Before I had my daughter I had decided to exclusively breastfeed. The only obstacle I thought I may run into was low milk supply because my sisters ran into that problem with their babies, but boy was I grossly unprepared for all the other curveballs breastfeeding may throw at you.
I remember being 4 months pregnant when I first bought a book about breastfeeding. It was a cute little book and after I finished reading it I thought, "This is going to be easy. It's only natural for women to breastfeed, so I know I've got this in the bag." Well fast forward to about 8 weeks ago when I gave birth to my baby. As soon as I gave birth my nurses all seemed to leave in a hurry and I was left in the delivery room with a crying baby.
Ohhh right. I have to feed you, I thought. And so I pulled down my hospital gown and tried to get this fresh new tiny baby to latch.
It wasn't easy.
I remember feeling like I wasn't doing it right, but why? Isn't it supposed to come naturally to me?? And isn't it supposed to come naturally to my baby? Well as I quickly found out, the answer is no... Yes it is a natural "instinct" but that doesn't mean it will be easy in the beginning.
Later on that evening, one of the nurses asked me how baby was feeding. I paused for a second and realised I had no idea how well it was going. I couldn't even tell if I was doing it right. So I mentioned that I thought it was going well, but that my nipples hurt. I thought that was normal, but decided to mention it anyway.
"What do you mean they're hurting?" the nurse asked. " Like only when she first latches and then it feels okay, right?"
"Uh no?" I slowly responded. All of a sudden I began to realise that the nurses question basically just proved that I indeed was not "doing it right".
I quickly added, "It hurts the whole time. Isn't that normal in the beginning though?" The nurse then explained to me that it will be sensitive at first but that it shouldn't be hurting the whole feed, so she asked if I could show her how I nursed. Once she watched me breastfeed she told me that my baby was having a hard time latching correctly. Her itty bitty tongue was pressed up against the roof of her mouth, a self-soothing mechanism she learnt in utero, and that's why she was struggling.
"Not only are you having to learn how to breastfeed, but so is she. Don't worry, she will get the hang of it eventually."
Okay... I felt kinda hopeful and figured that I just had to give it some time, but now looking back, I wish someone could have given me some tips of properly latching a baby before it was too late.
Now you're probably thinking, "Too late? What does she mean by that?"
Well, let me tell you! But before I do, be warned... it's not pretty.
By the time I left the hospital my nipples were dry and cracked. And I so wish it ended there, but it didn't. The more I fed my baby, the more destroyed my nipples got. Baby girl still couldn't get the hang of things, so I just naively let her nurse incorrectly because I knew she needed to eat. I didn't know what else to do. By day four my nipples were so cracked and sore that I winced in pain and held back tears every single feed... And baby was feeding for at least 30 mins every 2 hours... so I quickly became exhausted. Not only was I physically and emotionally tired from learning to breastfed through the new sleepless nights, but I had an unmedicated labor and delivery and I still had not recovered from the semi-traumatic experience that was my birth story.
Well four days after Mila was born we had her first doctors appointment and the pediatrician told us that she had jaundice and was close to being under weight. They informed me that in order to get Mila's weight up and jaundice levels down I would have to start supplementing her with formula. I don't know why but hearing those words made me feel like such a failure. By the time I got back into the car I just sobbed. I was physically in pain and now I was emotionally hurting because I felt like it was my fault that she wasn't getting enough milk...
The first week of her life I struggled with major mom guilt. Why was breastfeeding so easy for some woman but not me?? My milk had come in around day 4 as well and that just threw me for a loop. Now not only was baby not latching properly, but her "bad latch" caused me to get a clogged duct in one of my breasts which then also resulted in getting a huge, painful blister on top of my nipple... I could not catch a break...
Desperate to feed my baby, my doctor suggested I also try pumping. That way I can go around the "bad latch", feed my baby, and also unclog the milk duct and hopefully prevent that from happening again. So I tried it out.
The first time I pumped I felt my heart drop into my stomach as I watched blood pool into the pump bottle. I immediately stopped and examined my breasts. What??? Why are they bleeding? Is this new or have they been bleeding this whole time and I just never noticed it while my baby nursed? So naturally I called my mom because moms know everything.
She reassured me that bleeding can be normal and that it shouldn't stop me from nursing, so I tried again. I basically had to throw away my milk every time I pumped for the first two days because I couldn't get the bleeding to stop and I didn't feel comfortable feeding that to my baby. By day three of pumping I finally figured out that after 5 mins of pumping the bleeding would stop. So I would pump for five minutes, dump the bloody milk and then start pumping again without bleeding. I don't know why it worked out like that, but it did.
But now I not only had an issue with cracked, bleeding nipples and a terrible latch, but I also began to notice that my milk supply was low. I wasn't even pumping enough to be able to supplement correctly. Sooner than later I realised that I slowly began to fear feeding my baby... That broke my heart because I so badly wanted to enjoy the boding time that breastfeeding brings. I pushed through regardless and kept telling myself that i'm not going to "give up". I was too prideful for that. I mean do you blame me?
...I remember the night I threw that pride out of the window...
It was the middle of the night. My feeding schedule was to nurse baby for 30 minutes, change her diaper, rock her back to sleep, pump for 30 minutes, wash pump and go back to bed. By the time I was done with my routine I would typically have 40 minutes to sleep before the cycle started again. But this one night in particular I had struggled to put baby to sleep and before I knew it, one thing led to another, and it was time to feed baby again even though I still had to pump. I began to panic because I had nothing to feed my baby and I couldn't bare to have her try and latch while I was half asleep. I didn't think I could handle the pain. So I decided to try and pump for as long as I could before my baby started to cry. I quickly brought out the pump, put it on and pressed start.
What happened next is what tipped me off of the edge.
My pump literally ripped half of my nipple off... It was still attached but hanging, and before I could cry in complete agony, I heard my baby let out a big cry. In a panic I unknowingly put my breast back in my nursing bra with my nursing pad and rushed to console my baby. By the time I calmed her down I began to feel immense pain coming from my chest. I just closed my eyes and let out a fearful sigh as I came to the realisation of what I had done. I had put a fresh, bleeding nipple against a nursing pad...
Out of fear I didn't want to look, but I decided to check on my torn up breast and that is when I lost it. My nipple bled so much that it actually caused my nipple to dry to my nursing pad. yeah... OUCH. I tried pulling it off, but it was so stuck that it almost torn my nipple off completely. I almost fainted from the pain and that is when I began to sob. Loud and hard... I didn't even care to stay quiet anymore... I cried so loudly that it woke my husband up in a panic. He jumped out of bed and quickly ran to my rescue.
The poor guy practically couldn't stomach the sight, yet he still tried to calm me down and make a game plan. We decided to cut off as much of the nursing pad as possible and what ever was left we would try and soak off. so that's what we did. It did eventually become unstuck, but that didn't give me any emotional relief. It was in that moment that I sobbed and told my husband that I accept defeat. I just couldn't do this anymore.
Not only was I in excruciating pain, physically and emotionally, but I couldn't even feed my baby properly. My pride had kept my baby hungry and I just had to suck it up and give in. My breastfeeding journey was going to come to an end.
It was hard to come to that decision, but it was necessary for my baby's wellbeing. She needed to get bigger and better and that was my responsibility. SO formula it was.
For the next week I cried every time I had to feed my baby. Every time she was hungry and looked for the breast I would weep and spend the next 30 minutes apologising for not being enough for her... I missed the connection of breastfeeding, and I felt as if I was mourning a loss... I had to let my breasts heal though, and before no time my baby was gaining weight and becoming healthier! So my guilt started to slowly fade away as I began to see how my difficult decision was benefiting her.
After a week of strictly formula feeding, I was all healed up! I'm actually so surprised at how fast my body repaired itself. I started to feel like myself again. My milk supply was gone and I no longer had to deal with painful, engorged, bleeding breasts, but I still wasn't happy.
It was always my dream to be able to breastfeed my babies, so it still was a hard thing to accept... At 1 month postpartum I had a dream that I regained my milk supply completely and that my baby was able to latch and feed with no problem! It seemed unobtainable yet something inside of me was filled with this unexplainable hope.
The next morning I began to research if it was even possible to do, and to my surprise, re-lactation is a very possible thing. I was flooded with video after video of first time moms who had gone through similar trails and had ended up going on a journey of regaining their milk supply. It was so encouraging to watch. Not only was it possible, but there were so many success stories to be inspired by.
My mood brightened and I couldn't wait to tell my husband about it. To be honest, I did feel a little silly about putting him through the stress of breastfeeding again, but this is what I wanted and I knew he would support me no matter what.
So started my journey back to breastfeeding.
In all honesty it hasn't been easy. I have to pump constantly and try not to be discouraged when barely anything comes out. I have to drink water ALL DAY LONG in order to make sure Im hydrated enough and I have to make sure i'm eating enough food... That's pretty hard to do when you're a full time mother and wife. And that's not including all the lactation cookies and teas I've tried... BUT I am determined, and I'm hopeful. Sometimes, we have to make decisions for the greater good, but those decisions don't always have to be a forever thing. I guess what I've come to learn is that taking a step back and repositioning doesn't mean you've given up on your dream.
I had always thought that once I gave up breastfeeding there was no turning back, but that just isn't true. It makes me think of my walk with Yahweh. Sometimes I can feel so disconnected to my purpose because life keeps throwing curveballs and I'm always having to readjust. But that's all it is... A readjustment. It's not the end, it's not over, but you do have to have the courage to take a step back, figure out a game plan and go for it.
You also have to remember to be patient with yourself. Not everything will come easy, and more often than not, you will have to pay a price.
If you are hungry for your dreams and you are determined, you will see it come to fruition. You just have to keep going!
My baby can now latch beautifully! I am so proud of her and she has definitely helped me on this breastfeeding journey. We aren't nearly where we'd like to be supply wise, but I beam with such joy every time I'm able to have that bonding time with her. <3