You’re not a failure at breastfeeding…they just didn’t warn you.
They didn’t warn you how hard it could be. They didn’t tell you about all the problems that could occur. They didn’t tell you it isn’t always this easy natural experience. Sometimes it’s hard and you have to fight to keep at it. And once you solve one thing a new issue or baby behavior will crop up. Breastfeeding is tough but worthwhile. I just wish I’d been prepared and it would’ve saved a lot of tears, stress, and feelings of failure. Read my story of breastfeeding struggles below and check out breastfeeding tips at the bottom to help set yourself up for success in your own breastfeeding journey.
My Breastfeeding Journey
When I was pregnant breastfeeding was just something I expected to do. It still seemed kind of odd to me as my breasts had always been a sexual thing, so it was odd to think that I would be feeding a small child from them. I was afraid it might be painful and worried about my ability to tough it out…but I never expected to struggle to do it at all. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of what an intricate dance breastfeeding is or how many things can go wrong. I didn’t know that we would both need to learn how to breastfeed.
I was exhausted once my daughter was born. I remember asking if I should try to breastfeed with this warm wriggly being on my chest. The nurse said some babies don’t want to nurse right away. We were then separated for several hours as she went to observation. Once reunited we struggled to breastfeed and spoke with two lactation consultants at the hospital. We worked with pumps, SNS systems, and nipple shields. They evaluated her but seemed unsure as to whether she had any tongue or lip tie causing problems. We were discharged and told to pump to get my supply up, try the nipple shield, use an SNS system, and supplement if need be.
Nipple shields are the worst!
A brief rant about nipple shields. Nipple shields are terrible devices, though I am grateful they exist. They are helpful, but also a major pain in the a**. They have to be wrestled on, then they fall off, baby knocks them off, they have to be located, cleaned, etc. (I’m sure I’m not the only mama with a love/hate relationship with these little plastic doohickeys.)
But, it was the only way we could nurse without pain or failure to latch. We seemed to be doing it and getting along okay with breastfeeding once we got home. Then, at her first pediatrician appointment, my husband and I got the news that she had not gained any weight and we needed to supplement. I was an emotional wreck feeling like I was letting my daughter down. I felt like a failure at something that I thought should come so naturally. I was so tired of the struggle but didn’t want to give up. I wanted that bond with my daughter, I wanted her to have all the benefits of breastmilk, and I did not want to pay for formula.
Getting support was key
Thankfully for me, I had an old co-worker who I spoke with who gave me some breastfeeding tips and recommended a breastfeeding support group she knew of. I did not know such groups even existed or about IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants). I went to the group and broke down in tears as soon as they asked how I was. I made a one-on-one appointment after that first meeting and they diagnosed my daughter as having a tongue tie that was preventing her from transferring enough milk, which I did have plenty of. For some reason, the first suspect when issues arise always seems to be that the mother doesn’t have enough milk…although this is rarely the case.
With a tongue tie revision and further support from the group, we were able to ditch the shield and slowly, over several weeks, go from supplementing to 100% breastfeeding. My friend even gave me some of her freezer stash of milk to limit the amount of formula I had to use. Yes, this is a thing women do. If you have extra milk or are in need of some try checking with your hospital or finding a local breastfeeding group on Facebook.
We still go to breastfeeding group as I’ve learned that just when you think breastfeeding is going great your baby will do some new odd thing that you need help correcting or just want to commiserate about other mamas with. You want to know that the behavior is normal or that you aren’t the only one who’s child seems determined to rip your nipples off. At 5 months in my daughter and I are still happily breastfeeding and hope to continue for at least a year.
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How you can prepare yourself for breastfeeding success
1. Get educated! Take a breastfeeding class if there is one offered near you. If there is not a class nearby or they aren’t affordable there is a great online class called Milkology created by a fellow mom and IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). The class is just $19 so be sure to check it out!
2. Most insurers provide a free breast pump. Know the procedure for getting one and how to use it. Even if you plan to be a stay at home mom and exclusively breastfeed you will almost certainly need to pump at some point. So get your pump and know how to use it. Check out this great ebook Pumping 101 for tips and tricks to get you ready to pump.
3. Know what breastfeeding support groups are available to you. Your local La Leche League can point you in the right direction.
4. Have the number of an IBCLC. They often lead breastfeeding support groups as well. Make sure they are an IBCLC, not just a regular lactation consultant.
5. Join a Facebook breastfeeding group. That way if you have a problem at 2 am or just need ladies to chat with while you’re up feeding your baby you’ll have someone to talk to.
6. Educate your husband, boyfriend, partner, friend, whoever will be supporting you in those early weeks. Having someone else on the same page will be essential. The courses above are perfect as he can get all the information without feeling uncomfortable being in an actual class!
7. Never quit on a bad day. You will see this as a mantra in online breastfeeding groups. There will be rough days where you want to throw in the towel. Sometimes weaning early is the right choice, but don’t make that decision on a bad day…wait until you have a clearer head.
8. Enjoy your journey. Every journey is unique and can vary from child to child. Enjoy your unique journey and the bonds you are creating with your child.
The need for increased breastfeeding education
I love that these breastfeeding groups exist, we need more like them. However, I’m also keenly aware of the societal make-up that makes special groups and consultants necessary. Breastfeeding is a natural occurrence, but how to do it is not knowledge that is readily talked about by women or passed down between generations any longer. We have to go to trained professionals to gain knowledge that has been lost after the trend, likely pushed by the formula makers, of formula feeding, had become so prevalent. As there is a renewed support for breastfeeding we have to reclaim this knowledge and pass it on to other women. (There is nothing wrong with formula feeding if that is your choice or if you cannot breastfeed)
Ladies please get educated and take a breastfeeding class before your baby arrives and know what resources you have available to you. Have the knowledge to help yourself and your baby, but also so that you are prepared. It’s hard when things don’t come as easily as you hoped when you were prepared that problems could occur. It’s harder when you aren’t aware that these problems even exist, that you don’t know to expect them. You are left feeling like you are failing at a natural process, at something that the world makes out to be such an easy thing. Emotions already run so high post-partum and I truly believe that even with the issues I would’ve had an easier time had I been prepared and known the issues that could occur. I also would’ve known exactly where to turn for help and would’ve sought help sooner.
If you have breastfeeding questions or need help finding resources drop me a comment and I’ll answer as best I can. (I am not a health practitioner and my advice should not be used in place of medical advice. I will simply share what I do know with you.) If you’re looking for a funny/sweet look at breastfeeding check out my Nursing Realities post.