My Journey with Breastfeeding
Let me preface this by saying that I know there may be some eye rolls an grumpy moms, because it is honest and real. So Sanctimommies, step aside. So often people are afraid to speak their minds and be completely honest - mostly because whatever you have to complain about, it could always be worse.
And it's true. And there are a lot of moms who struggle getting pregnant, who struggle with pregnancy complications, and who struggle with breastfeeding. I am currently breastfeeding our daughter, but I'm going to complain about it. So if that bothers you, stop now. Otherwise, it's about to get real.
My Breastfeeding Journey
Let's start at the very beginning. I was unable to breastfeed our oldest. There were probably a thousand reasons why it didn't work, but the biggest reason was that she was lactose-intolerant and I couldn't even think about dairy without her vomiting and spitting up everywhere. She was hungry and I was frustrated and felt defeated. But after 2 months of her hardly gaining weight and being in constant stomach pain, we switched to soy formula and immediately, it was like we had a different child. She "bulked up" right away. A miracle, really.
Despite her thriving, I felt like a failure. I felt like I failed by not being able to feed her in a "natural" way, the way mothers had been feeding their children for eternity. Breastfeeding is the way God intended babies to be fed.
For me, switching to formula was freeing.
It wasn't an immediate "ah ha" moment, but it was a blessing in disguise. It gave me a smoother transition into motherhood and allowed me to work out of the house. My sister, who had a daughter just 1 month older than Caroline, exclusively breastfed her children, and was tied to her children 24/7. She had to time everything around feedings and it was incredibly daunting. But I also saw the My husband was formula-fed and I knew that formula was so developed that our daughter wouldn't fall behind or be underdeveloped because of it.
Fast forward to my second pregnancy. I was trying to be very open-minded about breastfeeding, despite the fact that I had an incredibly negative experience just 2 years ago. But I also knew that if Delaney had any issues, I would be willing to switch right to formula without hesitation.
I think it was my sister who kept my interest of breastfeeding alive. She is such a strong advocate for "breast is best" and although she can be extremely pushy, I knew that if she could do it with THREE kids, I could try again. If anything, the level of unspoken (and spoken competition) was enough to keep me going - if she can breastfeed, so can I. Not only that, but I wanted to push myself, like if I could breastfeed, I would have conquered something special. Silly, I know. But I needed that competitive push.
Y'all. Breastfeeding is HARD.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to give up during the first few weeks. Engorgement is REAL and it was the most painful experience (for real, more than childbirth... *praise epidurals*) and there were so many tears and moments where I wanted to break out the bottle and can of formula. I would be awake for the 3rd time during the night and I'd look over to see my husband sleeping and instant envy and jealousy would wash over me. All I wanted was ONE good night of sleep. And I couldn't see that anywhere in the near future. If we used bottles then he could join me in the 2am fun...
I thought breastfeeding would give me peace of mind that I was giving my daughter the best I could. But all it did was make me question everything.
Is she eating enough? Is she gaining weight? I am producing enough milk? Does my milk have enough fat?
If I could have weighed her after each feeding, I would have. The thought of buying one of those smart changing tables crossed my mind a thousand times. It quickly became my biggest insecurity - not the rolls of baby weight, not my hormonal acne, not my greasy, un-showered hair. Nope. There would be evenings where she would cluster feed and then the next day not want to eat as often, and I worried that my supply would drop and that would be the end of my breastfeeding journey.
I can't even tell you the number of times I would text my sister and talk about breastfeeding or talk to her in the middle of the night while we were both awake feeding the babies. What I didn't realize is that my problems, my worries, and my insecurities were nothing new. They were normal concerns. So I kept at it.
After the doctor expressed her concern that Delaney wasn't gaining weight fast enough, my heart sunk. I was determined to make it work. There were days that I sat on the couch and just fed Delaney nonstop. A lactation consultant came to the house and we worked on techniques and breastfeeding styles for over an hour. We could do it. I knew we could. I
And we did.
Oddly enough, it was one of my proudest moments to date. When we went to the doctor and it had only been 4 days since our last appointment, I was holding my breath when Delaney was lying on the scale. I didn't want to supplement, I spent hours feeding her, I'm a failure if she didn't gain enough weight. All those thoughts, plus tons more, were rushing through my head. My smile couldn't have been bigger when the doctor said she had gained almost 1/2 a pound in 4 DAYS. 4 days. I did it. We did it.
That's not to say my supply still hasn't been all over the place, or that I still don't worry about her weight gain (I've even resorted to trying to weigh her on the kitchen scale when I'm having a rough day). A lot of moms don't produce enough milk, and sometimes, a mom's supply completely diminishes after a few months. And it can be super discouraging. Some moms don't produce enough milk to create a reserve, so pumping and storing up isn't an option. Other moms overproduce and have literal gallons of milk stored in their freezer (or family's freezers). It's hard for everyone in different ways.
The hardest part of breastfeeding is that you are attached to your baby 24/7. The guilt I feel as I type that is overwhelming. Moms should want to be with their babies all the time, right?! I work from home, so I feed her every 2-3 hours, for approximately 30 minutes. As soon as I'm done and she's changed, I watch the clock as I crank out as much work as possible. Or I balance work with playing with my 2.5 year old. Let's not forget that while I'm keeping a tiny human alive, there's still a bigger tiny human to keep alive as well. And she's not as high maintenance, but I hate not being able to drop everything and play with her like I used to be able to do.
But again, I work from home. I am with the children literally all. the. time. And I'm very fortunate, but at the same time, I find myself struggling to find a healthy balance.
Days when hubby is home, I try to "escape" to a local coffee shop to get some work done uninterrupted. Do I feel bad? Yes. Do I need 2 hours of alone time? Yes. But it is limited to 2 hours because I need to be home to feed the baby before she gets hysterical. As soon as I get situated and really get in the groove of work, it's almost time to pack up and go home again.
Did I mention that breastfeeding is HARD?
Breastfeeding is hard because it's painful. It's not comfortable to have chapped nipples. Letdown is painful. Engorgement is painful, and god-forbid you get mastitis.
It's hard because of the constant leaking. All times of the day, no matter what, there is leaking. Nursing pads only do so much, but you'll soak through them at least once during an inconvenient time.
It's hard because I worry about what I eat and how it'll affect my milk. I can't have spicy food or the baby will be up half the night with gas pains. I have to time any glass of wine or beer so that it's out of my system before I nurse again. If I notice she's particularly fussy one day, I have to comb through my spotty memory of everything I ate to try to narrow it down.
It's hard because it is physically, emotionally, and mentally draining. When I feed her, I can literally feel my body needing hydration. It is exhausting. Plus, breastfeeding can burn 500+ calories a day so while it's a good way to lose the baby weight, the baby is quite literally sucking life out of my body, and I get tired. Plain and simple. Feeding her at night means my sleep pattern is all over the place.
If you don't think it's hard, then you must have superpowers. Captain Super Mom. Good for you. I wish I was in your shoes.
If you think it's hard, I'm right there with you. But you got this - hang in there.
I have finally reached a point where breastfeeding Delaney is starting to feel natural. After 2 months. We have a routine and I'm used to my day being broken into a thousand pieces between feedings. Will I want to breastfeed for the next year? Who knows. Am I thankful I can do it? Hell yeah.
If you chose to skip breastfeeding and go straight to formula, GOOD FOR YOU. There's nothing to be ashamed of. If you couldn't breastfeed because of dietary issues, low production, or for any other reason, I GET IT. I was there. 2.5 years ago, that was me. And you know what? Looking back, it doesn't matter. My oldest is thriving and is scary smart.
Whether you think breast is best or believe any other feeding stigma, you know what? Fed is Best. It doesn't matter how, as long as your baby is full and happy. Do what is best for you and your baby. That's what really matters.
(now go feed your baby, pump, or pop a bottle in your little one's mouth. You got this, mama)