CAUTION! Long Read Ahead...
It’s time to get real. Real about breastfeeding and how it was the hardest, and the most emotionally draining thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I had this misconception that breastfeeding was easy as long as you worked hard and truly WANTED to do it. I heard stories of moms who “couldn’t” breastfeed – that their milk “didn’t come in”, that they “couldn’t produce enough”, that it was “too painful”. In my narrow-minded head, I thought all of those things were just excuses because women didn’t WANT to breastfeed. Man, was I strongly mistaken!
All over the hospital were signs that announced loud and clear “BREAST IS BEST”, so the idea of not breastfeeding didn’t seem like an option for me. How dare I sacrifice my daughter’s health, her immune system, her weight, her bond with her mother, simply because I was too selfish to put in the work to breastfeed her. Plus, the cost of formula … no thank you!
My daughter was born with a tongue tie. This made it really hard for her to latch onto my nipple – meaning, she didn’t! I was still super groggy from my c-section when the lactation ladies came barreling around me trying to get my daughter to take my nipple. She wouldn’t so they stuck a thick piece of plastic (a nipple shield) onto my nipple and forced her to take to that. I was laying there, just had major surgery, and felt like my body didn’t belong to me. It belonged to my baby and these very aggressive lactation nurses. I know, I know I signed up for this! I marked on all the papers that I was breastfeeding. I took the 3-hour lactation class. I made the decision to be treated like a milk cow. BUT, that didn’t make any of this any easier.
"I was laying there, just had major surgery, and felt like my body didn’t belong to me."
I was in the hospital for 2 days. Feeding didn’t get any easier. The lactation ladies continued coming into my room and “coaching” me on what I could be doing different. I kept thinking in my head that this will definitely get easier because “BREAST IS BEST”. Do you remember that scene in Friends when Rachel had her baby and said “my nipple is too big for her mouth”. Yeah, I may have said the same thing, it was a legit concern for me! Her mouth was so tiny and my nipple was so huge!
Nora was born on Tuesday, May 21 and weighed 7lbs, 11oz. By Friday, May 24 she was down to 6lbs 9oz – my milk still hadn’t come in. At this point I was terrified that I was starving my child. I started crying in the pediatrician’s office. An overwhelming feeling had taken over me, I was not doing the one thing my body was supposed to do. I was failing my daughter. Fear sunk in that I might have to give her formula – “BREAST IS BEST” kept ringing in my head over and over again.
The night before our first pediatrician appointment neither Nora or I got any sleep. She kept sucking and sucking and sucking on my breast trying to get milk. Yes, I did produce colostrum but that’s a tiny amount and only sufficient for the baby for the first couple days after birth. It’s seriously like a teaspoon of food for baby. No wonder by day 3 my child was begging for something more. After our very long stressful night, by 6am that morning I had nothing more to give. I was at my lowest of low. I couldn’t hold my baby anymore – let alone allow her to suck my boob any longer. I practically tossed her to my husband while bawling and saying “I can’t do this anymore”. I ran to my mom in the other room and broke down even further. I could barely get the words out between sobs as I continued saying “I can’t do it. I can’t do it.”.
Luckily for us, our pediatrician is AMAZING! She was confident that my milk would come in on day 4 – only 1 day to go. And she broke suspicions that giving a baby a pacifier would cause nipple confusion – oh yeah that’s another thing, the hospital says not to give your baby a pacifier if you are breastfeeding. So not only is my child sucking my boob for food, but she wants to suck for comfort as well! Dr. Tate encouraged giving Nora a pacifier to help bring her comfort. I sighed with major relief on that one! Our amazing pediatrician came into the office the following day, on a Saturday!, to check on Nora’s weight and my milk production. Praise the Lord, my milk was coming in! Whew, I thought, it’s all uphill from here. Things will be so.much.better.now. Oh but I was wrong …
Have you ever had that terrifying feeling that you’re going to die? I’ve only had that gut wrenching, panicking feeling twice. Once in college when I had a panic attack while driving, and 4 days after the delivery of my daughter. Have you ever watched a c-section delivery on YouTube? Well, don’t if you have a queasy stomach like me! Having a c-section is a big deal and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! The recovery is hard on your body both physically and mentally. You don’t realize how much you use your lower ab muscles – like pulling yourself out of bed, getting off the toilet, picking your baby up. I didn’t listen to my body and overexerted myself to the point of ending up in the ER on a Saturday night at 10pm. My pain felt like the stitches in my incision were ripping from the inside out, even after taking two oxycodone pills, I couldn’t stand up straight or hold my baby without being in excruciating pain. I remember lying in bed with my husband, tears rolling down my face, begging him to not let me die. It was terrifying.
"I remember lying in bed with my husband, tears rolling down my face, begging him to not let me die. It was terrifying."
How this relates to my breastfeeding journey you ask? Well, at 10pm while in immense pain, I couldn’t go to the hospital until I fed my daughter. I was sitting in bed, crying, telling my husband and my mom that I had to feed her before we could go anywhere. Nora was 4 days old and the last place I wanted her to be was in the germ-infested ER, but what was I supposed to do? “BREAST IS BEST” struck again in my brain. I even had formula on hand at home. My mom could have kept Nora home and given her a bottle, but I just couldn’t let that happen. Instead, we took her to the hospital with us, and as I fed her again later that evening while being examined in the ER, I thought again “I can’t do it”. I wasn’t able to take care of myself. I couldn’t even go to the hospital without feeding Nora first.
Oh, but my journey does not end there! When Nora was 7 days old we decided to clip her tongue tie. Both our pediatrician and our lactation consultant recommended that was best and would allow her to get a better latch on my breast – no more plastic nipple guard, things were definitely going to get better now! Or so I thought …
By Nora’s 2-week birthday, I was still using the nipple guard, she still wasn’t latching, and she was still wanting to feed every hour. I still couldn’t get her hold right – the cross-cradle hold, the football hold, it was all uncomfortable and never felt natural. Plus, the nipple guard would fill full of milk and Nora would knock it off my breast and milk would spill all over both of us. I was a milky, sweaty, hot mess, and I was beyond a level of exhaustion that I had ever experienced.
I cried .. and cried … and cried. I cried every day after Nora was born. Every. Single. Day. I would look at my baby and cry while telling her I was so sorry for not being better – that I would try harder for her tomorrow. It got to a point around 2 weeks in, that I started resenting my baby for waking me up every hour to feed, then falling asleep after 5 minutes of sucking. I had no clue how much food she was getting, but I knew she wasn’t getting completely full. She was a “grazer” a nurse at my doctor’s office later told me. I got to the point where I dreaded feeding my child. It was so hard to say that out loud for the first time. What kind of mother doesn’t want to feed her baby? What mother gets tense and nearly sick to her stomach every time it was time to breastfeed? That was me. And I felt horrible about it, absolutely horrible.
"I would look at my baby and cry while telling her I was so sorry for not being better – that I would try harder for her tomorrow."
My husband encouraged me to call my doctor’s office to talk about all these feelings and struggles I was having. I wasn’t sure of the formal definition of postpartum depression, but I felt like I was struggling with it. I was already on anti-depressants for anxiety. I’d been on them for about 2 years prior to even getting pregnant, and stayed on them throughout my pregnancy.
The nurse at my doctor’s office was incredible. She listened to me as I was sobbing through the phone, explaining how I was a bad mother who dreaded feeding her baby. She calmly said, “You calling to get help and your concern makes you a good mother.” I left that phone call feeling so much better, and realizing that my current state was neither healthy for me or for my baby. “BREAST IS BEST” is NOT the tagline for every mother! It was not mine and I am still a good mother to my daughter.
At that point, I began doing research on exclusive pumping. It’s not talked about widely and definitely not encouraged by lactation specialists – for two reasons. One, I was told my milk would lose certain antibodies after being pumped vs. my daughter getting milk directly from my breast. Two, I was told I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the milk demand that my daughter needed without her being on my breast. Well, challenge accepted!
I knew I wanted Nora to have breastmilk, and I knew me breastfeeding was no longer an option for my mental and physical health. At about 3 weeks postpartum, I began pumping every 2 hours during the day while still breastfeeding. So, that’s about all I did around the clock for about 2 weeks – pump, feed, pump, feed, pump, feed. By Nora’s 1 month birthday, I was exclusively pumping and giving her a bottle. I was able to spread out my pumping times to 3-4 hours during the day and still maintain the supply Nora needed. My husband was now able to feed her while I got some much-needed sleep! It was answered prayers!
Now, at 11 weeks postpartum, I only have to pump 4 times a day in 30 minute sessions. I pump for 15 minutes, take a 10-minute break, and pump for another 5 minutes so I get two let downs. I’ve been able to pump 30-33 ounces a day and start a freezer supply. I plan on continuing to do this as long as my body will let me. In addition to taking that 10-minute break during my session, another tip is to drink TONS of water! You should always have a big glass of water with you and refiling it multiple times a day. I notice a big difference in my milk supply on the days I don’t drink enough fluids.
So, that’s my journey. It was tough. I cried many, many tears. I felt like a huge failure to my daughter. I hated myself for this not coming easy. But I figured out what was best for MY family, and I have a happy, healthy baby girl.