Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing. So natural, so easy, so wonderful…except when it’s not.
We had a rough start with our breastfeeding journey. My little man was in the NICU for his first 5 days of life due to low oxygen levels. He was so lethargic that we struggled to keep him awake during feedings. If any of you have been unlucky enough to belong to the NICU parents club, you know that they monitor many things, one of which is they weigh diapers to make sure those littles are getting enough to eat.
A few days in and my milk hadn’t come in yet. The diapers weren’t weighing enough, and we were instructed to begin supplementing. For about the 80th time since he had been born, I cried and cried. I felt like my body had failed me and my baby. I pumped constantly in my hospital room, and tried to breast feed him at every scheduled feeding. It was so hard, he was so sleepy and unwilling to feed, and covered in wires and tubes. I was trying to recover from childbirth, it hurt to sit in the uncomfortable chair in the baby’s room, deal with raging hormones, sore nipples, my new responsibility as a parent, my strange post pardum body, and overwhelming fatigue. One day, I fell asleep in the chair with the baby and was berated by one of the nurses. I just wanted to take my baby home. If I asked for help with breast feeding, the nurses and lactation consultants helped us but it was very uncomfortable to have them in my personal space giving me instructions.
We got to go home!
We were finally able to go home, and our little guy was discharged from the hospital. Things improved, I’m sure partially due to reduced stress and also the improved health of our baby. We still weren’t reaching our exclusive breast feeding goals, and every time I pumped any extra milk he would end up needing it just a few hours later. As the weeks went by, and I got closer to returning to work, I still didn’t have even a drop of milk set aside in the freezer.
I KNEW that he wasn’t getting enough milk from me. If I didn’t give him a bottle in addition to breast feeding he would not sleep at all, and was not content. I wanted so badly to exclusively breast feed, but I knew I couldn’t starve my baby by refusing to give him bottles.
I called the lactation consultant, and she was very unkind. She told me to quit supplementing, because every time I gave him a bottle I was damaging my supply. Absolutely good advice for people who have normal production levels, but TERRIBLE AWFUL advice for someone who is part of this unfortunate minority. She told me I could come in for an observed feed if I wanted, but heavily insinuated that it was unnecessary, and I was mismanaging breastfeeding.
I hung up the phone and cried. I took the baby to his hearing screening, and I called my husband to tell him how it went, and also talked to him about my conversation with lactation consultant. He was livid about the way she treated me, and reminded me that our baby was doing fine.
Pump, feed, pump, and repeat
I kept thinking that we just needed to push a little harder, just pump a little more, just take one more supplement, just try a different tea, just drink a little more water, just eat a little better, and everything would work. But it didn’t. This obsession with my milk production exacerbated the postpartum depression I experienced.
Everyone said that it’s ok, that lots of babies grow up using formula, and I wasn’t a bad mom. And I wanted to believe that, I really did. And truly, no one can understand the pain of this unless they have experienced it. I do realize that I was blessed to be able to partially breast feed my child, but it was still an incredibly difficult and painful experience for me. This isn’t something I am very comfortable sharing with the world, but I feel inspired to write about these experiences.
There is an idiotic stigma attached to the inability to breastfeed, or the inability to breastfeed exclusively. There is no other physical inability that is met with so much judgment in our society. I was lucky to be met with an outpouring of support, but I know other moms who have not been so lucky.
The end of our breastfeeding journey
Our breast feeding journey came to an end just before my little one turned 6 months. I found a wonderful group of ladies with the same difficulty, and they have been an AMAZING support. They reminded me that my baby needed me more than my milk. It was the best choice for us for many reasons. I have no regrets about weaning, and I’m proud of what we accomplished together.
So please, stop attaching a stigma to bottle feeding. Stop the hurtful rumor that everyone can exclusively breast feed, and mothers who don’t are lazy. We all know that “breast is best” but when it’s not an option, FED IS BEST.