Motherhood has a certain way of taking your perfectly laid plans and throwing them out the window. Breastfeeding has been no exception. I knew it would be a little difficult in the beginning, but once that all-so-important latch is figured out it’s smooth sailing, right?
Not exactly… well, not for me anyway. I could never have anticipated the emotional roller coaster nursing has taken me on.
There is a very clear message from everyone that “breast is best,” and there’s a clear cringe-worthy social stigma if you DON’T breastfeed. The benefits of breastfeeding can’t be argued but, unfortunately, it’s not that simple for many women.
Post after post online of women so naturally and beautifully nursing can set unrealistic expectations for moms. I want moms to know that they aren’t alone if they think it is really freaking hard.
Beyond the pressure to nurse, there seems to be an unspoken rule that you have to love the whole experience. If you don’t, you don’t talk about it. I’m not saying that nursing isn’t a very special time — it is. I now truly cherish the time when I’m nursing my son, but it took me a long time to get me here. Some days you don’t like it and really struggle. Some days it’s a piece of cake. Something that seemingly should be easy because our bodies are made to do it and women have been nursing for (literally) millions of years can be anything but.
From the start, nursing was hard for me. I got hit with mastitis 10 days after my son was born. For anyone who hasn’t experienced a clogged duct, to put it mildly, it hurts like hell. Additionally, I frequently got engorged if I let myself sleep more than four hours [Yes, my son slept five to six hours in the beginning…I believe it was his way of apologizing for our insanely hard 33-hour labor]. Every night I battled with myself internally on setting an alarm to pump in the middle of the night. How long could I let myself sleep without feeling the repercussions the next day? On top of the engorgement, I was having vasospams, which basically means your entire boobs hurts 24/7 and I wouldn’t be able to sleep many times due to the pain.
Thankfully, my milk supply regulated and engorgement wasn’t as big an issue. But, unfortunately my boobs are uber sensitive and to this day I can’t wear a bra or nursing tank top for more than a couple of hours without getting a painful hard spot later in the day. Lucky for me it’s winter so I can wear vests to hide my braless self which, sidenote, makes me feel super scandalous whenever I’m out in public.
Shall I keep going? I’ve also dealt with frequent sore nipples. They were so sore I would silently cry many nights as I was nursing. I didn’t even want to shower because using a towel to dry off afterward hurt them so badly. [NOTE: I worked closely with a wonderful lactation consultant to help me with these issues — it’s different for everyone, but we realized after a lot of trial and error that pumping was causing the vasospams and sore nipples.]
Finally, after so much trial and error, I felt like I was getting the hang of the whole thing. I actually began to enjoy it! We went in for my son’s three month well check appointment and the doctor declared he hadn’t gained one ounce in five weeks. For those who don’t know, that is really concerning. After investigating many potential reasons for this lack of weight gain, we determined I had low supply. I was so thankful that it wasn’t something more serious but also felt awful that I couldn’t provide for my son. I felt like a failure.
I surprised myself with how upset I was over the thought of potentially having to formula feed him from here on out if I couldn’t boost my supply (thanks, “breast is best” stigma!). When just a few weeks before I was saying how I don’t understand how moms love nursing so much and never want to wean their babies, now here I was devastated at the thought of it. Not to mention I felt like I was failing him from a nutritional standpoint having to supplement with formula. I was surely setting him up for a lifetime of digestive issues feeding him these awful ingredients. I avoid corn syrup in anything I eat like the plague yet was giving it to my 12 week old baby.
I equated low supply with having something wrong with my health. Clearly I was doing something wrong, right? When you research low milk production, the number one thing that will lower it is…drumroll please…stress. And of course when you feel like you are starving your child, you are are freaking stressed! The doctor wanted me to pump after every feeding to stimulate supply, record how much formula I was giving after every time I nursed, take milk supply boosting supplements three times a day, drink special tea, eat oatmeal every day… and the list goes on. This didn’t add any stress at all since new moms have all the time in the world to do a detailed protocol every day [sarcasm font]. But, I jumped in, and being the overachiever that I am, added acupuncture to the mix to see if that would help. But the stress of trying to remember to do it all was too much and pumping was making me sore again.
After some time I realized all I can do is my best. I cut back on pumping since the pain made me start to resent nursing again. I chose not to worry if one day I missed taking a supplement. I eat well and make sure to take my general health supplements so I am at peace knowing he is getting some good nutrition filtered down to him.
I also talked to many moms who experienced low supply and many of them are the perfect picture of health. I realized health doesn’t have anything to do with supply and I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Some women just have low supply.
Once again, motherhood has taught me we put so much importance on how we think things should go. We want so badly to do right by our babies but sometimes things are out of our control. Today I still nurse every feeding and supplement with a little formula. It is still a lot of work, but I’m happy to do it to make sure my son is getting the nutrition he needs. I hope to breastfeed for a year but who knows what the future holds. However long it ends up being, my son will be FINE. However long you nurse for is the perfect amount of time for your baby. There is no right or wrong path and I think that “fed is best”.
Whenever I feel down about my nursing struggles, I remember two things my Mom has told me. “When your child walks across that high school graduation stage, no one is going to ask him how long he was breastfed for.” That one makes me laugh but it’s so true. Most importantly she reminds me, “More important than anything else, your baby needs love. You are giving him so much love and that outweighs however he is fed.” Amen.