When I was asked to write about my experience with breastfeeding for National Breastfeeding Month, I only assumed that the reason I was being asked was because it was presumed that I had a wonderful experience. I seem to be, after all, offering the crunchy mom perspective on New Orleans Mom’s Blog. I encapsulated my placenta, I had an unmedicated water birth attended by a midwife, I cloth diaper, so naturally, I plan on breastfeeding exclusively until my baby self-weans, right?
While my goal was to breastfeed at least for the first year, this was not my reality.
Before my baby was born, I prepared myself with as much knowledge as I could get my hands on. I took a breastfeeding class taught by a registered lactation consultant, I joined a breastfeeding support group on Facebook, I read articles on KellyMom, I watched YouTube tutorials…I had everything going for me. After my son, Brennan, was born, things continued to be positive. He latched minutes after he was born and nursed for over an hour. The lactation consultant at the hospital told me that his latch was perfect. I experienced very little nipple irritation even after I came home, so if it didn’t hurt, that means I was doing it correctly, right?
On one of our visits to the pediatrician’s office, the doctor was concerned about his lack of weight gain. How could that be possible? My baby nurses constantly! He suggested that I visit a lactation consultant who would be able to weigh Brennan before and after he ate to determine how much he was getting. The lactation consultant confirmed that I was doing everything right – his latch looked great and my method was fine. For whatever reason though, he was only getting about half the amount that he should be getting. At the consultant’s advice, I started pumping after every feeding and bottle feeding whatever I was getting. I asked my support group, and they suggested eating oatmeal, drinking lots of water, consuming healthy fats, taking fenugreek 3 times a day, drinking dark beer, trying Mother’s Milk Tea, supplementing with More Milk Plus tincture, putting baby skin to skin…oh and to relax.
I took all of the advice. You name it, I tried it. I practically turned into a camel because I was drinking so much water, I smelled like maple syrup because of the amount of fenugreek I was taking, the More Milk Plus tincture was literally the worst thing I’ve ever tasted (and remember, I consumed my placenta!), but I gagged it down 3 times a day. I tried really hard to relax, but a newborn eats about 8-12 times a day, and when you add a pumping session after every feeding, it doesn’t leave much time for relaxing. Just the amount of dishes the bottles and the pumping equipment produced was stressful! Inevitably, I’d be trying to juggle holding a crying baby while hooked up to a double electric pump, and my dog would want me to get up to let her outside. It was the most frustrating experience!
While I loved breastfeeding, I hated pumping!
I never got more than about an ounce in those early days, and while I know that what you get at the pump doesn’t reflect how much the baby is getting, all of my effort wasn’t being reflected by the number of ounces I could pump at all. It’s all about supply and demand – the more you stimulate the breast, the more milk you produce, right? This was not true in my experience! We took Brennan back to the pediatrician for a weight check, and he was slowly gaining, but still dropping in the percentiles. I remember thinking that my body was broken. This is the most natural thing in the world, and I couldn’t do it!
After 3 months of exclusively breastfeeding and bottle feeding pumped milk after every feeding, I decided I could no longer keep up. My 3 month old still fit in newborn outfits, and he was only in the 5th percentile for weight. I avoided supplementing up until that point because I knew the domino effect with supplementing and producing even less milk. I sobbed as I fed him that first bottle of formula. I knew that at the end of the day, he’d be fine on formula – lots of babis are – but I couldn’t help but feel like a failure because I couldn’t provide him with something that I was supposed to be able to give him. Even now, as I’m writing this, I’m tearing up.
My cousin, who’s baby was a few months older than Brennan, was having great success with breastfeeding her daughter. When I told her about my struggles, she offered to be a milk donor for us. I don’t think I have ever been so touched! My cousin was a stay at home mom, so she hadn’t needed to even open her pump. She selflessly pumped twice a day at 2AM and 6AM and generously gave us bags of her liquid gold. Grateful doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt, especially since I knew how terrible pumping is. We made it work with my milk, the donated milk, and formula, but as I expected, my supply declined even more. Brennan began to gain weight though, and the difference in how he looked at 3 months versus 4 reassured me that I made the right decision.
Breastfeeding is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I heard people say that before I had a baby, and I always assumed that it was because it hurt. While some women do suffer with pain, and mastitis, and latch issues, I suffered with the amount of effort it took to still produce very little. I agonized with the worry that my son wasn’t getting enough, and I grieved with the emotional effects of not being able to provide this very basic need for my baby.
I still follow the breastfeeding group on Facebook even though it has been months since I breastfed my 10 month old. I can’t help but be a little jealous of the mom who posts about fenugreek supplements helping her produce twice the amount of milk. My heart aches a little when women celebrate breastfeeding milestones. I saw a post recently that claimed her 2 year-old was so smart, healthy, and loving and that it had everything to do with breastfeeding. I’m happy to say that my 10 month old is smart, healthy, and loving despite my inability to breastfeed. He is now thriving on solid food and formula, and he is a perfect little chunk.
Of course, I absolutely support breastfeeding as long as mom or baby wants, but I also think it’s important to support moms who are unable or choose not to. We are all just trying to do what works and what is best for our babies.
Emily grew up in Peachtree City, Georgia. She received a degree in vocal performance from LSU where she met her future husband, Bradley. Emily and Bradley moved to New Orleans and got married nearly 6 years ago. Since then, she went back to school at UNO and is now working as a CPA. In May of 2013, she and her husband opened CrossFit Roux, and they realized a long-time dream of growing the CrossFit community of Greater New Orleans. Her passions include theater, traveling, food and family. Emily still sings and has performed with the New Orleans Symphony Chorus, the New Orleans Opera, and she is a regular cantor at St. Francis of Assisi Church. She and her husband welcomed their first son, Brennan Luke, in September of 2013. The family lives with their black lab, Chicory, in Lakeview.
Great post Emily! Thanks for sharing. I definitely agree that moms need to support moms!
Great post Emily…I had twins and one took to it beautifully while the other did not…it’s hard to feel like you are giving more to one child then the other so i fed…pumped and supplemented…and like you I have VERY smart, healthy, fun 4 1/2 year olds. I totally agree with you that we need to do way more on this issue to support whatever path a mother chooses or is forced to take. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you Emily. I exclusively pump to feed my 4 month old daughter breastmilk. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed and I’ve made the last 4 months alot harder than they needed to be if I would have just moved to formula after BF didn’t work for us. I know that if I weened and transitioned to formula I would be a better (less exhausted) mom. But I still beat myself up about it and haven’t been able to actually give up the pump.
I am curious if your baby was ever checked for lip and/or tongue tie. It may not be for all cases, but tongue tie in particular can cause poor milk transfer hence low supply and low weight gain. Unfortunately, not many people or health professionals even now to look for it and just say supplement.
Bravo momma for expressing the truth behind the “most natural thing” as a mom! I am in that number with you when it comes to this very “natural” thing coming so hard. My third baby was delivered via c-section due to Breech presentation that endangered both of us (a let down after a successful breech birth before), and I too had my placenta encapsulated…I knew I struggled a bit in the past with my previous two so I did EVERYTHING I possibly could to prepare and be ready to BUILD MY SUPPLY!!! And then SURPRISE: TONGUE TIE! Tongue what!? Are you serious!? Never heard of this before! A brand new struggle thrown into the mix! Two weeks after birth, I also came down with PUPPPS (https://www.webmd.com/baby/features/skin-problems-of-pregnancy) While I had great success working so hard to feed my baby, the stress of it all did take a toll…supplements, pumping around the clock, weight checks, Lactation smoothies, cookies, etc. eventually, I opted too to contact donors for breastmilk through various sites, found lovely local ladies to help feed my baby….and then ultimately, ended with formula for a few weeks until the home stretch to a year! We are great moms! We fed our babies! Whatever way we could! I share in your grief about milestones and other friends and family members having that bond come so naturally! I’m just very appreciative of your honesty and vulnerability as a mom for openly sharing another side of breastfeeding. Thank you!