Breastfeeding. That word will either conjure up beautiful memories of nurturing, bonding, and nourishing your baby, or it will make you cringe and remind you of feelings of failure, inadequacy, and defeat. It’s much like the first paragraph of the literary classic, A Tale of Two Cities:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us . . .”
There’s very little middle ground. I’ve had two babies and had a VERY different experience each time, so I can relate to those who say you MUST breastfeed, as well as those who simply scoff at the thought.
Hear Me Out
Hear me out (and if my statements regarding my struggles with breastfeeding make you decide to quit reading, please be sure to keep scrolling — I’ll get to my pro-breastfeeding journey toward the end): while pregnant with my firstborn, I read everything I could about breastfeeding, attended a breastfeeding class taught by a lactation consultant from my hospital, bought nursing bras and tanks, and of course, didn’t waste time with buying bottles or formula.
“Bless Her Heart”
My mother, “bless her heart,” told me I didn’t need to keep any bottles or formula on hand, because I wouldn’t need them. You see, she’d had a wonderful experience breastfeeding my sister and me, never once giving us a bottle. We went straight from the breast to drinking out of cups when we were old enough — just as her doctor had recommended so long ago.
I vividly remember my mother telling me, “Breastfeeding is so wonderful — your body always knows how much milk your baby needs and always produces accordingly!” (Looking back, all I can say now is “hashtag, eye-roll!”) Fast forward a couple months to my baby’s birth, and suddenly breastfeeding wasn’t all milk and honey (no pun intended)!
My baby was incredibly disinterested. She didn’t latch well, she was never hungry, and she fell asleep at every feeding. We resorted to things that now feel quite cruel: undressing her down to her diaper, rubbing her down with a wipe, even wiping her down with an ice cube (I know, I’m a horrible mom)! We did anything we could think of to wake her up and keep her awake to feed. It had been ingrained in us to feed every 2-3 hours, so feed her every 2-3 hours we would — even if it killed me! This went on for four weeks. I had a sleepy, disinterested-in-eating baby.
Back to Birth Weight
At her one month check-up, my baby had lost weight and was now back to her birth weight, and measuring in the third percentile. I heard the nurses whispering. I was shown to my room to await the doctor. The waterworks began. I was unknowingly starving my baby. Had I caused irreversible damage? Would my doctor accuse me of purposefully neglecting my baby (like my friend’s doctor had cruelly accused her of when her baby wasn’t gaining weight either?) My mind raced. The doctor walked in, hugged my neck, assured me no permanent damage was done, and instructed me to begin triple feeding right away. (Triple feeding is when you nurse at the breast, immediately followed up by a supplemented bottle, then immediately followed by pumping out whatever breast milk you’ve got left). Then you repeat that routine again a couple hours later, over and over again to increase your supply.
I went into overdrive that day trying to increase my milk supply, which, unbeknownst to me, was clearly lacking. I did everything the lactation consultant recommended as well as all the old wive’s tales: Fenugreek, orange Gatorade, even making a double batch of “lactation muffins.” I switched to exclusively pumping so I could know my baby’s exact intake. She gained a full pound that week, and boy, I felt like supermom! I thought, “Sure, I can do this! I’ll just pump for the next foreseeable months, no biggie.” Well . . . it was a biggie.
And That’s a Wrap!
I started developing mastitis, which I learned would most likely return again and again due to exclusive pumping (the suction of a pump is not as strong as a nursing baby; therefore, my milk ducts were not being fully emptied). I’ll spare you the rest of the sordid details as to why I made the final decision to switch to formula, but I will leave you with this tip: a nurse talked me into wrapping my breasts in bandages and quit nursing cold turkey. I do not recommend that method. Let me repeat: do NOT for ANY reason EVER EVER EVER quit breastfeeding cold turkey. Worst pain of my LIFE, and trust me, I’ve experienced some doozies!
The aftermath was extremely rough: my baby was only six weeks old, and I felt like an utter failure. I packed up all my nursing attire, pillows, pump, and books, and began having thoughts such as:
- My baby no longer needs me — anyone can feed her a bottle of formula.
- What if people find out I’m no longer nursing and judge me? (In fact, when people came over to visit, I hid the formula can so no one would know).
The sudden plunge in my hormones sent me into postpartum depression and anxiety for which I finally sought help. I tell this story here to remind people to simply be kind. You don’t know what any other mother is experiencing. You don’t know the reasons one has for nursing or not nursing. Don’t judge.
You’ve got to do what is right:
- for your baby (keeping them alive, thriving, gaining weight, and growing),
- for you (your baby needs YOU! He or she needs you to be present mentally, emotionally, and physically — not pumping milk ten hours a day), and
- for your marriage. You guys, motherhood is tough. And breastfeeding is often your first initiation into the club. And it is unfairly difficult for many.
Second Chances for Breastfeeding
Now, onto my second baby: I had pretty much decided this baby would get the colostrum and then that would be it. I would have two babies under two years old needing my full attention, and ain’t nobody got time for triple feedings again! To top it off, my second was an unexpected c-section (I’d read somewhere that c-sections make it tougher to breastfeed). In my post-c-section, medicated state, I remember thinking, “Well, there goes even attempting breastfeeding this time around!”
But a nurse placed my newborn at my breast, and she immediately latched and fed for what felt like 30 minutes. My jaw dropped. I looked at my husband in complete shock — our first had never nursed this well or completely in all the time I nursed her. And from that point on, I can honestly say, nursing was sheer joy. The tenderness, the immediate bond, the sounds of her breath, her smell, her cuddles — I could go on and on — they made my life feel so full and complete. As cliché as that sounds, it is true. I loved every second. Yes, it was painful, it was uncomfortable at times, but she did so well at latching, at staying awake, at wanting my milk, that there is no doubt in my mind some babies are meant to nurse, and some others are not.
Looking back, I pushed for way too long trying to make nursing work with my first, and I missed out on so many precious moments to just enjoy her because I was feeling the pressure that all too many of us moms face.
Fast-Forward to Today
Both my children are healthy, are smart, have hit milestones right on time (and in some cases, early). Looking at them, you’d never know who was breastfed and who wasn’t. And in the end, it really doesn’t matter. They are nourished, they are loved, and they survived infancy.
Did breastfeeding work out great for you? That’s awesome. Pat yourself on the back and cherish those memories. Did breastfeeding not work for you? That’s awesome, too. Pat yourself on the back and cherish those sweet memories feeding your baby a bottle while he looked up lovingly at you. Whatever your breastfeeding experience, you’re doing a great job, Mama, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.