Uniquely Fed: An Honest Look at the Realities of Breastfeeding, Part Three – Real Breastfeeding Stories, Vol. 1
Welcome to the third part of the Uniquely Fed series. If I’m honest, this is the part that I’m most excited about sharing with you – real stories, shared by real moms from all over the world!!
I have been so humbled by the response I received from the moms I reached out to. So many were willing and eager to share their stories that I have had to revise my original plans for this post series! Rather than sharing ALL the stories in one post, I am posting a special mini-series within the series!
To celebrate motherhood and the joys and challenges that come along with breastfeeding, I am going to share a few stories with you each weekday until I have shared them all! This project has become such a labor of love for me and I can’t wait for you to read the unique journeys that each of these mothers have walked in their quest to satisfy one of the most basic needs in life: to be fed.
It is in honor of all the mothers out there who have struggled and who have thrived in that quest, that I bring you Part Three, Vol. 1 of Uniquely Fed: An Honest Look at the Realities of Breastfeeding – Real Breastfeeding Stories.
(You can sign-up here to receive an update each time I add to the Uniquely Fed series!)
Volume 1 – Julie, Brandis, and Jacinta
My first child, my son, is soon to be 4. We breastfed for a few weeks shy of 12 months, but in the first weeks of his life I wasn’t sure we would make it that long. Aurelius was born at 37 weeks and had a poor latch from the beginning. The lactation consultants in the hospital tried all their tips and tricks but he wasn’t effectively latching and staying latched. Finally, just before my release the lactation consultation offered a nipple shield. She explained that they like to try everything possible first before offering one, but would rather arm me with a “tool for success” than send me home with a poorly feeding infant. This, rather than making me feel confident as a new mom already had me feeling like a failure. Why couldn’t I nurse my own baby? This wasn’t the plan. And besides that, one of the luxuries of breastfeeding was literally rolling out of bed (or in our case rolling over) and not having to warm formula, sterilize bottles, etc. but this thing needed to be cleaned before and after each use. And where to keep it? (I ended up getting retainer containers and additional shields so I always had one ready to go, but still, it was an added hassle.)
Luckily, Aurelius loved the shield. He happily nursed for 30 minutes or more when I used it. I got used to the hassle of carrying it with me, sterilizing it, adjusting it for the correct fit. I also think it is what allowed him to readily accept a bottle (unlike my daughter, more on that later) at around 3 months when I had to go back to work. However, I firmly believe using the shield lowered my milk supply. No matter how many times a day or how long I pumped I could barely manage 4 oz. total. Quite soon I was faced with a hungry baby who was spending 9+ hours at day care and I couldn’t pump enough for his bottles! What little I had been able to stockpile was quickly used up (or refused—Aurelius was very sensitive to the lipase in the thawed milk and often wouldn’t finish a bottle if it had been previously frozen). So, there we were, he 3 ½ months old and hungry and me frantically trying to work full-time and pump 6x(!) in a 24-hour period to not even produce enough milk for his next day.
I really struggled with introducing formula. I am not sure exactly why, my grandmother formula-fed all eight of her children, on the doctor’s orders, and though my mom breastfed all four of hers she was never pushy about me needing to do so. We are a vegan family so I did have concerns about that but was perfectly fine using organic soy formula. Truly, the biggest fear I had was failure. Good moms breastfeed. Good moms make sure their babies have the best chance to fight illness, be physicists, beat their milestones. Somehow these things have become synonymous, but they really aren’t. One day I was voicing these concerns to a dear friend while we watched her child play at the playground. She said “Look at these kids. Which were breastfed?” Of course, that is a silly question. Because you can’t tell. And then she said “What he needs most is you. You to have rest and not stress. You to not be spending more time pumping and cleaning pump parts then you are with him.” After that, I happily gave him bottles. We still nursed, in the morning, at bedtime, occasionally in the night. I still pumped, but just once per day. I was calmer, he was calmer, and we were both happier for it.
This arrangement worked well for us for almost 12 months. I told myself, I will keep nursing him some at least until he is one. Well, he had other ideas! One day three weeks shy of his 1st birthday, he didn’t nurse. The next morning, no interest. And just like that he was done! On one hand, I was grateful we didn’t have days and weeks of drama but on the other I was a bit sad to be done with that phase. Little did I know just 9 short months later, Maggie would arrive!
Maggie was born early. 35w 6d, 5 ½ pounds. A gorgeous little peanut. In the hospital, she immediately latched and happily nursed (when we could keep her awake)! Though being slightly jaundiced she was cleared for hospital release in just two days, with no necessary NICU stay. We were so thrilled with this news, however, after being home just two days and her bilirubin level not going down as we hoped, we found ourselves back at the hospital. She had to be readmitted due to low body temperature. Poor girl was so small she didn’t have any fat to keep her warm! She spent the next four days snuggly under a heat lamp with me by her side. We still nursed throughout this, but it wasn’t the bonding experience I had planned. The nurses wanted her to take a bottle so they could be sure of the ounces she was getting. They offered her every kind of formula they had and she refused it. I pumped and she refused it. So, we nursed. (She never did end up taking a bottle.)
I was in the lucky position at this point to have a work-from-home job and a close friend to watch the kids while I worked in the next room. This meant that I could nurse Maggie whenever she pleased. Since our number one goal when she was an infant was to chub her up I nursed her on demand. It didn’t seem odd to me that she nursed almost once per hour for just a few minutes per side—but it did to our doctor. She referred us to a pediatric dentist for a possible tongue tie. The dentist confirmed that Maggie did have a tie (it is what gives her tongue the little heart-shaped tip when she sticks it out). He said “Will she be able to eat an ice cream cone? Probably. Will she likely want to nurse more often? Yes.” His recommendation was he didn’t see a reason to correct her tie if I was content (and able) to nurse her often. She was nursing well and gaining weight and he didn’t foresee long-term problems. So, we did not revise. Maggie nursed for just over 2 years. She got down to about 4 feedings in a 24-hour period, but she didn’t want to stop altogether. Though she was already eating a greater variety of food than her almost 4-year-old brother, she didn’t want to give up the mommy time. Just a few days after her second birthday I nursed her for the last time. In the following days, she tried to nurse a few times and I had to distract her with games or songs or toys. By the end of that week she wasn’t asking anymore. It was harder for me than for her I think. She is our last child so I know that I will never nurse another baby again, but luckily, we still have plenty of cuddles.
Prior to having my child, to breastfeed or not was never really a question. I assumed that I would. And even though I was well aware of all the trouble Moms have, I was quite confident it wouldn’t be that hard.
Growing up, my Mother was a doula. I was raised in Northern California surrounded by breast-feeding, all-natural child-rearing Mamas. There was no way I wasn’t going to slip right into this with no problems.
Then my son showed up 4 weeks early via c-section and landed in the NICU with blood sugar issues. So much for the earth-mama thing. Plus the poor kid just hadn’t developed his suck reflex yet, at all. Trying to get anything into that tiny little guy was almost impossible.
No problem, I got this.
Except, that feeding a baby with no suck reflex is super time consuming! So pumping and feeding him took an hour and half. Which left exactly one and half hours until the whole process needed to start all over again. 1.5 hours to sleep, eat and fit in all other life processes.
It’s ok, everyone has challenges, we can get through this…
But he was losing weight and couldn’t get his blood sugars up.
So we decided to supplement with formula. And by “supplement” I mean he was probably getting 90% formula.
No problem, I got this. This is just to get us out of the NICU then I’ll go home and lay in bed and nurse until its all better.
And it worked. The formula got valuable calories into him and he got better. I kept pumping, by hand at first, because my over-confident pregnant brain hadn’t even considered buying a pump. (ugh)
5 long days later, we went home. I settled into bed topless to sleep and nurse until we had this down.
Except he still had no suck reflex. So it was more like sit around in bed while he rejected my boobs.
Finally, someone said “fed is best”, he just needs to eat. I also needed to sleep more than 1.5 hours at a time. Ok, fine.
So I stopped pumping religiously. Maybe once or twice a day, but I just didn’t focus on it.
I was in shock at how hard breastfeeding was – not willing to admit defeat and also not able to make it work. Everyone says “you know what’s best for you and baby” but I didn’t feel like I knew a damn thing! I was just tired and this was supposed to work.
I had all the right things – a good support system, knowledge of how it was supposed to work – and yet still it just didn’t.
At some point during a half-lucid Google search I stumbled upon some article or forum that said to just wait until a week or two past his due date. I wish I could say it was some magical tip or trick, but no just wait and keep trying.
So I did, and one day – just like that – he latched! And he kept latching and we kept going.
17 months later, we’re starting to wind down on our breastfeeding relationship. It was so hard at first and though we had some bumps along the way, I’m so thankful that we made it through. Once we got it down, breastfeeding is way easier than bottles and it’s so rewarding to be able to comfort him when he’s sick or uncomfortable.
Dear Breastfeeding Mama,
I know it is tough.
The sleepless nights, the frequently interrupted breaks, the fear of having blocked ducts or any other breastfeeding-related issue, the need to check if you should be eating a certain food item or avoid it for the interest of your baby, the pumping sessions that feel so mechanical sometimes…
Whether you are directly latching your baby, or exclusively pumping, or you’re somewhere in between – dear breastfeeding mama, can I give you a virtual hug and say, “Well done.“?
Come, lean in for a hug. ?
Whatever your reasons for persisting in breastfeeding, as a Mama who exclusively pumped for my sweetie-pie, I feel you.
I THOUGHT I KNEW…
Before I knew what breastfeeding was about, I thought I knew what breastfeeding was about. You know what I mean? It was all in the head. I had head-knowledge from all the books, but I had no idea what reality would be like with a persistently crying newborn desperate for milk and me fumbling around trying to position her the right way while also trying my hardest to relax…because that’s how the milk will come right? It was so, so hard.
I know, there are mums who have it really easy and they do make it look easy…possibly because it is really a piece of cake for them. But my journey was hardly an easy one. I wanted…READ THE REST on her blog.
About Jacinta: Jacinta Huang is a stay-home Mum who blogs on motherhood, faith and homemaking at www.snugglesandkisses.net. A planner and stationery addict, she is passionate about helping readers discover simple ways to create order and loveliness in their daily lives.
I hope you enjoyed reading these stories and that you feel encouraged if your journey looks like one of these! Stay tuned for more stories in tomorrow’s post.
What has your breastfeeding journey been like? Let me know in the comments!