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Never in a million years did I think I’d start a blog and let the world in on some of my deepest insecurities, but here we are. My very first post was about my weight and exercising and today we’re going to jump right into breastfeeding.
Now, I know this topic might make some of you uncomfortable (sorry, Dad!), but after thinking about it, I feel that it is something that needs to be addressed.
I failed at breastfeeding.
Some of you may be shaking your heads, thinking, “You probably just didn’t try hard enough. Breastfeeding is completely natural and all babies can do it.” I can tell you that I tried harder at breastfeeding than I’ve ever tried to do anything in my life.
Others may think I’m being too hard on myself and thinking, “Oh, honey, you didn’t fail. It just wasn’t meant to be.” While I appreciate the sympathy, I will say that at that time, I sure felt like a failure.
Let’s start back at the beginning (a very good place to start, I hear). Little Miss was born two weeks early via c-section and that’s a whole other story by itself. I remember them bringing her to me in recovery and laying her on my chest for the first time. Things are a little foggy, but I’ll cut myself some slack since I was just coming off of major abdominal surgery and those meds did their job! She rustled around on my chest and super-lazily tried to latch on and eat. I assumed that was perfect and that we were good to go. She would be a fantastic eater and be a roly-poly baby in no time, because that’s what I planned.
Over the course of the four days we were in the hospital, it became apparent that Little Miss had latch problems and since she was early and a Caesarian birth, my milk hadn’t come in. We met with two different lactation nurses who gave us a lot of help and encouragement. Emotions were already high because none of us were sleeping and we just had a baby. Then we realized how much weight she was losing. I know that babies lose a little bit of weight after birth, but Little Miss lost enough that they almost didn’t let us go home.
She was barely beyond the threshold she needed to be at, and after four days in the hospital, we were released. We were sent home with what I like to call the “You Stink at Breastfeeding Starter Kit” full of formula supplements, tubes to tape to my boobs to get Little Miss some calories while still practicing her latch and my least favorite contraption of all- the nipple shield.
That first night was one for the books. We were thrilled to be home and in familiar surroundings without nurses and doctors and lab techs coming in every couple of hours, but now we were on our own. I would get myself settled in the chair in her room with my nursing pillow, the app on my phone to time how long she ate and a big glass of water to replenish my fluids. I’d researched every bit of breastfeeding before Little Miss was born and I was prepared. The Mister would bring Little Miss to me, I’d position her just right…and nothing. So I’d try a different hold or different side…still nothing. Nothing but crying. We tried the supplemental formula and tubes, which she would rip off in a rage. We tried the nipple shield, which had the same result as the tubes.
By midnight, all three of us were in tears and by 3 AM, when none of us had slept a wink, The Mister headed off to Walmart for bottles and formula. You see, I was going to breastfeed, so I didn’t have bottles, except one that I’d been sent as a sample. I had no idea what kind of formula to use, because my baby wasn’t going to have formula. I was going to breastfeed. The Mister got home with formula and bottles and we gave Little Miss the bottle and she ate and ate and ate. We cried again because we had been unknowingly starving our baby. We all got a little bit of rest and I woke up determined to make breastfeeding work for us.
Over the next six weeks, I read every article and blog I could get my hands on to help me breastfeed. I ate lactation cookies, drank loads of water and red Gatorade (because that’s what the internet said to do) and took Fenugreek capsules that made me smell like syrup. I talked to lactation specialists on the phone and met with the lactation nurse at our pediatrician’s office several times. By all accounts, I was doing everything I was supposed to do, but Little Miss still wasn’t gaining weight. So we got hardcore with the nipple shield. I had lessons on how to use it properly and sometimes it worked, but more often than not, it was knocked off by an angry baby that was starving and what little milk she’d gotten through it was flung across the room.
We were going to the pediatrician’s office several times a week for weight checks, only to be distraught when she was barely gaining or staying the same. (Little Miss didn’t get back up to her birth weight until she was more than a month old.) The Mister and I were both exhausted and worried and, as first time parents, completely clueless about what to do next.
A couple of weeks in, it was decided that we needed to check my milk production. I was put on a very strict pumping schedule and that’s when the truth came out – I was hardly making any milk at all. It was incredibly humbling to pump every couple of hours and barely make enough milk to feed Little Miss 2 of the 8 or so bottles she would eat a day. I would feed her what I made and then supplement with formula until the formula was her main source of nutrients and I was actually supplementing with breast milk.
Can I just tell you what a gut-check that was? I was failing my baby.Click To Tweet God made a way for mothers to nourish their children and I couldn’t do it. I stupidly worried what other people would think of me if they found out I couldn’t breastfeed. I felt inadequate. I felt broken.
The stubborn side of me continued to eat those lactation cookies and research everything I could to increase my supply. The Mister would get up with me during feeding times at night and he would feed Little Miss a bottle while I pumped, only to be devastated that I only got an ounce or two. Some people show pictures of their freezers, overflowing with extra breast milk. All of my “extra” breast milk was kept in the next bottle Little Miss would eat.
Finally, after conversations with The Mister, our mothers, other friends with kids, our pediatrician and lactation nurse, it was decided that Little Miss was thriving on formula and I was running myself into the ground trying to pump. And so my breastfeeding saga was over. We moved to 100% formula and I cannot tell you what a weight was lifted off of my shoulders after we made that decision. We were all happier and less stressed out. I actually enjoyed feeding time rather than dreading it, and honestly, I started enjoying being a mother more. Little Miss grew and now she’s rocking the 10th percentile in weight, which sure beats not evening registering on the charts like she did as a newborn.
Now, this is my story. I’m not going to tell any of you mamas out there struggling to breastfeed that you need to throw in the towel and move on to formula. That is a very personal decision for each woman and her support system. For us, it was the right move.
Looking back, I realize that my milk never came in. I was using breast pads and not a single one of them ever got wet because I never leaked. I never got engorged or felt my milk drop, because there was hardly any in there to begin with. And when I quit breastfeeding cold turkey, nothing happened. There was no pain or fullness. It was just like I’d never tried to breastfeed in the first place. That’s how I knew I made the right decision for me and Little Miss. It gave me some peace to move on and enjoy motherhood.
So why am I sharing this? Because I feel like this is something that isn’t talked about much. At least I never heard about it. I always heard that breast is best (which I agree with, but it just didn’t work out for us this time) and heard stories of how easy and natural breastfeeding is. After I went through my struggle and talked to a couple of people about it, I started hearing similar stories. Apparently I wasn’t the only mother in the history of mothers that had trouble breastfeeding and that was so encouraging for me.
Being able to talk with others and hear about their struggles made me feel less alone and less like a failure. I heard encouraging stories about moms that had low milk supply with their first baby, but by the second, they had plenty. And about moms that got sick a few weeks after their baby was born and had to be put on antibiotics and their milk dried up. And about moms that started with a low supply, but they were able to increase it and breastfeed for several months.
Not being able to breastfeed was initially devastating, but became an opportunity for growth. Just because I cannot breastfeed doesn’t make me a bad mother, it just means I get to bond with my daughter in different ways. Remember mamas, we all have our struggles as mothers and mine may not be yours and yours may be completely foreign to me.
What I’m hoping to do here is let you mamas know that we’re all in this crazy thing called motherhood together and we need to help one another along instead of criticizing or worrying that we’ll be looked down upon by others. Our job as mamas is to keep our children healthy and safe, and if that means changing your original plans of breastfeeding in order to help your baby flourish, then so be it. As long as we’re doing what’s best for our babies, we’re doing this mama thing right.
So this is my story. What’s yours?