Pregnant women here it all the time nowadays. “Breast is Best”. There has been a real push from OB’s, Hospitals and Pediatrician’s to feed your new baby the “natural way”. I happen to be exclusively breastfeeding my 3 1/2 month old daughter, but I wanted to share my breastfeeding journey, because is hasn’t been an easy one. And it wasn’t my original intent. My sincere hope is that someone who may be struggling will read this and feel comforted by the fact that it is not always instinctive and easy to do! Breastfeeding for some, is a learned skill. I was one of those women.
When my husband and I started discussing children, one of the first things he said was that he would like me to breast feed. I remember the phone call vividly. We were living in different parts of the state at the time, and engaged to be married. Because we were both older, having a child was something we discussed very early on. I remember my reaction to his request. It wasn’t “Oh yes honey, of course!” It was more like “huh?” I always figured I would just formula feed. I came from a family where my brothers and I were formula fed. He came from a family where he and his sister were breast fed. It seemed like an odd request, but I entertained the thought. Once I got pregnant, I knew it was something he deemed important, so I started reading up on it. I’ll admit, I was instantly intrigued by the health benefits. So much so, that I began searching for as much information as I could find. I watched documentaries like Breastmilk and The Business of Being Born and I bought the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I also scoured YouTube for “How to” videos on breastfeeding, so I could see in practice. I highly suggest watching Breastmilk and reading the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding if you think you may want to breastfeed.
The deal was pretty much sealed early in my first trimester. Of course I worried about if I could breastfeed. What if I didn’t make enough milk? What if I didn’t make any milk? It happens. But I moved forward with my plans, ordered my breast pump and planned on starting breastfeeding immediately after birth. All of the reading stressed how important skin to skin contact was right after delivery to ensure the bond that would make breastfeeding easier and to breastfeed within the first hour of birth.
I had a pretty solid birth plan heading into the hospital the night my water broke, but you know the saying about making plans? Because my water broke before contractions started, it brought on a whole slew of issues I wasn’t prepared for. There is a time limit to how long you can go without delivering after your water breaks. The baby was more susceptible to infection, because her “protection” was gone. They gave me drugs to speed up labor, I was confined to my bed and hooked up to all kinds of machines. It was not the beautiful experience I had been hoping for, but my main concern was the baby’s safety. I had two failed epidurals and was in immense pain from contractions. I thought I was tough, but this was more pain then I could handle. I started running a fever and vomiting and the baby’s heart rate accelerated. My OB informed me, that if I didn’t have the baby soon, I would need a C-section and that because of my fever, she was going to be taken right to the intensive care unit. I was crushed. Through my tears, I stressed to my Dr. that I wanted to breastfeed and asked her for just a few minutes after birth to bond with the baby before they took her away. She agreed and said they would get me to the NICU as soon as possible to start breastfeeding.
After 20 hours of labor, it was finally time to push. I was fortunate that delivery was only about 15 minutes long, and quite easy! I had one lucky break after a day of pain and stress. My baby girl came out wailing and healthy and had the pinkest skin! She was in great shape, but they still had to take her to the NICU. I got my initial skin to skin contact, then they took her over to clean her and check vitals and the NICU Dr. was nice enough to give her back to me for a few more minutes before they took her away.
Since my epidural failed the second time, I had movement in my legs and felt the contractions and the pushing during delivery. Because of this, I recovered fairly quickly and was brought to see my baby within an hour. I am so glad we didn’t try to do a third epidural. I had wanted as little intervention as possible, but always gave myself permission to have the epidural, I just wasn’t expecting two! When asked if I wanted to try a third time, I was like, “screw it, I’ve been through the worst of it, what’s a little pushing going to do?” And honestly, that was the least painful part of all. Besides, I was feeling guilty about all the drugs my little one was dealing with, and told my husband “no more”.
Breastfeeding wasn’t successful in the NICU. We were both exhausted and she was groggy, probably from the drugs. I knew this could happen, so I told them we had to keep trying. As soon as I got to my room (without her), I asked for a pump, so I could tell my body to start making milk, since she hadn’t breastfed in the NICU. I am SO glad I did that! She wasn’t coming to my room for three hours and I needed to ensure I was going to produce milk. The first hour is critical for sending the message to your body to get going on the milk production. I pumped a lot of colostrum which we gave to her in a dropper when she got to the room. The next day, I requested and was seen by a lactation consultant in the hospital and she showed me some positions. I was most comfortable with the football hold and so that was my go to position. My baby girl was tiny, so I felt more secure in that hold. All I can say about the two days in the hospital was breastfeeding was clumsy and awkward and not very successful.
Once we got home, things really got tough. My milk didn’t come in as quickly as I hoped and our baby was getting dehydrated and crying A LOT! I believe it came in on day 5. Luckily, we have an amazing pediatrician that told us in the hospital that this might happen and to feed her sugar water until my milk came in. So there we were, feeding our newborn sugar water in a dropper to try to hydrate her, and get her some much needed calories. Our pediatrician is very Pro Breastfeeding, so he didn’t immediately jump to supplementing with formula. I appreciated the vote of confidence, but I was so upset. I felt like I was already failing her and causing her unnecessary pain. And then, as if my body sensed we were in crisis, and after LOTS of pumping, my milk came in that night! I fed her furiously over the next ten days. I was feeding her every hour and a half to get her weight back up to her birth weight. We had an at home visit from a nurse/lactation consultant to weigh the baby and make sure the family was doing OK, ( I love that our hospital did this!) and she showed me some other positions to breast feed, and I felt like it was all going to work out.
Here’s the catch though, every time I saw a lactation consultant, baby girl did well. They knew how to position her just so, and she took right to it and would feed for 30 minutes. However, when I was left to my own devices, I still couldn’t get it right. I was clumsy and unsure of myself. She would make so much noise while feeding and constantly pull of my breast. It was so challenging and I felt like a complete failure. I hated breastfeeding and wanted to quit every day. My husband tried to help and be supportive, but my daughter and I just weren’t clicking at feeding time. It was at that point and after some more research that I learned that I had a fast let-down (milk release), so she was actually choking on milk in the position I was holding her. I continued to try to tweak and re-work our positions, but we were both usually left frustrated and I felt like I was causing my baby stress, when all she wanted to do was eat!
I had reached the 8 week mark, when everyone and every book said it should be better, and it still wasn’t for me. I told my husband, I was going to make one last effort to see a lactation consultant, and if things didn’t immediately improve, I was going to pump and feed her bottles. She was already taking a bottle since she was 3 weeks old, because I was trying to fatten her up and also wanted Daddy to give her the midnight bottle, so they could bond. I knew she would take the bottled breast milk no problem if that’s how it had to be. But I wanted that bonding with her so badly. I wanted to be that mom who could just whip out a boob at any given moment and feed her baby. I had gotten all wrapped up in the idea, that I just didn’t want to admit that maybe I wasn’t the right woman for the job. I am stubborn and hate to admit defeat, can’t you tell? 😉
I don’t know what it was about the last visit with a private lactation consultant, but something finally clicked. I thought my daughter had a bad latch, I was waiting for the “Ka” sound, but she never did that. The consultant said she could hear her swallowing and her latch was fine, that they don’t always make that sound, but it’s not indicative of a “bad latch”. She also taught me how to do the cradle hold, because my daughter was really too long to comfortably do the football hold (which I realized I was doing wrong the whole time anyway). With my baby turned on her side in front of me, she no longer gagged, because of my fast let down. It looked like we had success, but could I repeat this at home when I failed so many times before?
I would like to just take a moment to warn you that sometimes too much reading and research can make you crazy. The more I tried to fix things and self-diagnose, the crazier I made myself and my husband. Just pay the $70/hr and see a professional. Lesson learned.
I am happy to say I was able to repeat what I learned from the consultant. Something just finally clicked. Maybe it was the reassurance that I was OK. That her latch was OK. That we were doing it right after all, and just needed some tweaking. But at a time when being a new mother is stressful enough, it added more stress and emotion to my already hectic life. I was lucky, because I was able to work through it after two months of blood, sweat & tears. But not all women can work through their problems and are forced to bottle feed or formula feed.
Breastfeeding is a very personal choice. Sometimes the stress of it all, if it’s not going well, can be detrimental to mom and baby and cause resentment at a time when you should be bonding with your little one. I was lucky enough, and maybe stubborn enough to push through until it worked. But if it didn’t work, I realize I would not have been a failure. I would still be a great mother to my daughter and I would love her just as much as I do now.
I had a friend tell me once that she couldn’t breast feed, because of flat nipples, and she and the baby cried every time she tried to feed her. In the end, she decided to stop breastfeeding her daughter and move to formula. Well I have seen this little girl grow up to be beautiful and healthy and she loves her mommy VERY much. My friend is an amazing mother, it didn’t matter if she was breast or formula fed. For them, this is what made the most sense and ended the stress they were feeling from trying to make breastfeeding work. I can say, as a formula fed baby, that I feel the same way about myself and my mom. I don’t love her any less then a breast fed baby, my brothers and I are all healthy, well-adjusted adults.
The pros to breastfeeding are the health benefits, yes, but also the convenience factor. You don’t have any bottles to make, warm or lug around (unless you bottle feed once a day like I do, but that’s minimal). You never have to worry about running out of formula in the middle of the night, you can feed your baby anywhere just by unhooking your maternity bra and you will save a LOT of money because breast milk is free. At a time when you’re going through diapers by the dozens, free sounds great to me!
But there are cons too. The time commitment is enormous. No one ever really talks about that part. Or that you’re giving up your body for another year! You still have to watch what you eat (to a certain extent, but not as much as with pregnancy) and drink (careful with the caffeine mama), as it effects the baby. You can’t restrict calories to lose the baby weight fast, or you could release toxins into your milk, lose nutrients and decrease your milk supply. That’s a little frustrating. And ladies the weight does not melt off. Maybe after 5-6 months, but not before then. You will be hungry all the time! Also, there is the pumping factor for working moms. When I return to work, I am going to have to pump three times a day, at the office, or on set (I work in TV production) when the baby would normally feed, and use that milk for the following day. So, I will need to bring the pump to and from work with a cooler, and ice packs, and sneak away three times a day to pump, so my body continues to make milk for my baby. In my line of work that is going to be a huge challenge. Production waits for no one.
There is the social factor as well. If you want to go out and have a few drinks, then you need to have a stash of milk, so you can make sure you don’t give your baby alcohol with her breast milk. Pumping and dumping doesn’t get rid of the alcohol in your system by the way, only time can do that. But you have to keep on your schedule so your supply doesn’t decrease, and dump it because there is alcohol in the milk. This year on my birthday, I wanted a date night with my husband and I wanted to have a few drinks, so I had bottles ready for the baby, but I knew as soon as we got home I would need to pump, because I would be engorged if I didn’t. It KILLED me to dump 4-5 ounces of breast milk down the sink, because that is a lot to pump and takes a lot of work, so it’s not something I care to do often. Kind of takes the fun out of drinking lol. It even effects your fashion choices. You need to consider what you’re going to wear when you will need to breast feed in public.A poor choice in top can make it uncomfortable and hard to be discreet. A lot of forethought has to go into breastfeeding, and at times it can be daunting, I’m not going to lie.
In order for me t be successful at breastfeeding, the two things that really helped me were going to see a private lactation consultant, and having people to talk to. First of all, my husband has been my rock. I know he felt bad, because he asked me to do it in the first place, but he gave me an out many times if I wanted it. By then I had my mind made up. (There’s that stubborn thing again) I also had my sister-in-law and cousin, who have been really great resources for me, because they both have been through it. They are amazing moms, and I trust their advice and experience. I definitely suggest a support system for any first time breast feeding mother. They have groups on Facebook, most hospitals offer groups, or you can just reach out to like minded friends and family who have been there.
In the end, the choice is yours and yours alone. For me, it wasn’t the easy choice, but I wanted to give it my all before I gave up, and I am really glad I did. I know I would love my daughter just as much either way, but she is pretty darn cute when she’s breastfeeding, I know its giving her a good start and I have come to love those quiet moments together. Plus, I still really appreciate the convenience of it all. I will do it for as long as I can, aiming to wean at a year. But it’s not for everyone, and there is NOTHING wrong with choosing not to do it! It doesn’t make you any less of a woman or a mom.We still carry those babies for 9 months and do everything right to give them a healthy start before we ever meet them. 🙂
Lots of Love!