My entire pregnancy and at many prenatal appointments I was asked if I would be breastfeeding my new baby. I always answer “Yes, if I can” I would get a nod of approval from whomever asked and we would move on. My perception of breastfeeding was simple; its part of nature, the mother and baby will figure out how to go about the processes and if not we would just have to find another means of feeding. No big deal!
Within the first hour of delivering, still in the delivery room, the nurse told me it was time to breastfeed and we pushed my baby onto my nipple. “OH MY GOSH!” I yelled, “DOES SHE HAVE TEETH?!” This was so painful and so tender but I distracted myself by making small talk with my nurse and husband. I got through it and was told I did great. I felt like I received and A on my first parenting test. I got the stamp of approval from my nurse.
We moved to our mother/baby suite and I was so ready for bed! After all I normally go to bed around 9pm and it was now almost 1am. Once we settled in it was time to feed the baby again. AGAIN?! I thought?! I don’t just want to sleep I literally NEED sleep at this point. I had a rough labor and delivery story (for another time). I needed to sleep and I’d come back better than ever ready to do this mom thing! But nope, my boobs are needed. Not my husbands, not a nurse, not anybody but me. My baby and I were up and down all night feeding. I never got more than 1 consecutive hour of sleep that night.
Throughout my hospital stay I pushed through all the feedings and pain and got the stamp of approval from everyone, even the lactation consultant who stopped in. I was too ashamed to admit I was struggling, after all, everyone said it hurts at first but it gets easier! I didn’t really see a problem that anyone could help me out with, I just had to ride it out. At one point, just my husband and I in the room with our baby, who again was ready to feed, I asked my husband to stick his pinky finger in her mouth to give me a few minutes of a break.
Once home this journey only got worse. Way worse! I’ve never experienced pain like his my entire life. The bleeding, the engorgement, the raw nipples, blocked ducts, the fever and body aches set it. I spent so much money on different breastfeeding items: coconut oil, nipple cream, soothing gel pads, bra pads, I walked around topless most of the time to get some fresh air to my breasts.
I switched to pumping every other feeding in order to give my nipples a bit of a break but still get the breastfeeding experience with my baby. The pain was still getting worse from breastfeeding. I’ve never seen my boobs look the way they did. Every time my daughter cried for food I was now associating it with pain, fear, anger, overwhelming anxiety! I never once felt that amazing bond or experience looking at my baby feeding from me.
I then decided to exclusively pump. This helped in some ways but caused more stress in other ways. I now felt like a milk bank. I had to go pump for 20 minutes or so which means I am not able to use my hands for those 20 minutes. This followed with storing the milk, cleaning all the pump parts, washing bottles, and allowing everything to dry. Then bottle feeding my baby for 20 minutes or so. Anxiety would set in if she was nearing the end of the bottle and not satisfied. Will she need more? How will I supply that? When this process was all said and done I would have about 20 minutes, if that, before this process started all over again.
Everyone else got to hold a happy sleepy baby and I was the one doing all the work to keep her that way. I didn’t feel like I could enjoy my new baby at all! I remember one night at my parents house and Ellie drank all of the milk I had prepared. As she finished the last of her bottle my mom looked at me and asked if I had more. I had to go into the next room to pump for 20 minutes in order for her to eat. I cried the entire time I was pumping. This was too much and too stressful for me. I am putting in all the work, suffering all the pain, and I don’t even feel bonded with my own baby.
I knew in my head I wanted to stop, I wanted to switch to formula, but for some reason I couldn’t. I felt like I was failing my daughter. She deserves the breast milk. She’s healthy, she’s latching, she’s getting milk, I’m producing enough supply. I would be selfish to just stop and deprive her of all that just because I didn’t want to do it anymore.
I reached out to other moms who have been through this process fairly recently and they all seemed like it wasn’t that bad. Some exclusively breastfed, some were exclusively pumping, some were supplementing. All of them made it seem like it wasn’t so hard and even though it may suck at times its part of the job. But all said it’s not for everyone and switching to formula is completely fine. But all I could think about was if they can do it so can I.
The pain, exhaustion, sickness, struggle, bleeding, creams, pump supplies, all lead to depression. A deep deep depression. It took a professional to final get through to me. She said very directly “Stop breastfeeding. Take the pressure off. Your baby got 4 weeks worth of breast milk, she’s good.”
I instantly felt like the weight of the world was picked up off my shoulders.
Breastfeeding was so completely different than I was expecting. Now that I am pregnant again I am terrified and unsure of how I plan to feed my second baby. I feel as though I have PTSD from my breastfeeding journey.
This was my experience and may be different for every mother and every baby. But just know its not so easy and no big deal for everyone! If you are struggling with breastfeeding please know you are not alone as I struggled too!