Today I’m posting a guest post written by my friend Alicia. Her breast-feeding story is an incredible tale of challenge and perseverance.
My thoughts on breastfeeding before my son was born was that breast feeding was the obvious choice because it was free, convenient, and let me develop a quick bond with my baby. I thought it was something you just had to choose to do and it would happen; that people who chose not to were just being vain about damaging their precious boobs or cared more about sleeping or some other silly reason. I even went so far as to purchase only a single manual pump because “I won’t even need to pump like, ever”. Looking back on this, I’m embarrassed about just how ignorant and uneducated in the matter I was.
I’ve since discovered that breast feeding can go one of two ways: The best possible scenario being that baby latches on well from the start and there are no issues to speak of. The second being a hellish uphill battle where you end up in a lot of pain, both physical and emotional. My situation was of course the second.
My son was born weighing only 5lbs, 5oz and as moms know, that weight drops a lot right after birth so he was down to about 4 lbs 8 oz. Nurses let me try to breastfeed but he was having problems latching on. Because of his small size they were very eager to give him formula immediately and since I had just woken up from my c-section and was very groggy, I wasn’t in a position to put up much of a fight. He continued to be formula fed through the 4 or so days we spent in the hospital while I would continuously keep trying to get him to latch with no success. At this point I felt sad I wasn’t able to breastfeed but felt mostly ok with it because I wanted him to gain enough weight and be healthy enough for us to leave the hospital asap (I don’t like hospitals).
Once I got home however, it took endless attempts of putting him on, using a nipple shield, and pumping like a mad-woman every 2-3 hours (Of course I immediately bought a double electric pump upon leaving the hospital- no one ever stressed to me just how important a pump is to your supply!) until I finally got him to latch on, about 1.5 months after he was born. I felt constantly stressed, emotional to the point of tears, and exhausted. So you can imagine my excitement when he finally latched on! That was just the beginning though.
Even though he was latching doesn’t mean he was eating. I would have him at the breast for an hour or more and even then when I would try to take him off he would cry and cry (and I would cry and break out into a feverish sweat). I took this to mean that he was still hungry and so I would always top him up with a bottle of formula. This meant our feedings took close to 2 hours sometimes and I basically never left the couch, nevermind the house. I contacted a lactation consultant for some much needed help and she helped me with my positioning and we even tried tube feeding at the breast to supplement him while tricking him to think he was getting it from the breast. Unfortunately he wouldn’t be tricked and spit the tube out everytime. I couldn’t tell at this point if 1) I didn’t have enough milk for him or 2) he preferred the taste of formula over my breastmilk and he was addicted.
Up until this point, he had been drinking breastmilk that I had pumped in a bottle and when I wasn’t able to pump enough, he had formula to top up. Another thing I had no idea about was how brutal pumping is. It’s uncomfortable, awkward, and boring. If I’m honest with myself, I wasn’t always as diligent with my pumping routine as I should have been because for the most part, I was just too damn tired. This was when my emotional roller coaster began. “Well, he’s been on formula already so why don’t I just stop this and just do formula” which quickly changed to “No I can’t do formula, I’ll feel so guilty for giving up, I need to just keep doing this” which eventually turned back into “Can I keep doing this routine without going completely insane?” I knew I had to keep pumping if I was going to keep up any sort of milk supply but I just couldn’t seem to get him to only take the breast without crying insanely afterwards. Complete roller coaster. I was at a point though where I needed to decide one way or another.
This led me to buckle down, sit on my couch for close to 3 days straight (literally) and anytime he was hungry offer him the breast and only the breast every single time. I was disheveled, probably smelly and half (mostly) out of my mind but it wasn’t long before he had had only breastmilk for one whole day. Which then turned into 2 days, 3 days…hooorayy!! I was finally doing it!
Well here I am, a breastfeeding mother after 2.5 months, feeling very accomplished. And then comes the bleeding, cracked nipples that make you want to slap your baby off of you; literally crying throughout the whole feeding because it hurts that bad. It got to the point where it felt like someone was stabbing my breast every time he fed which led me to discover I had a small case of Thrush. Some antibiotics for that and I was back on my way. Then a few months later I developed Mastitis on one side, then on the other side a month later. Mastitis leaves you with painful rock hard boobs (because the milk is trapped), red streaks all over them, painful swollen nipples and basically flu-like symptoms (headache, dizziness, nausea) IT’S THE WORST!!! Surprisingly, I kept at it though. My moral from that story is no matter how unimportant you may think it is to empty your breasts, it’s very important because you don’t want mastitis!!! If your baby won’t drink enough on the second side to empty it at least a bit, you definitely should pump that sucker out!
Another aspect I discovered is that going from having a bottle-fed baby where Dad could help with nighttime feedings to being a breastfeeding mother is that suddenly having to be the only one who has to get up now SUCKS. Your spouse/partner gets to sleep forever and you’re stuck being a sleepless zombie until the end of time (So much anger toward spouse!!!!). But in the end, those are just the sacrifices you have to make. Also to not have to worry about warming up a bottle when out and about=awesome!
For me, choosing to breastfeed started off as the most logical choice, and ended up being something I had to fight extremely hard to achieve. It was something I was determined to accomplish not because I had something specifically against formula feeding (because formula was there for me when I needed it!), but because I had made the choice and wanted to stick with it. I learned A LOT about what to do and what not to do and learned that breast feeding definitely does not just “happen” because you want it to. In my opinion, you have to decide if you’re going to breastfeed or bottle feed and be ok with that decision. Just choose one and make yourself be ok with it because flip/flopping between the two forever will only bring you a lot more pain and stress. One is not necessarily the right answer for everyone. I look back on my experience with starting to breastfeed and feel proud of myself for emerging alive on the other side with a 13 month old that still loves the boob.