Now that I’ve had two children, I feel like I should share my breast feeding journeys…or maybe lack thereof. You see, I wanted to breastfeed, and breastfeed exclusively, so badly that I did everything I could to make it happen, only to be reasonably unsuccessful at it. And it made me feel like a massive failure as a human.
I’m sharing this with you in hopes that if you’re going through something similar that you know that you aren’t alone, that this isn’t easy and doesn’t just come naturally to everyone.
I think it’s worth mentioning that both of my babies were great latchers – they did not discriminate between breast or bottle (or any kind of bottle either). They didn’t care, as long as milk was coming out of it because they were just plain hungry. There was no nipple confusion, unless you count them trying to latch to my shirtless husband’s nipples in the middle of the night!
Breastfeeding With Baby #1
When it came to prepping for breastfeeding with my first baby, I was ready. I had a top of the line double breast pump (the Medela Sonata Double Electric Breast Pump – which I highly recommend!). I had the cookies, the tea, the beer and all the recommended herbs on hand. I knew what to do; I’d watched tutorial videos and read tons of articles. There didn’t seem to be anything I wouldn’t be able to troubleshoot.
I had a lot of reassurance that it should eventually work for me, too. A friend of mine who was a labour and delivery nurse at the time DM’d me a few weeks before I delivered and told me to remember how very little a newborn baby’s tummy can actually hold, so not to be discouraged if I wasn’t gushing like Old Faithful in the delivery room. Another friend brought me Guiness and homemade lactation cookies with brewers yeast as a newborn gift. My SIL assured me that it could take a couple weeks for supply to show up, too.
Just Because You Build It Doesn’t Mean It Will Come
Did I mention I’d even bought super cute nursing covers? I had nursing tops, bras, the milk pads, the Milk Snob nursing covers, everything. I. Was. Ready.
Fast-forward to the birth of Baby #1. The milk didn’t show up at the hospital and after close to 24 hours old my kiddo was hungry and I didn’t hesitate to offer her formula. Ensuring my baby had a full belly was my number one priority and if that milk didn’t come from my body, well so be it. I didn’t concern myself with her only taking a bottle because of this (and it wasn’t an issue, let me assure you).
The milk barely showed up at home, too. I took the herbs and drank as much tea and stout and ate as many cookies as I could. I drank what felt like gallons of water. I pumped as often as I could to stimulate supply and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t produce in one day what my baby would need for two feedings.
I worked with location consultants and eventually took the prescription meds that are supposed to help increase supply. My supply was starting to increase ever so slightly and then I got food-borne Norwalk. I have never been so ill in my entire life and my husband had to take me to the emergency room where I was put on IV to rehydrate my weak and depleted body. While waiting to be seen by a doctor, I looked down at my deflated chest. My milk supply was depleted from the dehydration and it really never returned after this.
Shame, Shame, Shame
I honestly felt incredible amounts of shame for not being able to breastfeed my baby. I didn’t feel this from my family or friends, but really just from society in general. Answering “no” every time a medical professional asked me if I was breastfeeding at every one of my baby’s checkups made me feel like I was a terrible mother even though it was never, ever implied from my family doctor that I was doing something wrong by formula feeding. At every visit he would say “I’m not worried about her, she is doing great” and yet still not having breastfed for long made me feel like I’d failed.
Having to “demonstrate” my breastfeeding “technique” to the public health nurse to see if I was doing it right only to be told I was doing everything I should be doing and it still not working was devastating. Waiting for the formula to heat up in the bottle warmer while my baby cried in the middle of the night and not being able to feed her from my own body to calm her down nearly broke me.
Awful thoughts would go through my mind. What if we were in Biblical times and I wasn’t producing milk? I’d be hunting down a wet nurse for the survival of my baby because formula didn’t exist. What if I couldn’t afford the cost of formula? Why, no matter what I tried, did this just not work? Why was my body failing me? What was I doing wrong?
Sure there are benefits to not breastfeeding like not having to worry about having a cocktail or a glass of wine. You don’t have to worry about leaky boobs or clothes that are easy to nurse in or leaking all over your sheets in the middle of the night. None of those “glass half full” ideas made me feel any better. I felt defective, ashamed and like a bad mother. I’d just gone through 41 weeks of growing and then birthing this amazing child that my body couldn’t nourish.
I finally gave up and formula fed exclusively and after awhile, the shame and pain wore off. I’d feel twinges of guilt and heartache evreytime someone would ask “are you still breastfeeding?” No one ever seems to ask “are you breastfeeding?”, but rather it seems it’s always phrased as “are you still breastfeeding?” as if I’d chosen to quit because I was somehow a choice that I was able to make on my own through free will.
Seeing other moms post about how they “chose” to breastfeed because it was the best thing they could do for their baby wasn’t easy either. For me it wasn’t a choice that I got to make so did that mean I wasn’t making good choices? I hated having to mute some of my favorite people so that I didn’t have to see their Instagram stories where they would post countless full bottles of pumped milk complaining about lack of freezer space.
The truth of the matter is that I did everything I could but the milk just didn’t come. It’s just the way things go sometimes, and I figured “better luck next time”.
Breastfeeding With Baby #2
With my second little one I assured myself that no matter what happened, I would be okay with it, as long as my baby was healthy, happy and fed. If I could get her the colostrum, that was all that mattered and anything after that would be gravy.
I ended up with another great little latcher and a better starting supply (after only a few days rather than weeks) than I did with my first, but a supply that wouldn’t increase no matter what (and when I say “supply”, I mean less than what she’d eat in 2 feedings a day). Now this time I didn’t have the time on my hands to pump as often as I should or to jump through all the hoops I did with Baby #1 because this time I had baby #1 (who was a whopping 16 months old!) to care for as well. To top it all off, the release of oxytocin when nursing and pumping made me so nauseous that it was debilitating and made it hard to even bottle feed my baby without feeling like I was going to pass out.
Needless to say, I gave up pretty quickly this time and it was one of the best decisions that I could have made. I felt like I got a lot of my life/time back (i.e. not spending a ton of time pumping) and I didn’t feel sick anymore! Even though this was an objective “I can’t live like this” decision, it still killed me inside that I couldn’t make it work for this baby either. The milk just didn’t come. And you know what? It’s fine. My babies are both healthy and happy and great eaters and sleepers and in the end, that’s all that really matters.
If You Can’t Breastfeed…
I want to mention the “bonding” that I was told that I would have if I had breastfed my children. I nursed a little bit with each baby (supplementing heavily with formula of course) and I didn’t feel any special attachment to them from having breastfed. If you did, that’s great, but I didn’t. I feel incredibly attached to my children, but not based on the breastfeeding experience so if it doesn’t work for you, don’t feel like you’re going to be more or less attached/detached from your kiddos.
If you can’t breastfeed, let me recommend the Baby Brezza Formula Pro Advanced. This machine honestly changed my life. No more listening to baby cry while a bottle warms up – you just push a button and seconds later the formula is ready to the perfect temperature and consistency. We loved this machine so much with Baby #1 that we got a second one for Baby #2. We have one in the kitchen and one in our ensuite bathroom so we don’t have to go downstairs in the middle of the night for feeds. It might sound silly, but when it’s the middle of the night and you’re insanely sleep deprived and your baby is screaming, minutes matter!