A few days after my daughter was born in 2018, I developed a skin rash that started on my breasts, and then it spread to my stomach, my thighs, and my bottom. It was the middle of June, and the heat made it worse. For days, I couldn’t hold my daughter for more than five minutes without crying from the pain. At the same time, I was dealing with sore breasts from being engorged with milk and unable to express it. My daughter didn’t latch, and I didn’t have a pump, so I hand expressed just enough to relieve the pain.
I ended up going to the ER after trying everything I could think of to help. I can’t count the number of bags of frozen veggies I spoiled trying to cool the rash.
A Bumpy Start
I was diagnosed with PUPPS. Essentially, I was having an allergic reaction to my own breast milk. I was given three shots of antihistamine over the course of a week and was prescribed antihistamine to take at home along with ibuprofen to help with pain and inflammation.
The amount of shame I felt about breastfeeding was intense. Not only did I feel like I failed her (I had postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, as well), but I also felt shamed by my husband’s family. My mother-in-law would scowl every time I pulled out a bottle of water and the can of formula to feed her. She would ask my husband (in Spanish, as she only speaks Spanish): “Why doesn’t she just breastfeed?”
My oldest sister-in-law had her baby on my daughter’s due-date. She used a bottle as well, but was never chastised like I was. My mother-in-law would say how her daughter works all the time and already had two kids.
It eventually stopped, but the damage had been done.
Two years later when I had my son, I wanted to try to breastfeed because I wasn’t able to with my daughter. He latched okay at the hospital, but the next day when we got home, he started having issues latching and would fall asleep as soon as he did.
Come to find out he had jaundice.
It became harder to keep him awake and to latch, so I started just pumping and giving it to him in the bottle. One of my sisters-in-law said I would have to take the bottle away completely to force him to latch if he wanted to eat. I wasn’t okay with that. As long as he ate, I didn’t really care whether it was breast or bottle. I often heard the phrase: “Breastfeeding is not for the weak.”
As a mom with a sick baby and a toddler, and as a mom with PPD, that phrase made me feel like dirt. It meant if I wasn’t able to breastfeed, then I was weak. At the same time, I thought to myself: Mother’s can’t be weak.
So I pushed forward.
I kept pumping and giving it to him with a bottle, but my mental state and my milk suffered. My milk was no longer fatty; it was more water. I made the choice to switch to mainly formula, and just give him what little milk I was able to pump as extra nourishment.
But then came the shaming and judging and questions like: Why did you stop? Why didn’t you make it work? and There must have been something wrong with your body if you stopped producing good milk like that.
It was torture. I was made to feel weak, like I was failing my son for giving him formula
I later found out that I had a subconscious mental reaction to breastfeeding and pumping. Even if it was going well, I would get sad or angry when my milk let down.
Overcoming the Judgment
My in-laws may have not been supportive, but my immediate family and friends were.
My mother and friends gave me tips and told me they supported me no matter what I chose to do because my son’s healthy was more important than anything.
I saw consultants to help me make the transition easier on him and less painful for me.
Even my son’s pediatrician was completely accepting of the fact that my milk wasn’t enough for him and gave me samples of formulas to try.
My biggest supporter, however, was my husband. Him being home was a huge blessing for us. Our son would wake up hungry at the exact same times I ended up needing to pump. My husband would get his bottle warmed up, get his diaper changed if it needed it, comfort him, then feed him, and put him back to bed while I was pumping.
After I decided to make the switch, he would help me prepare the bottles and make them in the middle of the night while I changed his diaper or vice-versa. He was always there helping me and supporting me.
When his family started with comments, he would pull me away or tell them to stop because it was our choice and to leave it at that.
In the end, mamas, we always know what’s best for our babies and for us. The hardest part is always tuning out naysayers and going against cultural norms. But this mama believes in you!