My breastfeeding story is a crazy, anxiety-filled rollercoaster that surprisingly, come to find out, a lot of women also go through. Here it goes…
First Time Mom Concerns
When I was pregnant with my first child, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. As a first time, clueless, soon-to-be mom, I had read all the “Breast is Best” things all over the internet and parenting books. I had talked with tons of breastfeeding moms and most said they loved the bonding experience of breastfeeding. I wanted to breastfeed to experience all of that. To give my baby the most natural nutrition. And the thought of being all nicely nuzzled together comfortably on the couch, cuddling my baby while we gaze into each other’s eyes sounded, well, amazing. But… TMI alert! . . . Here’s something I worried about. I don’t like the feeling of being touched on my nipples! Like, I don’t even like to touch them myself. I hate the feeling! And the thought of a baby on them made me cringe. I would get chills thinking about it!
I remember constantly telling my husband, “I’m not so sure I’m going to like breastfeeding. I don’t even like when YOU touch my nipples!” (lol, hey, I warned you of the TMI!) My entire pregnancy I was concerned about this. Would I be able to handle having a baby on my boob 24/7? If only I knew nursing aversion, which I indeed had 100%, was going to be the least of my worries. Fast forward to the delivery room
Push push pushing!!… and there he is! My little-naked ball of cuteness! … who comes out starving, apparently. Here’s where my HELL of breastfeeding starts. Within minutes of popping baby out, the nurses had me attempt to breastfeed. First latch attempt…fail. Second latch attempt….fail. 94,269th latch attempt…big fat FAIL. Why is this so hard?! Isn’t it supposed to be a natural thing? Like, baby opens his mouth, there’s the boob, and there ya go? What the hell! Turns out, it’s an ART to be able to get down the whole latching thing. And my baby and I never mastered it. After getting his tongue clipped because of suspected tongue-tie (ended up doing nothing to help), weeks of raw nipples that made me cringe every time we attempted to latch, “failure to thrive” because my poor baby was losing weight due to not getting any milk because of bad latch and suck, crying hungry infant ALL DAY AND NIGHT LONG because he couldn’t get milk due to bad latch, lactation consultant after lactation consultant visits, I was feeling like the biggest failure as a mother. We had doctor visits every other day for weight checks. I was beyond stressed and worried that the scale would show no weight gain. And each time it showed no weight gain, I would cry right there in the doctor’s office.
I cried all the time. Cried because my baby was basically starving because I couldn’t feed him. I look back at pictures of him then and he was so, so skinny. It was heartbreaking. And defeating. As a first-time mom, within just a few weeks I was already failing my baby. Why wasn’t this working? Wheres the whole “super awesome bonding experience” other women get while breastfeeding? Not to mention, having a baby on my boob was NAILS ON A CHALKBOARD Nursing aversion is a real thing, Y’all. And it was me 110%. You can read about it here, but just to give you the jist of it – from the second the baby is on the boob until they get off I would feel extreme feelings of anger, agitation, disgust, irritability, rage. Very intense.) I couldn’t stand the feeling of it. Just as I suspected. Furthermore, we couldn’t afford formula. My husband was between jobs and we were living off my maternity leave. Formula was out of the question.
We tried so hard for weeks. And both of us suffered. But I was determined to give my baby breastmilk. It’s easily digestable, plus its FREE. *Light bulb moment!* If we can’t get it to work directly from the tap, then I’ll pump it out! Let me just mention, pumping is a skill in itself. It’s absolutely NOT just “hook up the pump to your boob, turn it on, and out comes the waterfall flow of milk.” Not even close. But after TONS of research and trial and error, I figured it out. Pumping is very time-consuming. I had to set alarms to wake up every 4 hours at night to pump for 40 minutes. Pumped every 2-4 hours during the day, 40 minutes each time. But I did it. I managed to increase my milk supply enough to not only feed my baby but fill up an entire deep freezer full of milk! (Go me!) Kid #2 – Second Chance at Breastfeeding Because of my first failed awful experience with breastfeeding, pregnancy #2 had even more anxious concerns. Lawd, please let it work out this time! Baby #2 is born. Another hungry naked ball of love! Ok, here goes nothin’. We attempt to latch… SUCCESS! Well, at least with the latching part. (for the time being…) Why were we so uncomfortable?! Boppy pillows, football holds, cross holds, ALL THE PILLOWS…nothing made this a comfortable experience. Nothing. We both were always in awkward positions. My arms and wrist near falling off from discomfort. Baby ends up unlatching and latching because of constant adjusting.
And there is still the awful nursing aversion. I couldn’t stand the feeling! About 2 weeks in, I noticed baby isn’t gaining the way he should be. Here we go with the lactation consultants again (which by the way, are not really very helpful in my experiences). The doctor eventually deems baby “failure to thrive.” Words that basically made me feel like I was starving my baby. Again. I started pumping to supplement (by this time, I loathed pumping after the months of pumping my life away with my first kid). But I was still determined to have this breastfeeding thing work out this second go around! We were so close! At least this kid could latch. But what the heck was the problem? Why wasn’t he gaining? Turned out, after weeks of lactation consultants and struggle, he sucked at sucking! (pun intended lol) A “lazy sucker” is what they called him. Basically, he would suck until the flow started and then wait for it to just flow into his mouth. Well, the breast doesn’t really work that way. Baby has to keep sucking for the flow to continue, and for the breast to refill with the needed amount of milk. So my milk supply was tanking because baby wasn’t sucking it all out! Great. Just great. Here we go again with the nursing issues. I pumped and nursed. Pumped and nursed. Nursed and pumped. Nursed and pumped. Did I mention I also had 2 under 2, so another toddler (my first kid) to care for?! I didn’t have time to do this failed nursing and pumping ALL DAY LONG. I felt I was completely neglecting my first child, setting him in front of the tv half the time because I had to tend to the crying hungry baby or pump (who would take 20-30 minutes to nurse because he was a “lazy sucker”). I cried all the time because, well, you know, feeling like a failure (again) and all, but mostly because I missed my first child. But I was determined to give my second baby breastmilk for the first 12 months (why was I so adamant about this?!) So I nursed and pumped. Often. OFTEN, I tell you! Because he never filled up from each feeding – so an hour or so later he was hungry again. Ugh. Middle of the night feedings, obviously, was all me. Because of lack of sleep and frustration of EVERYTHING, I noticed myself starting to be pissy and resentful and grumpy towards the baby whenever it was nursing time, especially when we had a hard time getting the latch down. Then I would feel like an asshole for getting pissed at an infant. Cry. The guilt was real. Always. About everything. Long story long, I made it 9 months with baby #2. 9 straight months of this agony. (And it really was agony.) My milk supply had tanked almost completely (because of my lazy sucker) and I would have to squeeze and squeeze my breast, each breast, for him to even get drops out. He would nurse often still because there was hardly anything in there. He was hovering in the 19th percentile for weight, eventually dropping to the 12th and 13th. I remember walking up to my husband and declaring I was going to stop breastfeeding. I was over it. My goal of 12 months was unrealistic due to ALL the complications. Was it worth it to keep feeling this way? To keep my baby practically hungry always because I (for some reason) insisted that he get breastmilk only for the first 12 months? I went and bought a tub of formula. Baby immediately took it (probably because he was in 9 months of hunger). And we never looked back. “Breast is Best”
Is it, though? Is it best in every situation? My mind being brainwashed to think “Breast is Best” had my kids and I suffering to “make” it happen.
Was my mental state what was best for my babies? Being as stressed as I was. Resentful. Grumpy because WHY CAN’T WE GET THIS DOWN. My poor babies losing weight and doctors labeling as “failure to thrive.” Being so stressed out for our every-other-day doctor visits to check baby’s weight gain and crying each time after seeing the scale. Constantly feeling guilty for “failing” them. Always a crying mess because of all of the above? Literally hating the physical feeling of a baby on my nipple? Needless to say, my breastfeeding journey was not what I had hoped for. Those nursing pictures you see of mamas smiling while gazing into their baby’s eyes as baby suckles and cuddles was not the case for me. Twice. Moms telling me they love the bonding experience they had breastfeeding, and how they were sad when their baby weaned themselves was not how it went down for us. Easily getting enough sleep because as baby wakes up in the middle of the night, they could just flip over a boob in his mouth and drift back to sleep. Not even close to how it was for me. (We could never get the comfortable positions down so it was me sitting upright holding baby’s neck for every feeding… for 30 minutes or more…in the middle of the night…multiple times a night – super uncomfortable and tiring.) During both of my failed breastfeeding attempts, I was always stressed. Physically hurting (raw nipples). Tired. Worried. Defeated. Sorry. The guilt for everything was weighing me down. It broke me. My mental state suffered. And it reflected onto my husband and kids. All because I held on to that “dream” to breastfeed. Because I felt I was “supposed” to breastfeed. But I held onto that dream too long. Trying to “force” something to happen that just simply wasn’t going to work out. “Breast is Best?” Breast absolutely was not best in my case. Both times.
I am now 3 and a half years deep into being a mama. When my 3 and a half-year-old has one of his tantrums because something he’s doing isn’t working out (such as trying to put his shoe on or trying to stack his blocks and they keep falling down) I teach him to try again. If no success the second time, then take a break and come back to it, but this time try it a different way. 9 times out of 10, he ends up with a smile on his face because “I did it, mama! I did it!”
If only I had followed this advice much earlier during my two breastfeeding experiences. It would have saved us so much unnecessary stress. I tell my story for the moms or moms-to-be who were like me – assumed that one of the most natural things would be so easy. And were/are being told that breastfeeding is what’s best for your baby, and that’s all there is to it. Or the ones who are trying with all they’ve got in them to breastfeed and feeling that stigma of a complete failure. And also for the moms who have decided to formula feed, and are getting “the looks” and comments from people who insist on giving their unsolicited opinion that “you should be breastfeeding, because it’s what’s best.” Dear Mama, I want you to know you are enough. You are what your baby needs. Breastfeeding or no breastfeeding. Formula vs. breastfeeding. Blah blah…eff it all! Feed your baby. Feed your baby, love your baby, and above all else, take care of yourself. A happy mom means so much when it comes to raising these little humans. Dear Mama, forget the sayings. Forget what people are telling you that you “should” be doing with your baby. What’s the “right way,” according to them. Do what makes you and your baby happy. Because Fed is Best. And all they need is you.