Breastfeeding. One word. A lot of angst, opinions, emotions. Leading up to the delivery, I knew I was going to breastfeed. I thought it would come easy because it was the natural thing to do. I had friends who were unable to breastfeed or produce milk for a number of reasons, but I thought “nah, that won’t be me!” Our pregnancy classes and books made it such an important part of giving birth and having a baby. “Breast is best” was ingrained in my mind! I knew how important that first latch was, and skin-to-skin.
As you know from previous posts, or just from having your own kids, nothing goes at planned. Our unplanned C-section meant no skin-to-skin, no first latch. I didn’t even hold Ainsley until an hour after she was born. Between not actually “delivering” her and not being able to give her my nipple within seconds of her being born, I felt like the biggest failure. I didn’t have a real birth plan, but I knew I wanted to breastfeed ASAP, and I failed.
When I finally got to hold her and try to latch her onto my breast, she wouldn’t take it. She wouldn’t latch. She was so small and I was afraid I was hurting her. I was shoving her head onto my boob. She was crying, I was crying. This went on for what seemed like hours when finally the Lactation Consultant brought me a little plastic syringe. I was able to squeeze milk into that and hand feed her. That colostrum at the beginning is true liquid gold. Just a little bit was all she needed. I finally felt like I was doing something right – I was taking care of my baby with my own milk!
After trying to latch a few more times, with more tears from both of us and my fear of breaking her neck (and also the pain from the C-section incision), I was introduced to a nipple shield. I didn’t want to use it, I wanted this to happen naturally. But I gave in and it worked! Again, I felt like a failure because I needed this piece of plastic to feed my baby.
The first night was the worst. I think most every first time parent could say that. Nothing prepared me for how little I was going to sleep or how much she would cry. Or how freaking hungry she’d be! Around 2am, I called the nurse because she wouldn’t stop crying. I truly thought I broke her! After learning it was cluster feeding – whatever the fuck that was – and it was completely normal, she left us alone with this crying baby again. Me and Adam, alone with this baby!
After 48 hours in the hospital, we were discharged. Ainsley was so tiny, she barely passed the hospital’s car seat test. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, and I didn’t feel ready to leave, but off we went anyway!
Within a few hours of being home (and the construction workers were still at my house!), my legs swelled up really bad. I had major pregnancy cankles before Ainsley was born, but this was bad. I felt like I wasn’t seeing straight either. I called my OB who politely told me to run and get my blood pressure taken. Most women know of preclampsia, but did you know there’s a postclampsia too? He was afraid of that, so of course I was afraid of that. I had to leave my 3-day-old baby with my mom while Adam took me to CVS and get my blood pressure taken. After an hour of this poor nurse taking my blood pressure in a million different ways (she wanted to be triple-sure I was OK), we got the all clear. Apparently you need to rest after having a C-section. I don’t do that very well.
The first night at home was as you can imagine. Hard. Painful. Exhausting. Tears. Bodily fluids. Swaddling. Diapers (both her and me).
By day four, my milk came in. WHEW. People talked about knowing when their milk came in but I was not prepared for what my body did. My boobs expanded to almost double in size. It was so painful. It hurt to touch them and the skin was stretched so tight. Ainsley couldn’t latch on to anything. Adam got out my pump and quick skimmed the instruction manual while I attached it to my boobs. I needed relief and I needed it quick. I was starting to leak (both tears and milk).
The same day that my milk came in, I continued to fail at latching. My mom was yelling at me to calm down and give the baby a bottle of pumped milk (which I refused because somewhere along the way I was told not to introduce bottles or pacifiers which could cause nipple confusion?). Adam was trying to show me how to hold Ainsley to latch properly (from experience?). I was so fed up with everyone telling me what to do, I broke down and used the nipple shield. IT WORKED. MY BABY WAS EATING. That was my first lesson in motherhood – trust your instinct. My mom wasn’t right. Adam wasn’t right. I was right.
And guys, FED IS BEST. It doesn’t matter how your baby eats – just feed it! I don’t know how I got sucked in to thinking bottles were bad and pacifiers were bad. I believed pumping early on was bad. The internet is filled with so many opinions and ideas. I couldn’t stop reading and believing it all. And it almost broke me.
I ended up breastfeeding for almost seven months. I didn’t start pumping until week nine or 10. I had to breasfeed in my home while constructions workers came in and our for the first six weeks. I had to use a nipple shield until four months. I was never able to build a stock-pile of breastmilk. I produced JUST ENOUGH for her. I spent 30 minutes at least three times a day pumping at work. I almost got walked in on twice. I got mastitis on my 28th birthday and spent the entire day on the sofa in pain. My milk production slowed down substantially around five months. I rented a hospital-grade pump for the last three months. I worked with a lactation consultant, took herbal pills and followed every other recommendation out there on increasing milk production. The hospital pump was huge – like the size of a small microwave. I had people at work ask what it was, asshole men make comments about milking myself like a cow. People came out of the woodwork to tell me how to increase my milk or to give my baby formula. I yelled at Adam if he spilled even a drop because I didn’t make any extra. One night I had to work late and wouldn’t be home until 7pm, which was when she ate. I made Adam promise not to feed her from the bottle because then I would have to give her formula for the next day. I made it home in time, but what the hell was wrong with me? I didn’t do anything without my baby because I never had enough milk to leave her at night or on the weekend. For something so intimate as feeding my OWN CHILD from my OWN BREAST, everyone had an opinion.
At six months, I knew my breastfeeding journey was ending. I marked the end of this tiring experience with two things – a breastfeeding photo shoot and me giving Ainsley her first formula bottle. Both were really fucking emotional. I guess everything about motherhood is! She was crushing bottles of breastmilk cold – a happy accident toward the beginning of her trying bottles and my attempt at taking a bath one night led Adam to quickly pouring cold breastmilk into a bottle and shoving it into her wailing mouth – so I knew she’d be fine with the bottle. I wanted to be the one to give her formula first. I was worried about how her body would react, but also secretly hoping my body would realize how desperate I was for it to step up and start producing. It didn’t, and she did totally fine with the formula. The photo shoot was for my own benefit. To date, breastfeeding has been the hardest thing I accomplished. I often tell people I want to add it to my resume. I spent weeks thinking I failed, both at the beginning and end, but looking back I’m so thankful my body fed my baby for almost seven months.
I took myself out of breastfeeding support groups. I stopped comparing myself to other people. And with formula, I was able to get parts of my old life back. I could meet friends for dinner without fear of Adam running out of breastmilk. I could go back to yoga! And you know what, my kid is fine. In fact, she’s perfect. And I don’t think more months or less months of breaskmilk would change that. FED IS BEST.
Kudos to the mom out there who breastfeeds their kid until she’s four. Kudos to the mom who’s mixing formula right after the baby is born. Kudos to the mom who uses donated breastmilk. Kudos to the mom who has enough breastmilk to share. Kudos to the mom who can whip her boob out anywhere. Kudos to the mom who wants to stay covered because she’s a little prude (that’s me!). Kudos to moms for feeding your babies. That’s the most important lesson here.