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. Like many other women I just wish I’d been prepared and it would’ve saved a lot of tears, stress, and feelings of failure.
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. I wasn’t aware of what an intricate dance breastfeeding is or how many things can go wrong.
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.
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 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, and 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 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.
Thankfully for me I had an old co-worker who I spoke with 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.
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.
The need for increased breastfeeding education
I love that these 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 have 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.
I’m starting a breastfeeding group now in my neighborhood so that I can pass on the knowledge that was given to me, so that this lost knowledge can be reintroduced into our society. I’ve seen newer moms come into my original group in tears and I’m immediately taken back to those early painful weeks. Now, I can be the one to assure them that there is help and that it does get better, just as other assured me. It’s so important that we share what we learn with other women and talk openly and breastfeeding in all it’s aspects.
If you need help look up your local La Leche League or inquire if your hospital has a support group. There are also lots of Facebook groups out there full of breastfeeding mamas that will gladly share their expertise with you. And know that many issues can be overcome with some work…and that you are not alone in your struggle. If you have struggled or are struggling start a conversation with other moms and share your knowledge and commiserate over your trials.
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.)