Breastfeeding Leaves Mom Tired—And Tired of It

He’s 4 months old, and I want to quit. But I’m going to give it just one more week.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the most painful hour of my medication-free labor while giving birth to my son, Gabriel.

There were no quiet moments for me to recover from the excruciating contractions, only the lonely truth that the waves of pain would keep coming and coming.

That was when I thought of the easy, synthetic solution: the epidural, a.k.a. the pain meds.

It was my goal not to have an epidural, but I was so tired that I gave up on myself and begged for one anyway. (They didn't give me one, though.)

It’s been that way this past week with breastfeeding.

Gabe is 4 months old, and he eats a lot.

And I’ve been begging myself to give in and give the boy the synthetic solution that will ease my pain: formula.

Sometime between last Monday (when my hunger and exhaustion caused me to call people by the wrong names) and this past Saturday (when unloading the dishwasher after nursing Gabe seemed more difficult than studying all night for a math final), I lost my resolve.

Gabe’s day care provider was among the first to suggest we consider this option—adding a little bit of formula in with the breastmilk.

Every day, she sees my face fall when she informs me how much of my pumped milk Gabe ate, and she suggested that this step would actually stop me from burning out and enable me to breastfeed him longer.

I posed a question on Patch about my wavering commitment, and, as I read the comments, I thought about it long and hard.

I initially decided to breastfeed Gabe for a full year, because all the research says that’s the best option for babies. 

As one commenter wrote, the World Health Organization is among those that recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life.

In January, U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin said breastfeeding protects babies from infections and illnesses such as diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia.

Breastfed babies are also less likely to develop asthma, and those who are breastfed for six months are less likely to become obese.

My baby has thrived on breastmilk.

The same can’t be said for me. I’m just so, so tired.

It seems like a lame excuse. And yet on some days, when I hold Gabe, I feel so lightheaded that I need to put him down—or I ask my husband to hold him—because I’m too weak to do it.

As I posed this question on the web, many of my Facebook friends confided that, as mothers who held full-time jobs, pumping and breastfeeding was especially difficult.

One commenter, a fellow reporter, said that while on assignment when her child was a baby, she would leave an hour early to cover the news just so she could have time to pump in restrooms, hotels, courthouses and convenience stores all across the state where she worked.

And yes, she supplemented breastfeeding—which she did for 13 months—with formula.

I work full-time (for Patch), but I work from home, so I have less room to complain—much less.

Even so, I find the situation very, very difficult.

I—like all journalists who celebrate the fact they have messy cars, messy desks and messy lives because we favor the task of chasing the story— have been having a hard time tearing myself away from the business of writing and editing news in order to pump milk.

It sounds so selfish. But it’s true.

On Saturday, I wandered over to the  grocery store in my neighborhood and lingered in the formula aisle, thinking, really thinking, whether this was the right option for me.

The little containers were so colorful—and so expensive.

I took a minute to read the directions, which said that formula is a powder you mix with water.

Earlier that day, I had breastfed Gabe in the car in  parking lot, and as my little family drove to our next errand, he cooed and crowed in his car seat.

I pulled out my phone, eager to see if any of the comments would give me more clarity.

A woman named Dara shared that she, too, thought about buying formula at the brink of her exhaustion, but that her husband encouraged her to wait just a bit, because this was only a phase.

“He has been right every time,” she wrote. “It is as if the stages of baby development are so in tune with what a parent can handle that they adjust and grow as our adult bodies are ready to max out.”

I hope she’s right.

Because I didn’t buy the formula, and I decided to exclusively breastfeed him for one more week before I make any decisions.

And I will be eating a lot more hamburgers and peanut butter sandwiches to boost my strength in the meantime.

Camille Griffiths March 26, 2011 at 06:44 AM
That is not a normal way to feel, health-wise. Breastfeeding is not known to cause fatigue and dizziness. Weaning probably won't even help this. It sounds like you may be anemic or maybe something even more serious is going on. Have you been getting enough sleep? (Do you co-sleep?) Listen, I think your solution lies with seeing a doctor, maybe holistic doctor, and a chiropractor. I can tell you that giving up on breastfeeding may not better your situation at all. I have personal experience with this; I supplemented with formula and I learned that it was just a case of the grass is always greener. Being a mother is hard. There are no easy ways out. Formula feeding is no easier than breastfeeding, in fact it is much harder. Washing and sanitizing bottles, mixing formula, paying for formula, finding a nipple your baby will take, dealing with the upset tummy, having to get up out of bed and mix a bottle, waiting for it to cool while the baby cries, not being able to soothe all of those fussy moments with breastfeeding... It was so difficult that I made it my number one priority to get back to breastfeeding. I felt liberated the day I threw out the extra formula, and put the bottles in a cabinet. I've come to think of breastfeeding as a blessing, my best parenting tool. It keeps our house quiet and peaceful, and has kept my daughter from ever getting sick (3 minor colds in over 2 years). Anyway, I hope you find out what's wrong soon, and feel better! Good luck.
Christina Cook March 26, 2011 at 11:22 PM
First off- I think it is freaking FANTASTIC that you decided to nurse, at all. Even a few months of breastmilk will benefit a baby the rest of his life! Secondly- I have been there. I was a breastfeeding mom that decided to become a formula feeding mom, because I was exhausted, uneducated, and had gotten loads of terrible advice. But I am going to let you in on a little secret- formula feeding moms are JUST as exhausted, actually odds are, MORE SO. Instead of getting up and putting your baby to the boob, you will go into the kitchen, spend a couple minutes cleaning out a bottle, then warming up the water to put into the bottle, then shake it for another minute, let it sit for a few more (if you don't they will get gassy which guess what? unfortunately equals less sleep for the both of you). Not to mention your child will get sick while on formula (formula fed babies are 14X more likely to end up in the hospital) and this will add way more stress to your life. A couple months into ff'ing my son he had already gotten sick three times, and those times are NOT fun. I evenutally relactated around six months and my son (who is now 14 months) hasn't been sick again since. Con't
Christina Cook March 26, 2011 at 11:26 PM
We moved him into our room (into our bed more specifically- which I would HIGHLY recommend, though I know it doesn't work for everyone I do believe it is worth a shot) and now when my son is hungry in the middle of the night, the work I do consists of rolling over and lifting my shirt. I have saved countless hours of sleep, money spent on doctor's visits, and not to mention stress! I know what you are going through is excruciating, believe me I do. People all too often discount the work that us moms do. But formula is not an easy way out. It is more work, a lot of money, and all research says- not good for babies unless as a last resort. Talk to some moms with the LLL or a breastfeeding peer counselor- there is a great deal of support out there. Good luck, and I wish you and your LO the very best, no matter what decision you make in the end. <3
C J Burke March 27, 2011 at 01:10 AM
Take it one day at a time. The days will likely turn to weeks and weeks will turn into month. I added it up one day and with 4 kids I spent a total of 7 years breast feeding. Finally, one day, I looked at my last son and told him not to come near me again---I could almost "help himself". I was done. He was almost 3. He's now 6 feet tall and healthy as a horse. When my daughters had their own kids, I watched them struggle with what you described. My oldest used an herbal supplement that boosted her milk supply. She ,as I had, would pump everyday at work. A great pump makes a great difference. She lasted a bit over a year. Her sister lasted 4 - 6 months with each of her two kids. I looked at her and finally said you are not obligated to do this. Do it because it is what you want for yourself and your baby. There is no less love in the bottle than there is in the breast. Yes of course I believe breast is best---but not if your heart and body isn't in it. It sounds like you may need a little nutritional boost to get you through your son's growth spurts. Don't be hard on yourself and accept that you can't do quite as much as before because really....you are doing much more. And..if the most you have forgotten is a name here or there....YOU ARE DOING WELL!
Anne Gonnella March 28, 2011 at 02:18 PM
Hang in there, mama. These exhausting periods are hard, but you can do it. We supplemented with formula for a short while when I was having supply issues, and then stopped again when things rectified themselves. I'm glad I didn't try to switch completely though. And I can say that supplementing with formula didn't do much for my energy levels. Being a mom of a 4 month old is exhausting, period! But you'll get through it, don't worry!


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