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Why I Chose Not to Breastfeed... Twice

When I was pregnant the first time and contemplating how I would feed my baby, I Googled the phrase “choosing not to breastfeed,” since what I read online about formula feeding was typically about women who had tried to breastfeed but couldn’t. I found several blogs from happy women who had chosen to formula feed but of course I was drawn to a blog post titled “Are Women Who Choose Not To Breastfeed Selfish?” (Spoiler alert: yes.)

At the time, I found this immensely upsetting. How dare anyone judge any mother for her personal choices? Really, how I felt was How dare anybody call me selfish--because I know I probably won’t breastfeed? And also, am I selfish?

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Since I had my first child I’ve learned that worrying about what people consider “selfish” in mothers is a huge waste of time. Going to work is selfish. Not going to work is selfish. Formula feeding is selfish. Attachment parenting is selfish. Going out and having fun is selfish. Having a drink while pregnant is selfish. Basically, anything that a mother does for her own convenience or enjoyment that is not 100% focused on the needs and pleasure of her child is selfish. Oh, and also, I’ve heard that wholly dedicating yourself to your child’s needs and pleasure is selfish, because it puts too much pressure on the child to fulfill your own set-aside hopes and dreams.

Despite the blog entry I found, I still chose not to breastfeed my son, for reasons both practical and probably inane, even childish. I had plenty of friends who had tried to breastfeed with painful results who had been made to feel guilty after switching to formula, and so I wanted to, in my own way, stand up to those invisible legions of people bullying them (inane).

It’s okay—no, it’s good—to be a little selfish, if selfish means giving your child a mother who has a modicum more rest and sanity.

I also had read Hanna Rosin’s "The Case Against Breast-Feeding" and was compelled by her arguments that formula feeding leads to more parenting equality, that breastfeeding is “only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing” (practical.) And also, I suspected what was reported last year in the New York Times: that “the long-term benefits attributed to breast-feeding may be an effect not of breast-feeding or breast milk itself but of the general good health and prosperity of women who choose to breast-feed.” I might be new at parenting but I knew that my child would be lucky in life in the large, general things: he had parents who wanted and loved him, extended family nearby, people in his life with finances to support not only his health but his education, and so on. I know I’m not a scientist but I didn’t think that his life would be impacted very much, if at all, if he received nourishment from a bottle instead of a breast.

Based on my internetting, I was prepared for my choice to bring me a lot of grief; I was even ready to place a Post-It note on my hospital room door informing any hovering lactation consultants that I was a formula feeder. But between my OB and the pediatric nurses and my pediatrician, the only actual human who even came close to questioning my choice was a nurse who was by my side when I was being induced who asked, "Did you look into breastfeeding?" I said "Yes" and she said "Cool."

In the end, nobody I knew in real life judged how I fed my kid.

In the end, formula feeding worked out great for my family, especially after the baby was born and I was too weak in the days afterwards to sit up, so my husband did the work. Our son was still a poky eater who would fall asleep when we'd try to give him a bottle, so we'd have to torture him by putting a wet paper towel on his chest. Sometimes it would take an hour and a half for him to eat fewer than two ounces. So my suspicions about my life being easier if my husband was helping out were borne out. I am already stocking up on free formula samples for Baby #2.

I have many friends who had lovely, easy times breastfeeding and I’m truly happy for them. I had others, however, who were clearly struggling to breastfeed and I’ve gotten more vocal about saying, “You can help yourself out, you know. You need to take care of yourself, too. Your baby won’t care either way.” It’s okay—no, it’s good—to be a little selfish, if selfish means giving your child a mother who has a modicum more rest and sanity.

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In the end, nobody I knew in real life judged how I fed my kid. If I needed to find people who did, I’m just a few clicks away, but now I know better than to check with hordes of strangers to see if I did the right thing, especially when people online conflate true concern ("Is that baby next door who has been crying hysterically for three days straight okay?") and passing-by bullshit that the commenter doesn’t give a second thought about five minutes after posting.

I'm writing this for anyone who's Googling "choosing not to breastfeed" and trying to figure out if it's the right choice for her. You may read this and decide you want to be nothing like me and go for breast, or this may swing you towards formula. No matter what your decision, what I think is, the very fact that you are even thinking about this and reading this is a good indicator that you and your baby are going to be just fine.

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