I previously mentioned that I was going to post about my breastfeeding experience in a separate post. It’s an experience of its own (at least in my opinion), so I wanted to share my thoughts. I know this is a departure from food or fashion posts, but I wanted to share my story and if I can help at least one person, then I’m happy. I’ve been writing and rewriting this post over and over again because there’s a lot to say about breastfeeding and the overall experience.
The decision to exclusively breastfeed (where you only feed your child with breastmilk. the bottle with breastmilk can be used as well) Eva was something that my husband and I discussed after we educated ourselves about its benefits. We went to a breastfeeding class, talked to friends and family who had successes and failures (you want to get both sides of the spectrum), and read books. You have a couple of options. You can breastfeed or breastfeed and formula feed or exclusively formula feed. And I’m not passing judgment to mothers who do one thing or another. Sometimes it isn’t possible to do exclusively breastfeed, due to medical or physical reasons. But please educate yourselves about what the pros and cons are for both breastfeeding and bottle feeding, talk to your pediatrician and lactation consultant. Do what’s best for you and your baby. Only you, as a mother or father, will know what’s best for them because you’ll know your baby better than anyone else.
I thought breastfeeding was going to be easy. I didn’t believe my husband’s former co-worker when she said it hurt more than labor. I believed the movies and TV shows when they showed a woman breastfeeding immediately after birth with ease. Like the labor and delivery process, don’t believe it! While some babies may naturally latch on, others do not. As I mentioned before, I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to establish breastfeeding within the first hour because I was having a C-section; however, I was (probably right before the hour was over). Yay for my hospital being pro-breastfeeding. While in the recovery room, I was able to breastfeed Eva. The nurses assisted me. She latched on right away, but I’m not sure if she was latched on properly (this means taking in the entire nipple area including the areola). I don’t know if it was because of the anesthesia or pain killers or just the sheer joy of having my little one in my arms, but I thought I was doing it well and that it was going to be easy. I don’t remember if the nurses ever told me if she was latched on properly. During the second day at the hospital, my nipples were painfully sore and cracked. I spoke with the lactation consultant and she showed me how to properly get Eva to latch on. But when I tried it on my own without her there, I struggled. In hindsight, while it wasn’t pleasant having a C-section and staying in the hospital for 3 days, I’m happy I did because I needed the nurses to help me latch Eva on during every feeding. I’d struggle trying to get her to latch on for about 15 to 30 minutes until I would call the nurses. I felt like I was doing something wrong every time. Plus I was in pain. How could I be feeding her properly if it was so painful? During the morning rounds, both my doctor and Eva’s pediatrician told me it would hurt for a while and it would be a couple of weeks until my nipples developed protective calluses. I wanted to believe both of them but I couldn’t, the pain was telling me otherwise.
The first two weeks after we got home from the hospital were hard. I was still struggling to get her to latch on (it was especially hard during the night feedings when you’re exhausted) or she couldn’t stay latched on (I later figured out that she wouldn’t stay latched on was because I had an overactive letdown and she was basically choking/drowning in milk). I cried sometimes (okay, maybe a lot of times) because I thought it was me. Sometimes, I’d hope that she would sleep for 3 hours straight so I wouldn’t have to feed her. When she’d cry after an hour or two from her last feeding, I’d cringe a little because I didn’t want to feel pain. Then I’d feel guilty because I was cringing at the thought of feeding my daughter. I was an emotional rollercoaster. It felt so defeating. I wanted to give up, but my husband wouldn’t let me. He was so supportive (Men, take note!). He told me it would be okay and to just get through this feeding and then get through the rest of the day. And that’s what we did, we took it feeding by feeding, day by day. We both knew how important it was to us to have her breastfed. I have samples of formula in our house and I was so tempted to give it to her then but we didn’t. I knew I’d feel even more guilty if I did. Again, this was our choice. I wanted to give breastfeeding every effort even if that meant I being in pain. I contemplated hiring a lactation consultant to tell me if I was doing it right, but at her two-week check up we were told she was gaining weight steadily, so I figured I had to be doing something right.
Anyhow, I was still in pain after the third week, so I went to our hospital’s breastfeeding forum for mothers with newborns up to the age of 6 months. It’s an open forum where mothers or fathers ask the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) questions. This was the eye opener for me. I heard mothers asking about supplemental nursing systems, supplementing with formula, supply decreasing after they returned to work, what the best options were for bottles, pumping, etc. I knew then I was pretty fortunate. My production was decent even though it was painful. Eva was gaining weight steadily and we didn’t have to supplement with formula. She took both the bottle and breast without any issue . My concerns about why she wasn’t naturally latching on were answered. My concerns about overactive letdown were answered. I learned that she was still young but we’d get through it if I decided to stick with it (and I have). I left the forum feeling relieved. I was even happier when we had her 1 month appointment a week later and found out she had gained 2 pounds since her 2 week check up. Her pediatrician commended me and was shocked that Eva had gained all that weight based on a diet of breastmilk.
The pain started to subside, but didn’t go away completely until about week 5 or 6 . However, everyone else is different. Some women develop protective calluses quicker and they feel no pain after 3 or 4 weeks (although most people I talked to said the pain would stopped hurting after 5-6 weeks). I learned there is no set time of how long the pain would last. I think if it was still painful after the 7th or 8th week, I would have seen an IBCLC for help or if Eva wasn’t gaining enough weight and I was still in pain.
They say you shouldn’t introduce bottles until 4-6 weeks after birth if you’re breastfeeding due to nipple confusion. We decided for the first four weeks, we’d follow that plan. But I got sick 3 weeks after she was born. Unfortunately, it was a weekend when I got sick and the doctors were out, so I had to go to the ER. Of course it took long. Eva slept most of the time I was away, but as soon as I started making my way back home she woke up and was hungry. As I ran to the pharmacy to get my medication, my husband introduced the bottle then. We were worried she’d have issues with nipple confusion, but luckily, she switched between bottle and breast easily. But a lot of our success with this was giving her the bottle of breastmilk once a day and breastfeeding the remainder of the time.
Other moms may feel that their breastfeeding experience was easy, but the majority of mothers I’ve talked to have had almost the same experience as I have. That is, it HURTS for those first couple of weeks. You try to get through it no matter how painful because you’ve made this decision to feed your child from you. It’s a natural part of life for a mother to nurse their child because they’re receiving the best nutrients and antibodies from you. During this process, it’s normal to have tears of frustration and guiltiness (part of it is the postpartum hormones) until it gets better. BUT that said I don’t want to deter you from trying. Try. Take it day by day. I’m not anyone to judge if you decide to give your child the bottle sooner or tandem feed or exclusively formula feed. It’s no one’s business but your own. You need to choose what’s best for you and your baby. I’m not going to say I love breastfeeding, but I don’t hate it. It is quite time consuming. You have to take a couple of minutes out of your day to pump or feed your child, but I’m okay with that because I feel it’s best for my daughter. And we’re going to try to continue breastfeeding until she’s a year old, if my supply stays up. If we’re still breastfeeding at a year, my husband and I will have a discussion then to decide what the best option is at that time.
I hope this post has helped any mothers to be or new mothers. So my take away from all this is try. Take it day by day. Educate yourselves. Talk to friends who’ve had successes. Have a great support system (family and friends). Talk to a lactation consultant. Read kellymom.com, it’s a great source. But try.