This is a very personal post for me. If you don’t want to hear about breastfeeding or my experience with it, stop reading now. You’ve been warned.
I haven’t talked about this before on the blog because most of the people close to me already know about the struggle we went through with breastfeeding. But I wish I had known going into it that there was a possibility that we could have problems and that a lot of women do.
I figured if this helped one person then it would be worth it.
Before giving birth I don’t know if I had ever heard one story about problems breastfeeding, after I had Ellery and told people about our struggle, nearly every person I talked to had either gone through something similar or knew someone that had. I think maybe people don’t talk about this because they don’t want to discourage breastfeeding because it is SO good for babies. While I wholeheartedly believe that breastmilk is the best and that trying to breastfeed is always worth it, I wish that someone had prepared me a little more so that I didn’t feel like such a failure when we had trouble. And that there are other options besides breastfeeding (exclusively pumping, formula) that don’t make you a bad mom. It helps to know that what you’re going through is normal and that you’re not alone.
When we were pregnant we referred to our little one as our Peanut and it turns out that was a very appropriate name. Even though she was born 8 days “late” she was still a fairly small one weighing 6 lb. 13 oz. I was under the false impression that breastfeeding would be easy. I thought I would instinctively know what to do and she would naturally catch on, too. I quickly learned that was a completely inaccurate expectation.
We had issues right away. I had to figure out this seemingly impossible task of holding her, holding myself, being aware of how her body was positioned, keeping her hands from knocking the whole thing off track, supporting her head, RELAXING, and a slew of other mental and physical tasks. I felt like I needed 4 arms just to have everything right. When I would try to breastfeed, she would either be very sleepy and not want to try or she would be screaming at me every time I tried.
In the hospital I had several nurses and lactation consultants try to help us figure out what the problem was. Some were helpful, some not as much. I had to very quickly become okay with people seeing and touching me all the time. I was told I was “doing everything right” which was almost more frustrating, because if the problem was with me then there would be something I could do to fix it. But since the issue was on her end (inexplicably so) then there was nothing I could do to solve the problem. And I was told over and over again that she would “just catch on”.
I thought that even though she was fighting every time and since we sometimes had “good” nursing sessions (without her pulling away constantly or screaming or biting) that she was getting what she needed and that I needed to just suffer through and wait for her to get it. Well, by the time we left the hospital she weighed a little under birthweight and at the newborn clinic a few days later she had lost 18% of her body weight and weighed about 5 lb. 9 oz.
I was devastated. I felt like such a failure for not being able to take care of my daughter and give her what she needed. It didn’t help that the nurse kept saying that she was in a “dangerous” place.
We met with a lactation consultant, who will forever be an angel in my mind, that spoke hope into our situation and helped us make an achievable plan. So, I started pumping and using a nipple shield and keeping a log of everything that entered or exited our little girl AND what time. She still fought me almost every time I tried to nurse, but she took bottles amazingly well and bounced back very quickly. I was at the hospital or the doctor almost every day for weeks and kept trying and trying to get her to breastfeed. It seemed like she made slow progress, but then it felt like we were right back where we started.
Finally, after 3 weeks or so I decided that if I kept making my daughter mad at me 8-12 times a day that I was going to go crazy. I was spending a vast majority of my day trying to breastfeed, pumping, and feeding her a bottle and I couldn’t do all three. So, we gave in to the bottle. Now, I am very, very thankful that I have only ever given her breastmilk. We were prepared to supplement with formula if necessary and I respect that as an option for some moms. I am thankful that I have had an abundant milk supply that has allowed us to only do breastmilk.
Ellery is now almost 4 months old and is thriving. She went from being in the 5th percentile for weight to the 75th. She takes several bottles a day. THIS WORKS FOR OUR FAMILY. I am so glad that I gave myself permission to stop fighting. Exclusively pumping and using bottles has allowed us lots of flexibility in going places and allows her daddy (and others) the bonding time of feeding as well.
I will admit that the motivation for writing this post is because I had several people asking if we had tried breastfeeding again at any point since she is a bit older now. (Which I had no problem with people asking, I’ve heard sometimes it works out later). I didn’t want to try because I was afraid she would “reject” me again. I tell myself that she doesn’t want it. She doesn’t want me. I know that those are lies, but they’re very hard not to believe sometimes. And I WANT to be able to breastfeed my daughter.
It feels like there’s this club of breastfeeding moms that I would so love to be a part of, but I feel almost ashamed that I can’t be. (NO ONE HAS EVER DONE ANYTHING TO MAKE ME FEEL EXCLUDED. I just wish my body and my daughter worked together to make that happen). I try to time it right, but she doesn’t always follow a schedule and sometimes I have to put an unhappy baby down and pump so that she will have a next meal. I have to always make sure I have enough milk and bottles with me wherever we are, and I have a fear of running out and not being able to give my daughter what she needs (again). And sometimes I have to take my pump with me to places and leave everyone, often including Ellery since it’s hard to take care of her while pumping, and sit by myself attached to a machine for 15 minutes.
So, we tried. Just to see.
She wanted nothing to do with it and wasn’t happy until we gave her a bottle. And I kind of felt like a failure all over again.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had just “stuck it out” and waited for her to someday “get it”. Would she have ever been able to breastfeed? But then, I remember that I am BLESSED to have a healthy daughter that is getting only her mommy’s milk and thriving off of it. I am blessed to have more than enough and freezers full of extra milk for emergencies or the future. I’m blessed to live in a time where there are such things as breast pumps. And I am so blessed to have such supportive family and friends (and doctor!) that have helped us through all of this. And, while pumping isn’t my favorite thing in the world, it’s only for a season.
So, it’s okay if you’re having trouble breastfeeding. It’s okay if you don’t breastfeed (gasp). What’s important is that take care of your baby the best you can and you do what works for you family.
If you have any questions about my experience with all of this, please feel free to ask. I (obviously) have no problem sharing.