When I was pregnant, people always asked me if I was planning to breastfeed and I always responded, yes, as long as it works! Although I said as long as it works, I never imagined that I would ever have any difficulty with the breastfeeding process. After all, it’s easy and natural, right?
I’m writing this because I wish I had read something like this before I had my daughter. My husband and I attended prenatal classes while I was pregnant, where they painted this beautiful image of the mother-baby breastfeeding relationship. I left those classes not even thinking twice about breastfeeding, in that, I just expected for my baby to be born and latch to my breast in this beautiful moment after giving birth. Man, was I ever wrong and naïve! And what made me even more upset, is that no one prepared me for the possibility that it just might not work! In the last 9 months, I have continually questioned, why isn’t anyone talking about this!
I gave birth to our beautiful baby girl, Kennedy, on April 17th, 2013. After Kennedy was born, the labour and delivery nurse asked if I wanted to breastfeed. We tried several times but Kennedy just wouldn’t latch. No one seemed to think this was a big deal, so I didn’t stress about it. After all, this was my first time being a Mom and I had no clue what to expect.
The first night in the hospital was surreal for me. I watched Kennedy sleep almost the entire night. The nurses continued to come in and offer to help me feed Kennedy but she continued to not latch. Again, they weren’t concerned, so I wasn’t. By morning, I still hadn’t fed her and I was starting to worry that something was wrong. Ultimately, we determined, with the help of the lactation consultant that my milk supply hadn’t come in and that may be why Kennedy wasn’t latching. We also had some anatomy trouble as one of my nipples was inverted, making it difficult for a newborn to latch easily. (A shield was given to me and let me tell you, if you have successfully breastfed with a shield, you are my hero! That has to be the most frustrating and difficult way to breastfeed. I spent more time re-applying that damn shield than I did actually trying to latch my baby!)
After 24 hours of not being able to get Kennedy to latch, it was suggested that we give her formula, which we were hesitant about but ultimately had to do. (I may also point out that during prenatal classes, we were basically told to never give our baby formula! That it was the worst thing you could do for your newborn. Being naive, new parents, we trusted what we were taught and it turns out that we were misled. There is absolutely nothing wrong with formula feeding a baby!)
By the time we were leaving the hospital, Kennedy still hadn’t latched and we were tube feeding her formula, every two hours. If you have never tube fed a newborn, let me paint a quick picture of the process. A tiny syringe and tiny tube are filled with formula/breast milk and your finger and the small tube are put into the baby’s mouth for them to suck on. This is done to simulate breastfeeding, in the hopes that the baby will eventually latch. My milk eventually came in, 5 days after Kennedy was born. My husband and I continued to feed Kennedy by tube for 2 weeks and we rented a hospital grade pump to try to increase my milk supply. At this point, we were attending breastfeeding clinics almost every day and I was pumping every 2-3 hours and feeding Kennedy every 3 hours. It took both of us to feed Kennedy every time she was due for a feed. Needless to say, we were both exhausted.
In those first two weeks, I successfully got Kennedy to latch once at a breastfeeding clinic but once we got home, I couldn’t get her to do it again. At this point, I was feeling so discouraged and like I had failed as a mother and a woman (this may have been a little dramatic but your hormones at this point really don’t help the situation!!). Eventually, after the two weeks of tube feeding, it was suggested that we switch to bottles and worry about latching Kennedy later. We were just too exhausted at this point to keep going the way we were. So, we made the switch to bottles and I committed to pumping for 4 more weeks and we would reevaluate after that. Now, for anyone who has exclusively pumped for any length of time … I applaud you. Loudly. You are amazing and don’t let anyone tell you differently!!! Exclusively pumping is double duty. I don’t think I slept for 6 weeks, between pumping and feeding.
At 8 weeks, I decided I would try to breastfeed Kennedy just one last time. I will never forget that moment. She finally latched. She FREAKING latched!!!! I was on the verge of tears, while still not believing that this was actually happening and yelling at my husband to come and see. It was such a huge relief.
Now, I need to be real about this. I have heard people say that if breastfeeding is done correctly, it shouldn’t be painful. I have nothing nice to say to those people! Sure, it may not be painful for some people but the first few weeks of breastfeeding, for me, was painful and the switch from bottle feeding to exclusively breastfeeding was extremely overwhelming and stressful. I went from knowing exactly how much our baby was getting and having a complete routine figured out to feeling like I had no clue what I was doing all over again.
Our girl is now 9 months old and I am still breastfeeding with plans to continue until her first birthday. If you had told me, when she was two weeks old that this is where we would be after 9 months, I wouldn’t have believed you.
I wanted to share our story because I feel like these stories aren’t talked about and people need to hear them. New Moms (and Dads) need to know that they aren’t alone and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. Let me be the person to tell you, you can do it. You can do anything you want to do if you stick with it and if you chose not to stick with it, that’s okay too. Your baby will be happy and healthy, whether exclusively breast fed, bottle fed, formula fed … And your baby will love you, no matter what! So please, start talking and start sharing your feeding challenges and successes. From one new mom to another, we all need to hear them.
I would also like to publicly thank my husband and my Mom. Without them, I wouldn’t have gotten to this point and I really appreciate their support.
Please note that I am simply telling my story from my perspective. I respect all decisions around feeding your child(ren), whether it be breast milk or formula. I truly believe that what a newborn is fed should be a decision made by the parent(s), with absolutely no judgement from other people. I think this whole judgement thing between mothers needs to stop. You have to do what is best for you and your child(ren) and you shouldn’t be judged for making decisions for your family.