Our Breastfeeding Struggle... I mean, Journey?
Breastfeeding was the plan before Pearl was even born. It seemed the most financially savvy decision at the time, and I thought "If I am able to do it, why not?" I thought it would be the easiest thing, and come naturally to us. I could not even imagine the bleeding cracked nipples, leaking all over my clothes, low supply, latch issues, the painful clogged ducts, her biting me when her teeth came in... I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I want to preface this post with the fact that we've literally tried it all: breastfeeding, supplementing with formula, pumping, etc. This is just to share our personal experiences and not a post about which method of feeding is the best, because if you're looking for that here I will tell you FED IS BEST and whatever method keeps you and your baby healthy and happy is the right method.
If I'm being completely honest, we got off on a really bad start with breastfeeding. Reaaaaaaally bad. When she was born, before she even tried to latch the lactation consultant at the hospital suggested we use a nipple shield. I had one nipple that was a little flatter than the other one. TMI, but we're already going there. If you are reading this and have no idea what a nipple shield is, imagine a piece of silicone/plastic that goes on top of your nipple and sticks out far enough for the baby to latch on to. Great for people who have tiny nipples or even inverted nipples. I wish now that I had tried without it, because it added a lot to my frustration. Pearl had an improper latch on the shield itself and the result was a cracked and bleeding nipple. This is not to knock nipple shields, I think they are literally life savers! The nurses had suggested I hold her in a football hold, which was so awkward for us and made the latch even harder. None of this felt natural yet. We had to nurse all the time. We worked at it and worked at it. The nurses would check on us around the clock and grab my breast and shove it into her mouth. I was exhausted, sore, worn out. I just wanted to shower and they wouldn't even let me do that. I was beyond ready to go home. When we finally came home from the hospital, I felt like I was having an out of body experience. That night I was sitting in the nursery, and everyone was sound asleep around me. My husband and dog sound asleep on the floor. The baby asleep on my breast. I thought, "I'm never going to sleep again." I was still bleeding heavily and living in those mesh undies and huge boat sized pads. I felt like I lived on the couch, with a baby on my boob. I remember when my milk finally came in, about four or five days after she was born. I had laid down for a much needed nap and when I woke up the bed was soaked under me, and my breasts were so sore. They felt hard as rocks. It was the strangest feeling. Night time was the worst for us. Pearl went through a phase for weeks where she would cry all night long. My husband would rock her and hold her, sway with her, try to soothe her, and stay up with her. I don't think I would have gotten through those weeks if it wasn't for his help and support. She really was only happy if she was nursing. My mental health was suffering so much- and it wasn't just the baby blues. I had full on postpartum depression, which you can read about in my blog post here. I was experiencing feeling "touched out" for the first time. That is a VERY REAL thing. If a mom tells you she is touched out and needs a minute, believe her.
One of the hardest and most confusing things about breastfeeding was all of the conflicting information we received. Between our baby classes we took, books I read, advice from lactation consultants, advice from other mothers... there was a wealth of information floating around in my head. Everything from "don't give the baby a pacifier until after they are three weeks old, it can cause nipple confusion" to "make sure you give the baby a pacifier, it helps her learn to latch" and "don't pump for the first few weeks it can cause an oversupply". My head was spinning. I was trying to do everything right. I was SO stressed. I had put so much pressure on myself to make breastfeeding work for us.
When we went for Pearl's two week well check and weight check, a pediatric nurse practically scolded me for not pumping yet. She said that was probably why my supply was so low and why Pearl's weight gain wasn't where they wanted it to be. I broke down and cried right there in the office. The nurse stepped out of the room, grabbed a bottle of ready to drink formula, and handed it to me. I felt like I failed Pearl. I was devastated. Pearl took the bottle like a champ. I remember looking down at her, and I honestly felt like a bad mom. I felt like I "failed" at breastfeeding. Why did I feel that way? Looking back on it now, I think it's ridiculous that I felt that way but in the moment it was all too much. My personal opinion is there is way too much pressure on exclusively breastfeeding. and way too much "woo" about formula feeding being a negative thing. Our baby care class we took wasn't even allowed to discuss formula, or bottle feeding at all. Every where we had looked, breastfeeding had been shoved at us. We made the decision to supplement with formula for a few weeks and let me tell you, it completely SAVED our breastfeeding experience. We would not still be breastfeeding if we had not supplemented. I wish I had done it sooner. I was able to stop stressing out about my supply level, and I was able to try pumping and the next thing I knew, my supply pretty much doubled overnight. I was able to stop using the formula by the next appointment and her weight gain was back on track. We got more comfortable with it too and as her latch improved, I was able to stop using the nipple shield too. I was able to see my doctor for my postpartum depression, and she helped me find a medication that worked for me. It wasn't a magical fix but it certainly made me feel like I could function. Now that I wasn't as stressed about making breastfeeding work, it was actually working for us. Breastfeeding felt a lot easier and suddenly it was like second nature to both of us.
Pearl turned eight months old yesterday, and we are still going strong with breastfeeding. My goal is to make it at least to one year. My supply is awesome now, and I have more milk in the freezer than I ever thought I would! I wish I knew those first few weeks all of the things I know now, and how much easier it would get. There are still days where she's scratching my chest or biting me that I question my sanity, but most of all I'm grateful I'm able to feed her this way, and happy for the bond I feel with her when she's nursing. If I could go back, I would tell myself to stop stressing out about everything. I do feel like my constant stress ABOUT my supply, hurt my supply. I'm no expert though, just one mom trying to figure it all out one day at a time. At the end of the day, I firmly believe FED is best and whatever works for you, is the best.
P.S. I've compiled a list of breastfeeding goodies that made our lives a lot easier. You can shop that on Amazon here and on LIKEtoKNOW.it here! My favorite nursing bras are made by LIVELY and you can save $10 off your first purchase here.
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