Dude, breastfeeding is hard. I never, ever expected it to be as hard as it is. Sure, I knew it could be painful at the beginning, but most everyone in my social spheres were strong advocates and it felt like a no-brainer. All I ever heard was, “it’s so natural! It’s so amazing! It’s the greatest feeling ever! It’s the best way to bond with your baby!” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Why WOULDN’T I choose the natural, beautiful, healthy, cheap, God-ordained option for feeding my baby?
Well, this is my first breastfeeding story. I specify my first because I hope to have additional stories someday, with different content. But for now, this is all I know. And I’m still learning that it’s OK.
I never questioned whether or not I’d breastfeed my baby. I was excited to be able to nourish her with nothing but my own body. I was breastfed as a baby, all my friends breastfeed, it’s natural, it’s cheap, it’s healthy, it’s the best! I planned to breastfeed Naomi for one year and no less. I was going to get a pump and build a beautiful stock-pile in my freezer for when I left my baby with Daddy, Grammy, or Oma. Formula was a completely foreign thought in my baby-life preparations. So if you had told me that six months later, my baby would be consuming only two thirds breastmilk, with one third formula, and that my freezer has never ever held one bag of milk, I’d say, “excuse me, what?”
The first sign of doom to my retrospective brain, is the first time in the hospital Naomi had to eat and my nurse said, “Your nipples are flat, let’s use this shield.” I had never heard of a nipple shield, and never knew nipples might stay flat. But now that my breasts had their big moment to shine in their natural God-given glory, they didn’t do it right. Failure alert.
The first nurse gave me the shield without question, but each consecutive nurse during our stay in the hospital (I saw, like, 52 of them…) asked, “now WHY are you using that?” To my raw nerves, they probably sounded more critical and concerned than they actually were. But I vowed to get off the shield as soon as I could and not allow it to become a crutch. I left the hospital with a lactation consultant appointment scheduled for the following Friday.
The first night at home was the worst night of our lives. Naomi cried non-stop, except when I was feeding her. I remember holding her and rocking back and forth in our bedroom, crying out loud to God to please let us have one hour of sleep. I don’t even remember if we got any, but I know we got through. During the week that followed, she would nurse every two hours, sometimes 30 minutes per side, and rarely settled right away when we were done. I fell into the worst depression I’ve ever felt…I was prepared for exhaustion and sleep-deprivation to come after having a baby, but not overwhelming sadness. Hormones in our sin-cursed bodies are pretty much the worst.
Each feeding session was so much work…and in spite of the shield, I soon felt excruciating pain with every first letdown. But she had a perfect latch! I never got mastitis! We were told we didn’t have thrush! Count your blessings, eh?
At her first pediatrician checkup, she had lost one whole pound. I knew she would lose some, but hearing that was still so frightening. Since that is more than they like to see at baby’s first visit, the doctor asked me how her feedings were going. I told her Naomi didn’t really seem to settle well even after 40-60 minutes of eating. And my milk still hadn’t come in. The doctor gave us some ready-to-eat formula bottles to take home, to supplement after a feeding if she didn’t seem satisfied. I really didn’t want to use them. On the drive home I felt like we had bottles of poison in our car. Bub and I agreed to use them sparingly and see how she did the next few days until my lactation appointment.
My milk came in six days after I gave birth. Did I ever hear it might take that long? Nope. And it didn’t come in with the force of Niagara Falls like everyone says it does, either. I read things that said induction can cause a delay in milk production…one more reason to wish I had stayed pregnant beyond the two-week mark. I was quite discouraged by the time Friday came.
An amazing friend of mine drove with me to Tacoma for my appointment. We got lost in the bowels of St Joe’s with a screaming baby, but we eventually found it. I sat in a cozy chair in a cramped little room with the wiry, gray-haired lactation nurse hovering over me as I fed my baby. After each side, she pulled Naomi away, naked, and laid her on the scale. Nope, she didn’t get enough. So then the nurse, who had gasped when I told her how much birthweight she lost, jumped into explaining how many ounces Naomi should be consuming each meal based on her size. The blunt, rather cold nurse told me I needed to keep adding formula until she gained back her birth weight, I needed to start pumping after every feeding except at night, and I needed to pick a milk-boosting supplement to ingest every day. She sent me home with recipes for lactation cookies and lactation bread and lactation bars, and also finally told me, “you’re a good mom!” as I walked out the door. Thanks?
So for the next month, every two hours during the day I grabbed my pillow, put on my shield, nursed my baby for 20 minutes, switched sides, nursed her for another 20 minutes, burped her, fed her 1-2 ounces of formula (which either Bub or I made before hand), burped her again, and then put her in a bouncy seat at my feet so that I could rock her and pump for 20 minutes at the same time. I wanted to curl up and die frequently. And pumping with basically nothing coming out is about the worst disappointment ever.
At one and half months, I was so physically and emotionally worn out that I decided it might be time to quit nursing. I was still in pain every time, and she still cried and cried unless I gave her 2 ounces of formula. But the day I made a decision to quit, I was so distraught and saddened by not nursing my baby that it helped me overcome the feeling of dread I had each time she was hungry. I decided to give myself until two months before I would let myself quit.
Two months rolled around and I wasn’t in so much pain anymore, and the drudgery of life felt more like a bearable routine. I decided I could keep going. I was even getting her to nurse here and there without the shield! But I had lost hope of increasing my milk supply.
I knew there was always more I could do. I COULD have decided to make breastmilk the goal of my existence, and said goodbye to sleep and to intimacy with my husband. But I had to accept that for ME I had done all I could. I ate oatmeal with peanut butter and brewer’s yeast every day, sometimes twice. I first took Goat’s Rue supplements, and then fenugreek capsules with every meal. Friends made me lactation bread, I made lactation cookies, and I drank Mother’s Milk tea every night. I didn’t start exercising besides light walking, because I knew that could make milk decrease even more. I pumped every time she was sleeping, and still I had nothing to show for it.
Even though she would nurse a few times without a shield, our nursing sessions grew shorter and shorter before she would pull away and cry desperately because nothing was coming out. Soon she refused to nurse on one side all together. She liked the bottle and my letdown was too slow. I dropped to nursing her only once a day, first thing in the morning when I was the fullest and she was the happiest.
Right around three months, after seeing the contrast between happy baby at a bottle feeding and angry baby at breastfeeding, the Lord comforted my heart enough for me to quit nursing. This time I didn’t feel the emotional turmoil I felt the first time I quit. I was relieved to take one step out of our overwhelming feeding process, and I know Bub and Naomi were relieved as well.
Up until she turned 6 months old, I have pumped four to five times a day and fed my baby every last drop, with formula supplemented for the rest. She is big and healthy and happy. I’ve kept pumping because breast IS best. My body may not be functioning at 100%, but I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth, baby!
Once I quit nursing, my new goal was to feed her breastmilk until she reached six months. And now looking ahead at the next 6 months, and knowing there are mommas who exclusively pump for an entire year or more, it makes me want to keep going. But I’m exhausted. I am so exhausted. I get up at 6:20 am every single morning to pump before Naomi gets up at 7 am. I pump every single night before I go to bed, no matter how late it is. And although I’ve cut down to just one pump during the day, I still have to make time to do it while she’s taking a nap. I never go to bed at the same time as my husband. I never get time for a nap of my own, unless she decides to take her long one in the afternoon. If I’m out and about, I have to plan to be either home or at my parents’ house in time to empty the udder. SO. What’s my deal? I’m ready to slowly wean us. She loves breastmilk. But she also loves formula. And Mommy’s sanity needs the best, too. God can be glorified in His creation that was used to make formula, just as much as He can be glorified in His creation of breastmilk.
Every time I buy formula, I have to mentally remind myself not to care who’s watching, not to care whether they know that I also feed my baby breastmilk. I really hate society. I really hate well-meaning blogs that scream “BREAST IS BEST” 24-7. I really hate my own misplaced ideals. I really hate caring so much.
And I really hate thinking of my first baby as my first try… sometimes my failed try. I wasn’t able to birth naturally, I wasn’t able to feed naturally, and I am not adjusting to this mom-life naturally. Since the first time I fed my baby formula, I had been thinking ahead to my next baby, and what I’ll do differently: I won’t let them induce me, I’ll wait three weeks if I have to, I won’t use the shield, I’ll take a nursing vacation shut up in my room for the first two weeks, I’ll meal plan and snack plan ahead of time so I’ll have all the nutrition I need ready to go, and I won’t let her even look at a bottle. But this is stealing my joy. This is replacing Naomi with my own experience.
Naomi is my daughter. And by the grace of God, I am learning to be graceful and confident in making decisions as her mom. I’m choosing to be done with my breastfeeding story, man! She was born safely, and Daddy and I are able to feed her. Praise the Lord, hallelujah, thank you Jesus.
So moms, let’s try to be encouraging to each other. I won’t ever tell you “breast is best” unless you flat out ask me what I think about formula vs breastmilk. So yes, breast milk is AMAZING. Freaking crazy that our bodies make that! But I believe in the God of the Bible, and that His once good and perfect creation is now affected by the curse of sin. Bodies don’t always do what they were made to do. And spiritual health is seriously so much more important than physical health. So I want to be an instrument of God’s grace and comfort in a fallen world, not an advocate of remaking Eden. Because thanks to us, Eden doesn’t exist here. Eden won’t exist, until He makes all things new.
What WILL I tell you? This:
Fed is best.
Breastfeeding is SO HARD, girl! Good job!
Dude, pumping consumes your LIFE! Good job!
Momma, making formula bottles 5-12 times a day and packing all the necessary parts in a sanitary way when you go out is THE WORST! Good job!
Good job, girl. FEED that baby.