First and foremost, I feel the need to clarify that this was MY experience with breastfeeding. Not everyone will have this experience, but because I could not find a single soul who shared my experience, I wanted to put it out there.
It was decided early, without any argument or discussion, that I would breastfeed. Aside from the monetary attributes of breastfeeding, it also passes so many fabulous immunities and nutrients to the baby that it seemed stupid not to. I watched all the videos about breastfeeding, I read tons of books, I practiced the various “holds”. I wanted it to be perfect.
When Tony was born, I requested that we try and breastfeed as soon as possible. I had read study after study about how beneficial that is to the bond of mother and child, and had found several videos that advocated letting him do the “breast crawl”, where the newborn will literally wiggle around on mom’s belly until he finds the nipple. Once all of the family left the room, I opened my shirt and stuck him up there. But he was too tired to try, and quite frankly after 2.5 hours of solid pushing, I was too tired to force him into it. So we waited a day.
He latched on fine the next day, but didn’t suckle. I immediately used my resources and requested help from the lactation consultants that work at the hospital. The specialist stopped by that afternoon and confirmed that I was doing everything right.. she was actually impressed with my prowess as a first time mom. But I was worried sick that he wasn’t getting any food.
I brought up my concerns to every nurse that rotated through and to the pediatrician on call, and everyone told me I was being unreasonable. I finally put my foot down with the last nurse before our discharge and begged her to give me some formula samples in case my milk didn’t come in within the week. She did, with the caveat of, “But you’re still going to breastfeed, right? Don’t use this until you absolutely have to.”
After four agonizing days (and nights) of Tony “feeding” without milk every two hours, my nipples were raw and cracked and I was in horrible pain. FINALLY, my milk came in. I knew this was going to my salvation, and for a day or two, feedings were actually pleasant. I could see how women could do it. I thought I might actually get through it.
Tony decided he would only eat from one breast, which I read is not uncommon. As it turns out, I have “difficult nipples” for babies to latch on to. (I’d never had a single complaint about them before.) So every two hours, he ate. And ate. And ate. I literally would have forty or fifty minutes between feedings to do anything.
Two days after my milk came in, I was knocked on my ass by an infected milk duct, in the one breast that Tony would feed from. The pain was something I can’t adequately put into words. And, ironically, the only “cure” any written manual would give me was to put the baby BACK on the boob. The pain was so intense I would often find myself unintentionally grinding my fingernails into my child. The pain was only rivaled by my overwhelming guilt at failing this task.
I began switching to the pump around this point, and soon began pumping exclusively. I thought that this would work out well for everyone involved. I noticed that I would become horribly nauseous when feeding, and I wondered if I was out of my mind. Do all women suffer this and I’m just a pansy? Me, who uttered “Ouch” twice during the entire labor?
Bryan showed disappointment only briefly with each development. He would then nod and agree that it didn’t make sense for me to be in such pain. One night, my breasts felt incredibly full and I told him that I was going to try and nurse Tony. Tony wouldn’t take my breast. Bryan came into the room to find me sobbing and holding a screaming child. It was definitely a low point in my life; to know that I wasn’t giving my child enough food, and I had no idea how to fix it.
The pumping had failed as well; I wasn’t producing enough from two pumpings for one feeding. Considering he was still looking to eat every two hours, I was a wreck. I cried a lot when no one was looking.
Finally, one late night feeding, I started reading the pamphlets that came with the formula samples I insisted on getting from the hospitals. And as it turns out, you can supplement formula for breastmilk. (I am still a fan of breastfeeding and the benefits the baby receives.) But a light shone down on me, and I thought, “THIS, I can do.”
So at that point, Bryan and I started alternating feedings. I still pumped every two hours, and when there was enough breastmilk, that’s what Tony drank. Every other feeding was formula. He didn’t seem to care which he received.
I told you all of that to tell you this: new moms, breast is best. It’s true. But there are times when breast isn’t possible. And rather than absolutely disable yourself as a parent, as I did, explore other options. Formula is second best, but it’s not the devil. Your child will not hate you. Hell, I was a formula-fed baby. And I can’t tell you the horrible feeling of considering yourself inadequate as a mother.. it’s your choice. People will try and steer you one way or the other, but in the end, it’s gotta be what’s right for you and your family. Everyone in my house is so much happier now that we’ve transitioned. Tony is well-fed, versus being hungry all the time; Bryan is able to help out instead of just watch helplessly; and I finally feel like I’m in control.
Again, I do advocate breastfeeding, and we’ll continue to use both forms of feeding for as long as my body will allow. But if I knew two weeks ago what I know now.. I can’t imagine how much happier those past two weeks would’ve been.