When I was pregnant with Ronin (my 3-year-old), people often asked if I planned to breastfeed. I of course knew “breast is best” but didn’t take classes or do much research of any kind. I was so focused on the pregnancy itself, I just didn’t even go there. So my answer was always “I plan to try” and left it at that.
I’m here to tell you pregnant mamas, planning to “try” was for me like planning to fail. And I also had a few strikes against us at the beginning.
It all started in the hospital. My water had broken and we knew in advance there was meconium, which meant a possible ingestion complication at birth. Ronin was head down but face up, so an even greater risk existed that he would inhale meconium. The NICU docs were standing by, and of course he did inhale it. He needed to be seen by the NICU doctors and was whisked away from me almost immediately.
So he was briefly in the NICU to be monitored and did not immediately lay on my chest. In fact a of couple hours passed before we even attempted breastfeeding. Strike #1.
His latch wasn’t great so I called for a lactation consultant. At the time I knew nothing. A first time mom with no experience or information, this consultant comes in loud and forceful, grabbing him, grabbing me. Ronin was screaming. I was uncomfortable. I didn’t know much, but her style of lactation assistance just didn’t work for me or the baby. So I sent her away. Strike #2.
Then the blood sugar tests revealed his sugar was too low. They asked me to feed him formula in a bottle. Again, I didn’t know any better. I just did what they told me. Strike #3.
I soon discovered how easily Ronin took to the bottle, and how hard it was to get him to latch without screaming, or even at all. I kept trying to nurse in the hospital, but only halfheartedly as I also continued to feed him the bottles of formula. His blood sugar improved, all tests were good, and off we went out into the world, with no good latch or lactation help in sight.
At home I kept trying but fell into the usual trap of “oh my milk’s not in, the baby’s hungry, must feed formula.” I was filled to the brim with misinformation and my son was ever so quickly becoming attached to the bottle.
As my milk appeared several days later, I continued to try to get him to latch. He saw my breast and screamed. He wanted the bottle. Of course, its easy. So I decided to pump and bottle feed while also supplementing with formula (until I could get him to latch). All a big fat NO NO for successful breastfeeding, I just plowed forward pumping and pumping and pumping and bottle feeding. He was getting breadtmilk and I didn’t have the stress of him screaming at the breast.
But he NEVER went to the breast and I never stopped pumping. For 13 months I pumped like a maniac. I brought bottles and pump parts with me everywhere. I washed bottles, warmed breastmilk (or formula at the beginning until I got my pumped supply up), stored breastmilk in a mini fridge in my bedroom, and got up at all hours to pump.
By about 3 or 4 months postpartum only some serious work “might” get him back on the breast and I was too busy pumping, distracting, feeding, washing, and pumping all over again to have the time to focus on actual breastfeeding. I honestly DO NOT know how I did it. But somewhere along the way it became my mission to feed my child breastmilk. As I learned more about pumping, and the processes behind breastfeeding, and debunked the misinformation, I became more and more educated about breastfeeding’s benefits to both mom and baby.
I became active on iVillage’s Exclusively Pumping message board, and chatted with so many moms who were doing it too. Making this commitment for their baby. It was encouraging to read others stories and know I wasn’t alone. And have a place to ask questions of other moms who knew what I was going through. I became a “lactivist” in my own right “breastfeeding” my baby the only way I could with pump and bottle.
I was proud of what I was doing, but secretly devastated. I lost out on the chance to nurse my boy. I really started to wish I could have made it work. I felt guilty for saying I’d “try” and not trying harder. Friends nursing their children made me sad because I didn’t think I’d ever have the chance. (At that point we thought we’d only have one child.)
Part of me also secretly began wanting a second child to have a second chance at breastfeeding. I’ve never said that out loud before but it’s true. I wanted to nurse a baby.
In the end after so many months of struggle, I had to stop for my sanity. 13 months was more than I ever thought possible. I did want to continue, now understanding the benefits of extended nursing, but my brain and my body had had enough. I was glad he got mommy’s milk, if even in a non-conventional way. He received many of the benefits of breastmilk. And I also know that bottle feeding did not proclude me from bonding with or developing a very strong attachment with my child for me and my husband, who also got to play a greater role in feeding our boy.
It wasn’t the experience I expected but we made it work for us. If I had to do it all over, I would have educated myself much more beforehand. I would have found a more lactation-friendly hospital. I would have seen better lactation consultants as often and as much as it took. And I would NOT have allowed the hospital to give my baby formula in a bottle on day one. And guess what, I did all those things with Ellie, I’m happy to say. Part 2 of this story continues.
How has your feeding relationship been unexpected to you? Anything you’d do differently? Did you/do you have the mommy guilt I felt? What advice would you offer your pregnant friends about feeding?