Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Breastfeeding Can Be Hard

A lot of people think that just because something is the "natural" way to do something that it inherently means the "easy" way to do it. When it comes to breastfeeding, that couldn't be further from the truth. Even if breastfeeding goes swimmingly for you overall, I guarantee you will experience doubt many times and run into at least one or two pretty major hitches along the way. Whether it be supply, chapped nipples, nipple confusion, tongue-tie, engorgement, clogged ducts, mastitis, or an infant who just doesn't want to latch -- it will not be the TV perfect experience society leads everyone to think it is.

I had a HUGE issue with supply. Still do, really. My son was born two weeks late. He was born with an appetite (meaning colostrum wasn't cutting it) and my milk didn't come in until a week and a half later. And only in one breast, the other didn't decide the join the party until a week after that.

As a result, my baby lost an unacceptable amount of his birth weight over a single weekend. It was scary. I was nursing on demand, my supply wasn't increasing. I was trying to pump between feedings to increase supply, but could not pump more than 1/4th an ounce over the course of 40 minutes combined from both breasts. This meant I would go from feeding to pumping right back to feeding with no time for anything else in between because pumping took so long with so little result. I was literally draining the breast around the clock and my supply wasn't increasing.

I had to supplement with a bottle and formula so that his birth jaundice would clear. Thankfully he didn't suffer from nipple confusion and would go from breast to bottle and back again without incident. I continued nursing on demand though (and always before he'd get a bottle), in the hopes my supply would increase. It did, somewhat, a little over a month later. He finally gained sufficient weight from nursing and supplementing that our pediatrician said it was okay to stop supplementing.

I still could not pump at all so now that we were nursing exclusively, I had to be in charge of 100% of the feedings 100% of the time. Every 2 hours day or night. If you aren't sure what that means, it basically means no rest as you count from the beginning of the previous feed. So Jude would start nursing at, say, 12pm for an hour then doze off. I would lay down beside him in an effort to get some sleep and at 2pm he would be up hungry again. Meaning I would average about 45 minutes of sleep total, if at all (I may use that time for something else like bathing or trying to feed myself). I was a wreck.

To make matters worse, he was still underweight. At his next check-up I was told to begin introducing solids. He was only 4 1/2 months old, but he hadn't grown at all since 3 months and had actually lost several ounces of weight. My supply was still lacking. I started eating oatmeal, taking fenugreek and drinking Mother's tea. My supply increased, not enough to pump still, but it was enough that he began gaining with only a single meal of rice cereal per day.

I had to mix his food with white grape juice or formula, because I was unable to pump even enough to mix with. How frustrating! He took to solids like a pro though, he had no issue eating off of a spoon and no problems with digestion.

By his next check-up he had put on weight, but not quickly enough, so the pediatrician had us introduce a second meal. He was now nursing on demand but also getting rice cereal for breakfast and dinner (as well as full length nursing sessions, mind). By his next check-up he had gained so well the pediatrician thought I had put him back on formula! When I said I hadn't, she was surprised. Unfortunately it took over 7 MONTHS for my milk supply to increase to the point of being able to even remotely sustain my baby on its own.

By then he was ready for more than just rice cereal and we added all manner of fruits and veggies (7 days apart of course). I fully comprehend the trials and tribulations of the mother who wanted so badly to breastfeed but couldn't. I was almost that mother, and it made me feel so worthless every time I saw his weight drop on the scale. I can only imagine how much more devastated I'd have felt had this challenge been thrown at me on top of postpartum depression. Thankfully I realized it didn't truly matter. I'd do anything to see him thrive, even if that meant I could not breastfeed exclusively for a whole year as I'd wanted to starting out. Any breast milk is better than no breast milk.

Now that it's almost time to wean him, my supply is finally substantial enough that I could probably nurse and nurse alone, wouldn't you know it? It only took 11 full months of nursing on demand at any hour, eating oatmeal daily, and shoveling fenugreek into my head like I need it to survive.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed every second of breastfeeding, like, the act of doing it. The closeness and the serenity of it. I just wish there had been more support for me. The media makes it look so effortless. Other mothers conveniently forget how hard it had been even if everything went perfectly. I can see how anyone faced with such challenges might be driven to give up. Every lactation consultant and professional I spoke to kept telling me to just keep nursing on demand and "never supplement!!" but, had I followed that advice, I don't think I'd be a mother right now. Really.

There comes a point, ladies, where you have to let go of the 'ideal' and just go with whatever fucking keeps your baby alive. Breastfeeding is best, I say that a hundred times all over this blog, but if it's not enough, it's not enough -- you do what you must. That's what's best, imo.


  1. Very well put!
    This is the blog text I've been carrying with me for the past nine and a half months... I've been thinking of how to approach the subject, the fact that if I hadn't had two successful and easy breast-feeding experiences prior to this one I'd actually be an advocate of not breastfeeding.

    As hard as it has been this time around I am still happy it did work out, that we do get our moments where everything is working and we're both at rest (baby feeding, me enjoying the moment).

    So thank you for sharing! :-)

    1. I'm glad I managed to hit a note that rings true for others.