Breastfeeding: It all went downhill when I went back to work

When I was pregnant, I never planned to breastfeed. I don’t really have any good reasons why, but it just wasn’t on my radar. Perhaps it’s because I was formula fed myself, or perhaps it’s because I was insanely busy at work and had no Thatcher39smental space to research anything at all, including birth options. For whatever reason, it wasn’t my plan. Until I was roughly 38 weeks pregnant.

As I grew closer and closer to meeting our little one, I started wondering if perhaps I should give the whole breastfeeding thing a whirl. The pediatrician politely recommended it during our consultation, and my OB-GYN did the same. I kept hearing all the buzz phrases like “breast is best” and “breastfeeding is normal feeding.” And of course, at every single pregnancy appointment I would see the posters in the bathroom at Ochsner staring me in the face. I don’t recall the precise wording, but they had images of angelic newborns resting calmly on their mothers’ chests and said things to the effect of “make sure you bond and room in and breastfeed.” {Side note: has anyone else noticed that the moms on those posters don’t look like they’ve ever given birth, and apparently those babies don’t scratch their face and arrive bright red?}

Anyway, I guess the posters were effective because I have to say that as my due date got closer, I felt an increased desire to breastfeed. I remember vividly at my 38 week appointment, which is when we scheduled my delivery for the following week, that my OB-GYN asked me if I planned to breastfeed and the words “yes” just flew out of my mouth. Really, Ashley? You do? I hadn’t read a book or done a thing to prepare, but I figured that if women all over the world had been doing this for hundreds of years that surely it couldn’t be that hard.

Ha! Joke was on me.

The phrase “breast is best” was soon replaced with “breastfeeding is the most natural thing on the planet that doesn’t come naturally at all.” Um, why don’t they print THAT on posters?!?

The moment our son was born, they placed him on my chest. Soon after, a lactation consultant swooped in and was very “hands on” with helping our son eat. I was totally not prepared for that level of interaction as a first time mom! And I am here to tell you that it was nothing like the posters suggested.

In the days that followed, I learned all about colostrum and the football hold and hand expressing and let down and all sorts of things I had never heard of. I was given Soothies (heaven in a nursing bra), Lanolin (a nursing mom’s best Thatcher27sfriend) and a hand pump. I was told that our son’s latch was beautiful and that we were doing a fabulous job. I felt pretty confident leaving the hospital, I have to say.

And then the torture began. Seriously, why doesn’t anyone ever tell you just how painful nursing can be? I am so very sorry, but whoever says that “nursing shouldn’t hurt or you’re doing it wrong” is a bold faced liar. I have talked to LOTS and LOTS of moms and nursed two babies now. It can indeed hurt even if you’re doing everything “right.” Thankfully we got through that bump in the road, and I even established a good freezer supply for when I went back to work. I also knew that we would have to travel when my son was 4 months old (I was standing in a family wedding), so I was really excited to have extra on hand.

All seemed well. And then I went back to work.

Our son was always small according to the growth charts, but he was gaining weight and staying on track. However, when we went to his 4 month check up, which was exactly 1 month after I returned to work, he had lost weight and had fallen off the growth chart. I didn’t realize that this was anything to worry about until the pediatrician explained that it could be either something very, very serious, like cancer, or it could simply be a matter of him not receiving enough to eat. We left the office with strict orders to chart his intake (ounces consumed) and output (anything he happened to spit up) for 48 hours, and he had to return for a weight check later in the week. It was also strongly advised that we begin supplementing with formula, which we did. I am quite confident that any parent would have done what I did which was race to the closest grocery store, purchase formula and start stuffing his face. After all, we were told that if he could prove that he could gain weight then there was nothing to worry about.

Erin Rachel Photography, LLC
Credit Erin Rachel Photography

The days and weeks that followed were extremely stressful, which probably didn’t help. However, thankfully he showed the ability to gain weight at an appropriate pace (0.5 – 1.0 ounce per day), but not without the help of formula. As frequently as I pumped, I just couldn’t keep up with what he needed to thrive. I kept with the pumping, I nursed him in the morning and night, and we gave him everything I made. But in the end, he needed the help of formula, and I had to come to terms with the fact that yes, breastfeeding may “be best,” but not at the risk of a baby not thriving. I knew that his development depended on getting the proper amount of nutrients, and I just was not able to provide that beyond 3 months. I could blame work, I could blame stress, I could blame my body, but the fact is that I will never know why my body seemed to “give out” when it did. All I know is that my baby was not thriving, and that is not something that any mother wants to ever hear.

The hardest part of my first feeding journey was that I didn’t have a choice in when formula was introduced. Even though I hadn’t planned to breastfeed, once we had made it 3 months and got past what I thought was the really hard stuff, I really didn’t have any plans to stop. I felt like that decision was made abruptly for me, and I felt slightly powerless in the situation. I am fully versed on all of the tips and tricks to increase supply, but for some women it just doesn’t work. And for whatever reason, I am one of them. The lactation consultant even told me, “I always tell nursing mothers that if only they had the same emotions and love for their pumps as they do for their babies, then we may not see this as often.”

For someone who never planned to breastfeed, I decided that I just should be proud of what I was able to do instead of lamenting the way it ended. I vowed to try again, and here we are at month 4 and still going strong. However, this time I decided to introduce formula here and there right away to get rid of the “she’s never had formula, don’t dare give it to her” mentality that I had the first time. For me, that was really liberating because I don’t have to worry if she’s getting enough. If I don’t think she is, we offer some extra formula and no harm done.

Did anyone else struggle with keeping up once they went back to work?

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Ashley is the Co-Owner of New Orleans Mom, Red Stick Mom and Lafayette Mom, now the largest network of parenting websites in South Louisiana. Proud graduates of the University of Virginia, she and her husband Blaise spent time in Tampa and Scottsdale prior to settling down back home in New Orleans, something they both said "would never happen." An avid runner, she'll try any workout at least once and is always up for sweating with friends. When she’s not shuttling her 3 very active kids to school, gymnastics or baseball, you can find her cheering for the Saints, trying new restaurants or spending time with family and friends. She's also not afraid to return mediocre books to the library before finishing them because life is too short for bad books. A native New Orleanian, Ashley loves exploring and discovering the beauty of South Louisiana through her growing children's eyes.

7 COMMENTS

  1. YES! I have a 5 month old that is currently both breastmilk and formula fed. He was having problems gaining weight as well and I was told to start supplementing when he was about 10 weeks old (which was also two weeks before I was going back to work). At that same time I started freaking out about being able to pump enough for him while working, so I decided to start supplemeting with formula instead. It was such a relief to not have to worry about having enough BM for him for daycare. He now gets one BM bottle at daycare (and formula thereafter), I nurse him in the morning and when I get home from work, and I go home everyday at lunch to pump. He’s gained a good bit of weight and he’s so much healthier than he was before!

    HOWEVER, he has started to eat more and more lately and my BM output keeps dwindling. I know that we’re coming close to the end of breastfeeding. Originally, I was only going to BF for 3 months. Somewhere along the way, I decided to keep it up for 6 months. And honestly, I’m ready to stop. I am a single mom for 2 weeks a month (husband works a 14-on 14-off schedule) and the pumping can be such a pain. But the guilt….oh the GUILT of quitting breastfeeding altogether! Even after 6 months! I used to wonder about moms that breastfeed their children for years, but now I think I understand why they do it.

  2. Great post Ashley! You are such an awesome momma! Breastfeeding is amazing but it’s all part of the daily juggle. Keeping those balks from hitting the floor is the key ;).

  3. Awesome, awesome post Ashley. You should be extremely proud of yourself!! While I chose not to BF, I have so much respect for those who do, for any length of time. You are a wonderful mama!!

  4. Great post!! I’m getting ready to go back to work and the anxiety is already building. Ugh. Why can’t we be like almost every other industrialized nation and give moms more than 12 weeks off?! Its just not enough time.

  5. Ashley, the part about not being able to decide when Thatcher got formula really resonated with me. I can not stand when I feel like my life’s choices are out of my power! Good for you for realizing you could do both!!

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