Breastfeeding isn’t always beautiful

Photo of a woman sitting in a park in the fall, against a tree, breasfeeding a baby
Photo by Dave Clubb on Unsplash

I feel like breastfeeding has been all over the news and internet these days. Everything from the pros to the cons, everyone has an opinion, everyone has an anecdote to share.

Here’s my adventure in breastfeeding… sort of.

I didn’t think I would be physically capable of breastfeeding since my reduction mammaplasty in 2008. My surgeon explained to me that it most likely wouldn’t be possible and I accepted that. My physical and mental health were more important to me at the time.

Fast-forward nine years later to my third trimester. I noticed I was producing colostrum and started to get excited at the prospect of being able to breastfeed, but I didn’t get my hopes up too high. I researched breastfeeding after a reduction surgery and talked to friends and friends of friends about their breastfeeding experiences. I looked up how to get a breast pump through my insurance and looked up lactation consultants in my area. I wanted to be prepared. One of my friends was also kind enough to put me in touch with her friend, who had experience trying to breastfeed after having a reduction. By the time came to have Archie, I had a pretty excited and positive mindset about the whole thing.

A few hours after Archie was born, I took my first shot at breastfeeding. She couldn’t latch. A lactation consultant came to see me and give me tips, the nurses tried to give me tips, she still couldn’t really latch. I also attended an in-hospital breastfeeding seminar. On the third day of my hospital stay, I had two nurses, a lactation consultant, my mother and Mark in my room trying to encourage me and help me to feed my baby. The frustration built up to the point where I boiled over and just sobbed. I felt like I was being pushed to do something that clearly wasn’t working and I didn’t feel good about it anymore. I was told that pumping would help and I was given a handful of tricks to try from spoon-feeding colostrum to different ways of positioning the baby. Finally, a nurse suggested supplementing with formula until I could get the whole breast feeding thing sorted. I couldn’t believe how long it took for someone to “give me permission” to use formula. At that stage I actually felt guilty about using it. So much focus was put on the importance of breastfeeding and on the breast milk, that I truly started believing that formula may not be good enough.

When it came time to leave the hospital, Archie still couldn’t properly latch. There were a few times where she sort of had it, but it was incredibly painful for me and it never lasted long. I was mentally spent. She was cluster feeding for the first couple of nights we were home. Anyone who’s ever had a newborn, knows cluster feeding is pure hell. The baby was up every 2-3 hours, screaming to be fed. The lactation consultant gave me a plan when I left the hospital and part of it directed me to try breast feeding for at least ten minutes before giving her formula, but we quickly moved to strictly formula because everyone, including Archie, was just too tired and frustrated to push the breastfeeding thing. I tried to pump as often as I could, but between taking care of Archie and trying to sleep myself, I wasn’t pumping as often as I should have been. Still, for a time, it looked like my milk supply was coming in and I was able to pump enough to give her about 2 oz of breast milk a day. I felt good about that.

On our first visit to the pediatrician, she said it was fine to keep doing what we were doing with the formula and breast milk. She said it didn’t matter that I couldn’t breast feed, because Archie was getting some of my milk via pumping. I was okay with that. I didn’t enjoy pumping, but I didn’t hate it yet because it was giving me a bit of alone time while my mother-in-law  or Mark looked after Archie.

About a  month in I was really resenting having to pump. It was particularly difficult to pump while alone with Archie, because if she was screaming, I would have to pick her up to soothe her, which meant stopping pumping. I had a really good electric pump and I even purchased a pumping bra so I could go completely hands-free, which helped, but it was still tough to do anything else while attached to the damn thing. Also around this time, my milk supply started drying up and I couldn’t see the point in pumping anymore because I was barely getting anything. We were adding any little bit I could get to Archie’s formula bottles, but it wasn’t much. I was eating lactation-friendly foods, pumping more often than I was in the beginning, doing skin-to-skin with Archie before pumping, pumping after a warm shower, etc. None of this was helping and I was just getting angry at the whole process. Cleaning all the pump parts every night on top of all the bottle washing and sterilizing, wasn’t fun for Mark either. We waited to see the pediatrician and get some insights on what to do from there.

Archie’s pediatrician is wonderful. She’s nice, practical, to-the-point and not at all condescending. We told her about my pumping troubles and she just said

“Then just stop. There’s no point in doing this if it’s driving you crazy and you and the baby aren’t getting anything out of it.”

I felt like this big weight was finally lifted! I was so happy. I didn’t really need her permission, but I felt like I did. This meant I had more time during the day to just be with Archie and enjoy her. I could have the time to nap and go out for walks, etc., which was next to impossible when I was trying to schedule everything around pumping AND Archie’s feeding schedule.

Things improved dramatically for us from there. I firmly believe “fed is best,” and feel zero guilt about it. Archie is growing VERY well, she’s eating like a champ, and she’s healthy. I also feel like we’ve bonded well.

I think the takeaway from this whole experience is that my mental health has to be a priority, especially if I want to be the best mother I can be. Self care is so important, whether you’re a mother or not. I’m learning to be kinder to myself and to just keep pushing to do the best I can for me and my family.

To all the mommies out there struggling with the whole breastfeeding saga, I hear you, I see you, and I’m sending you all the positive vibes!