When people started finding out my husband and I were expecting, one of the first questions people asked was if I planned to breastfeed. Of course I did! It’s what is best for baby! It’s natural! It’s free! It helps with bonding! Little did I know that none of those things were true…at least for my family. I never got around to taking a breastfeeding class, but I did watch a ton of YouTube videos by “natural mom vloggers.” They all made it look so easy. I couldn’t wait to breastfeed my baby!
On May 30th, 2014 at 39 weeks and 1 day, my water suddenly broke at 11:30 am. I immediately started having contractions every four minutes. I was dilated to 3 cm by the time I got to triage at the hospital. By 2:00 pm I was having intense contractions every three minutes that made me moan and cry. By the time I was admitted into my labor and delivery room, I was screaming out in pain and trying to make it through contractions that never really ended. They would peak, then ease up for about 10 seconds and then peak again. My nurse kept saying how she couldn’t believe how close together and how intense my contractions were without giving me a break in between. I finally got an epidural which was the best decision I have ever made! By 7:00 pm I was completely dilated and ready to push. I had to wait 45 minutes for my OB to arrive to start pushing, but once I started, baby girl started to fly out! She was born at 8:02 pm and was completely perfect!
After all of the commotion had settled, I was asked if I wanted to breastfeed. Baby girl “latched on” immediately (now I know she actually did not have a correct latch). The labor and delivery nurse looked at baby nursing one time and said, “Looks good,” then left the room. I thought we were doing it correctly. My postpartum nurse and 3 lactation consultants in the hospital kept talking about how baby was “breastfeeding like a champ”. This made me feel great! I was so encouraged that breastfeeding was coming so easily!
We spent two long nights in the hospital, and we were discharged after a long night of painful non-stop cluster feeding. When I got home from the hospital, I took off my nursing tank only to pull of 2 huge scabs from my nipples that had stuck onto my shirt. I cried and cried not only from the pain, but from being so afraid to nurse my baby because of what it was going to feel like. My husband had to massage my shoulders and have me clench his arm when she latched because I would bawl every single time. I would wake up with my nipples stuck to my sheets and had to wet them to get them off in order to not rip the new scabs off. I tried every nipple cream I could find with no results.
In addition to bleeding nipples, I became extremely engorged and had clogged ducts the size of golf balls. I wanted to pump just enough to relieve the engorgement but the lactation consultants I had in the hospital gave me strict orders not to pump before four weeks or I would become engorged! Looking back I don’t know why I just didn’t do it anyway, but I was a first time mom and I wanted to do everything “right.” I saw my OB and he told me my breasts were “normal breastfeeding breasts,” even though when I saw him my breasts looked like huge lumpy bowling balls that were so tight they were shiny and had red streaks all over them. I told him I thought I was getting mastitis, but since I didn’t have a fever yet he said I was fine, and that breastfeeding “was supposed to be painful for a while.”
I dealt with this for three weeks. My baby literally needed to nurse ALL the time. My breasts never felt empty. Now I know she was hardly getting any milk. I was talking to one of my best friends who finally told me what I was going through was not normal. I scheduled an appointment with a lactation consultant outside of the hospital and saw her the next day. I was so excited to get this sorted out because I wanted breastfeeding to work! She told me my breasts were very full and my nipples were extremely damaged. She told me she couldn’t believe I had not quit breastfeeding with how damaged my nipples were.
I liked her at first. Then she hooked me up to my pump. I pumped about half an ounce from each side even though my breasts were so full. She then watched my baby latch and told me I should be smashing her face into my boob more and told me that should help. She told me my baby had a lip tie and a posterior tongue tie but they were not so severe that they should be causing me so much pain, and baby should still be able to latch and empty my breasts.
Then she told me to have a good day! I was shocked that she was rushing me out so fast. I asked her what my plan should be, and if I should just pump and bottle feed until my nipples healed. She replied, “They are YOUR nipples. Do what you want.” I was so upset and cried the whole way home because I felt more lost and confused than I was before. I wanted so badly to breastfeed my baby but it felt like I had no hope.
I decided to pump until I healed because I couldn’t take the pain any more. When I got home and pumped 5 ounces (total), my breasts finally felt so much better! I gave my baby a bottle for the first time that night and that was the first time I think I bonded with my baby. I wasn’t in pain and she was full for the first time in her life! I was happy but still wanted to go back to breastfeeding. I researched and decided to get her tongue and lip tie fixed. We got then fixed at 5 weeks old and I thought we could go right back to breastfeeding! My nipples felt better for the most part. Unfortunately, since we didn’t get them fixed until she was 5 weeks old, she was unable to re-learn to breastfeed the right way. I then had to accept the fact I would be an exclusive pumper.
I became obsessed with pumping and my supply. My supply was very low. Since baby girl could not latch correctly, she never completely emptied my breasts and my body had regulated to this low supply. The same lactation consultant told me that I needed to pump every two hours to boost my supply. I wasn’t sleeping (now I know sleep is one of the best ways to ensure a good supply!). I was setting my alarm for every other hour to pump, even overnight. I would pump for 45 minutes and only get out 1 ounce or less total. My nipples were so bad again from constant pumping. I was not making enough milk to feed my baby. I tried every supplement out there to boost milk supply and spent hundreds of dollars on them. I had to start giving my baby formula. She was hungry and I had no milk.
I was devastated and felt like the worst mom in the world. I felt very judged because of the whole natural parenting movement. I kept getting flashbacks of a YouTube video I watched when I was pregnant that showed a picture of formula and said “If you want to feed your baby breast milk instead of THIS STUFF, you may like my channel!” I was so stressed out because I wanted the best for my baby, and “breast is best!” No one understood the guilt I was feeling, or the pressure I was putting on myself to give my baby the best. My husband had the best of intentions but would say things like, “Why is this SUCH a big deal to you? You are feeding her and that’s all that matters.” Comments like this just made me feel crazy and like my feelings were not justified.
Finally, one of my friends said something that made everything click for me. She said, “Maybe the breast actually isn’t best for you and your family.” I thought about this for a second. She was right! I did not have one fond memory of breastfeeding. I was in so much pain I was actually beginning to resent my baby. My husband was so stressed from seeing me in constant pain My baby never got full from it which made her constantly want to nurse. I know she could feel my body tense up when I nursed her and that made her tense. All breastfeeding was doing for my family was causing us pain!
This was the very moment I decided to give myself a break. I had worked so hard. I did everything I knew how to do to have a good breastfeeding relationship with my baby. It just wasn’t working for us. I decided I would pump and give her as much breast milk as I could, but also give her all the formula her little tummy wanted! I began pumping every four hours instead of every two. I finally relaxed and accepted our situation, and guess what? The moment I accepted it, I started making more milk.
Now, I know that stress is one of the biggest things that negatively affects milk supply. I began producing enough to only need to give her one bottle per day of formula. Now my baby is 7 months old, happy, healthy, and perfect. I am about to start weaning her from breast milk. My husband and I are going on a beach vacation in a couple of months and I don’t want to worry about pumping and bringing my pumping supplies and storing milk while we are there! I am now dealing with some guilt about weaning her, but I am proud of myself. I am proud of myself for doing what was best for our family. My baby was not happy while we were breastfeeding. None of us were.
Looking back, I wish I would have seen multiple lactation consultants, and followed my gut with pumping earlier to relieve my engorgement. I wish I could go back and give my baby girl formula earlier, because I missed out on a lot of early bonding time with her. Now one of my favorite things to do is feed my baby a bottle, and watch her sweet little milk drunk (or formula drunk) face fall peacefully to sleep with a full belly.
I want other moms to know that feeding your baby formula is awesome! So is breastfeeding! So is exclusive pumping! It is awesome because you are feeding your baby and keeping a tiny little human alive and that is amazing.