The Ups and (Let)downs of Breastfeeding

Rubbing my large (L-A-R-G-E) belly, I’d daydream about the next stage of becoming a mother and all the newborn yumminess to come. For me, a large part of that was nursing my baby. It was the most natural thing to do, but I wasn’t prepared for the effort and anguish ahead. 

I didn’t put my feet up on the plush glider’s ottoman and gently brace my infant’s neck while my body nourished hers. I didn’t naturally know what to do with my new breasts and this howling mouth that was never satisfied. I wasn’t aware that making breastfeeding “work” would require more physical and emotional effort and determination than I thought possible.

After the devastation of having a complicated delivery with my first child and the surprise of realizing that my daughter had special needs, I held onto breastfeeding as the “one” thing at which I could succeed. My post-partum self thought I’d failed at childbirth because delivery had ultimately resulted in a C-section. I’d failed at bringing a “healthy” child into this world because my daughter was unexpectedly diagnosed with Down syndrome. There was no way I’d fail at nursing. 

Just as our parenting approaches differ, so do the ways we feed our babies. And I felt committed to the nutritional benefits and emotional bonding aspects of breast feeding. I was breastfed, and my mother was a huge supporter of breastfeeding; it came with such ease for her, I’d expected the same. 

No one could tell me differently: breast was best for me and my baby! Even if that meant nursing my baby with tubes all around her in the NICU. Even if I nursed her every two hours, followed by pumping 20 minutes and giving the extra milk via SNS (supplemental nursing system). Even if that meant my sleep cycles were a total of 40 minutes max once she was home. Even if I had to bring my daughter to the pediatrician and lactation consultant numerous times a week to check if she was gaining weight.  

My first was breastfed with some supplementation for one year, and I’ve never fought harder for something that appeared to come so easily to others. At times, I questioned if it would cost me my sanity, but I reached my goal and there was some healing in that. When we found our groove, I could escape with her to nurse in a quiet room somewhere and suddenly, my world calmed down. My daughter and I had worked together to make breastfeeding work, and I was grateful for all we had overcome. 

When we decided to add to our family, I just knew my next nursing experience would be a teeny tiny bit easier. It had to be, right? I entered prep-mode: read all the books, talked with professionals, and had an action plan, including the use of donor milk if needed.   

Then it took five days for my milk to come in after C-section #2. I was freaking out. Baby was super into nursing and had an excellent latch, and still we struggled. I wish I would have known that every baby is different and your body will be different after each pregnancy. This time, I ended up needing medication to increase lactation due to a breast tumor being removed years prior. With a happily latched baby, our breastfeeding journey became less stressful until I had to return to work and get friendly with my pump.

What sounds do you hear when you crank your pump up? Mine called out to me “moo, moo, moo” as I sat in an unused bathroom looking at my baby’s picture to get the required ounces for her while she wasn’t with me. It was a touchstone to my identify as her mother in a day when I had my professional hat on. We were linked together even miles apart. Thankfully, I had a supportive boss who understood the importance of providing long enough pumping breaks, and things went a smoothly as possible. 

I am currently breastfeeding my youngest, and I had much less expectations this time. My approach to our breastfeeding journey was with ease and experience—third kid works like a charm! No supplementation systems, formula, or nipple shields were needed, and it’s novel to be able to go anywhere and feed him on demand. 

Despite the ups and (let)downs, I am thrilled that with every ounce of effort I had in me, I was able to breastfeed three babies. Even with my breast surgery, low muscle tone, food allergies, tongue and lip ties, and a NICU stay. However, in the end, they were nourished, just as all babies need to be in any shape or form that works for you and your family. I had set up significantly unrealistic expectations, but with each of my babies, we did it our own way. This is a lesson I hold on to in all seasons of motherhood. 

If you do decide to pursue breastfeeding, here are some tips I’ve collected along the way:

  1. Join your local La Leche League. These parents understand the variations of normal when it comes to breastfeeding and will cheer you on when you need to vent. They’re also well versed with the law when it comes to pumping at work or breastfeeding in public.
  2. Have a breastfeeding-friendly pediatrician. He/she will need to understand growth patterns differ with breastfed babies, and it helps to have reminders of the benefits of breastfeeding.
  3. Be kind to yourself. Breastfeeding may mean you are the only one who can feed your baby and that’s some serious neediness. It’s OK to feel “touched out” and take a break. Take a long bath, hide in a closet, read a cheesy romance novella, and you do you.
  4. Give it three months. When I zombied in to my post-partum visit, begging to be told I should just stop nursing because my breasts were beaten up by the pump and a poorly latched baby, I was instead told to give it three months. Somehow, that timing changed everything for me as the challenges subsided and I felt more confident in my abilities. I was getting more sleep and got to see the smiles and soothing aspects of breastfeeding. 
  5. Seek help. Lactation consultants, Speech-Language Pathologists, and your mom friend next door may all be excellent resources when things don’t seem right. I have used all three to help me along the way. There are also amazing apps to check out if you take medication and want to see if its breastfeeding compatible. Mommymeds and LactMed to start. 

So in my best DJ voice, here’s a shout out to all my nursing mamas and the expectations we hold on to about nursing our babies. Be flexible and latch on!

Photo credit: Chelsea Lietz Photography

Did you know its World Breastfeeding Awareness Week? What challenges have you overcome on your breastfeeding journey? 

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