Before I even got pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. It was cheaper than formula feeding, all those billboards I saw around town told me it would make my baby smarter, and, of course, it was “natural,” and, therefore, the easiest thing to do.
I wanted to make sure I was fully educated, so I went to a breastfeeding class at the hospital I was going to deliver at. The lactation consultant who taught the class believed formula companies were evil and said that breastfeeding would come easily for both mom and baby since women had been doing it since the beginning of time. I was worried about the possibility of a supply issue because I knew other women who had that problem. When a question about that was brought up in the class, the lactation consultant said there was no such thing as a supply problem. If you aren’t producing enough, breastfeed more and the problem will solve itself. Presto. She said that it created such a strong bond between mother and baby that a study about abuse that compared breastfed with formula fed kids found those who had been breastfed were never abused by their parents. I left the class steadfast in my decision to breastfeed and determined to make sure my baby was given back to me within twenty minutes after birth – when they have the strongest suck reflex I was told.
On message boards on the internet, I read women saying breastfeeding was hard, not so natural, and it didn’t always work. I thought they must be mistaken or selfish or didn’t try to make it work. I mean, this is how women always fed their babies before formula. How in the world could it NOT work?
Fast forward about three months. A screaming baby was placed in my arms and I quickly made sure to tell the nurse I wanted him back within twenty minutes, when I had been told their sucking reflex is strongest, so he could feed for the first time. Twenty minutes later, he was brought back to me and I whipped out my boob and stuck it up to his mouth. He wouldn’t take it. What was going on? I kept trying, using all the tricks and methods I learned in my breastfeeding class. Still nothing. The nurse told me sometimes it takes them a little longer; she’d bring him back to me in a little while. About forty minutes later, we tried again. He sucked a little bit but kept coming off my nipple. Jeez. I thought this was natural? I called that lactation consultant and asked her to come help me. She came by and assured me I was doing everything right and he was latching correctly when he latched on, he just wouldn’t stay there. He would catch on.
Well, he did catch on and then I got engorged. Oh, the agony. No matter how much or how often he ate, my breasts ached and ached. No one told me how bad this was going to be. Also, no one told me how utterly exhausting it would be to exist as someone’s only food source. I felt like I had a baby permanently attached to my breast and I hated it. Furthermore, I didn’t feel any bond whatsoever with my son when breastfeeding. He just stared at my boob or kept his eyes closed. He didn’t look at me or seem happy to have that time with me and I didn’t feel like it was making a bit of difference to breastfeed him. When I was engorged, he wouldn’t eat off the breast that was the fullest, making it worse. I e-mailed the lactation consultant and asked her about this and she wrote me back saying she was “sorry things weren’t going well” but only offered me advice I had already tried.
I must have been a failure. How could I hate the most natural thing in the world? What kind of mother was I? I didn’t think anyone understood how awful it was. My husband certainly didn’t. My mom didn’t breastfeed me, so I didn’t have her to commiserate with. I remembered back to women I talked to who said they breastfed for a year, or even more. Who were these women?! I didn’t think I was going to make it twelve more hours, much less twelve more months. In addition to feeling like a milk cow, my nipples also hurt like someone was stabbing them. Everytime my son would latch on, I’d get an excruciating pain. I thought he must be latching on wrong, because the lactation consultant said the only way it would ever hurt is if the latch was wrong. But, he was latching the exact same way he was in the hospital, so it couldn’t be wrong.
I didn’t think I could go on any longer like that and had pretty much convinced myself to quit, so I went online. I found out that it was normal for my nipples to hurt really bad. Possibly even for a few weeks. I found out lots of women don’t like breastfeeding at first. And that I should set some goals for continuing it, if I wanted to, but I wouldn’t be a failure as a mother if I chose to quit. I wasn’t breastfed and neither was my husband and we turned out okay.
But, I was still set on that money thing. It was cheaper to keep up with the breastfeeding and I knew it was good for my son and helped him build immunities, even if formula feeding wouldn’t be bad for him. One woman said she would tell herself “I won’t quit today.” So, I told myself I wouldn’t quit that day. Then, I wouldn’t quit the next week. At three weeks, I convinced myself to keep it up until he was six weeks old. The books I read said they get the most benefit those first six weeks and, if it wasn’t working out at that point, to not feel bad about quitting. I pretty much decided I would just get to those six weeks and stop. I definitely didn’t have a supply problem to blame anything on – he was gaining weight rapidly. It was purely that I didn’t really like it, nor did I enjoy getting up throughout the night with him alone.
Then, things got better. I started giving him a bottle of pumped milk occasionally, which gave me a break. My nipples quit hurting. He started sleeping a little longer at night (not through the night, yet, but longer). And, it got easier. He got more efficient at eating so it didn’t take forever, and he started stretching out the feedings. Six weeks came and I didn’t want to give up. In fact, I came to the conclusion that, if things kept going this well, I wasn’t planning on giving anything other than breastmilk for the first six months.
I wish I had listened to the people that said it would be extremely difficult instead of thinking it would be the most natural thing in the world. Yes, it might be what women have done since the beginning of time, but that doesn’t mean it will just happen. It takes work. And, sometimes it doesn’t work. No one has to feel bad if it doesn’t, but it can, even if you think it might not at first. The best thing I could’ve done is set mini-goals and not expect anything else from myself. Don’t hate yourself if it doesn’t work and don’t give up because you hate it if it does work. Like most things in life, it takes getting used to and it takes time.