During my pregnancy, lots of people asked me if I was going to breastfeed. Friends, family, strangers at the grocery store. Seriously. I always smiled and said "I hope so."
I knew that breastfeeding could be difficult, and I knew not all women could breastfeed. But I thought about it the same way I approach most things. Pretty casually.
"Dum-de-dum, I hope to breastfeed, *shrug smile,* we'll see."
Before having Sam I thought I either could or I couldn't and it wouldn't bother me either way.
But when the nurse handed me my son, I knew that breastfeeding Sam was my top priority. I was going to fight to be able to give him that gift.
But I still didn't realize how difficult breastfeeding could be or was going to be for me.
My journey to breastfeed Sam has been the hardest thing I have ever done. Ever.
Nursing Sam the first time was so strange. Although it is the most natural thing I can do, it felt so unnatural. I was fighting a lie that breastfeeding was immodest. Those first few times I was concerned with being exposed and feeling vulnerable.
It's so funny thinking back on those feelings. Now, breastfeeding makes me feel so strong.
Sam was such a sleepy baby. We came home from the hospital with instructions to nurse skin-to-skin and pester him so he could wake up a bit to eat. During those first days, breastfeeding was an all-hands-on-deck operation. Our schedule included waking him up, undressing him, feeding a baby who'd rather be sleeping, supplementing him with formula and a syringe (he had lost 10% of his birth weight), getting him dressed again, and putting him back to sleep. Then it was time to do it again.
My milk came in a few days after coming home. I was given information on how to prevent engorgement but unfortunately didn't read it until it was too late. The pain of labor didn't even come close to the pain I went through during engorgement. My breasts were shiny red and rock hard. I could barely move.
What's funny is that since I have such small breasts, I never really think about them. I barely have to wear a bra (although I do, obviously). But all of a sudden, my breasts were the only things I was talking about and spent the first two weeks home with them hanging out.
During the most painful time of engorgement, all I could do was cry. Nurse Sam and cry. Every feeding session I cried out to Kyle and my mom and told them I couldn't do it. I wanted to quit. But I didn't.
Eventually the engorgement went away and the milk started flowing, but as much as I tried to exclusively breastfeed, there just wasn't enough. Sam was constantly hungry. He would cry and cry as I tried to nurse him every half hour. I wanted to quit so bad. But I didn't.
Then I got thrush and the pain was even worse. And I wanted to quit. But I didn't.
I talked to Sam's pediatrician about my pain (physical and emotional) and he suggested that I give myself a little break. He suggested we give Sam a bottle of formula and that I pump instead for a little while. Nurse when I could, take a break when I needed to.
He sucked down that first bottle like a champ. And then something happened that I had never seen before. Contentment after a feeding. He was happy and full. As much as my heart longed to breast feed him exclusively, I realized his full belly and growing body was what mattered most. I would need to quit nursing. But I didn't.
This whole time I was sick with guilt in having to make the decision to either keep breastfeeding or to give Sam formula. I wasn't sleeping. I was crying all the time.
And then something amazing happened. Sam and I fell into a beautiful rhythm. I am so thankful for how natural it was and that I didn't have to decide. I started nursing at the beginning of every feeding, getting as much breast milk into his little belly as possible. Then I would give him a bottle of formula until he was satisfied.
Now, 2 months after his birth, this is how I feed our son. I am able to nurse him and connect with him the way that I longed to. Kyle is able to feed him and feel that closeness. We are able to fill his belly and make him strong and happy.
I have never been more proud of myself. Not giving up on breastfeeding helps me see just how strong I can be. And although Sam won't remember these first months, I hope this experience shows the depth of my love.
I know that breastfeeding is a very sensitive and powerful subject, as it should be. I am sharing my story not to open myself up to criticism, but to help encourage others who are struggling. Breastfeeding is so different for every mommy and baby. This is our story and this is what works best for our family.
[Many people have suggested methods to increase my milk supply. I've tried multiple things but for various reasons I have decided to nurse Sam to the extent that I'm able and then give him formula. Feel free to contact me if you have questions/want to know more, but I trust that you understand I'm doing what's best for my son.]
I wanted to end with a few thoughts for those in the middle of their breastfeeding story or embarking on the journey soon:
- Feeding your baby in a loving way is your top priority. How you do it is a very personal and emotional decision. Whatever decision you make, rest in the fact that it's the best one for your baby.
- Your baby deserves a mommy who is present, physically, mentally and emotionally. If trying to exclusively breastfeed is keeping you from being present, explore other ways (but always talk to your baby's doctor first).
- Everyone kept telling me that breastfeeding gets easier after about 6 weeks. I wanted to scream at them. But they were right. Truly.
- If you believe strongly in breastfeeding, fight for it. I did, and even though it doesn't look the way I thought it would, it is the best thing I've ever done.
- If you need to cry out in anguish, cry out to God and ask for patience, strength, perseverance, wisdom, and grace. And not just in breastfeeding. In parenting, too.
- If you do bottle feed (pumped breast milk or formula), try to do skin-to-skin when you can, connect with your baby through eye contact, talk to him, take it seriously, do it lovingly.
- Seek out support. I called people out of the blue, asked questions of their experience, even emailed a picture of my boob to a friend when I thought I might have mastitis. Feeding our babes is a big deal. Talk about it as such.