I hear it in your voice, and can see it in your eyes. A “successful” breastfeeding mom asks “Did you breast or bottle feed?” You avoid eye contact, lower your head and whisper “I tried, and it just didn’t work. I didn’t make enough, had to supplement and my milk eventually dried up.” You avoid conversations like this for fear of being judged by not trying hard enough or by not changing your diet to consist of lactation cookies and fenugreek supplements.
When I got pregnant with my first child, there was no question as too whether I was going to nurse my baby. At the time, I thought to myself, “This is going to be great; I’ll shed the baby weight and my child will get the best form of nutrition.” It was a no-brainer for me. In preparation, I took the breastfeeding class the hospital offered, I read books on what to expect and although I had no idea what I was doing, tried to read about different ways to hold your baby to try and get them to latch. I really set myself up for success, I thought.
Fast forward to delivery. Let me tell you, it was no walk in the park. I was up for nearly 48 hours straight, labored for about 24 hours, discovered there was meconium present when my water broke, dealt with a breached baby and was nearing 24 hours after my water broke when my husband and I decided a cesarean section would be the best way to move forward. Devastated, scared, and with tears in my eyes- I signed the waivers and my son was born shortly after.
While waiting in the post operation area before the three of us are moved to our postpartum room, I attempted to nurse for the first time. He latched and I thought to myself, “This is amazing!” What did not make it easy was every single time I would finally get my son to sleep, a nurse would come in and make sure I fed my baby. Again, determined to breastfeed, I would attempt to get him to latch and things seemed fine for the first of my three day hospital stay. By the time the second day rolled around, it seemed as though every time I would get him to try and nurse, he would scream. It completely stressed me out so that when he finally did latch I sat there so tense, my shoulders practically up to my ears, afraid that if I moved an inch he would de-latch and we would be back to square one. Even if the latch wasn’t a particularly ‘good’ one, I sat there fighting through the pain because I would not dare try to get him to re-latch for fear he would start screaming. This process continued on until his first appointment with his pediatrician two days after we were discharged from the hospital.
To say I was nervous for this appointment was an understatement. For starters, I read so many articles about breastfeeding prior to the birth of my son. It was easy to find stories about mothers and the babies they nursed and how special of a bond it formed. I thought to myself, “Is this it? Is this what everyone is talking about?” I was unsure if it was just me at the time. All of those articles said “breast is best” and made me feel as though formula feeding my child was essentially poisoning him. To make matters worse, he lost weight since leaving the hospital and because keeping him fed was what my body was designed to do, I felt like a failure; like my body failed me, too. I was hopeful his pediatrician would help me find a solution to our feeding issues. After that appointment, I saw a lactation consultant the next day and through a few tests, I began pumping around the clock. I was attached to my breast pump and made plans around my pumping schedule. Constantly pumping offered me a little relief. I was able to feed my son what I pumped, but still, after months of trying to keep that momentum going it wasn’t hard to burn out. With my first child, I maintained that schedule for three months before I had to supplement with formula and with my second I only made it three weeks.
The decision to stop pumping was not an easy one. Each time with both kids I felt like I was making a selfish decision and it took a couple of weeks for the guilt to wear off. In fact, when I was asked whether or not I nursed, I would say “I nursed for as long as I could” and would hope they would not ask me how long that actually was. My perspective began to change the more I felt comfortable talking to other moms however, and the more I heard about other women and their struggles with supplementing or going straight to formula altogether- the more secure I felt in my decision. Today, I am firm on the stance that fed is best. However that may be. I know the length of time I nursed my babies will not be on any future college applications, the “experts” out there did not know my story and it is not a testament to how successful of a mother I am.
To the mom who tried to breastfeed and thinks she failed, be free of the guilt, sister. You, my dear, are a success!