I recently found out that this week is World Breastfeeding Week. In celebration of that, I thought that it would only be right for me to share our breastfeeding journey.
I had always said that I would be a breastfeeding mama. From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I began researching everything that had anything to do with breastfeeding. I knew about the special pillows and foods and teas and salves. I was so excited to have that wonderful bonding experience with my son that so many mothers talk about. I was so envious of all the mommies taking those kinda weird, kinda awesome tree-boob-baby pictures that were plastered all over social media for about a week. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that when my son was born, I was going to breastfeed him and I secretly hoped that I would be able to do it for a long time. A year isn’t too long, right? I mean, I’m sure I read a recommendation somewhere about that. It shouldn’t be too hard, right? I had told many people I wasn’t attached to either form of feeding and would just see what my son took to, but in all honesty, I wanted to build a strong breastfeeding relationship with every fiber of my being.
Chunker was born and as soon as he was in my arms, I knew that we were supposed to do skin to skin. He and I were both laying there naked and I immediately asked the nurse in the room when I was supposed to breastfeed. She said that we could either try in the room that we were in, or that they would help me once I got to the mom and baby floor. We decided that since he was resting peacefully that we would just wait so that she could do the paperwork that she needed to do and I could have a moment to rest after eighteen hours of labor, including three hours of active pushing. That sounded like a terrific plan to me, so I laid back and soaked up the brand new baby cuddles and patiently waited for my trip to our new room.
We arrived to the mom and baby floor and the nurses helped me try to get Chunker situated to see how he would latch. Every time we touched the back of his head he screamed. He went from being fine in his plastic box to mad at the world the moment I stuck my boob in front of his face. When he finally did latch, he would fall asleep almost instantly, so he really wasn’t eating all that much. That meant that every time he was fed, we were constantly trying to keep him awake. Feeding sessions were getting so long that we only had about thirty minutes after each one before we were supposed to start the whole process again. On top of that, my two breasts greatly differ in size. He immediately had a preference between the two and it was very difficult to get him to do anything at all with the other one. (Not to mention, I had no idea that a mom and baby get ridiculously hot when they breastfeed! Every single time we went through this routine he would turn beet red and I would get super hot and sweaty everywhere. Apparently that has to do with the hormones, but was definitely something that I was not expecting.)
I had the most wonderful nurses in the world. That night the nurse showed me how to hold my breast and the basics of trying to get the baby to latch. I had no idea, but I apparently had flat nipples, so I was given a nipple shield and together we did the best we could to get Chunker to eat as much as he wanted. She was fantastic and supportive, but admitted that perhaps the lactation consultants would be more helpful when they were able to come in the next morning. I had no idea what I was in for. They pulled and tugged and squeezed. They told me about ten different things that I was supposed to do at once. I kept telling them that I needed to find a better way to hold my son’s head. Every time we touched back behind his ears he screamed. They just kept showing me what I was supposed to do, not really changing their technique based on my child’s needs. Eventually, the consultants were able to get him to latch on both breasts, but it took both of them plus me. It left me wondering what the heck I was supposed to do when I didn’t have six arms at my disposal.
I had my son at 11:11pm on a Friday night. By Sunday morning, I was having a complete breakdown. Between my feelings of failure and the lovely post partum hormones that wreak havoc on your body, I was just one big puddle, silently crying in bed while my son and husband slept. The nurse walked in that morning and found me and immediately began talking to me and comforting me. During our discussion she asked, “Do you even want to keep going?” At that moment, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. In all of my preparation, through all of my determination, I had never considered that I could stop. With all of the new mommy guilt, I never thought that maybe this wasn’t the path that we were going to take. I’ll never forget my answer. I looked at her and said, “The thought of putting him to my breast again and trying to get him to latch makes me want to throw up.”
After a day and a half of constant crying and constant worry and not being able to console my hungry baby, I was worn out. I was tired of the fight. I wanted him to have all the amazing qualities of breast milk, but I wanted him to be fed and I didn’t want to remember our first few days like this. I wanted to enjoy my son and not be physically sick when it came time to feed him. After all, weren’t we supposed to be bonding? We discussed our options and ultimately decided that we would try latching him each time he got hungry, but would then supplement, and that I would pump to stimulate my breasts to make sure that my milk came in adequately. That simple decision lifted a huge weight from my shoulders. I was so relieved knowing that no matter what happened during those breastfeeding attempts, my son was going to be fed.
The first time I gave my son a bottle was magical. I so much enjoyed being able to feed him without fighting or worrying or struggling. The aftermath of that bottle was amazing, as well. It was the first time in the three days of his life, other than immediately after birth, that he seemed content. It finally clicked, my poor baby had been fussy because he was hungry. I had been told that since his blood sugar was fine and he hadn’t lost too much weight that our breastfeeding was successful. However, in reality, while what little breast milk he was getting was sustaining him, it was not satiating him. From that moment, I knew that bottle feeding was going to be a necessity, although I held out hope that once my milk came in that perhaps we would be able to get him to latch better and that in time we would have the breastfeeding experience that I had hoped for.
The following day, a new lactation consultant came in bright and early to see me. As soon as she walked in, I could tell that she was different from the other two. Instead of coming in the room and immediately heading for my breasts, she sat down across from me and began talking to me like a human being, not a milk machine. She applauded me for all of my hard work and drive, but admitted that as soon as she saw our chart, she wasn’t surprised that my son had issues latching. First off, he was screaming when we touched him head due to the length of my labor. He was in the birth canal for an incredibly long time with his head getting squeezed. It was sore and bruised and extremely swollen. She explained that it would be similar to trying to suck a thick milkshake through a straw with a horrible headache. It hurt so bad that after one or two sucks, he would give up and go to sleep. She went on to say that due to my left breast being so small, there was a good chance that it had developed less breast tissue and that when my milk did come in, it may not produce as much milk as the larger breast. Also, due to having PCOS, I was likely to have low milk supply issues, anyway.
With all of that new information, I was happy and sad and mad. Why had no one informed me of all of this sooner? Why did those other lactation consultants pull and yank and tug when they should have given me all of my information so that I could make an informed decision for my hungry baby? I was so thankful for that ladies candor and compassion to my situation. She gave me the support I needed and withheld judgement. I will forever be grateful that I was able to speak to her that day.
In the end, I pumped for my son until he was seven weeks old. Even after my milk came in, he never would latch. I started to think he was afraid of the boob or something, because he would seriously cry every time it got anywhere near him! Pretty quickly after my milk came in, my supply began to dwindle. I tried all the foods and teas and herbs and pills, but even with prescription medication I was pumping less than one ounce every three hours. I continued to keep up the routine, hoping that any little bit I could give him would be better for him than none at all. When I went back to work, I tried pumping there, but decided with as little as I was getting, it wasn’t worth all of the hassle and ultimately gave it up.
Even though I have now exclusively formula fed for longer than I pumped, part of me still envies and longs for that breastfeeding relationship that we didn’t get to have by no fault of our own. However, I did learn that in the end, it doesn’t matter which route you go. You are no less of a mom for formula feeding. You can absolutely bond with your baby with bottle feeding. What is important is making sure that your child is fed and happy and that the mother’s mental health is cared for. While I absolutely support breastfeeding and hope that every momma gets to have the breastfeeding experience that she wants, I will forever say fed is best.