What happens when you stop breastfeeding?
I absolutely hated breastfeeding when my son Flynn was first born. The pressure to do it and my personal drive to master it took over and, for a while, it was the single most important thing in my life after my son. I’ve never cried so much or been in so much pain. It was torture at times and I was a woman possessed for the first eight weeks of Flynn's life. My poor partner watched me grimace and cry every time I let my son feed from me in the early days, but daren’t suggest I stop for fear of me getting mad at him.
It took me a good eight weeks to feel like I was doing it right. Because of the shaky start, I had planned to give up after three months, but actually ended up breastfeeding for nine. Granted, I combination fed from week eight onwards, but this was the best decision I made when it came to feeding. Looking back, I don't know why I was so afraid of using formula and why I put so much pressure on myself to exclusively breastfeed. Formula saved me; it made me feel a little saner, calmer and in control.
Fast forward to when Flynn was around eight months old. I was successfully combination feeding, so why did I decide to stop breastfeeding altogether? The moment I made my decision was while Flynn was breastfeeding and got distracted by something behind him. He turned to look, but with my nipple still in his mouth (ouch) for the 100th time that week. At this point, he was only feeding from me once a day, but boy I clung onto that one feed as ‘my’ time. Sounds self indulgent I know, but it was my bonding time with him. I craved it when I woke up and missed it dearly once I had stopped breastfeeding.
Nobody tells you about the sadness you feel when you totally give up breastfeeding. Or about the physical issues you can experience, including ones that are nothing to do with your boobs. I’ve summarised a few things that took me by surprise when I stopped and wish I had known more about beforehand.
- A feeling of loss and envy when you see another Mum breastfeeding: I sometimes catch myself staring at Mums breastfeeding babies of a similar age to Flynn. I miss the closeness and feel a pang of sadness in my heart. However, I also note that the babies I see tend to be less distracted and calmer than Flynn was and thus, I feel that I made the right decision to stop and think that perhaps Flynn had grown out of it. Turn the sadness you feel into happiness and remind yourself that you can now wear pretty underwired bras, dresses and have that third glass of wine ;-)
- Your hair falling out again and after the initial hair loss: I experienced the normal hair loss post-birth. I’ve never had thick, glossy hair and pregnancy gave me this in abundance. I breathed a sigh of relief once the initial hair loss slowed up. However, I then completely gave up breastfeeding and the hair loss started again. I now have lots of baby hair around the frame of my face. It takes me back to the days when I used crimpers to straighten my hair (as you do), which resulted in burnt hair! I’ve not yet found a solution and suggestions are very much welcomed.
- Repeated thrush due to oestrogen levels: Oh this was a delight for the four months when I started to reduce breastfeeding and then dropped it completely. My GP gave the helpful response, “It happens and some women have thrush every month before their period.” Joy. I won’t go into detail to avoid the blushing of innocent readers, but the seven-day oral medication worked in the end.
- Weight loss (yay a positive!): Everyone harps on about how you drop the pregnancy weight when you breastfeed. I bucked this trend and put on more weight. Breastfeeding makes you very hungry and I clearly gave into this! From months six to nine I exercised, ate well, juiced and shifted just under two stone (12 kg). I then plateaued and couldn’t lose any more weight. When I gave up breastfeeding, bam, the rest of it fell off in a week! I’m not advocating you give up breastfeeding to lose pregnancy weight, but don’t feel bad if you’re not shrinking back to your pre-pregnancy weight whilst breastfeeding, as others have done. Give it time and I promise it will come off.
- What happens to breasts with implants after breastfeeding: Before having my son, I had breast implant surgery - very discrete ones I will add. I went from a 32E to 36G when my milk came in. Wowzers I hear you say! My boobs were on another level and a bit too big for my liking. However, they always looked full (excuse the pun) and kind of good. Enjoy these boobs, as when they return to normal, and with implants, they look a bit like snooker balls in socks. Even worse, if like me your child preferred feeding from one boob, you end up with one slightly more droopy snooker-ball-in-sock boob. Invest in some beautiful bras post breastfeeding and don’t worry about the boobs inside them. Then look at your child and how healthy he/she is, and pat yourself on the back that you made that happen.
Remember, breastfeeding is great and has many benefits, but if you don’t want to do it, or try it and hate it, or do it for a bit, it is your decision entirely. Formula is amazing and I’d be lost without it, so I champion both.