Little did I know that breastfeeding would be one of the most challenging aspects of motherhood. It always seemed so serene, beautiful and effortless. It still does, in pictures of course. Maybe there are women out there who are able to pick up breastfeeding like second nature but that was not the case for me, and the more I spoke to other women, it wasn't for them either.
I felt so much pressure from society to breastfeed (friends, family, doctors etc.) and do so in the conventional way (directly feed from the breast). I also felt like there was a lot of criticism surrounding it. If you breastfeed, people criticize how long you do it for. If you don't breastfeed, you are being selfish and don't want the best for you child. If you pump and feed, its not the same intimacy and closeness the baby needs. Theres just too much mom shaming and very little praising going around. The truth is that we all want whats best for our children and that doesn't mean one size fits all. That means we try to do whats best based on our own experiences and circumstances and that looks very different for every single mom. Odds are we are trying and giving our best.
I want to share my own personal story because at the time I thought it was unique, but that was far from the truth. Talking to other moms I heard similar stories. Please note it will be detailed and a little graphic.
During my delivery with Nicky, I received a lot of liquids through IV. This caused swelling in my breasts and the nipples became flat. Nicky had nothing to latch onto. Soon after delivery, while I was still in the recovery room, Nicky was on my chest and she gradually found my breast. She tried and tried to latch but she couldn't. They moved me to the maternity suite where I worked with a lactation consultant and we tried everything (and I mean everything). We started with nipple shields (plastics in the form of nipples that attach to your nipples to help the baby latch and have something to hold on to). When that didn't work we tried pumping to get the nipple to come out and then quickly turn to the baby to see if she was able to latch, but my nipple would snap right back after taking the pump off not giving the baby enough time. Nicky had to eat, but I was so set on breastfeeding her and the lactation consultant suggested we syringe feed her formula so that she would not get used to the bottle. That is what we did until my milk finally dropped and I was able to pump more and more milk every time. The whole time I'm feeding her formula, I am still trying to latch her using one of the above methods during every feeding. Needless to say, I felt frustrated and helpless after every failed attempt.
After trying for several days, and finding mild success with pumping, I settled on exclusively pumping and bottle feeding her breast milk. I must say, pumping was no walk in the park. My nipples were torn apart and my breasts were bruised. I could sometimes see the blood in the milk. I asked the doctor if it was ok to give her milk with a little blood and the doctor said yes so thats what I did. I pumped every time she was hungry so that I would make enough milk for her. A week into pumping I was producing more milk than she was eating so I started freezing it. A month later I found myself pumping 8-12 oz of milk every three hours or less so I bought a small freezer to store all the extra milk. It was not until a month and a half after birth that my nipples returned to their normal state, but at that point Nicky was too used to being bottle fed, that it was impossible to latch her. In the end, I pumped for a year and she had breastmilk the entire time. It was a full time, round the clock job, but I knew that there were benefits and I was going to give it my all. Even though I never had the intimacy of breastfeeding her, I was able to give her the most important part, the milk itself, and that was enough for me. I do feel like it benefited her tremendously and even today, two years later, I can see how strong her immune system is.
A few tips I learned about pumping along the way:
- Get the best pump out there. By best I mean, electric, powerful, easy to clean, and portable. My health insurance gave me a breast pump that was ok if I was just supplementing with a few bottles, but it did not cut it for my full time needs. I bought the Medela Freestyle Breast Pump (click here). It was the best investment I made as a new mom. The thing I loved about it the most was how easy I could transport it.
- Make sure the breast fit shields are the ones that correspond to you nipple size. Since my nipples were fluctuating every few days, I changed sizes a few times.
- Use Lanolin for soar nipples. It really does help (click here).
- Pump every time the baby is hungry so that you always have enough milk.
I hope this was useful for some of you and remember we are all different. Thats not a bad thing :)