Breastfeeding Might Suck And Your Baby Might Not
I spent nine pregnant months reading articles about breastfeeding which had me strongly convinced that it would be a beautiful, healthy bonding experience for both mother and baby. In my career as a pediatric nurse, I’d helped many moms and babies breastfeed and never noticed any real difficulties. I had no reason to doubt that the articles were all true.
And then I had a baby.
I remember the first time I tried to nurse Isaac. I had to wait two incredibly long hours after my C-Section to hold him. When he was finally in my arms, I immediately began throwing up and had to hand him off to someone else. After receiving a clean gown and some anti-nausea meds, I finally managed to hold him long enough to attempt to breastfeed. I brought him to my boob, waited for the magic to start, and nothing happened. He was sleepy and had no interest in attempting to latch. It was the beginning of a stressful and frustrating journey for both of us.
As the day of his birth progressed and I continued trying to breastfeed, we were getting nowhere fast. At each feed, Isaac would struggle to latch on, quickly lose interest, and start letting out blood curdling screams. We soon discovered that if Rich (my husband) dropped small amounts of formula onto my boob while Isaac was latched on, between high pitched screams, he would continue to suck. Each feed took at least 45 minutes and required that my husband spent the entire time crouched over my shoulder. We did this every feed, every two to three hours. It was terrible for everyone.
Every medical professional who walked into the room seemed to offer a different reason for why we were struggling with breastfeeding. Having to sift through the differing opinions only made things more difficult.
Things only worsened when we got home. Isaac was not gaining weight so we started supplementing him with formula and pumped breast milk. I would spend 45 minutes trying to feed him (he’d spend most of that time screaming), then give him a bottle, pump milk, wash pump and bottle parts, and then start the entire cycle over again. Nearly every moment of my day was consumed by the grueling cycle.
After two-and-a-half weeks of this craziness, we were finally connected to a local breastfeeding resource center. We were evaluated by a wonderful lactation consultant who discovered that, although he was rhythmically sucking, Isaac was not extracting milk from my breast. The poor kid was screaming at each feed because he was hungry and frustrated. Seeing my complete exhaustion, she recommended that I take a break from breastfeeding, bottle feed Isaac, and keep up my supply by pumping.
For the next six weeks, I continued to pump, and would daily attempt to breastfeed Isaac. I was plagued by chronic clogged ducts and multiple bouts of mastitis. We had Isaacs mouth evaluated and his tongue-tie corrected. I had been told by several people that around 6 weeks babies just “figure things out” and all of your breastfeeding issues will magically go away. I was desperately hoping that would be the case for us, but sadly, it wasn’t.
When Isaac was two months old, I went back to the breastfeeding center for a follow up appointment. Isaac was again evaluated and was still unable to extract milk from my breast. He was latched and rhythmically sucking, but nothing was coming out. At that moment, our breastfeeding journey came to an end. I made the decision to try and exclusively pump for Isaac and was able to do so for ten months. I never made quite enough milk and we supplemented with formula. Isaac was an 80% breastfed baby via the bottle. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
If you are reading this and are an expectant first-time mother who is planning on breastfeeding, I am sorry if I am scaring you. That really is not my intention. But you should know ahead of time that breastfeeding may not be magical, beautiful, or easy. In the beginning, it may be more stressful than bonding; more difficult that natural. And that’s okay. You and your baby will work through it together and discover what will work best for everyone.
When I was pregnant with Ellie (my second baby), given what I went through with Isaac, I was very anxious about breastfeeding. Two months before she was born, I scheduled a prenatal appointment at the same breastfeeding resource center I’d visited with Isaac. I sat with the consultant and discussed what happened in the past, and together we crafted a plan that would provide me with the support I needed in those important first few weeks after Ellie’s arrival.
Ellie was also delivered via C-section, but this time she stayed with me in the OR rather than being whisked away like Isaac. I was able to hold her as soon as I was brought to recovery. As soon as I was settled, in the midst of terrible nausea and vomiting, I attempted to breastfeed Ellie. I experienced what never happened with Isaac; Ellie latched on and began to eat. There was no drama and no pain; she just latched on and ate. Having struggled so badly with Isaac, I almost couldn’t believe it. I was thrilled. Nearly nine months later, I’m still breastfeeding Ellie. We’ve never had a single problem and it’s been a very redemptive experience for which I am very thankful.
If you are having a baby and are planning to breastfeed, I strongly suggest finding support before you have your baby. Find a local lactation consultant you trust, support groups you can attend, and friends who’ve been down this road before. As moms, we are really all in this together. The more we are able to support and carry one another, the more we will all succeed in our unique journeys of motherhood.
I hope that your experience with breastfeeding is smooth and easy. However, if you find yourself awake in the middle of the night with a screaming baby you can’t seem to feed, know that you are not alone. So many moms before you have faced the same pains and struggles. You aren’t failing nor are you a failure. You’re just a new mom trying to do the best you can. And you can’t give anything more than that.
*If you are new or expectant mom in the Montgomery or Bucks County area, I’d highly recommend contacting The Breastfeeding Resource Center. They are wonderful and have offered our family so much support!