Breastfeeding is hard.
Natural as the effort may seem, I’ve yet to come across a mom who has been able to nurse without some difficulty. Some people have issues with pain. Others have trouble with supply (over and under). Babies have tongue ties. Moms have inverted nipples. The list of troubles that can arise are seemingly endless and abundantly common.
For me, breastfeeding my son was the one thing I wanted. I wasn’t married to having a vaginal birth. Hell, I didn’t even have a birth plan. What I did want though, was the opportunity to breastfeed my baby for as long as I chose.
Little did I know how difficult that could be.
I was induced at 39-weeks, which ended in a C-section. Two things that can make kick starting breastfeeding difficult. I didn’t get to try to breastfeed my son in the first hour of his life. When I finally got to see a lactation nurse, her slam-the-baby-into-the-boob style wasn’t exactly easy to replicate.
The bottom line is, when I left the hospital, my baby would not nurse.
I tried. I cried. He cried while we tried. In the post partum flood of hormones and faced with my son’s fast-declining weight, I caved and gave him formula. It’s not easy for a new mom to see her baby’s weight drop, so I did the only thing I knew how and fed him a bottle while I wept.
At first I tried hand-expressing ever drop I could. Fractions of teaspoons came out and I gave every drop to him. Within week one, I started pumping as well. And again, small amounts trickled forth and I gave everything I could to him.
I was devastated as I pumped and gave him a bottle, but consoled myself by saying, “at least he was getting some breast milk.” As his weight came up I started to look for ways to get back to breastfeeding. In doing so, I learned A LOT. A lot that I couldn’t find anywhere online. So while I know there is so much information out there, I can’t help but to add my two cents.
Keep in mind I’m not a professional. I’m just someone who went through this.
Baby Cries When Put To Breast
This was my top problem. My supply was low, but what was most painful is that my son seemed truly repulsed by nursing. Any time I would try to put him to breast, he would immediately start screaming and crying.
My fragile post-pregnancy mind could barely hold it together in these moments.
What I wish I would have known then was that it only took a few more minutes of patience for him to calm. In that calm is when he could have latched.
Seeing a Lactation Consultant
It took me over a month to make an appointment with a lactation expert after leaving the hospital. I wish it had been the first thing I did when I started having problems.
I saw a woman who was both a pediatrician and a lactation specialist. I think the combination made a big impact. I went into that office having not breastfed in over five weeks. I walked out of there and have been nursing ever since.
Maybe my pediatrician was extraordinary. Maybe the consultation is just the best way to go. Either way, see if your insurance covers a consult and go. If your insurance doesn’t, reach out to La Leche League.
Pumping Helps Supply, Nothing Is Better Than Baby
In the interim, while I tried to get my boy back on the boob, I pumped. And I pumped. And I pumped. I never felt my milk “come in” so I pulled out ever drop I could.
In slow, immeasurable amounts, my supply increased while pumping. I was devastated by the seemingly pathetic amounts I was able to produce. What it did, though, was make sure I didn’t lose my supply while I tried to figure out how to breastfeed.
Pumping is probably the least sexy, least enjoyable thing I have ever done, and yet, I’m so thankful for it because it gave me a bridge while I figured out what I was doing.
Again, check to see if your insurance covers a pump. There are also ways to rent pumps, borrow them and some very generous moms who will donate theirs. Don’t assume because you can’t afford a pump that you can’t have one.
Know too that once you do get baby latched, that he or she will do more for your supply than pumping ever could. Trust the signs your baby provides to know whether they are getting enough.
Fenugreek, Lactation Cookies, Power Pumping and Other Forms of Madness
I dare say I tried just about everything to increase my supply. Until my baby latched and was nursing for a couple of weeks, my supply just wasn’t enough to sustain my son’s growing appetite. I tried everything to produce more. From flax seed-filled cookies to hours at the pump, it seemed all I did in those first weeks was try to make more milk. Though I can’t say my 10-vitamin a day regimen or a-dozen-a-day cookie habit helped, I can’t explicitly say they didn’t.
Like me, if you are having supply issues, you will try everything Google can tell you about breastfeeding. You will feel crazy. Fenugreek will make you smell like syrup. Power pumping will make you hate everything and want to save all the world’s cows. Just know that as you’re doing all these things that make you feel ugly, unfit and utterly helpless, you are showing your baby all the love in the world and you’re a goddamn warrior for it.
You Will Talk to Everyone About Your Boobs and Feel Bummed
From my doctor to my dad to my brother in law to strangers, my boobs became the focus of all conversations. No longer the sexual, lusty chest jewelry they once were, my poor girls had become medical, sterile and were there for anyone to make opinions about.
It’s really okay. One day, you will put on a sexy bra again. One day your husband will give you a drive by honking that makes you roll your eyes and smile all at once. One day, some old pervert will start right at your tits without an ounce of shame.
Today though, today your breasts are in the business of giving life. Of delivering antibodies. Of supplying nutrition no scientist can even come close to replicating. Let them be miraculous, a-sexual spectacles for now. They will go back to being gawk-worthy lady mounds again some day.
A Baby Who Hasn’t Breastfed, Still Can
My biggest concern and the thing that had me almost quitting just about every day was this:
I was afraid that because my baby hadn’t breastfed in weeks, he never would.
No matter how many people kept telling me to push forward, I was certain that little man would never get there because I didn’t start him out right. He was an exclusively bottle-fed baby for the first 6-weeks of his life. This crushing reality seemed to me the reason I would have to eventually give up on my dream of breastfeeding.
But I didn’t. I didn’t give up. I didn’t stop. I wanted this more than anything, and I got it. He’s nearly four months now and exclusively breastfeeding. Furthermore, I just began freezing my first stored bags of milk. At four weeks, I was devastated and barely holding on to my hope of nursing. Now I go to bed every night snuggling my baby and feeding him until his tummy rounds and his eyes roll back, stuffed to complete happiness.
Be Done When You’re Ready
Now, I will say this. Had the consultation not gone well and nothing I did could get him latched, I would have stopped. I would have realized that this dream was not worth forfeiting my sanity or precious moments I could have been spending giving my baby a bottle and holding him close. If you hit your wits end, whether it’s one week in or 10-weeks in, you are still a rock star for trying. You are still a great mother. With a six and an eight-year-old also in my home, I can tell you, you will have thousands more opportunities to succeed as a mom.
Reach Out for Support
If you are struggling to breastfeed and need someone to bounce ideas off of or commiserate with, don’t hesitate to comment below. One of the best things I did was reach out for support from my mommy friends. It saved me on days when I was ready to be done. Find the people who “get it” and give them a call or go to a support group. It will make a world of difference.