If breastfeeding is so natural, why doesn’t it come naturally? I think about this question daily. I am 5 weeks into breastfeeding my newborn son and most of my time is spent topless with a small fussy human attached to me. My tailbone hurts from sitting. My back hurts from being hunched over trying to perfect our latch. My nipples have finally just now healed from the bleeding, scabs and blisters. For two weeks straight, I had thrush in my nipples, which made nursing feel like tiny razors were coming out instead of milk. I have had to cut out all dairy from my diet because it gives him stomach pains and diarrhea. (R.I.P pizza, nachos, and ice cream!) Due to a surgery I had on my right breast when I was 19, only my left breast produces milk. These are just some of the physical challenges I have experienced.
The emotional and mental stressors are another story. I’ll be honest, some days it feels like he’s sucking the very life out of me. Many times, I dread the next feeding. I have no idea if he’s eating enough. It seems like he’s always hungry… always fussy after a feeding. Is it hunger or does his tummy hurt? I have no idea. It’s a constant balancing act; an anxiety-inducing guessing game.
My milk didn’t come in until 6 days after my son was born and he lost 15% of his body weight. From that point on, the pediatricians wanted me to supplement with formula after every feeding. The lactation consultants had a different viewpoint, focusing on building my milk supply long term.
The doctors have been supportive of my desire to continue breastfeeding, as long as we monitored my baby’s weight gain closely. So we have gone in for weight checks at the doctor and lactation groups weekly. To say that feeding has been the major focus of the last five weeks would be an understatement.
I think many moms would have decided to switch to formula feeding by this point and there would be no shame in doing so. I have contemplated the switch almost every day. My mother, seeing my struggles in the first few weeks, asked me if I had an emotional attachment to breastfeeding. My husband asked me why I was trying so hard for something that seemed to him to not matter much in the long run.
My answer is simply that I’m not ready to quit. I know that any amount of breastmilk I can give my son is so good for him. Even if I can only do it for a few months, I will continue to try my best to provide him the antibodies and health benefits that breastmilk provides. If I have to feed him a combination of breastmilk and formula, he will still be getting the benefits of breastmilk and the additional calories required to grow healthy and strong from formula. I can feel good about that.
I’ll end this post with the three best pieces of breastfeeding advice I have received:
1.) When you feel like giving up breastfeeding, give it one more day. I credit this mantra for getting me past the first month!
2.) Even if breastfeeding is not enjoyable, try to focus on the positives. Think about how good it is for you both. Watch the way your baby searches for you and immediately calms down when you offer him your breast. No one else can give him that instant comfort. Look at his sweet face in total peace in your arms and soak it in. This special time won’t last forever, no matter how long your breastfeeding journey lasts.
3.) When breastfeeding stops being the best thing for both mother and baby, then it’s ok to stop. Breastfeeding is a mutually beneficial relationship. So it has to be beneficial for both partners.
Breastfeeding can be really, really hard. And it certainly does not come naturally for everyone. If you are reading this and in a similar situation as me, know that you are not alone! We all should feel incredibly proud that we’ve made it as far as we have.