Pinterest was filled with lists of must-haves. My friends had a dozen pieces of advice that they willingly offered up. Complete strangers gave their input when they saw my pregnant belly. Everyone had the answer for what I would need to be successful. And still, there was nothing that I feared more as a first-time mom than BREASTFEEDING.
*insert ominous music*
Forget labor and delivery. Even the longest of labors is short-lived in the grand scheme of babyhood. I was incredibly anxious about the 12 long months that would follow.
Y’all, I had NO idea how to feed a baby.
So, I did what any modern woman would do. I equipped myself with information. I read books and blogs and attended classes. I arranged to rent a hospital grade pump. I ordered two nursing pillows, nipple cream, special plastic shields, organic reusable breast pads. I stocked my pantry with all of the ingredients for lactation granola. I found a pediatrician with a lactation consultant on-site. I was ready.
Then I had my first baby. And you know what I found? Breastfeeding was so hard. Physically hard. Emotionally hard. That baby had a terrible latch. I couldn’t pump enough milk to cover the bottom of a bottle. I was exhausted and hormonal. And I knew that all of those breastfeeding supplies meant nothing if I didn’t have the one thing I really needed . . . a healthy dose of plain old stubbornness.
I started with the positive self-talk.
Women have been doing this for years, I told myself. There is nothing about this that I can’t figure out.
I refused to give up.
My lactation consultant saw me regularly for five solid weeks. While my baby boy and I both figured out nursing, I supplemented with formula. We did something the breastfeeding books call triple feeding: breastfeed, supplement, and pump.
I pumped after every feeding, trying to signal to my body that we needed more milk. I tolerated spoonfuls of a special milk-making tincture that promised to help increase supply. It was terrible. I cried and I prayed and I felt waves of guilt that I couldn’t get it figured out. And then one day, it just worked. Instead of supplementing with formula, I was giving my baby pumped breastmilk, with milk to spare. And the moment my lactation consultant told me that I could stop pumping and stop supplementing with formula, I cried hot tears of sweet relief. We had done it.
I was able to breastfeed my son for 13 long months. When he was four months old, I went back to work. I had days where I supplemented with formula, and I felt just fine with that decision. It was what I needed to do to create balance in my life. I had no desire to be connected to a breast pump for hours every evening. Several years later, I fought through an even more difficult struggle to breastfeed my daughter. I was able to exclusively breastfeed, but it was so, so hard. But we made it through. It was so painful and frustrating that I had to make small goals for myself. Breastfeed to six weeks, then reevaluate. Then three months. Then six months. In the end, I am glad the challenges weren’t insurmountable. I am thankful a whole lot of determination did the trick.
I know there are wonderful mamas out there who have had a terrible time with breastfeeding, and for a thousand different reasons chose to formula feed their sweet babies. We don’t all walk the same path in motherhood, and as long as you aren’t feeding your baby Mountain Dew in a bottle, I’m not side-eyeing those feeding decisions. I mean, I think we can all agree that Mountain Dew is a bad idea for a baby, right? For those mamas who just couldn’t breastfeed, for whatever reason, for those who couldn’t get a baby to latch or who were dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety or felt like they needed to stop trying for their own emotional well-being, I offer nothing but high fives. Sometimes breastfeeding is just not possible. There are so many hard choices in motherhood, and it’s important when you can recognize the best one for you and your child.
The other day I sold my nursing pillow to a pregnant mama. She was so friendly and open. We stopped and talked briefly about her plans to feed her baby. I could sense her self-doubt.
I want to breastfeed . . . if I can.
And so, I told her about my reluctance. About how nervous I was. But I encouraged her that positivity would go a long way in learning to breastfeed a baby, as it does with most things. She laughed and said she was going to try her hardest. I believe she will. As mamas, that’s the best we can do.
Were you successful at breastfeeding? What was the biggest help to you?