Grab your tissues for this one. This amazing and sweet mommy melts my heart.
Hi! I'm Sara from Running From the Law. I'm an attorney, blogger and new mama to Baby Mac (ten months old). I'm thrilled to be here guest blogging for the amazing Julie. I am honored to be able to share my story in the hopes that maybe I can help someone out there that may be struggling with breatfeeding like I did. This post was incredibly difficult for me to write. Breastfeeding your child is such an intensely emotional and personal topic that I went back and forth about whether or not I wanted to blog about this subject at all and open myself up for negative comments and ridicule. The anonymity of the internet can allow people to be so cruel sometimes and the thought of anyone criticizing me for the choices I made (and struggled with) scares me to death. So please be kind. I don't want this post to sound all "oh poor me, waah waah, I couldn't breastfeed" and I hope it doesn't come across that way. This is just my attempt to tell my story and share my struggles. And thank you Julie for sharing so many different experiences with breastfeeding. I've learned so much from this wonderful series.
So when I had Mac, I was convinced that it'd be awkward and uncomfortable for a while, but we'd figure it out. After 17 hours of labor I had to have a c-section. The first day wasn't so bad. His latch didn't seem strong, but at this time the nurses told us that babies doesn't really need to "eat" much and reassured us that he was getting what he needed. I was convinced that there was no colostrum coming out, but the lactation nurses kept telling me everything was fine. However, by the second night, it was obvious that something was wrong. The baby was hungry and there was nothing I could do. I felt so helpless because my milk wasn't in and I couldn't feed him. We kept trying and didn't lose faith.
When his weight started falling (even though I know it's normal), I began panicking. After a few consults with the lactation specialists, we didn't feel like we were making any progress and started pumping (to get my milk to come in quicker) and supplementing with formula through a feeding tube while he breastfed. It was a slow and painful process, but it was worth it to me to keep trying. Every time he'd try to eat he'd either fall asleep or just stop trying and cry. I felt like we weren't making any progress. When Mac's weight went down again (he'd lost 8% of his body weight at this time), we switched to a bottle of formula and he started doing much better. We saw two different lactation specialists in the hospital and both were discouraged with Mac's lack of interest in nursing. Honestly, they were not very supportive and I felt like they were continuously frustrated with me and angry with the baby. I cried every time they came into our room. It was so discouraging.
But we kept trying. When we got home from the hospital I thought things would get better without all the pressure from the nurses. We tried repeatedly, but again he'd either immediately fall asleep at the breast or give it a try and then start screaming like he was in pain. And then I'd cry. And by cry, I mean bawl. I felt like my baby was rejecting me and it was the worst feeling in the world. I started dreading every feeding. I'd cry just thinking about it. I'd cry through the whole process of trying to get him to latch, of trying to calm him down, of trying to remain calm myself. It was too much. He was stressed out...I was stressed out...so we took a break from breastfeeding for a couple days.
I kept pumping every two-three hours and finally (after 6 days) I started making enough milk to feed him breastmilk from a bottle. My husband had the pleasure of feeding the baby, while I pumped and watched with hurt feelings. I felt so devastated. Every three hours I'd try to feed him and he'd scream, so I'd hand the baby over and hook up the pump and cry. For the next couple days, we feed him pumped breastmilk from a bottle and I slowly started coming to terms with feeding him expressed breastmilk. At this point, I mourned the idea of bonding with my baby during our feedings, of having him snuggled into me, of looking into his eyes while I provided him with the most wonderful and natural sustenance. I couldn't believe I had already failed my baby. I was a horrible mother. I wasn't cut out to do this. Hormones will make you think crazy things.
About a week after Mac was born we had our first appointment with the pediatrician. He had gained a couple ounces from when we left the hospital and the doctor was pleased with our progress. I have never felt so relieved. He was gaining weight on the expressed breastmilk and doing fine. We mentioned to the doctor that we were having trouble with breastfeeding, so he had the lactation consultant come in to speak with us. She wanted to watch me feed him and offer suggestions. So she watched as I struggled to get Mac to eat, as he wouldn't have anything to do with breastfeeding and as he screamed and cried (which of course make me cry). I know she could sense my frustration and disappointment. She told us that it wasn't the end of the world if we couldn't breastfeed. She stressed the importance of giving him breastmilk if I could, but reaffirmed that expressed milk would be completely fine, as would formula. She encouraged us to do whatever we were most comfortable with and whatever would be the least stressful for both mom and baby. Happy mom = happy baby. It was good to hear. I felt proud that I could at feed him breastmilk and that I was doing everything I could to make sure that he was still getting the very best food possible.
However, I still wasn't exactly ready to give up. I made an appointment with a lactation specialist to come to the house and help us give breastfeeding one more try. At that point, I almost called to cancel the appointment, but figured it couldn't hurt to get one more opinion. This nurse was wonderful. She was kind and supportive and patient with me and the baby. She was complimentary and made me feel so supported. A very different feeling that I got from the lactation nurses in the hospital who were frustrated with me and Mac. She had me try all kinds of different products and positions with the baby. We finally found a position that seemed to work for us (lying down side by side) and I breastfed my baby for the very first time. Cue the tears, again.
So I breastfed my baby nonstop for the next week. Every three hours on the dot we'd snuggle in together and he'd eat. And eat and eat and eat. It was absolutely wonderful, but exhausting. Sometimes he'd eat for two solid hours and then want more twenty minutes later. He was voracious. My body couldn't keep up. He'd get as much as he could then scream bloody murder. Feedings started getting stressful again. He'd latch for a few seconds and then scream like he was in pain. Was it reflux? Was it my milk? Was it the flow? Too much? Too little? I was at a loss, so I called the lactation nurse again, who gave me some suggestions. I tried them all. I tried pumping to letdown before feeding him to see if the increased flow would help...it didn't. I tried pumping in between feedings to see if I could increase my supply, but that wasn't the problem. We tried all the different positions again. We changed locations. We tried feeding in bed, in a chair, lying on the couch, upstairs, outside on the back porch, in the car. Nothing worked. Except the bottle. He'd take the bottle. And because he wasn't feeding from me anymore I got double mastitis. So once again, I started pumping and cried and felt like a failure.
For the next couple weeks, I went back and forth with trying to breastfeed and pumping. Maybe every tenth time I tried he'd eat for a few minutes and then scream and we'd go back to the bottle. I still didn't want to give up, but I was so stressed I couldn't handle it. I was also terrified that my supply would tank from exclusive pumping so I was religious about pumping every three hours on the dot, day and night. And of course you can't hold your baby while you pump, so if someone wasn't around to hold him, I'd have to put him down and listen to him cry (while I cried) and pumped. It was the most emotionally and physically draining few weeks of my life. It was so hard for me to just let it go. The guilt was insane. I wanted desperately to just give up but I felt such crazy pressure to keep trying, keep pushing it, keep going. Looking back on it, I feel like I let this ruin some of the experience of having a newborn because I was so crazy obsessed with making it work that I was needlessly stressed to a breaking point and miserable. I did it to myself. I drove myself absolutely crazy.
And then I just stopped trying to breastfeed completely and I just pumped. Once I stopped forcing the issue, the stress slowly started melting away. I had to mourn the loss of that experience and get over it. I had to move on. I had to stop the insanity. I had to admit that breastfeeding did not work for us. I had to let it go. And it was so wonderfully relieving. It allowed us to get on with life and just enjoy having a baby at home. I had to learn to stop being so hard on myself. It wasn't the end of the world. My baby would still love me. I could still be a good mom and happy with myself.
Before I had the baby, my goal was to breastfeed for at least 6 months. When breastfeeding didn't work, I decided that I'd try to pump for at least as long as I was on maternity leave. However, it was harder than I thought it'd be. Around the 3 week mark I wasn't sure I could keep going at all. I just willed myself to make it through one more day. Just one more day...one more day. When I made it to 6 weeks I was thrilled. But a couple days later I got double mastitis again...and I was done. I just couldn't keep it up. I talked to my doctor who suggested that I decrease my pumping gradually until I dried up. At that time I was pumping every three hours during the day and would go up to 6 hours at night in between pumpings. So every couple days for the next two weeks I added an hour in between pumping sessions. I got to the point of pumping only four times a day (as opposed to 8) and it was amazing - like freedom! I didn't feel like I was attached to the pump 24/7, I didn't feel like I was going to explode all day long and I could keep giving the baby breastmilk. It was finally a solution that worked for us. I could do this!
So that's what we did for 5 months. I pumped and he had breastmilk from a bottle. It wasn't ideal, but it was as good as I could do and I was proud of myself for keeping it up. I was lucky in that my body made a LOT of milk, so I always had way more breastmilk than he could eat to freeze and save. At 5 months post-partum I decided it was finally time to stop pumping. It was a very tough decision that took me weeks to decide and many discussions with my doctor and my husband. It felt like such a selfish decision. Guilt to the max. But it was just too much. Anyone that has exclusively pumped knows that it's incredibly time consuming, doesn't allow any freedom/flexibility in your schedule, makes your body hurt all the time, makes you crazy emotional and takes a ton of dedication. Yes, it's worth it, but it is hard. And after five months I decided I was ready to have my body (boobs and mind) back.
It took about two weeks for me to completely dry up. My breasts apparently thought I'd had triplets - I was getting between 8-15 ounces each pump session, so it took a while for things to return to normal. The engorgement pain was awful, but after a week I finally started feeling more like myself than I had since I got pregnant. By the end of the third week I felt amazing. I had more energy and time to spend with the baby. I wasn't hooked up to a machine all the time. I finally got the chance to snuggle my little one and feed him (breastmilk from a bottle) while staring deep into his eyes and smiling at him without my breasts aching and leaking all over the place. I could wear normal (albeit larger) clothes again. I didn't have to take my pump EVERYWHERE. I didn't cry all the time. I didn't hurt. I could have a glass of wine! I had my life back. Honestly, it felt so good I wondered how I ever managed to make it that long pumping.
Because I had a giant freezer stash full of breastmilk, the baby stayed exclusively on breastmilk until almost the 7 month mark. I think that's pretty darn good, considering. That was even longer than my initial breastfeeding goal. We made the switch to formula around December and honestly, it's FINE. He is FINE. I am FINE. He doesn't mind formula at all and it's incredibly easy and convenient. It's not poison (shocking, I know). We survived. He thrived, actually. And that bonding experience I thought I'd missed out on by not breastfeeding was all in my head. He's my baby...we have a special bond no matter how he got fed or what he eats.
Do I wish it had been different? Yes. I really do wish breastfeeding would have worked for us. Badly. Still. Ten months later I still think about it all the time and what I could have done differently. But I think I learned a lot through this experience and hopefully it'll be easier with the next baby (fingers crossed). At least I'll know what to expect. I'll know we'll make it though no matter what. I know I will always do what's best for my baby. But if breastfeeding doesn't work out, I'm not going to beat myself up again. I'm not a bad mom because it didn't work for us. I have to learn to cut myself a little slack sometimes. Lesson learned the hard way.
As for my advice to the new mom regarding breastfeeding...I don't know. Honestly, I don't feel like I deserve to give advice because I failed. Isn't it horrible that I still feel like I failed when my child got breastmilk for 7 months? That's not failing, right? Maybe it is, I don't know. It's just so hard to get over the guilt sometimes. So I guess my advice is to just do what's best for you in your situation. Everyone is different, every baby is different and every experience is different. I'm confident that if you're reading this (and have read this entire ridiculously long post) because you're in a similar situation and would like advice, you are already an amazing mom that just needs to follow your heart and your instincts. Whatever you decide will be fine.
At 10 months my son is the most wonderful, happy, funny, amazing baby ever. He's an absolute joy and I love being a mom with every fiber of my being. I was made to be his mama and I am blessed beyond belief. Our journey was different than I wanted it to be or ever imagined, but we made it work for us. We came out on the other side happier, stronger and more understanding.