“Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.”
― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Breastfeeding is Hard
When moms would tell me that breastfeeding is hard while I was pregnant, I couldn't wrap my mind around what could be so hard about having a baby suck on your boob. Not that I thought they were lying, I just didn't get it. I also had a friend warn me to prepare myself for breastfeeding to take over my life, and to feel like I had a human leech attached to me at all times. These are all things you can try to prepare for, but until you face it, you don't really know what you're up against.
Right from the first day in the hospital, attempting to feed my baby was a trial. I was half out-of-it after giving birth, and I had lactation consultants and nurses squeezing and manipulating my breasts in ways I never would have allowed before, in order to get baby to latch on correctly. By that point my body had become a public matter anyway, so this seemed like a logical step in line with all other dignity stepping out the door.
Hell Week (or "Weeks")
I didn't really think I had a problem with breastfeeding at first. Each time they'd ask me if my nipples were sore, I'd say, "No, it's going great." Little did I know they weren't sore because she wasn't really latched on right and was losing more weight than she should. *Sigh, so when I got threatened that I'd need to supplement with formula soon, I bought the expensive donor milk* ($20 for a small bottle!).They sent me home with a syringe to feed it to her, as well as a nipple shield to help her latch onto my flat nipples. I was told to pump in addition to breastfeeding and syringe feeding. What followed the next couple of weeks is what my husband referred to as "hell week", similar to what marines go through for training their stamina. Basically, we didn't sleep.
In addition to this, the nipple shield actually caused cracked nipples because of the way she sucked on it, so I exclusively pumped for a while on the right side in order to allow it to heal. There are some things you learn by looking back in hindsight. Pumping does not empty a breast of milk like a baby sucking on it does. What that meant early on for me was that, just as my milk was transitioning from colostrum to the real fill-your-boobs-to-max deal, I wasn't getting the milk out as I should. That led to painful clogged ducts, which turned into an infection, called mastitis. It was at this point I was at my wit's end and thought the dream of breastfeeding was over for this child. My right boob was bright red and extremely painful to the touch (not to mention the full body aches, fatigue, and ever-rising temperature!). The mastitis actually caused some of my ducts to dry up, but thankfully the other breast is now compensating for the milk loss.
One Day at a Time
Well, here we are, five weeks into breastfeeding and, by the grace of God, we are still going. I remember in our breastfeeding class the instructor told us to set small goals. She said to tell yourself you'll breastfeed for a week. When you get there, say a month, and so on. Now that I'm in the midst of it, I can see how needed this thinking is. There are so many benefits to breastfeeding, that I really do think all moms should make a valiant effort towards it if they can. But I now understand that sometimes you choose sanity... or face what life throws at you in the form of breastfeeding issues, and you move forward to make the best decision for you and your baby, which might be exclusive formula feeding. I have supplemented with formula, and am thankful it was available when I needed it. It doesn't mean I wasn't trying hard enough or failed in this aspect of motherhood. It means I chose to feed my baby when she needed it, even when that went against what I wanted most to do.
Feeling the Failure
I went to a couple of lactation groups where moms could bring their babies in to be weighed for free and to ask questions in the group. I was surprised at how emotional it was, and we could all really feel for each other. When you are feeding for 30-45 minutes every 2-3 hours, 24 hours a day, you begin to feel like the one thing you are most responsible for is failing if it isn't working out perfectly. That can make you feel like a bad mother. As the ladies told their stories and asked their questions with all of the sweet little babies cooing or crying in their laps, I gained a compassion that I hadn't had prior to this breastfeeding journey. It's easy to look from the outside and think that people could just try harder and make it work. It's a different story when you're in it with a broken heart because you feel like a failure.
I Get it
Although the troubles of breastfeeding don't leave overnight, most seasoned moms will attest to the fact that breastfeeding eventually becomes easier and a non-issue. In fact, most will say it becomes a joy and are sorry to see it go when baby grows up. Although we are still dealing with some biting issues, I can now say that my flat nipples have been permanently drawn out, and baby is sucking like a pro without the nipple shield. So, I definitely don't want to discourage anyone from breastfeeding. I guess the point of this article is just to say that I get it now when other moms say breastfeeding is hard. My sore nipples are a testament of my understanding. Yes, I think breastfeeding is worth all of the pain and effort, but nonetheless, I get it.
*(FYI, looking back, I'd totally use formula over the expensive donor milk! But that's just a personal decision from a cheap girl. I've heard they have sites for free donor milk, so there's also that, if you want to trust an unregulated group of ladies. In my experience, babies pass breastmilk poop easier than formula poop, so there's also that aspect to think about. Many cities don't even have donor milk available, so you'd have to check with your local hospital.)