Tuesday, September 8, 2015

When Breastfeeding Doesn't Go As Planned

Breastfeeding seems like such a natural part of motherhood, however, it does not come easy for every mother.

When I was pregnant, I was so determined to breastfeed my son exclusively. I couldn't wait to provide milk for him, and I fully planned on trying to nurse for two years like the experts recommend now. At the very least, my minimum goal was to make it to one year.

Unfortunately, that isn't what happened. My milk dried up shortly before my son turned 9 months old.

Breastfeeding was a struggle from the very beginning. My delivery was difficult, 13 hours of labor ending in emergency c-section. Then, my son had some problems that required immediate attention - he had jaundice and dangerously low blood sugar. 

The doctor and nurses gave me two days while in the hospital to attempt to breastfeed. It was very difficult, and even with additional pumping, nothing was coming out yet. I knew that it could take almost a week for milk to come, but in my son's situation, we couldn't wait a week. His levels weren't improving with the few drops of colostrum I was providing.

I was told we needed to supplement with formula because my milk hadn't "come in" yet, because he needed nourishment right away to bring his levels back up to a healthy number. I won't lie, when I was pregnant I bought into the whole "formula shaming" bandwagon that's going on these days, so when I was told formula was necessary, I hung my head in shame and cried right there in front of the doctor and nurses.

His levels did get better after having formula, his jaundice improved, and they allowed us to go home on day 4. On day 5, my milk started to come. However, the struggle didn't go away.

The main problem is that my milk supply was low. It just did not increase to keep up with my son's needs, the milk I made usually wasn't enough to satisfy him, and even though I did everything I was told, it never got better.

After visits with a wonderful lactation consultant, we started getting the hang of breastfeeding. We were following her advice to a T, but we still had problems. He didn't want to latch, he often fell asleep on the breast without actually feeding, he cried after nursing because he was still hungry, and so on. Formula was still necessary to fully feed my baby and I resented it so much. Formula represented, in my mind, my body's failure to satisfy my baby.

For months I tried everything to encourage my milk supply to increase. I nursed on demand, offered him the breast every chance I could, I pumped around the clock, I took supplements (fenugreek and blessed thistle), I drank tons of water, I drank mother's milk tea, I ate foods that supposedly increase milk supply (oatmeal, spinach, etc etc), I visited the lactation consultant numerous times. I did EVERYTHING. My doctor and two different lactation consultants basically scratched their heads in confusion.

And even with months and months of trying, determination, prayers, tears, my body still wasn't cooperating. I really hated my body. I would cry so often because I wanted so badly to exclusively breastfeed and my body simply would not work as it was supposed to.

After months of struggle, my milk decreased until it finally dried up. It hurts to admit defeat, but I did try. I gave it everything I had, and for almost nine months, my son had milk even if it wasn't that much. I wanted him to have the best I could provide.

I will miss nursing him so much. Holding his little body close to mine, watching him feed as we look at each other with love. Watching him faceplant on my boob and pass out contentedly the times when my milk actually was enough. Feeling so proud the times when nursing actually worked.

What I won't miss? Hating myself for not being able to provide enough milk. Listening to the hateful people who condemn formula. Crying when only an ounce came out while pumping. Feeling  shame when he was still hungry after nursing.

I am slowly coming to terms with the end of our breastfeeding relationship. It's difficult to let it go because it was so important to me, my body just didn't cooperate, and it makes me sad. Every time I see a mom breastfeeding her baby while out and about, at a restaurant or at church or wherever, I feel a sadness in my heart. I wish it were me.

I do hope with my next baby breastfeeding will be easier. But next time, I'm not going to allow myself to listen to the negativity. I'm not going to hate myself if breastfeeding doesn't work out. I'm going to try my best but I'm going to enjoy my baby. Those newborn days pass by so quickly and it saddens me so much of it was spent in frustration, stress, and sadness that I placed on myself.

Some moms have no problem at all with nursing and it's fairly easy from the beginning. That's awesome and I think it's great. If you are able to breastfeed, please know how blessed you are because it's a beautiful thing to be able to provide milk for your child. For other moms who are unable to breastfeed for whatever reason, if you are currently struggling (or your experiences in the past are similar to mine), please know you aren't alone. 

I just want to say, whether you breastfeed or formula feed, use a pump, or did a combination of all three like I did, your method of feeding your baby is not indicative of how good of a mom you are or how much you love your child. There is SO much judgment out there, mommy wars, whatever you want to call it and I hate it. Breastfeeding moms vs. formula moms - this shouldn't be a thing, but it is. People will say you're lazy if you use formula, you're feeding your baby poison or making them dumb/inferior in some way because formula is bad for your baby.
And yet, on the flipside, if you breastfeed, you don't really win either - people have something to say about that too. Breastfeeding is perverted, or weird, or unsanitary, you didn't breastfeed long enough, or you're breastfeeding too long and turning your child into a weirdo, and so on. Don't listen to the negativity and judgment. We as women beat ourselves up enough as it is without having to take abuse from outside sources. Being a mother isn't easy.

As long as you feed your baby what they need to be healthy, take care of them, provide for their needs, play with them, teach them, and love them, you are an excellent mommy. 

My son is now super healthy, sweet, cheerful, active, smart, and so precious. He's happy and loving. He is my whole world.

Milk or formula, it doesn't matter. Love matters.

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