All throughout my pregnancy, I heard stories of how difficult labor is, how hard it is function on so little sleep in the newborn stage, how hard it is to not have any "me" time. Everyone failed to mention, however, how hard breastfeeding is, and I really wish someone had told me.
I don't want to scare anyone who is pregnant, or still trying, but breastfeeding, and eventually deciding to stop, is one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life.
Once my milk came in, Kieran had a pretty good latch, and was a good eater. He ate best in the football hold on the right side, but we were able to do the "normal" cradle hold on the left. My nipples were sore for a few days in the beginning, but they never cracked or bled.
From the outside, it looked like we had breastfeeding down. But internally, I was constantly worried about my supply. I started pumping almost from day one because I thought Kieran would be going to daycare one day, and I wanted to have an ample freezer stash built up. I could never get more than an ounce out of each side per session, but everyone told me not to worry because what you were able to pump wasn't an indicator of what baby was able to get.
At Kieran's one month appointment, he had only gained 12 ounces from birth and had dropped from the 92nd percentile to the 43rd. At his two month, he had only gained a pound and 7 ounces. At four months, he had only gained two pounds, 10 ounces and was up every 45 minutes throughout the night to eat. I knew then, that he wasn't getting the food that he needed.
Even though I was pumping multiple times a day, breastfeeding on demand, taking fenugreek, eating oatmeal, and drinking enough water to drown, my supply was still tiny. It was suggested that I start supplementing with formula to make sure Kieran was getting the nutrients he needed.
Breaking out that can of formula I had hid in his closet "just in case" was the hardest thing I ever did. I bawled when I gave Kieran his first bottle of formula because I felt like such a failure and a bad mother. Everyone told me that "breast is best" and no one complained about how difficult it was, so I figured I was doing something wrong.
Since starting formula, my supply continued to drop, and eventually pretty much disappeared. I decided last week to stop breastfeeding when I tried to feed Kieran and he screamed at the breast because nothing was coming out. I was only getting half an ounce after pumping both breasts for 30 minutes, so I knew my supply was next to nothing.
Deciding to stop breastfeeding has come with a lot of guilt. I had dreams of breastfeeding Kieran until he self weened, even if that meant he waited until he was two. My dream of a drug free vaginal birth was taken from me, so I was really hoping breastfeeding would work out, but it was just one more thing my body failed at. I am thankful that Kieran was exclusively breastfed for 4 months, and getting some breast milk up until 7 months, but I will forever wish it was longer.
Even thought I know I'm doing what's best for my son, there will always be a part of me that will feel guilty for not trying harder, for not trying one more supplement or pumping schedule that promised to increase my supply. Even though I talked to Kieran's pediatrician, and the hospital lactation consultant, both who told me to use formula, I wonder if I had searched for a more understanding expert, that things would have turned out differently.
I am lucky to have met a wonderful group of women on Twitter who have supported me throughout these tough decisions. Some of them exclusively breastfed, some exclusively pump, some do a mix of formula and breast milk, some use formula. All of them, however, have never judged me for my decisions, and have always been there with a kind word. I've also learned that I'm not the only one who has struggled with breastfeeding, or the guilt of not succeeding.
I wonder why women can swap stories of torn vaginas and multiple-day labors like they're nothing, but they can't discuss the difficulties of breastfeeding. Is it because breastfeeding is supposed to be so "natural" and admitting to anything else will be looked down upon? I, for one, vow to share my difficulties in hopes of letting expectant mothers know that breastfeeding is hard work. There are resources out there that can help, and I am always here if you have questions or need someone to talk to. Over my TTC and mothering journeys, I have met a lot of wonderful women, so if I don't know the answer, I'm sure I can find someone who does.
If I can offer any advice to expectant mothers, it is to have someone on your side who will support you in your breastfeeding journey. My husband always cheered me on while I tried to breastfeed, and was a wonderful shoulder to cry on when I decided enough was enough. I'm sure I would have given up a lot sooner if it wasn't for the support of my husband and Twitter friends.
Anyone else had breastfeeding difficulties? Have any amazing resources, tips or tricks to share?