As a new mom, one of the first things you start to research is breastfeeding. After I got pregnant I read every article, went to a breastfeeding class, got advice from friends and lactation consultants all in preparation to be able to enjoy the magical bonding experience between mother and baby that is breastfeeding.
Well, I did not end up breastfeeding my little girl...and you know what? That’s okay.
It's taken me a long time to be able to say that “it’s okay that I’m not breastfeeding” out loud without feeling this extreme pang of guilt. I read all the articles and heard all the advice. If I don’t breastfeed my baby will be obese or less intelligent or get cancer, right? These worries plagued me when I was already a sleep deprived, stressed out hot mess of a mama. No one should have to go through this process of guilt and frustration and as moms we should support each other. I had so many other moms stress to me the importance of breastfeeding. So many complete strangers who would ask me if I’m going to breastfeed (none of their business). So many people telling me horrors and lies about formula. It applied so much pressure before my baby was even born.
So can we stop this cycle of craziness please? Can we wok on supporting one another and release the pressure?
In an effort to break the cycle and pressures that come with the breast is best culture we find ourselves in, I’m going to share my breastfeeding journey with you and why it just didn’t work out for me. I want to preface this by saying I am not against breastfeeding. I think if you breastfeed you're a badass and if you formula feed you’re also a badass...basically if you’re a mom...you’re a badass! I just truly believe that how a mom chooses to feed her baby is just that - her choice.
In the last few months before having my little girl, Freya, my husband and I read all the books and articles that every new parent is advised to read about breastfeeding. We also went to an intimidating breastfeeding class where the instructor awkwardly used a baby doll and weird muppet-like puppets to demonstrate the proper breastfeeding techniques and methods. In this class was also where we were encouraged not to pump unless absolutely necessary and I realized that my husband wouldn't be able to help feed the baby at all in the first few months and that all the responsibility would be on me (no pressure). Even when I let this fact settle in I thought I was ready and that I could handle it. After all I was an athlete, I’ve broken bones and I’ve gone through my fair amount of struggles. How difficult could it be?
Fast forward to the morning of March 26th. My water breaks when my alarm goes off and we are on our way to the hospital. The birth, thanks to my wonderful midwife, was quick, simple and relatively pain free. I pushed for 30mins and she arrived, was placed on my chest and my whole world changed. My heart was so full I thought it might burst. I never knew I could love someone as much as I love my daughter.
Since everything went so well, I was confident that breastfeeding would be equally as simple. That’s where I was 100% wrong. I started nursing Freya as soon as I could after having her. The hospital had lactation consultants on staff that were extremely helpful and knowledgeable. The first few days while staying in the hospital I got to practice proper latching techniques and different ways to hold my baby while nursing. At this point everything seemed to be going the way it should. Then we went home and things changed.
The first week home was very difficult. Freya would not stop crying and it got to a point where my husband and I were so sleep deprived that we took turns crying too to let out our frustrations. When I tried to breastfeed Freya it was not the happy picturesque scene that you watch in television shows and movies. If my breastfeeding experience was made into a movie I think it would look more like Fight Club. Freya started kicking me very early when she was in my belly and when she gets frustrated she kicks like crazy and punches. So when I would try to breastfeed her my boobs became punching bags. On top of that she had a mouth like a piranha to the point where my nipples were so cracked, scabbed and bloody that my lactation consultant advised me to pump to give my boobs some R&R.
Around this time is when we realized that my breast milk was not coming in the way it should. I was given every supplement and tip on how to make my body produce more milk. I even consulted some of the trusted mom groups I was a part of on Facebook. I also drank so much Mothers Milk Tea that I started to wonder what other drinks tasted like. My body still was only producing an ounce from both breasts and that was if I was really lucky.
This was why breastfeeding Freya always turned into a scene from Rocky - she was hangry! She wasn’t getting enough milk from me and as she grew she would need even more and my body just wasn’t keeping up. We were advised by our pediatrician to start supplementing with formula and I remember this is where the flood gates opened and all the emotion came pouring out of me. I was exhausted and I felt completely defeated. I cried in my pediatricians office and even after her calming reassurance and her telling me it doesn’t make me any less of a mom, that’s exactly how I felt - less than. I felt so much guilt and pain for having to supplement.
What if I didn’t do something right and that’s why I’m not producing enough?
So many of my friends have breastfed, why can’t I?
Even the back of the damn formula bottle says breast milk is the best thing to feed a baby. What if formula makes her sick or unhealthy?
These were all questions that ran through my head and the guilt was so heavy on my heart. Even with reassurance from everyone I knew. Even though I was still pumping and feeding Freya as much breast milk as I could.
When my body stopped producing breast milk altogether is when the volume level on the guilt I felt got turned up to 11. I cried all the time and for the longest time I didn’t put away my breast pump because It felt like I was giving up. The day I decided to put my breast pump away I called my mom and she came over. Of course I was depressed and I just couldn’t cry anymore. I was holding Freya and my mom said something that shook me out of my sadness. She asked me to look at my baby. I did and Freya had dozed off and the corner of her mouth was twitching into a smile. She asked, “does that look like an unhealthy or unhappy baby?” I said no with tears welling up as I looked down at my beautiful healthy baby. My mom responded with “your strength through all of this and all the effort, time and love you dedicate to this child every day makes you a wonderful mom. Being a good mom has nothing to do with if you breastfeed or not.” I don’t know why I finally heard and understood her that day but I did. I think I just needed to let go of all the guilt.
Once I let go of the guilt I realized that fed is best and that my little girl is happy and healthy. I could finally focus more on the joys that come with being a new mom and the only way I was able to get to a place where I feel this way is due to the support I got from friends, family and other moms.
So, if you’re going through a similar journey:
Breastfeeding is hard.
You are strong.
And no matter how you choose to feed your baby you are a GREAT mom.
Being a mom is one of the hardest and most rewarding journeys we’ll ever take and we all walk this path together. Let’s make an effort as moms to relieve the pressure that comes with feeding a baby. Let’s provide support to other moms who need it. Let’s understand that not every mom can or chooses to breastfeed and that’s okay. Let’s provide love, light and hope to one another and above all else let’s celebrate being total badasses together.
Oh...and here's a picture of my 100% healthy and absolutely adorable formula fed little girl: