Man, I wish I would have known more about this just so I’d be ready for how difficult it would be, how much it’d affect me as a new mother, and how my emotional self and rational self would battle.
It’s definitely not something a lot of people talk about, at least in terms of what it would take from me to get to the point where I could do it. Here’s the thing: Breast milk is supposed to be the best thing for your baby. However, there are circumstances that can arise that don’t always allow you to be able to give your baby breast milk or maybe not give it to them in the conventional way.
Let’s start at the beginning. I had done the research to find out if my epilepsy medication would affect my breast milk. After getting cleared from the ob, the neurologist, and the pediatrician, I just assumed that I would breastfeed my baby as soon as she came out the door. Yeah, so much for that.
The first problem that hit us that affects a lot of people is that getting a baby that knows nothing about eating via their mouth to actually latch on and start eating. While it’s supposed to be natural to both of you in some sense, it’s not. The lactation consultants at the hospital try to help but in all honesty, they weren’t that helpful to me. We couldn’t get my baby to latch and she wasn’t eating much. The nurse scared us when we told her the baby would be latched on for maybe 5 minutes. She said that she couldn’t release us from the hospital if that’s all the baby was eating.
Then came my blood tests. Somehow, without anyone realizing it, I had lost a lot of blood. My blood count dropped the two days following the day I gave birth. The funny thing was I showed no signs of it. My doctor wouldn’t discharge me. The nurse told us that if I had to stay one more day past the 4th day, my baby would have to go home and I would have to stay. So, in order to prepare for that, we started giving the baby formula just in case I wasn’t able to go home and feed her. Luckily, I was discharged at the same time but we had lost a whole day of trying to breastfeed since I was getting a blood transfusion in order to raise my blood count.
The first week with a new baby is hard enough. I tried to breastfeed but giving her formula was the only way we knew she was getting fed enough. I must have cried 100 times in this first week. It was so hard. I felt like a horrible mother. Rationally, I knew that as long as my baby was getting fed, that’s all that mattered. But I wanted to do it on my terms and I hadn’t gotten a choice in the matter.
Next came pumping. I tried that the first day I was home. Nothing much came out. Which meant we stayed on formula for a bit. I knew I had to see a lactation consultant. I tried one recommended but she just made me feel guilty for not breastfeeding right away and for not starving my baby until she learned how to latch hon correctly. I don’t care what anyone says. Starving my baby was NEVER an option. We found another lactation consultant who really was much more compassionate and understanding and knew that it took work to get there. She is the one who finally showed us what we were doing wrong so I could get my baby to latch. I also started pumping regularly after I saw her.
So I learned how to breastfeed but another thing no one tells you is that it hurts like hell. Who is used to that kind of pain? I tried and tried but it hurt so I kept pumping because that didn’t hurt as much. Another 9 weeks went by. I was pumping every 3 hours. I was planning my life around pumping. I knew at least my baby was getting breast milk. But it’s hard. Pumping is a serious commitment. You have to keep doing it every 3 hours because otherwise your body will think you don’t need the milk and will reduce the amount you produce. It got to a point where my baby was sleeping at least 6 hours through the night and I was still waking up every 3 hours.
This lack of sleep is one of the factors that convinced me to try breastfeeding again. I needed to sleep. I got tired of waking up all the time. So I decided to give it another go. And I’m happy to say that we have finally got it down. Somehow, all of a sudden, at 10 weeks, my baby and I both seem to have figured it out.
It’s been a rough road. And I’ve learned that the end goal is that your baby is healthy and well-fed. I did know this but I had to really learn it, if you know what I mean. Not any one of those feeding options is the only right one. You have to do what’s best for you and your child. Do whichever makes you the best mother possible for your child. If it’s formula or pumping or breastfeeding, be proud and know you’re doing the best you can.