedly, breastfeeding and I didn’t hit it off.

I struggled to produce enough breast milk, which meant I spent eight hours a day, every day, for the first two months connected to a breast pump stimulating supply. Frequently my husband had to squeeze my boobs to force the milk down.

And yes, milking yourself, and being milked like a cow is as degrading as it sounds.

To add to the fun, I also got a yeast infection in my nipples, which lasted for weeks. Give me the pain of labour any day over having thrush in your nipples. Labour is excruciating, but it ends. The pain of breastfeeding is the pain that just keeps on giving.

And then came the hospitalisation from mastitis, an infection from a blocked milk duct.

My experience was an extreme case, but the pain and anguish associated with breastfeeding is not uncommon. Yes, some people find it easy and love it, but many people don’t.

Conversation in mothers’ groups will attest to this. In the early days, discussion is almost solely devoted to cracked nipples, engorged breasts, sleep deprivation from night feeds, concern about babies not gaining weight due to inadequate milk supply, and boobs leaking milk in public. Repeat ad infinitum.

One friend was so uncomfortable breastfeeding in public she could barely leave her house. The social isolation soon turned to depression. Her psychologist suggested she use formula, at least part of the time, but she said the guilt and sense of failure from not breastfeeding would have made her even more depressed.

Like her, I was so guilt-ridden at the thought of giving up breastfeeding that even people’s support and compliments felt like a kick in the guts.

When people said that they were proud of me for persisting with breastfeeding despite all my problems, I interpreted that to mean that they would be ashamed of me if I stopped.

Our culture reinforces this fear. How many times do we hear people say, ‘Well it’s okay if the mother can’t breastfeed but….’

The second, and often unspoken, part of this sentence goes something like, ‘if the mother chooses not to breastfeed then she’s the scum of the earth who’s setting her kid up for a lifetime of allergies and illiteracy. Now where did I put the number for DOCS? ’

I have always rejected the logic of this argument because it’s absurd to suggest that children will turn out okay if their mothers can’t breastfeed but they wont be okay if the mothers won’t breastfeed.

Nonetheless, as a sleep-deprived, anxious and inexperienced first-time mother I didn’t have the strength to stand up against all the mother-bashing that goes on when people don’t breastfeed.

Hearing about the experiences of other mothers didn’t help.

‘I will never understand women’s selfish reasons behind their decision not to breastfeed, even though I understand it is their decision to make,’ wrote one mother in a parenting magazine. With ‘understanding’ like that, who needs people to judge you?

The pressure to breastfeed is an enormous burden for many women, but the expectation of enjoying it makes the burden that much greater. 

The best breastfeeding advice I ever got was from a midwife with kids of her own and a lifetime of experience.

When my milk just wouldn’t come in the geyser-quantities that nature supposedly intended, she said ‘Breast is best, but sometimes bottle is even better.’

There is a special place in heaven reserved for that woman.

56 comments

  • Sounds like you had a pretty bad experience with breastfeeding. It's true that it can be a difficult thing.
    But my concern with articles like this is that it will turn many women off breastfeeding before they even give it a try. Before I had a baby, I had already heard several breastfeeding "horror stories" - tales of cracked nipples, mastitis, crying through every feed, etc. And I honestly thought that I just wouldn't bother - that I would go to bottles straight away because breastfeeding just seemed like a terrible thing altogether.
    The only reason I started to seriously consider breastfeeding was because my husband said it was really important to him.
    We have had really hard times with it - my flat nipples made it really difficult to get the hang of for months and months.

    I just want to say to all the women reading this who haven't yet had children - please do plan to breastfeed! It can be a lot of work, but it can also be really wonderful - and it is a great thing for your children!

    Commenter
    Girlonfire
    Location
    NSW
    Date and time
    November 14, 2012, 10:04AM
    • I'm expecting my first in a few months, and let me tell you, honest articles like this are incredibly rare. Most new mothers to be have never been given an accurate depiction of how difficult breastfeeding is for many, many people, and consequently suffer so much if things become difficult for them. The guilt and pressure placed on new mothers to breastfeed is incredible. Yes, breastfeeding is best, assuming that you can actually do it without causing yourself too much pain and damaging your mental state, and as a poster says below, losing any joy in the early months. A happier mother is almost always a happier baby, and women should not be expected to martyr themselves so drastically - and they do, they really do, due to the pressure and guilt.
      Also, it isn't anyone else's business what other mothers do. It is a completely personal decision, and shouldn't be a matter for public shaming.

      Commenter
      Jenny
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 10:36AM
    • Well, I haven't had children yet, but if I do, I won't be breastfeeding them.

      You see, I've already had mastitis, thanks to all the cysts I have in my breasts - and it's one of the most painful things I've ever experienced.

      I don't need other people telling me what I should and shouldn't consider, thanks.

      Commenter
      The evil twin
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 10:49AM
    • Why did you suffer so much for this? your children would have thrived on formula, just as mine did. Perhaps if your husband knew the pain involved he would not have pushed you.

      Commenter
      dianav
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 10:56AM
    • To me this article is a necessary rebuttal to the huge number of articles that imply there is something wrong with any mother who doesn't breast feed. As a recent father, I know there is a huge pressure placed upon women by other women these days to give birth, breast feed their kids, etc, EXACTLY the same way they did. It is one of THE worst orthodoxies in modern Australian society today. It is absolutely cultish. And women who do their best to raise their kids in whatever manner works best for those individuals often find themselves cast as that particular religion's Satan. Thank goodness I personally have enough sanity to not be bothered with or by the First Mothers Group Klans.

      Commenter
      Jon
      Location
      reality
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 11:17AM
    • Thank you Jon. My son is 7 now however my memories of his birth and the year following are filled with feelings of inadequacy, failure, depression and the list goes on. All because I couldn't breastfeed and the choice I made to have an elective c section. The worst were the nurses in the maternal ward at St George Hospital. Breast feeding nazis. One matron made be cry because I had to stop the breast pump after an hour because it hurt so much. Comments like "is this really the best start for your baby ?" filled my head each night at the hospital. I couldn't wait to get out of there. And don't get me started on the judgemental mothers groups, the disapproving looks from 'natural birth' nazis and the lack of support from so called helplines like Tresilian. I could go on but in summary these experiences cemented my decision to never have another child.

      Commenter
      Olivia
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 11:53AM
    • Wow - articles like this really get me going.

      Olivia - I am so sorry you had such a bad experience, however I thought we were the ones who cam up with 'Breastfeeding Nazis'.

      I had a similar experience, minus the complications. I didn't like breastfeeding FULL STOP. I stopped at 6 months and 1 month, after crying night after night after night. Midwives were the worst, they didn't help - just said persist, you'll be fine. I wasn't. I ended up with depression, which wasn't just the breastfeeding, but it didn't help. I felt like a failure because I was supposed to enjoy this experience. I too didn't wany any more children, my second son was a suprise. But I learnt to stand up and say, no I'm doing this my way. My boys are now 12 and 9, I love them to bits, we have the most amazing relationship, they are bright, happy, healthy and intelligent young men.

      All this despite them being bottle fed.

      Commenter
      AK
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 1:46PM
    • Hey Jon, have you read this? http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/10/a-fathers-case-against-breast-feeding/264115/

      It's great to hear more dads coming out against this reductionist, guilt-trip argument that it is a failure not to breastfeed.

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 2:13PM
  • Fabulous, refreshingly honest article. Thank you for putting into words how I felt about breastfeeding. Seeing others struggle, refuse to give up and drive themselves into the ground instead of enjoying those early months makes me wish more people had the 'do whatever works for you' approach.

    Commenter
    Fiona
    Date and time
    November 14, 2012, 10:07AM
    • I hated it too! I was rubbish at it, my body barely produced anything. I tried my best to breastfeed my first, gave up very quickly with my second, and when I have my next baby I won't even bother. The Breastfeeding Army can shove their "breast is best" mantra - BETTER FED THAN DEAD.

      Commenter
      M
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 10:23AM

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