Everyone tells you having a baby is hard. Going through the labor process can be scary. But I’m here to tell you that labor is not as hard as you might think, but breastfeeding…breastfeeding is the hardest thing I ever tried to do. I blame this on my naive idea that it was going to be a cake walk. Everything my mom ever said about breastfeeding was positive. I was a Jabba the Hut sized baby because I nursed constantly. So, when friends told me it would be hard I didn’t know what they were talking about. I mean, my boobs practically grew two cup sizes during pregnancy, so clearly my body was ready for it. I was so sure that it was going to be a natural and smooth process that I almost threw out formula samples, and only bought two bottles (just in case I needed them for pumped milk). The following is a timeline of how my unrealistic expectations shattered over the course of a few weeks.
Baby is born and I put her to my breasts every 1.5 to 2 hours. It hurts but what do I expect? a little creature has never gnawed on my nipple trying to get liquid out of it before. I cannot wait to see the Lactation Consultant in the hospital to tell me how to make this feel better.
LC (Lactation Consultant) comes to see me and asks if this is my first child because I’m handling the breastfeeding like a pro. Baby’s latch looks good and my milk should be coming in any minute now (it IS only day 2). This gives me a false sense of success. Could this be just as easy as I thought it was going to be?
We are leaving the hospital, but I want to see the LC one more time because it’s still hurting and I just want to make sure I’m doing it right. The LC reassures me that everything looks good and I can come to a free support group on Tuesdays at the hospital. (“I won’t need that,” I think)
Baby has been crying off an on the past few days and falling asleep on the boob, but today she is inconsolable. She cries all night and won’t latch on. Good thing I made an appointment with the LC at her pediatrician’s office tomorrow.
We see a new LC and she immediately looks at Baby and says she has jaundice. She also thinks Baby has a good latch and that my milk just needs to come in. I am told to put her to the boob as I have been every 2 hours and to supplement because guess what? She’s not getting anything and she’s starving! I find out today that she has lost 12% of her body weight already, and is so jaundiced she needs to be put on bilirubin lights. We rent a light bed you can take home and are told only to take her out of it to feed her.
We continue to try and nurse, but she is so tired from the jaundice she will only eat from a bottle. I try to pump and put it in a bottle but I’m only able to get about a quarter of an ounce. I start the cycle of nurse-bottle feed-pump every 2 hours. This is rough since baby is so sleepy and I still don’t have milk.
Baby’s levels are looking better and she no longer needs to be on lights. However she still isn’t nursing well and we continue the nurse-bottle feed-pump every 2 hours. I find myself crying all the time for being unable to provide milk for my baby and practically starving her for 4 days.
The LC makes a house call. She determines that Baby is not getting anything out of my breast while nursing and sells us an Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). She says I should use this and continue to pump, but to stop the bottle feeding except for the middle of the night. She also sells me an herbal tincture and some teas.
I try the SNS and pump after every feeding session. I am now pumping every 2 hours, drinking teas, taking herbs, and eating tons of seaweed soup to increase my milk, but am still only able to pump 1- 2 oz max at each session. I go to the free breastfeeding support group at the hospital out of desperation. The LC there says perhaps my milk hasn’t come in because I had an epidural and retained water, not allowing the milk to come out. She shows me how to massage my breast to help the milk move out.
I get mastitis. Yes, even though I am not producing enough to feed my baby, I get a clogged duct which becomes infected. I want to quit so badly because it hurts so much.
I go to another breastfeeding support group at a local mothers’ store. The LC here tells me my baby is not sucking efficiently and sells me a nipple guard to help. She says use the guard then pump and give the baby the milk in the bottle.
I try the nipple guard and Baby shrieks every time I use it. The milk gets stuck in it and she is unable to get anything. I decide to stop nursing because she’s not getting anything anyway. We move to pumping and bottle feeding.
I continue to pump and feed our baby a combo of formula and breastmilk. At this point 70% of her food is breastmilk. I should be ecstatic but I’m miserable. After I feed Baby I have to pump, which means she sits by herself while I spend 30 minutes massaging my breasts and hoping to get 2-3 oz. I cry about not being able to spend more time with her. I get numerous clogged ducts. I believe that I’m making enough milk, but neither the pump nor baby are effectively extracting it. I cry about it. I feel like a failure for not being able to breastfeed. I cry about it. Every few days I am determined to nurse and put Baby to breast only to be reminded that she is not inclined to suck it. It seems that everyone around me is breastfeeding successfully and that there must be something wrong with me that I can’t seem to make it work for us. It is all my fault. I cry some more.
I decide to pump less frequently so that I can spend more time with baby. I set my alarms for every 3-4 hours rather than every 2. This seems to be working out better, but then my milk starts to decrease.
On the verge of a breakdown I decide to stop pumping and go full formula for Baby. This is the hardest decision I’ve had to make. I just want that bond with baby that nursing moms talk about, but realize I’m not getting it through pumping, and decide to bond I need to spend more time with her and not be so obsessed about breastmilk all the time.
After making this decision, I am plagued with guilt. I still can’t stop thinking about breastmilk and my baby and my body and my failed attempt at breastfeeding. It takes a good month to stop obsessing over it, and clearly I’m not done since I am writing this post.
Today is day 94 and I have constant wrist pain from massaging my breasts that won’t go away, but I’d like to think that I’ve finally gotten over the PTSD associated with my attempt to breastfeed my child. I mean, I wrote this without shedding a single tear (that says something). People always talk about the criticism breastfeeding mamas get, but in my experience formula feeding moms get way more flack. As a formula feeding mom I feel it. Perhaps it’s a self inflicted criticism, but it is there.
So if you are starting your breastfeeding journey, I hope the milk gods are kind to you, and your baby has a miraculously pain free latch and sucks like a vacuum. I truly do!