I know there are approximately 789,654 stories about breastfeeding (BF) on the world wide webs. I also know that this is a hotly debated topic and maybe one that some people feel uncomfortable with. So why did I decide to write about it? I don’t really know… Maybe it will help someone somewhere with their own BF challenges? Maybe I can offer a different perspective as a dietitian? Whatever the reason, I should preface this by saying regardless of my own experience, I am definitely a fan of BF and all the nutritional (and other) benefits it has to offer our littlest sprouts. OK, now that we’re clear on that point, here we go…
Prior to getting pregnant, I did part of my dietetic internship at a WIC clinic. If you aren’t familiar with WIC, just know that they are big supporters of BF. I mean BIG. I taught BF classes, I watched lactation consultants in action, I showed people what a proper latch looks like using a doll and a stuffed boob. I was a pro…at talking about it anyway. While I was pregnant, BF was the one thing I wasn’t worried about following birth. I was pretty sure I had it covered. I knew the tricks of the trade and I figured it’s human nature. How hard can it be right? HA! For something that is physiologically so natural, it sure doesn’t seem to come all that naturally (at least for me)!
Right after G was born he latched on. I mean, in the delivery room, 10 minutes old, he latched on. The sooner they latch on, the easier BF should be (theoretically). I thought to myself, ‘See? Easy peasy!’. However, over the next 48 hours at the hospital, BF became more and more difficult. I even saw an IBCLC who said everything seemed to be fine, recommended the “football hold”, and said keep up the good work. Man, if I was doing good, I would hate to see someone who was doing bad! I had heard BF could be tender but no one told me it would be THAT painful. The hospital gave me some lanolin cream and some soothing pads and sent me on my way.
Man oh man, things just got worse after I got home. I was pretty determined to not use formula (breast is best and all that) so my mom and husband helped as much as they could, but I’m pretty sure all three of us were at a loss. My mom successfully BF 5 children and even she wasn’t sure what to tell me. Finally, after 2 weeks of struggle and lots of blood, sweat and tears (in the literal sense), I went to see another lactation consultant.
The IBCLC took one look at me and said it was the worst damage she’d ever seen and how did I go on for THIS long?! Um…thank you? She was kind and super enthusiastic, but after an hour in her office, I hadn’t really learned anything new. So, feeling like I would never be able to feed my child and that I was going to spend 8 hours pumping every day for the rest of my life, we went home. Cue: more blood, sweat, and tears.
Over the next 8 weeks I talked to everyone I could to get their tricks for BF, read about a billion internet articles, and invested in a nipple shield. Finally, at the end of those 8 weeks, we started to make some progress. That is 2 months, people!! 2 months before my G’s mouth grew big enough to latch on, or he decided to stop doing the boob-bob-and weave, or 2 months before I got my technique down. Who knows? But it was 2 months of stress and exhaustion and discouragement (and tears…darn those hormones). And, if I’m being honest, I didn’t really feel confident with BF until probably month nine.
I am definitely not telling you this to discourage anyone, in fact, I think anyone can figure out breastfeeding if you are willing to try for long enough. However, in retrospect, I don’t know if I would do it over again. Not that I wouldn’t try BF my next baby, but I wouldn’t allow myself to spend 8 weeks feeling like a failure as a mom and woman and human being in general because I couldn’t master something so natural as BF. I spent countless nights in tears feeling like a failure as a mom because I couldn’t feed my child. Instead of enjoying my sweet little boy, I was worrying about how I was going to feed him again in 2 hours. I had so many people tell me it would be worth it and, in the end, I think it probably was? But I also might have enjoyed my baby a lot more those first few months if I wasn’t so frustrated about trying to feed him (maybe that was just building my patience in preparation for feeding a toddler…).
So, after actually doing the whole BF thing, I have some pretty mixed feelings. I know nutritionally it is healthy and I strongly encourage anyone who wants to BF to try their best. I also want women to know that BF is hard and doesn’t work for everyone and that’s OK. I know if I hadn’t been surrounded by amazingly supportive women and the best husband, I probably would have been done by week 2. After my experience, I will never judge anyone for choosing to bottle-feed their child. Nutritionally, breast is indeed best. Formula is a perfectly healthy alternative but just can’t beat the human body’s ability to meet your baby’s needs. However, sometimes there are other factors to consider, like what is best for you and your baby mentally, emotionally and physically.
In the end, I did make it to a year (even a little bit past). I never really enjoyed BF but I knew it was healthy for my G (and totally selfishly I wanted the help with weight loss) so it was worth it. If BF isn’t going like you thought it would with your first baby (or fourth or sixth), don’t be discouraged. With a little time and patience, it can work out. Or, if it is too much to handle, try a healthy alternative and don’t feel guilty about it. Either way, at the end of the day, you have a sweet little newborn to hold and I would consider that a definite win.