I always write a disclaimer on my blogs because I am used to getting backlash from those who don’t have the same views as me. Before I start, I have to mention that I am sharing my story to help people. I am not writing this to make any moms feel guilty or ashamed. So if you are here to get defensive and angry with me, this post isn’t for you. You do not need to defend yourself and I am not here to judge anyone.
Whether or not you breastfed, or even plan to, we should ALL be supporting moms and helping them. And there is definitely not enough support for moms who do choose to breastfeed their baby. These moms need more support and encouragement than ever!!!
And I just have to shout this out: Just because a person is promoting breastfeeding, it does not mean they are bashing those who do not breastfeed, regardless the reason.
I struggle to share my story because it is very personal and I am a private person. But I hope that by sharing my story, more moms realize that breastfeeding is not always easy and can be a real struggle. Even though breastfeeding is natural, it does not always happen effortlessly. It takes LOTS of hard work and dedication. But it is well worth the effort.
I will start by saying that I have 2 children, and 2 VERY different experiences with breastfeeding with each baby. I was determined to breastfeed my babies right from the start, and had already convinced myself before having kids that I was going to breastfeed. I didn’t have any idea how much I would struggle in the beginning. My husband played a huge part in giving me the emotional support and strength that I needed to continue. I can’t say enough times how important it is to have a good support system. Without support, it is just too easy to give up.
With my first baby, breastfeeding did not happen as easily and as natural as I was expecting. I had visions that my son would just start drinking my breast milk as soon as he was born. But that didn’t happen. My son would not latch on, so I worked with the lactation consultant at the birthing center where I gave birth. She tried all sorts of gimmicks to help us, but not much was really helping.
My milk hadn’t come in yet, but there was a tiny bit of colostrum, so my baby drank that. But my baby boy was hungry, so he was given formula because he needed something more than I was able to provide. I was reluctant to give him formula because I didn’t want to exclusively give him formula, but we did what we thought was best. I know that sometimes this can backfire, and many new moms feel like they can’t breastfeed, and so they give up and use formula exclusively.
I also should mention that several nurses came in with containers of formula, as well as a backpack with an Enfamil logo that was full of formula coupons. So yes, I do feel that formula is pushed on new moms very fast.
I knew that skin-on-skin contact between me and my baby was supposed to help get my milk going, so we did this during the formula feeding. I didn’t give up on breastfeeding. I kept on trying and trying. It wasn’t easy, at all. I was exhausted and frustrated. Giving up would have been so easy. I understand why so many moms give up.
The next day we went home from the birthing center with some tips and advice, a nipple shield (to help baby latch on better), and formula. The nipple shield helped, but things weren’t all that great because I still didn’t have much breast milk for my baby. I still only had a very small amount that didn’t satisfy him enough, but we kept trying. I was grateful to have that formula to give him. After 4 days of continuously trying to breastfeed, my milk finally came in. Yes, 4 days!!! I don’t remember anyone telling me that milk doesn’t just automatically start coming out of you right after having a baby. I just assumed it would. Now I realize that it takes a good 3 or 4 days to come in, and this is completely normal. So, I think more moms really need to know this!!! Also, don’t stop trying to nurse, or else your milk will dry up completely. Keep on trying if you want to succeed.
It was such a relief to finally have more to give my baby, but we were still struggling. My son was starting to latch on a little bit better, but he was still no pro. And because he wasn’t latching on correctly, I was so sore! I used lanolin to help soothe the soreness. And ice packs.
I didn’t want to rely on the nipple shield forever, and definitely didn’t want to keep giving my son formula. It would have been so easy to just give up, but I’m not a quitter and I was determined to keep trying.
I finally went back to the hospital to work with a different lactation consultant and she was amazing. We figured out a different feeding position to help us be more successful. It was awkward at first, but we got used it the new position after some time. My baby boy could nurse better because it helped open his mouth differently and he could latch on better. But it still wasn’t easy sailing at that point. Still wasn’t getting all that much milk.
I ending up renting a hospital grade breast pump so that I could continue to pump milk at home and bottle feed it to my baby. I needed to get my supply up and I was told that a pump would help with this. My baby was a BIG eater and wanted more milk than I was able to provide. So I had to supplement with formula while also continuing to breastfeed, and pump. What I did was first breastfeed, then pump to get my supply up, and then give my baby a bottle of formula. Bottle feeding allowed me to get some rest while my husband, or other visitors, could feed my baby breastmilk and/or formula while I napped.
After using the pump for a week or so, my supply finally started to go up. I have to mention that nursing bras and pads are a must!!! I also recommend something called a “Boppy” pillow. Also, nursing moms need to drink tons of water!!!! You also need extra calories, so be sure to eat regularly.
I finally had a lot of milk for my baby. I no longer needed to supplement with formula, and I was eventually able to get rid of that ridiculous nipple shield. I still pumped whenever I needed to squeeze in a nap, or if I had somewhere to go and needed a sitter.
I returned the rented pump back to the hospital, and ended up purchasing a pump on Craigslist that looked like a backpack. It allowed me to “double pump” to save me a lot of time. The bag had a built in cooler to store breastmilk, and a compartment for all the accessories. It was really neat and worked great!
After about a month or so, it was smooth sailing. No more nipple shield and no more formula. Since I had pumped so much to get my supply up, I had a ton of milk that I stored in the freezer. We were well stocked! My baby wanted to nurse constantly. It was very time consuming and exhausting, but also very rewarding. I ended up nursing my son for 18 months. He would have gone for longer if I had allowed him to, but I was then pregnant with my second baby, and my breasts were incredibly sore to the point that I just could not do it anymore. But by then, my son was eating baby food, so it wasn’t a big deal for him to stop. It was easy to wean him off of breast milk. I used the stored breast milk to mix into his baby cereal.
With my second child, things were easy right from the start. I’m sure it was a combination of me being more confident and knowing what to expect, and that my milk was already flowing, but the fact was that she was born knowing how to nurse. As soon as she came out into the world and was placed into my arms, she immediately found her way to me and nursed. I could not believe how easy it was with her. All she wanted to do was drink from me, constantly. She was a natural.
Whenever the nurses would take my baby girl from me to check her stats, she would let them know that she wasn’t finished drinking. We actually ended up leaving the hospital early because things were going so well for us.
At home, my daughter usually ended up sleeping in bed with me just so she could nurse throughout the night. It was just easier that way. Otherwise, she would just cry out for me all through the night. I researched this topic very thoroughly and made sure we were very safe when we did this. You can learn more about co-sleeping here.
I ended up breastfeeding my daughter for just over 2 years, and I know she would have preferred to go longer than that if I allowed it. But I figured 2 years was good, so we stopped. I would say that getting her to stop was the hardest part! She was persistent, so I had to distract her and gave her a sippy cup instead. But I really do miss the bonding and snuggling.
So to be successful with breastfeeding, my advice is to just not give up! I was worried that I would not be able to breastfeed my baby and was SO close to just giving up. But I worked with the lactation consultants and we finally got it figured out. It took time. It was emotionally draining. But I did it. Although breastfeeding is a lot of work, it is extremely rewarding and well worth all the effort. Breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your baby for many reasons. It’s also good for moms. You can read about all the benefits here.