Thursday, April 02, 2015

An Honest Story About the Ups and Downs of Breastfeeding

My healthy, happy boy
I feel I have to write about my breastfeeding experiences to help other moms. Breastfeeding is a wonderful, beautiful honor. It's natural and "feels" (not literally!) good. The sense of pride and accomplishment you feel when you see your baby growing because of you, is incomprehensible. It is also hard, frustrating, and draining. Here is my story.

When I found I was pregnant with my first baby in 2009, I knew right away I wanted to breastfeed. It's natural. It's cost saving. It's beautiful. I got myself totally prepared by going to a class to learn all about it. The tips and advice I learned was very valuable at the time. I even went so far as to tell my family that I didn't want visitors at the hospital when my daughter arrived so I could focus on breastfeeding and perfecting the latch. She seemed to do okay upon birth and I had a few visits with the lactation consultant before I was discharged from the hospital.

The next ten days were the best and worst days of my life. I thought I was doing good with breastfeeding but my daughter was cluster feeding like crazy. She never got off my breast and she even would sleep for very long stretches. A week after she got home, the doctor told me she was not gaining weight, but losing. He told me to start giving her formula because she wasn't getting enough. I tried to pump but had nothing. I called the lactation consultant and she was not very helpful. I felt so deflated. I felt like a terrible mother because of all the preparation I did and all the research, when it came down to it, I was unable to provide for my daughter the way God had meant me to. I cried for days. My milk never came. I never felt that sensation and knew I was starving my child. She started formula right after I saw the doctor and came alive.

All the preparation and valuable advice was useless. I could't feed my daughter the way I had dreamed I would. I felt she got stuck with the non best option of formula. I still feel guilty to this day.

Fast forward to 2014 when I was pregnant for the second time, I just had to try again. I did more research and knew that in the hospital, I was not leaving until the lactation consultant helped me to perfect the latch with my son. Luckily, he latched right on and did well. The women who helped me offered really good advice and even gave me some tools to use at home.

When I got home, I breastfed nonstop. My son didn't stop, ever. The best part though was going to the doctor and seeing my son gain weight. It was working. I actually felt my milk coming in and my son had a full belly. I felt so accomplished. The first six weeks of his life were exhausting to me. All I did was feed. I sat on the couch watching TV with my boppy, my nipple shield, and my son. I ate more than I ate when pregnant because I was starving constantly as my son drained the life from me, literally. He ate and prospered and I was proud.

As the end of my maternity leave loomed ahead, I started stressing about what I was going to do. I started pumping so I could stock up, but I had nothing. No matter when I pumped or how often, I only got 1-2 ounces total. I drank the mother's milk tea and it actually helped a bit but regardless, I still didn't have much. There was no storing of my breast milk so I finally decided I needed to start supplementing formula so I could pump and have some extras. I started giving my son 6 oz of formula a day around 8 weeks. This allowed me to stock pile some breastmilk - but not enough. I was never able to freeze and save it. I just never had enough no matter what I did.

I was frustrated all over again. Luckily my son didn't care if I gave him a bottle or the breast; formula or breastmilk. He was just happy to be fed. I started back to work and the breastfeeding became less and the formula and bottle feedings became more. I'm very lucky that my full time job is remote so I'm home every day with my son so I could potentially breastfeed during the day but how can I breastfeed when I'm busy, in meetings, and bottle feeding is so much faster.

And of course as soon as I stopped breastfeeding as often, things changed. It was as if my body was finally accepting the breastfeeding and it was ready for the long hall. My breasts stop getting engorged and I was able to pump more. It's as if as soon as I couldn't do breastfeeding the way I was when he was first born, it was better. But then something wonderful and awful happened.

My three month old starting sleeping all through the night. Yes, for real. He went to bed around 8/9pm and slept until 6 or 7. But when he woke up, he just wanted to eat. He didn't want to wait for my milk to arrive, he didn't want it coming out so slow, he just wanted a bottle and wanted it right then! He refused my breast.

I remember it. The one day last week when I had him on the breast and he was gulping like nobody's business; happy and fulfilled. The next day, he wouldn't take it in the morning. He wouldn't take it in the afternoon, or the early evening. He wouldn't take it the next morning either. And just like that, we went 3 days without him on the breast. I never got to cherish my last feeding with him. It kind of just stopped.

I was very sad and mourned the bonding time we had had but I kept pumping. I was not going to give up! I had made it almost four months despite almost throwing in the towel so many times because of my exhaustion, my crazy work schedule, and the lack of milk I was producing. So everyday since then I've been pumping. And every time I pumped I got 2 oz. Then one day I pumped only once and then one day I didn't pump. And then I stopped. I just stopped. Spending 10 minutes of my time pumping for not even half a bottle just didn't make sense. My son was thriving and perfectly fine drinking formula.

So now I am at day 3 of no pumping but I'm still sad and I feel like a failure. But at the same time, I am struggling about giving him all formula and feeling like a failure. Which also brings up my formula fed daughter. Does that mean my daughter who only got formula was worse off? Was she deprived?

We keep hearing about breast being best. But they never tell you that breastfeeding is hard, stressful, time consuming, and they definitely don't tell that it's okay if you feed your baby formula. They also don't tell you how you get judged when you stick a bottle in your child's mouth rather than a breast. Can I just say that whenever I was feeding my son a bottle of breastmilk, I almost wanted to tell everyone around that it was breastmilk and I was just nervous to do it in public? It's like I needed people do know I was breastfeeding and not using formula. Like I really cared what people thought. For the record that is so not me!

I truly loved that I was able to use my body to help my son grow. It really was beautiful even though I felt the least beautiful I've ever been during those three months. I will miss breastfeeding and all that it did for my child. But I will not miss all the frustration that came with it. Nor will I ever forget my younger sister telling me she is never going to breastfeed after seeing my struggles with it. That really saddened me because I know some women don't have any trouble at all.

But for those of us who aren't lucky, breastfeeding isn't all puppies and rainbows. Here are my top ten tips I learned that I hope can help new moms.

  1. Nipple shields are our friends. No one told me about this when I was struggling with my daughter. If I had had one of these then, she would have done so much better. The hospital has these so make them give you one before you leave and use it! I used mine exclusively for most of the three months. I definitely had some flat nipples going on (TMI) so it was super important for me or I'd have failed so much sooner. You just have to be careful that the milk doesn't puddle up in it or your breast isn't stimulated enough.
  2. Do not breastfeed in public if you can help it at all! Seriously. It's not about getting kicked out of places or even being stared at. It's just uncomfortable! I could never breastfeed unless I had the boppy and the nipple shield. So trying to hold a non petite baby with no support and trying to get a nipple shield on the breast and getting non petite baby on it under a cover, sucked ass. It was SO frustrating. I got all sweaty, stressed, and my son hated the cover and the fact that I was stressed. I didn't feel comfortable letting it all hang out so I made myself use the cover. 
  3. Make sure you're comfortable before you start. The last thing you want to do after the baby is all settled and latched is move and have to redo things. No matter how much the baby was screaming, I made sure my back was comfy as priority number one. I made sure I had support (insert boppy) to help hold the baby, and I had my water, a burp cloth, the TV remote, and my phone in reaching distance with my free hand. The moment I started feeding and didn't have this all set, it was a very uncomfortable hour. (as an aside... I broke rule number 2 and 3 one night at a restaurant. It was just Jared and me plus the baby and I was certain he'd just sleep right through dinner. Nope! He started wailing right as our food came. I had to hold him football style with one arm under the cover while I ate. It was a very awkward position and I felt it for 3 days. I pinched a nerve or something and it was awful!)
  4. Be prepared to not leave your house or your couch for a very long time. Who knew babies did this thing called cluster feeding. Essentially that means they don't leave your boob for more than five minutes. They feed constantly. All day. Forever! Let's just say I watched the entire Gilmore Girls series (all 7 seasons!) in an amazing marathon of about 4 weeks. What else is there to do! Just know this is normal and be prepared.
  5. Eat. A lot. Often. I was more hungry when I was breastfeeding then I've ever been in my life! I didn't gain any weight but I didn't lose any either. I could never get full enough. And be sure to drink water constantly. 
  6. Take a drive by yourself. When you're breastfeeding, you usually can't leave the baby for more than an hour or 2 at a time. But every day, if you can, take a drive by yourself; even if it's only 15 minutes. I never thought going to CVS by myself for one errand could be so invigorating. It is more refreshing than you can imagine when you're homebound!
  7. Definitely pump but it takes time. I really disliked pumping but because I got only a few ounces every session. It was time consuming but also I felt a waste for me. So if you do it and don't get much, it's okay and normal. I constantly felt there was something wrong with me when I didn't get much. But pump every day, the same time each day and eventually (like 3 months later!) your body will kick in. It really takes time.
  8. Mother's milk tea actually works. You can buy this at the grocery store in the tea aisle and it works. I didn't mind the taste of it but felt it was tastier when it was luke warm rather than hot. I usually let it sit for a bit before drinking.
  9. You must have the best nursing tank ever. I LOVE these. I wear them daily and have for the past few years. The best maternity item I bought that you don't have to use as maternity. I actually got 2 more after I had my son since I wore them every day.
  10. Buy only disposal breast pads. Don't waste your money on the fancy, organic fabric ones. Your leaking goes right through them. The only pads I liked were the Lansinoh ones because they had two stickys and never moved. The Medela ones only have one sticky and don't stay in place.
Finally, just when you think you're going to go batty, ape shit, crazy, keep going but don't be afraid to stop when you need to. You will be exhausted - more than you've ever been. You can't leave your child for more than an hour or 2 at most. But do what is best for you. Know that you're doing something amazing and rewarding but it's not the end of the world if you need to give your child formula. They will survive!

I do believe breast is best but is not for everyone. I'm trying my best to come to terms that I am no longer breastfeeding and it's okay. It really is okay. My child is not worse off than some baby exclusively breastfed for a year. My son is healthy and happy and that is the most important thing. No more judging, no more guilt - I'm working on it.

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