Why Breastfeeding May Not Feel Like Bonding
Here you are, sitting in the middle of the night for the umpteenth time, breastfeeding your baby. You hold them close, snuggling their warm wriggling body into yours and wondering “Why the hell am I not bonding? All the books and helpful mommies on the internet said breastfeeding was the way to bond? Why don’t I feel it?”
Does this sound familiar? If it does, you are not alone. Me, along with countless other moms, have been in this same spot. We’ve been duped into believing that breastfeeding is the ultimate way to bond and if we just try a little harder, it will happen. I’m here to tell you, that it’s not always true.
Let me preface the rest of the post with telling you that I am a strong believer that breast milk is the best nutrition that an infant can get. But I absolutely think it’s fine to use formula if breastfeeding makes your life miserable, mama. Your needs matter!!!!!
Is Not Breastfeeding Selfish?
As mothers, we naturally sacrifice so much for our children. We lend out our bodies for nearly 10 months, so our and our partner’s cells can develop into a full fledged human. We give up sleep, freedom, a degree of bodily autonomy, our well laid out plans for the future, in exchange for unconditional and all consuming love. It’s natural and it happens. It allows children to thrive and grow into well balanced, contributing members of society. But sacrifice does not need to equal martyrdom in parenting. No child is better off when their parent is suffering.
So if breastfeeding makes your life more complicated, stressful, painful and less enjoyable, it’s OK to stop. It’s OK to switch to pumping if you find it easier and it’s OK to stop altogether if lactation is the source of your issues. Your child will not be angry at you. They won’t love or need you any less. You will still be able to provide proper nutrition for them. So don’t feel guilty or worry about losing your bond. Your bond is so much more than breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding G but not Bonding with Him
I want to share my personal breastfeeding journey with both of my sons, so you can see for yourself that breastfeeding did not play a huge role in our bonding.
G came into this world via an unexpected c-section (you can read about it in my post When You Experience a Traumatic Birth). The whole experience felt strange and alienating to me. Even though I fed him as soon as I was out of the OR, I felt nothing. I continued to feel nothing while feeding him for the duration of my hospital stay.
Once we got home from the hospital, all sorts of issues emerged with breastfeeding. It was an extremely painful experience for me. My son nursed around the clock, so I got no sleep at all. His weight dropped too much for the pediatrician’s liking, so we had to supplement with formula. The lactation consultant concluded that I wasn’t producing enough milk, so she introduced pumping into my day. (Except it’s a problem when lactation specialists are not trained in spotting tongue/lip tie issues. The problem wasn’t that I wasn’t producing enough. It was that my son couldn’t get enough due to his ties. My body was producing exactly what he was extracting). Given that my son ate every 2 hours, for an hour each feed, I’m not sure how she felt I had any time to pump, but she did. The barrage of issues didn’t seem to have an end.
And guess what? I felt no real bond with him. I handed him off to the nearest responsible adult any chance I got. When he cried for a feed, I would sometimes hide out in the bathroom, just to delay it. I felt a responsibility to feed him, but nothing more. I had no interest in any cuddles, interactions or playtime with him. The whole relationship felt empty.
I only started to feel bonded to him when my mom left, and I was left on my own to care for him. My husband worked long hours, so his help only came in the evenings. I spent my entire days with this helpless human. I fed him, dressed him, washed him, sang to him, played with him, changed his diapers, put him down for naps and took him on long walks in the stroller. After about a month of this closeness, I finally fell in love with him. I knew he was mine and I was more than a breast for him. The bond finally happened.
I weaned him off the breast when he was around 9 months ( you can read more about my experience in Weaning – It’s Complicated) and stopped lactating when he was around 11 months. He didn’t skip a beat and went for the bottle right away. My bond with him didn’t diminish one bit and not much changed in our relationship. He was a mama’s boy then and still is at 3.
Breastfeeding L and Successfully Bonding
With L, my breastfeeding journey was different. I delivered him via a successful V-BAC (you can read about it in VBAC: My Success Story) and we bonded right away. He didn’t appear interested in breastfeeding for the first 2 hours of his life. And even after, he nursed a lot less than I would have expected from a newborn. But none of it mattered. I fell in love the moment I saw him. I couldn’t get enough of him and never wanted to put him down. Granted, the euphoria went away after 2 weeks (as is perfectly normal) and I was ready to start sharing him.
Breastfeeding him came with almost no issues compared to his brother. He put weight on as expected, his latch looked great, milk was abundant. Everything was honkey dorey. Except, as he got a little older, he started to refuse the bottle offered to him. I panicked. It’s bad enough that lactation keeps you on a tight schedule and demands your breasts be emptied regularly, but having a baby that won’t take a bottle takes this to a whole other level.
I know that my problem is not unique. Many breastfed babies refuse the bottle for various reasons but it doesn’t make the process of fixing it any easier. He started to refuse the bottle around 6 months old. He is almost 8 months now and we haven’t found the time to fix this.
So what does his reliance on my breast mean? It means that when my babysitter is helping me, I have to be available for a feed. I can’t leave the house for the whole time she is here or be able to work for the whole time. It means that going out to dinner with a friend is very difficult because I have to be home for bedtime. Overall, it means that I am on a milky leash.
I, personally, find this suffocating. Complete loss of my freedom and autonomy does not add to my bond with the baby. Instead, I feel resentful and angry. He, on the other hand, is happy as a clam and has decided to be a total mama’s boy too. He only wants mama when I’m in his line of vision. And despite not feeding him at night, it’s still only mama who can rock him back to sleep. He will not settle for papa or anyone else.
But I don’t attribute this strictly to breastfeeding. He is bonded to a caregiver who spends nearly all the time with him. I am the person who provides food, entertainment, engagement, comfort and everything in between. I am his world, regardless of whether his food comes directly from my body.
Bonding on your Terms
As you can see, bonding with your child is not all about breastfeeding. There is so much more that creates this incredible bond. So if you decide not to breastfeed your child, FEAR NOT!!!! Your child will still love you. And bottle feeding will free up more time for sweet cuddles and allow your partner to be more equally involved. Create your own bonding rituals.
Read a special book, carry your baby in a carrier, cuddle on your deck and watch the sunrise. Maybe pick a favorite song and dance to it together. And as your baby grows, you can continue this dance and it will be a special bonding time. Don’t forget to smile and sing to your baby. Seeing your positive emotions and hearing your voice is reassuring to your child. They’ve listened to your voice for the 10 months when they were in your belly. There is nothing sweeter for them to hear. Every moment that you spend physically and emotionally present imprints on your child and helps create a special bond. Create that special ritual that you can have for years to come. It will be the best bond builder out there.
The choices are endless. Make a choice that is right for you and your family!
If you’re still hoping to build a bond through breastfeeding but are faced with difficulties that you haven’t been able to overcome, I can recommend a wonderful professional for you.
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I’ve recently partnered with a Rachel Da Silva, RN, BSN, CLC, founder of Mommy Did You Know and became an affiliate for her prenatal and breastfeeding courses. She is now offering a Premium Prenatal Course that covers everything pregnancy, labor and immediate postpartum related topics. And as a bonus, she runs live 1 hour online groups where you can ask her questions about anything pregnancy or postpartum.
And don’t forget to prepare for breastfeeding (if you’re planning on doing it). She has 3 tiers of courses: Milk Minutes Free Breastfeeding Class, The Milk Minutes Breastfeeding Crash Course, Milk Minutes All About Feeding Your Baby (Premium Version). She has a variety of helpful resources on her page, including an online consultation to answer your postpartum related questions and a free (for members only) resource library. If you are interested in checking out and purchasing any of her courses, click here.