Before I became a mom, I always assumed I’d be breastfeeding my future child. Sure, it’s hard for some people, I thought. But that won’t be me. Breast is best — I’ll make it work!
How incredibly naive of me.
When my son arrived almost six weeks early, the lactation consultant in the hospital encouraged me to try to nurse him, but explained that many premature babies have difficulty latching at first.
And he did.
But I was determined to give my baby the best. I spent hours feeding him with very little success, sleeping only about 45 minutes between nighttime feeds. I did this until I was chastised by one of the NICU nurses, who stormed over with a syringe of formula for his feeding tube, saying that our feedings were taking too long and I was wasting his energy trying to nurse him.
In that moment, I felt more ashamed, humiliated, and devastated than I had ever felt. My face was hot and flushed as I tried unsuccessfully to choke back the tears.
These would be the first of many tears I would shed over our breastfeeding difficulties.
On the advice of the lactation consultant, I tried a nipple shield. It was moderately successful — he would latch about 50% of the time with it, but even then, he wouldn’t suck consistently, likely due to my low milk flow. My midwives suggested using a lactation aid at the breast, which involved filling a syringe with my pumped breast milk or formula and shoving a little tube in his mouth after he latched to motivate him with greater milk flow. This was extremely cumbersome, but I did my best.
Just before my son was five weeks old, he developed a fever and was admitted to hospital with meningitis. There was a time when we weren’t sure if he would make it. Day after day, I watched him through the clear plastic of his incubator. He didn’t move or open his eyes, and he needed a tube down his throat to help him breathe. To say it was stressful would be a gross understatement. I was a complete mess.
I continued to pump breast milk while he was in critical condition to try and maintain what little supply I had.
When he was well enough to try and feed again, I had an extremely knowledgeable nurse help me with breastfeeding. With persistence and the lactation aid, he latched! I was ecstatic. I thought my dream of nursing my baby might finally be coming true.
We had a few good days in hospital with him latching and feeding, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, he stopped. I would try to latch him for 45 minutes, shoving him screaming onto my breast over and over. I found myself angry and resentful towards him. I was exhausted from lack of sleep. I would stay in bed most of the day and ate very little. I didn’t even want to see my family when they came to visit. I berated myself for having a body that was fundamentally flawed. If only I hadn’t had that breast reduction. If only my nipples were shaped differently. If only he hadn’t been born prematurely.
Seeing a pattern here? I was beating myself up for things that were completely out of my control — things I couldn’t change, no matter how hard I tried.
It wasn’t until a kind nurse opened up and told me she quit trying with her second child after nursing successfully with her first, that I finally admitted I had no energy or desire to continue breastfeeding.
I could see how much it was messing with my head. I could see that it was not helping me to bond with my newborn baby — in fact, it was having the opposite effect.
Once I decided to throw in the towel after nearly six weeks of trying every trick in the book, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I no longer dreaded feeding my baby. I could relax and look into his big, beautiful eyes as I gave him what he truly desired: a bottle.
While I still wish things had been different for us, I had to accept that it was not in our best interest to continue trying to breastfeed. Kieran needed to eat, and he needed a mommy that was strong, happy, and had energy to care for him. If I’d continued to attempt to breastfeed, I honestly think I would have plummeted into a severe postpartum depression.
I still feel some guilt over my decision to quit, and I still feel envious of my friends who gently and lovingly nurse their babies anytime, anywhere. Yes, it is a lot of work for me to pump milk all day. Yes, it is extra work to pack a bottle. But with my low milk supply, I would’ve had to do these things anyway. So the way I see it, I’m actually saving myself time.
I’m working on letting go of the guilt by focusing on the positives of bottle feeding. I can leave him with my family for a few hours while I run errands or get together with a friend. It is faster than what we were doing before — we’re usually done in 15 minutes. I can enjoy him more now that I’m not stressed about trying to breastfeed. I get to spend more time cuddling him and playing with him. And I’ve actually bonded with some other moms who weren’t able to breastfeed their babies either.
I have been lucky enough to find a few milk donors so that I only have to supplement Kieran with formula at night. And Kieran’s paediatric neurologist has reassured me that the most recent studies show no significant differences in IQ or disease rates between breastfed and formula fed babies. It encourages me that my sister was fully formula fed, and she is way smarter than me!
The problem with the breast is bestthing is that it places an enormous amount of pressure on moms to breastfeed. And those of us who can’t end up suffering tremendously over our inability to nurse. I have talked to several women who are sure their difficulties breastfeeding gave them postpartum depression.
This isn’t right.
And yet, this is just one example of how much pressure moms face every day. How much judgment from other moms, and unreasonable expectations to somehow be the perfect mother.
We need to do a better job supporting each other. There are many books on parenting, but there is no one definitive right way of doing things. We need to embrace our differences and reach out to moms who are struggling. I felt so alone until other moms opened up and shared their experiences with me.
There is no perfect mom. And if you think you are the perfect mom, you need a reality check.
To all the mommies hustling out there, struggling, crying, questioning their mothering abilities — I feel you. And I am with you.
Reach out. I assure you, you are not alone.
Did you struggle with breastfeeding? What made you decide to continue or stop nursing? Comment below!