I breastfed my daughter until she was 22 months old—and I probably shouldn’t have. I loved sharing that bond with her, but I also chose it at the cost of receiving proper treatment for my postpartum depression and anxiety. Even though doctors assured me I could breastfeed and take an antidepressant as I had in the past, I was hell-bent on keeping the breastfeeding experience as pure as possible. Against all logic and everything I knew about mental health, I proceeded, convinced it was what I needed to do. My daughter thrived, but I deeply suffered. The moment I stopped breastfeeding, I started taking Lexapro. And I wish I would have done it sooner.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 81 percent of mothers in the United States say they have given breastfeeding a shot, even if they weren’t able to continue with it. At six months—the amount of time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics—that number dips to just 55 percent. The World Health Organization suggests breastfeeding for at least two years.
But women have begun to become more vocal about why opting out of the whole “breast is best” theory is just that––a choice––and they aren’t making apologies. Here, we spoke with women who shared their reasons for choosing to not breastfeed, including “it just wasn’t for me” and “it was so painful.” The end result? Healthy kids and mamas, which is really all that matters. Normalizing breastfeeding is awesome, but shaming a woman for not doing so is lame, so the high-and-mighties who believe it's the only option can have a seat with all that judgment.
Quinci Spady, 25, Wilmington, Delaware
I so badly wanted to be that, “Afro, Mother Earth, breastfeeding in public" mom, you know? Just knowing that our bodies produce milk that is especially curated for our child's DNA was—and is—amazing to me. I wanted to be able to give my daughter, Liora, what she needed. But breastfeeding was like an additional form of labor for me. Soon after I had Liora and was all stitched up, the nurses were very aggressive with trying to get my daughter to latch. One nurse was very firmly cupping and pressing down on my breast, while the other was simultaneously smashing Liora's face into my breast. It was so painful—I asked them to double check that she wasn't born with teeth.
We soon discovered I had inverted nipples that would not pucker, which plays a big part in babies being able to latch. I desperately wanted Liora to have an "Ah! X marks the spot!" moment where she latched and breastfeeding felt natural. The nurses kept assuring me that a newborn only needs a pea-sized amount of milk, but I panicked, scared I was starving her.
We eventually got her to latch but it was never for long. When I went home, I no longer had the football team of nurses mushing my babies face into my chest, but in a lot of ways I wished I still did. It just got harder. At a little more than two weeks postpartum, I was emotionally and physically tapped. I would get cold sweats from the pain but cry from relief when she did latch. I felt like my body was betraying me. I had over 25 stitches and a fourth degree tear from vaginal birth—I could barely walk. The one thing I was supposed to be able to do as a woman was this and my body wouldn’t do it correctly. But I had to let go of what I thought it would look like and adjust my perspective. I ordered a pump and supplemented with Similac. And you know what I realized? I’m not less of a woman or a mom because I chose to not breastfeed. And I don’t owe an explanation to anyone.
Natalie Hastings, 38, Cincinnati, Ohio
With my first son, Colin, I assumed I would breastfeed. Both of my aunts were in La Leche League when their kids were young, and I was breastfed into toddlerhood. I just never second guessed it—this was what I was going to do. But from the very beginning, we struggled.
I remember my mom and aunts not being able to help much because it had been natural and easy for them. I got a lot of guilt from the pediatrician's lactation consultant and just assumed I was the problem. I continued pumping and nursing and never produced much. I did all the things, drank all the teas. But he was always hungry, and I never slept.
Finally, someone shared an article from the Atlantic called "The Case Against Breastfeeding." It was controversial even more several years ago than it would be now. One sentence struck out to me: "Breastfeeding is only free if a woman's time is worth nothing." This wasn't saying the time women take to breastfeed wasn't valuable, but rather, it did have a cost, and that should be considered in the big picture of decision-making on feeding. At nine weeks, I finished up nursing Colin. He bit the living daylights out of my nipple that night, so I felt at peace.
Amber Randhawa, 39, Lexington, South Carolina
When my first child was born, I was a 32-year-old, well-educated professional, privy to all the educational materials and scientific information regarding the benefits of breastfeeding. No one in my family had ever done it, and I was overwhelmed by the idea, but willing to give it a go, as it was the norm in my husband's family and was very important to him.
I believed what I'd been told, that it would just happen with minimal work and effort because that's how Mother Nature intends it. But when my son was born, he wouldn't latch––ever. Not once. A dozen nurses, lactation consultants and doctors literally provided hands on help, but I was incredibly uncomfortable with that level of exposure and privacy invasion. I was offered formula to feed my son via a tube, dropper-like contraption because I was told if he took a bottle he would never latch.
When we were released, I continued dutifully pumping and attempting to get him to latch. After seven weeks, I finally came to the realization that I was almost never getting to feed my son or have those special bonding moments everyone talked about because I was always hooked to the pump while my husband did the actual feeding. Right about the time I realized this, my husband told me to stop, that it wasn't worth it and I was obviously miserable. I didn't need his permission in any concrete way, but hearing someone else speak the words helped me to see that it was the right decision.
With both of my kids, I was immediately a calmer, happier mom once we were exclusively on formula. I've been confronted in the grocery store by strangers noticing formula in my cart. I've been attacked on social media and scolded by friends. But I have never once questioned my decision. It was the best thing for me and my family.
Heather Grabin, 30, Jersey City, New Jersey
I went in with an open mind. I initially tried to breastfeed in the hospital with both of my children—Priya, 5, and Gobind, 3 months—“just to see" and it didn’t work out. The lactation consultants really tried to make it happen, but physically it wasn't happening and emotionally I was not there at all. But I didn’t spend time fantasizing about breastfeeding and how amazing it was going to be only to find out that I was not able to do it. It's a choice, like every choice I make that involves my well being and that of my family. I get that some women love to breastfeed and wish they could do it forever, but it just wasn’t for me.
I am a workaholic. As a founder of a public relations firm and co-owner of a business, I was literally working from the delivery bed. I have just enough hours in my day to get done what I need to at work, while maintaining a balance for my family. Breastfeeding felt like added stress and pressure. And, no, I don’t feel bad at all. Five years down the road and my first kid still loves me.
Crystal Flebotte, 33, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
I have an extremely type-A personality, a need to plan and the inability to alter that plan. I desperately wanted to breastfeed my daughter, Delaney, when she was born. I thought I knew exactly how it would go, after all it's completely natural and women have done it since the beginning of time, right? I went full steam ahead, ready to be one of those moms who breastfed until her baby self weaned—my daughter had other plans.
She wouldn't latch, no matter what I did. I was pumping and producing up to eight ounces each time I pumped. Throughout my struggle, my mom kept reminding me that “breast is best.” But I couldn’t handle the lack of control I had over the situation. I finally gave up on nursing and became a slave to the pump just to feel like I was doing the "right thing.”
I felt like I was always hooked up to that machine and losing valuable bonding time with my daughter as she sat in her bouncy seat watching me pump. After six months of pain and suffering, I stopped. When my son was born three years later, I tried breastfeeding again, but struggled, again turning to the pump to provide him with milk that he could not find at my breast as a result of a high arch in his mouth. Again, I felt like I was spending more time with my pump than my newborn and then three-year-old daughter. I quit.
When I look back and see how much stress I put on myself, as well as my kids, I realize it wasn’t worth it. In the end, all they need is you.
Read This Next: Pregnant Women Have the Most Bat-Shit Crazy Dreams