My Breastfeeding Journey
When it comes to being a mom, the best advice I have to give is, expect the unexpected. I know very few moms, myself included, whose journey has gone exactly according to plan. With that being said, my breastfeeding journey was no different. There are two things that I have always known about myself. One, I’ve always wanted to have babies and two, I’ve always wanted to breastfeed. My younger sister and I were both breastfed and I was told numerous times that “breast is best”. Call me naive, but I honestly never gave it more thought than that. It just seemed like what I was supposed to do. During my pregnancy, I read a lot about how important skin to skin contact and having the baby latch on right away was, so I was very anxious to do so. Having had a c-section I wasn’t allowed to sit up right way and repeatedly asked the recovery nurse if I could try breastfeeding. After what felt like forever, I was finally able to sit up and Mac latched on right away!. It was one of the most miraculous experiences and still brings tears to my eyes as I relive that memory and all of the joy it brought me. I couldn’t believe that this tiny little human just knew exactly what to do. The nurses at Fairview Southdale were so helpful with all of my questions and showing me different positions to breastfeed in and how to make sure she was latched properly. As exhausting as it was, every time Mac cried while we were in the hospital I couldn’t wait for her to latch on and experience that joy over and over again. Because it was going so well, my husband and I left the hospital assuming that it would always be this easy.
As wonderful as our experience at the hospital was, we were so excited to be home and to start experiencing parenthood in the real world. We decided to go up north to my parent’s cabin the first weekend we were home. This is the first time I started realizing how time consuming breastfeeding would be. I couldn’t go out and enjoy the usual cabin things because I needed to be there for Mac. At this point I didn’t mind, and actually enjoyed being her source of nourishment and comfort. We had one really tough night at the cabin where Mac would not stop crying and would not sleep unless she was on me. Till this day, my husband and I both look back at our decision to drive 2.5 hours north with a newborn and laugh as we ask ourselves, “What were we thinking?!?” When we got back home to the cities, we started having friend’s come over to meet Mac for the first time. I prided myself in not being modest while breastfeeding in front of others, because it was natural and such a beautiful thing. My milk didn’t really come in until probably a week after we left the hospital. I was in so much pain and thought for sure something was wrong, but nothing was. For the first time, Mac began wanting to be on me ALL THE TIME and was not happy unless she was. At her two week checkup I told the doctor how exhausting this was and she explained that she was sucking for comfort not hunger and suggested we introduce a pacifier. Mac took to a pacifier right away which we were very grateful for. I was having a really hard time keeping Mac awake while breastfeeding and was constantly worrying that she wasn’t getting enough to eat. She would be on me for hours but not feeding the whole time and never seemed satisfied when she was done. This scenario played out over and over and I finally decided I would start pumping for two reasons. One, I wanted her Dad to be able to feed her so I could leave the house. Two, if she was drinking from a bottle then I could see exactly how much she was eating. My plan at first was to pump just enough for her to drink one bottle a day. Even with the pacifier, Mac never seemed satisfied from breastfeeding. So I began to try and pump and bottle feed her more. I would have to pump every two hours, feed her, and then repeat. I never produced enough milk to store any for later use. Pumping was easier in the sense that it gave me such piece of mind knowing how much milk she was getting and she actually was satisfied after drinking a bottle. But in every other sense for me, it was a lot more work. The pumping itself is a process. Getting the pumping bra on, getting everything attached and turned on, I had to make sure Mac was in a comfy spot and in arms reach as I couldn’t move away from the pump, not to mention washing all of the parts. I was still breastfeeding Mac in the morning and I would wake up, my shirt soaking wet, even with breast pads on, and sore. I would go to feed Mac and milk would spray everywhere making the latch process very difficult. At this point, I was an emotional wreck, crying multiple times a day. I wanted my body back, I wanted breastfeeding to be easy like it was in the hospital, I wanted to pump and produce enough to store for later, and I felt so guilty for feeling this way. I eventually moved to strictly pumping, but my supply could not keep up with her demand and ultimately made the decision to start supplementing with formula. At first Mac was getting bottles with half breast milk, half formula. I began the weaning process by dropping a pump session every couple of days until I was down to only one per day. The process took what felt like forever and I had questions and concerns with going strictly to formula. I had read and heard that formula fed babies tend to spit up more and can get more gassy and uncomfortable if the formula brand doesn’t agree with them. I was scared about how this might affect her development and I desperately wanted someone to tell me it was ok and that I wasn’t alone. It was so hard and the whole time I felt guilty and sad and like a failure. I felt embarrassed to tell my family, friends and pediatrician that I was no longer breastfeeding for fear of judgment. My experience is that everyone makes a big deal out of breast feeding and they encourage, support and congratulate you on your decision to do so. When you tell people you’ve switched to formula the reaction is much different. The immediate response I got from most people was to play the 21 questions game. Why did you stop? Is there anything else you could have done? Are you worried how this will affect her development? These are all well meaning questions from people who love me but I don’t remember anyone asking me how I felt about the transition. I spent so much time justifying my decision which only added to my guilt. It still brings tears to my eyes relieving all of those powerful emotions. I don’t know how I would’ve made it through all of this without the unconditional love and support from my husband.
I can’t say that I miss breastfeeding because who really enjoys sore breasts, raw nipples and 2 am feedings? What I can say is that the decision to stop initially came with a great deal of shame and guilt. There is so much support for breastfeeding and I have to agree that, if it’s possible, breastfeeding is the best option. But, I also learned from my experience that it is a very personal decision affected by multiple different variables. Overcoming that guilt took realizing that I had to do what was best for Mac and I no matter how much I wanted to feed her naturally. When I get the chance to attempt breastfeeding our next little one I’ll go for it with the same enthusiasm I started with Mac. Hopefully, when that happens, my experience will be different. If it isn’t, I’m confident I’ll be less conflicted and secure in the knowledge that the ultimate decision about what’s best for me and my babe is up to me.