What I Learned While Breastfeeding – Part 1

If you’re a new mom or soon-to-be one, you’ve been made blissfully or painfully aware of the resurging cultural pressure to return to all things natural when it comes to your baby, from unmedicated births to breastfeeding to organic first foods, cloth diapers and so on. I will admit that it is nice to live in a world where this shift change recognizes the capabilities of a woman’s body to make, birth and feed a new life as awesome, beautiful things. However, as a mom who didn’t get that glorified “natural” birth or even a dreamy “natural” breastfeeding experience afterward, I do think it’s worth calling out that as we’re swept up in this natural fad we have lost a sense of objectivity about what is right for a mother and baby.  

First and foremost, every child and every mother is different. What works for one will not necessarily work for another, which means that one particular way is not intrinsically right or wrong. At the end of the day, only these two things hold true: happy momma equals happy baby, and fed is best.

I’ll begin this three part-er on breastfeeding with my story.

When I was nearing the end of my first pregnancy, I spent hours researching what to expect and how to prepare for breastfeeding. I like to manage my expectations when I can. I had a few friends who had blazed the trail before me, so I was aware of just how demanding breastfeeding actually is. I even dragged my darling husband to a whole birthing seminar that included a couple of hours on breastfeeding. He took it like a champ, but joked later that never did he ever think that married life would consist of so much un-sexy boob talk hah!

My daughter was breech so I had her via C section, and I had no idea how the pain of surgery would make the already difficult early days of breastfeeding just that much harder. Nursing was not something I could relax with because of my painful incision. For example, I had to get out of bed for night feedings to make sure I was in a supportive chair with a nursing pillow to keep my baby off my scar.

PSA: Do not google images of breastfeeding unless you’ve already experienced it and need a laugh. All those serene babies and glowing mommas are lies! Those babies are at least 6 months old and those mommas just got back from a day at the spa.

Haha OMG Just no!

When my milk came in on day 3, everything went south. My breasts changed shape and Evie’s latch couldn’t adjust which compounded my physical pain. She got frustrated when she couldn’t get milk, which stressed me out and restricted my let-down. If it wasn’t for our pediatrician, this would be a post about how she was a formula-fed baby. After weighing Evelyn at her check-up, we discovered she had lost 13% of her body weight.

It’s normal and ok for babies to lose up to 10% of their weight a week after birth, but losing 13% after only 3 days was very dangerous. I was devastated and those postpartum hormones were kicking the mom-guilt into overdrive. Nursing was excruciating and yet it was all my baby was supposed to eat. My doctor took one look at me in my state and said “Ok, I want you to take a 24 hour break, pump what you can and give that to her in a bottle. Then if you don’t make up 1.5-2 ounces with a pumping session, make up the difference with formula.” My relief was indescribable. My baby got fed and got her weight back up and I got a break. I realized later just how wise that doctor was to see that in order for us to succeed, breastfeeding had to work for both of us.

We were by no means out of the woods. Over the next month, each feeding session would last around 2 hours. Yes, I said two hours. Occasionally, Evie would still take a little from a bottle after these long sessions which I offered to her just to have a bathroom break. Somehow with all that fluid loss, my bladder would still fill up. It was exhausting and felt completely futile. Why breastfeed at all if my baby needs more than what I can give her?

I had heard that you should never give up breastfeeding on a bad day, so I took her to the lactation consultant at our pediatrician’s office. For those who don’t know what they do, they will weigh your baby before and after a feeding on their super-sensitive scales so you know exactly how much your baby has eaten. Glory be! The consultant weighed Evie after a 40 minute session, 20 minutes on each side, and she had gotten plenty of milk. Now that her weight had gotten back up, the consultant said that I could restrict her to 40 minute nursing sessions, and in time, she’d learn that she’d just have to get what she needed in that time or else. I felt empowered, and it worked. Sort of.

Evelyn was a lazy nurser and feeding her was always a battle. We never really got comfortable until she was around 4 months. Very slowly, we cut down that 40 minute feeding session to 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 15. But even then, we never fully clicked. Breastfeeding for me was not a glorious bonding experience but a constant painful struggle. There were bright spots, but overall it isn’t a fond memory, and I celebrated the day it was over.

Sure, I know all the incredible things in breastmilk and how my baby communicates with body to make that stuff perfectly suited to her needs,and how my body releases the bonding hormone oxytocin. It’s living food that I make that is totally unique to each mother and to each child, that at the end of the day is the best for both of us. And that’s pretty dedgum cool.

But in the interest in living up to what this blog promises and giving you the honest truth, the only reason I stuck it out was because I lost weight. Fast. As in at my 2 week check-up, 18 of my 31 total pregnancy pounds had disappeared. By the time my daughter was 8 months, I weighed slightly less than I did pre-pregnancy.

My experience with breastfeeding my first baby was less than pleasant. Of course I don’t regret it and plan on doing with this new baby, but I didn’t enjoy it. Then again, I think the same can be said for giving birth. That is certainly not every woman’s experience, and I know several who’ve had dream babies who nursed like angels. But I know others who struggled just like me, to the point that they downright couldn’t breastfeed their babies at all for one reason or another.

If you’re struggling and feel like a failure, or if you didn’t get to breastfeed your baby for whatever reason when you had your heart set on it, YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. You are not failing your baby! You are not a bad mom. Moms who got to breastfeed are not better than you. Yes, your breastmilk is this amazing superfood, but I’d bet you a million bucks that you couldn’t tell breastfed babies apart from formula fed babies in a line-up.

At the end of the day, I learned that what matters is that your baby is fed and that you are in a good mental state to provide the best care for your sweet baby. That’s it. That’s all. Whether that comes from a bottle or your boob doesn’t matter!