Dear Mama who has a hard time breastfeeding,
Even though our stories may be different, one thing that is the same is that I know where you’re coming from with breastfeeding your baby. I know how emotionally draining it is to try to do something as simple as breastfeeding your baby but feeling like you’re hitting every obstacle along the way. Sometimes there are no words to help make you feel better, but maybe my story will help you feel more supported; like you’re not the only one who is having these troubles.
For me, my first baby was a total surprise. At a freshly turned age of 20, I had never dreamed that I would find myself staring at a positive pregnancy test; I was scared, shocked, disappointed, and lost. My husband and I obviously decided to keep the baby, and then married 3 months later. Although excited, I still had many doubts through my pregnancy and wondered if I had made the right decision.
As far as breastfeeding plans went, I knew that it was good for baby so I would give it a try. I even went to a La Leche Meeting and to be quite honest, I was a little shocked at how all these women were feeding their babies (and not so babies) so naturally. My mom never talked to me about breastfeeding while I was pregnant, my mother-in-law didn’t breastfeed my husband, I was never around babies OR breastfeeding, and I was virtually unconnected to the world of breastfeeding. The OB/GYN we went through offered no support for breastfeeding. Little did I know how demanding breastfeeding was and how much support you needed, but we’ll get that to later.
When my due date came and passed, we were told we needed to induce within a week. We induced, and by that evening, we had a baby in our arms. I’m not going to say it was love at first site, because that’s not true. I was shocked, drugged, tired, and couldn’t believe there was a baby in my arms — my baby in my arms. Let’s not confuse the emotions so much to say that I wasn’t happy — I was — but all the other emotions I felt were much stronger. Baby and I didn’t get much skin-to-skin time, and I didn’t get to nurse baby until 2 hours after labor.
When I finally had the chance to breastfeed my new baby, I struggled with latching, it hurt, and I was frustrated. The “lactation consultant” was very little help and non-chalantly mentioned there was formula in the drawer that we could use if we felt baby wasn’t getting enough. As a new mom with no support, we supplemented with formula. Little did I know that supplementing with formula from day one would cause an up-hill battle with nursing for the remaining 5 1/2 months of our breastfeeding experience.
When we finally arrived home and was left to ourselves to navigate this whole new world, I gradually became depressed. I had no idea that breastfeeding was so demanding, so tiring, so selfless, and that it would hurt. I also had no idea that it wasn’t supposed to hurt and that my son could possibly have a lip/tongue tie. No one told me that and now looking back on it, I feel that could have saved our breastfeeding relationship. Baby preferred to nurse on one side while he kept latching incorrectly on the other. I had no idea that a little baby could make me feel so happy yet so disconnected and upset.
I opted for the easy route and gave the 6am feedings to my husband with formula. I wanted sleep, I was exhausted, I was emotionally, mentally, and physically tapped out; I was selfish. My breastmilk never seemed enough for baby so I continued to supplement with formula. The more I supplemented, the more I struggled. My husband kept telling me to pump in between feedings but when would that be!? I felt like baby was nursing every 2 hours and the last thing I wanted to do was pump in between there — especially with my inefficient, jerry-rigged, one hose borrowed breast pump. My breasts needed a break and my body needed a break from something continually trying to get something out of it. I was suffocating and I needed my space.
Most women felt such joy and connection from nursing their babies. I felt the opposite and wondered if something was wrong with me. My mind wasn’t in the right place and I had a hard time dealing with that. I stayed inside all summer with the curtains closed — alone to drown in my unhealthy thoughts; alone to deal with the struggle happening in my mind; alone to take care of a child who desperately needed me and who I felt like I wasn’t giving everything to. I am unconditionally grateful for my husband who gave our baby the nurturing when I couldn’t.
I also felt embarrassed and uncomfortable to nurse in public so I opted for bottles. Which, as you know, also affected my milk supply. Towards the end of our breastfeeding time, I supplemented with formula probably half of the time until it became such a struggle to keep my milk supply up that I quit.
For a long time I felt guilt for that and it took me a long time to get back to my “normal” self but Mama, you know that once you give birth to a child you never go back to who you were. You also know that you learn a lot of valuable lessons if you take the time to reflect with an open mind.
Reflecting on the Past and Preparing for the Future
Now that I’m expecting my second baby in 3 months, I have done a lot of reflecting on my previous experience with labor and breastfeeding. I’m happy to say that I am in a much better mind frame than I was with my first baby. I feel ready for this baby. I feel ready to take on the selflessness of breastfeeding. But, most importantly, I feel so much more supported than I did with my first which I believe is the key to successful breastfeeding.
I now know to look for a lip/tongue tie that may be causing my baby to latch incorrectly. I now know about the benefits of chiropractic care for newborns and breastfeeding success. I now know how important it is to have skin-on-skin with baby the moment baby comes into this world. I now have family and friends who have successfully breastfed their babies and can help me if I have any problems. I have a wonderful midwife and doula to help me get through labor naturally so I don’t have to resort to the drugs that made me loopy for a few days (which I believe ultimately affected my relationship with my baby for the negative).
I have also come to term with the fact that I did the best I could with baby #1.
Although everyone’s stories, difficulties, and preferences are different, I get what you’re going through. I get the pain, frustration, and disappointment… I really do. My advice to you is if you know that you want to breastfeed but you’re having a hard time, to just keep your head up Mama. There are options available for you to help you successfully breastfeed. Don’t be shy to reach out for help — people are willing to help you, you just have to be willing to receive it.
And if you’ve done everything you could, please don’t feel guilty. You did the best you can and it has no reflection on how much you love your baby — and to be honest, that is all that matters.