Blood, Tears & Laughter: A Breastfeeding Story
All of you first time moms out there, I share with you my challenging journey of breastfeeding. I definitely underestimated the stress that comes along with nursing by baby and I hope my story helps any other struggling mothers out there.
In my prenatal classes, I was so focused when learning about active labour. I was constantly worried thinking “How in the world is this baby going to come out of me?” I didn’t give a second thought to breast-feeding. However, since Jack was born, breastfeeding has become my daily struggle.
I had read just about everything you needed to know about taking care of a newborn. Unfortunately, we all know newborns don’t come with manuals. Jack was colicky and needed A LOT of attention. He cried a bit more (a lot more) than the average newborn. So, I experimented with every tip that books, the web, and experienced moms could offer. I did not count on breastfeeding being the biggest hurdle in caring for my newborn. I knew establishing a milk supply could be a struggle. I now realize the word “struggle” does not come close to describing the pain, tears, worry, and frustration mothers endure. This breastfeeding journey has not been long, but it has been filled with remarkable experiences that will stay with me forever.
For all the moms and moms-to-be: I share with you the highs and the lows of my breastfeeding experience which might either remind you how great it was or how much it sucked sometimes. Also, I hope to be encouraging or supportive if you’re currently struggling right now.
1. Is the tiny amount of colostrum really filling?
When I first fed Jack in the hospital, I remember losing all shyness of people seeing my breasts. By that point, the lactation nurse was probably the 4th stranger to check my nipples. She would squeeze and pat my boobs and declare I had plenty of colostrum. I would smile and say great but really I had no idea what she was talking about. I did NOT see anything. Is he really getting anything to eat? I know babies apparently have tiny stomachs at first but he was so tiny and I just wanted to make sure he was doing ok! I didn’t really see any colostrum until I got home and still it wasn’t a significant amount.
2. Baby Piranha
I was obsessed with trying to establish my milk supply. In all my books and prenatal classes, they said to continuously try to feed the baby or it can affect how much milk will come in and when. So with my willingness to do everything by the book, I put Jack on my nipples as much possible. The thing is, Jack’s mouth was so tiny and no matter how I put him on my boob, latching was @$#%$ hard. I ended up with blisters and scabs for the first three weeks. I was so worried that if I didn’t feed him continuously, he would get jaundice or lose too much weight. On the other hand, if my nipples were injured it could possibly reduce my milk supply! The stress! So my poor nipples were chapped, wounded and bloody and every time I fed my baby, it was like voluntarily putting a baby piranha on my nipples. Moms, it gets easier. When? When the baby’s mouth grows bigger or when your nipples toughen up. I stopped nursing as frequently and pumped at least ever 2 hours until everything healed with no significant drawbacks.
3. Engorgement What?!
A few days postnatal, I experienced “The Engorgement”. At the time, it was the scariest moment of my life. I woke up one day and my breasts were hard as rocks, so sore, and I felt little marbles everywhere. Everyone started telling me about blockages, mastitis, and fevers. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or hormones, but I was terrified. Every time I felt my hard breasts I started bawling. It was an entirely new sensation and experience I had little knowledge or control of. I also got these weird nerve pangs in my boobs randomly and thought for sure that I had a yeast infection on my nipples...nope I didn't. Just neurotic. Ladies, especially moms-to-be, it is temporary and you’re okay. Put on some warm heating pads, take a warm shower, gently massage your breasts, feed your baby as normal or pump. But wait. Don't they say over-pumping will cause an oversupply of milk? Every time I pumped, I was so worried I was over-stimulating my milk production. Honestly, you’ll be ok. I wish someone just told me that this was temporary, chill out and this is something every mom experiences. It will settle down on its own. Maybe someone did tell me, but mom-brain is a real thing.
3. Am I feeding him enough?
I was so worried Jack wasn’t getting enough breast milk. He was still cranky or HANGRY just after I fed him which made me believe I did not have enough milk. Doctor Google told me by these age, they should want to feed every 2 hours or so. But I felt I had to feed him every 30mins! Furthermore, he was in the 18th percentile in weight. I would talk with other mothers in my mom groups and they would be able to pump at least 4oz on each breast whereas I was able to pump 2oz on one and 10ml on the other. And I know, I read so many times that pumping does not reflect how much breast milk you have but even during feeding Jack would suck and suck and cry in-between which really made me feel like he was starving. It didn’t help that everyone around me would ask, “Is he hungry?” if he was crying, even though I had just fed him. He could have been hungry, but if someone asked me I felt angry and stressed. I felt especially overwhelmed in the middle of the night when he would cry and not latch on. There were countless times when I broke down crying because I felt useless and yet I was the only option for feeding because i refused to give him formula. My husband had to take him many times and he would soothe him to give me a break and try again once I felt more calm to try again. Moms who are experiencing this right now, your baby cries for other reasons too. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You know best and if your baby is still crying after a nice long feed, it could definitely be something else. Or, just stick them on your boob again! Every baby is different, and the more they're on your boob, the more it will stimulate milk production.
4. A pumping-vacation is NOT a vacation
Who remembers spending endless hours on Google, trying to find ways to increase milk supply? I feel like I reread the website kellymom (a great resource by the way) 50 times to see if I missed something or was doing something wrong to increase my milk. I tried nursing vacations, power pumping (while shoving one of Jack's dirty socks in my nose to trigger a let down), eating pounds of oatmeal, and going to a helpful lactation specialist (who recommended different herbs but Jack was sensitive and ended up with so much gas). Every trick or tip I tried didn’t increase my milk enough for the effort.
5. The Guilt Trip
So I gave up and came to the conclusion that I didn’t have enough milk. I went to my doctor and he prescribed me Domperidone. I brought the medication home encouraged by my mom that this was a great idea. But when I held the pills in my hands, I didn’t want to take it. I didn’t want to depend on pills to nurse my baby. As a result, I started feeding Jack formula along with nursing. When I saw my baby drink the bottle of formula, I had a huge heavy feeling of guilt. I don’t know why but I just did. I cried as I warmed the formula, and cried again as he happily drank it. I felt like my body failed me. The one most important thing my body needed to do to nourish my baby was not happening. Even though I spoke with fellow moms who were incredibly supportive, in the back of my mind, I was still so upset with myself and compared myself to exclusively breastfeeding moms. I think we moms, always want to be perfect for our babies and we end up being too hard on ourselves when something is not going the way we planned.
6. Screw it!
At this point, I just let go of my expectations. I fed Jack with breast milk and formula and decided to ditch the idea of breastfeeding exclusively. He was happy and growing and that’s all that mattered. When I finally lifted that heavy weight off my shoulders, I started just nursing him more often but without the stress that it was his only nourishment. I nursed him and I knew if he needed more, there was formula. I started taking care of myself more too. I napped more when he did, ate more food not worrying about losing my baby weight. I also started baking lactation cookies and drinking moringa tea. I didn’t think too hard about whether these things would work. I just ate cookies because they tasted good and drank the tea daily because it was full of nutrients and it was a ritual and a reminder for me to have some quiet time. Then guess what? My milk increased. One day, Jack was full just from nursing and it was such a happy day. When I finally went with the flow of things, well…it increased the flow of my milk. I am so happy to say that I am now exclusively breastfeeding. However, it is mostly from one side, so I’ll deal with the asymmetry when the time comes. Also, I still worry if Jack is getting enough on days when I feel like my supply is lower. So, I just top up with formula and call it a day. Now when I nurse Jack, there are many moments when he looks up at me while nursing. He even smiles at me while feeding and it fills my heart. He's even started giggling sometimes right before he latches on which makes me laugh.
The point of sharing my experience is to help or relate to at least one mother struggling right now. If you aren’t producing as much milk as you had hoped for, please know your body is NOT failing you. There is nothing wrong with exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively using formula or using both. So many people told me this and it did not sink in until I finally let go of my expectations. I believe we are destined to feel guilty every time we can’t be perfect moms for our babies and I’m sure as my journey continues I’m going to feel guilt for something else along the way. But next time, when I am faced with challenges, I know that as long as my baby is loved and if I am truly doing the best I can, that is enough. That said, I guess I am being a perfect mom because everyday I am trying my damn hardest and every second, my sweet baby is VERY much loved