Today is the day.
My baby boy is twenty weeks old.
Twenty weeks was the personal breastfeeding goal I set when I got pregnant.
I made it.
I may have shed a few tears of joy, for if you’d told me nineteen weeks ago, that I would still be breastfeeding him, even at six weeks old, I’d have laughed in your face.
My breastfeeding journey has been bumpy to say the least. It started rough, got rougher, and, even a couple months ago, we were still having some issues.
It’s very hard to have an opinion on feeding your baby.
Let’s just take a moment for that to sink in.
It’s very hard to HAVE an opinion on feeding your baby.
It’s even harder to share it. Even with your nearest and dearest.
Regardless of how you feed your child, people will judge you.
Let’s just take a moment for THAT to sink in.
Judged for how you feed your baby? What has this world come to?
You may say that you don’t care what “people” think. But when you’ve just delivered this teenie tiny, wholly dependent on you, baby, and you’ve been catapulted into the throws of parenthood, for the first few weeks, it’s tough.
Choose breast, and there’s an overwhelming pressure to succeed. Whether actual, fictional or solely from yourself, expectations are high.
Choose breast, and, while I’m told it’s best, it’s certainly not easiest. (Though, having had to solely bottle feed Lewis for two twenty four hour periods in the last twenty weeks, I’m not convinced bottle feeding is exactly easy. That screaming while he was waiting for his bottle to be made, was heart wrenching).
It’s the most natural thing in the world, ‘they’ say.
It’s a beautiful thing, ‘they’ say.
However, from the minute Lewis was born, it wasn’t ‘natural’ at all, our little 7lb 6oz bundle of joy, dropped to 6lbs 8oz, and, instead of helping me, all of our medical professionals were pushing formula. Not just offering an alternative, or supplementation, no, I mean pushing, hard. Which, for a first time mother with breastfeeding issues, who was originally resolved to breastfeed, no matter what – is a VERY attractive back door out.
I had no support from my nurses or doctors.
That left me in a scary place, and I came dangerously close to quitting, more than once.
Almost every day.
I wouldn’t have ever described myself as a ‘lactivist’, or ‘crunchy’, just some chick who wanted to give breastfeeding a fair shot. Not because I believe formula is the devil, (I was raised on it and I turned out grand) but, firstly, I’m cheap and begrudge paying for a can of formula, if I have the means to feed my child myself, and, two, having a pediatric dietician as a best friend who has educated me on the medical benefits of breastfeeding – I was resolved to try, or have her turn up on my doorstep and slap me!
I have pretty much bucked every trend or piece of advice they tell you, exclusively breastfeed for at least eight weeks, don’t give them a pacifier, don’t take milk ‘enhancers’ to bulk up your supply, don’t do this, this, this or this. Well, I have pumped from day one and Lewis has not only fed from me, but he has had a pacifier, a nipple shield and bottles – thankfully, with no nipple confusion. I’m aware that we are very lucky with this, though, had he developed nipple confusion, on top of our existing issues – I’m pretty sure I’d have quit. That would have been the straw that broke the camels back.
I think a lot of my success has been due to a very easy going baby. As long as he got his food, he didn’t care about the process of how.
He did have 8oz of formula. My pediatrician gave my husband a bottle to give to him, because ‘he’s lost too much weight’, she said. Well if he didn’t chug that bottle down, and if I didn’t cry my eyes out at being such a failure at something ‘they’ said was so very natural.
The second bottle, was just going in to day four, middle of the night, my milk hadn’t come in yet, he was constantly feeding every second (cause the colostrum just wasn’t enough to fill him) and he was SCREAMING. He wouldn’t take a pacifier, and I was at my wits end, again, admitting defeat, proclaiming myself a failure, I picked up one of the many, many formula samples I’d been given in his short existence, and fed him. The next morning, my milk came in and we have never used formula again.
Firstly, using formula, supplementing or solely, is NOT a failure. Many people get pregnant and there’s not a second thought in their mind, it’s totally normal for them to feed their babies formula – yet, when you want to breastfeed and you have to ‘resort’ to supplementing, there’s this undertone of pressure, failure, like you couldn’t hack it or let your baby down in some way.
Well, let me tell you something, my baby was hungry, and I fed him the only way that was available to me. That, does not make me a failure. That, makes me a good mother.
As of this morning, Lewis is 18lbs 2.5oz and I have 200oz of breast milk in the freezer (I pump once a day) and I’m nursing in public with no cover (which is a huge accomplishment for me!). Aside from 8oz of formula in his first week of life, he has been solely on breast milk – either from me, or from a bottle.
In no way is that a failure.
My son is healthy, happy and, at his four month check up, two weeks ago, he aced his percentiles – 64% height, 82% weight and 90% head circumference.
I dare you to tell me that those 8oz of formula, was in any way a failure.
Feeding your child – however you so choose, it not failure.
Breastfeeding is not for everyone, I can honestly say I’ve never done anything so entirely selfless in my whole life. It hurt (for months!!), it is time consuming (even now!) and, if you have a child with reflux/gerd, it’s messy. He’s recently transitioned, from copious amounts of projectile vomiting that didn’t really have time to hit his tummy, to smaller amounts of vomit, but it’s been partially digested, so I spend my days smelling of curdled milk. Yummy.
The major thing that bugs me about breastfeeding is, that I really wasn’t encouraged to do it by my healthcare professionals and wasn’t offered donor milk either. If it wasn’t for Col, Amber and Magz texting me multiple times every single day, and night, I’m 100% sure I’d have quit. It was all just too much.
Not only that, but we must have been given hundreds of dollars worth of formula freebies, from the nurses in the hospital, from the pediatrician, and, almost, from my OBGYN (they had bags lined up along their desk).
It’s not about freebies. I know that. But, as a breastfeeding mother, I was offered zilch – and, let’s not say that there isn’t anything they could have given. There was plenty – mostly support (you are medical professionals after all, and I was struggling so hard in the beginning that I cried, a LOT, to the nurses!!)
But there are any number of things that we use as nursing mothers, or exclusively pumping mothers, that big companies could give out in the hospital in goody bags, like the formula companies put together. For example: Breastfeeding literature (what is normal/usual, local contacts for support groups, like new mums breastfeeding groups, local La Lecher group etch), Lanolin, breast pads (disposable, or reusable), breastmilk storage bags/collection and storage containers, Medela quick clean wipes, portable cooler carrier for transporting breast milk, nipple shields (for inverted nipples/babies struggling with latching), nursing cover (for those who aren’t comfortable without one), granola bars, ice packs/Lansinoh soothies gel pads, vitamin supplements (especially Vitamin D), Vitamin D supplements for baby, muslin squares, sample of baby laundry detergent… the list of suggestions for a breastfeeding goody bag, is endless.
Why don’t these exist?
Opinions are like backsides, everyone has one – a sentence, never more true in my life than after having a wee’un. You should do this, you should do that, you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that. UGH! The advice, solicited or otherwise, is constant.
But, moreso, people also seem quite misinformed, and lack an education on the facts surrounding breastmilk vs formula. I was surrounded by “why don’t you give him formula? it has more calories!” Or “you should start him on cereal, it’ll do him the world of good”. I truly believe that if there was more support and help while you were in hospital and the first few days at home on your own, more women would choose to breastfeed their babies.
I’m all about individual choices, those choices just weren’t for us – and, in spite of being aware of my choice, friends kept making “alternative” suggestions. Can’t we all just respect one another’s choices, and support each other when we need it? Please?!
Either way, we prevailed, against all odds, twenty weeks, and going strong.
I am so, crazy proud of myself and our little bubba for sticking at it, but I honestly couldn’t have done it alone. Magz and Amber – my two best friends in the world, were at the end of the phone every single feeding time, supporting me and dragging me through to the next feed.
Short of coming down from Iowa, Amber was amazing, she sent me some baby weighing scales to ease my mind (the doctors were saying he wasn’t gaining enough weight, he wasn’t gaining quickly enough, he wasn’t eating enough etc etc etc and the best way to keep track of that was to weigh him pre and post feed and figure out where my issues were). She came pretty close to sending a private lactation consultant to my door – but stopped short, when I discovered the Lactation Foundation
in the Medical Center, Houston.
I can’t begin to tell you just how much help Alisa, at the Lactation Foundation, was to me. I walked in to that office building, terrified and constantly bursting in to tears. The medical professionals I had dealt with, had me so convinced that I was a total failure and that I should just give up, that I was pretty afraid of what she would say when I sat down in the chair and poured my heart out to a total stranger.
She was utterly fantastic!
She helped me figure out what my issues were with pumping (wrong sized flange), she worked with me a number of times per week on Lewis’ latching and feeding, she didn’t rush me, answered both Col’s and my questions on feeding. She listened to me crying about my horrible hospital experience, and patiently told me it would all be ok – and she was right!
And let’s not forget Col.
Col, who was there for me in the middle of the night when I was wailing and sobbing about how much of an utter failure I was to myself and my baby.
Col, who was there to talk me out of hitting the free samples of formula when I was crying in pain and dreading the next feed.
Col, who was there to keep me awake when Lewis was cluster feeding, night after night.
Col, who is there for me and loves me. Always. In spite of my tough times and misery.
He has been invaluable to me, holding my hand, drying my tears, cleaning my pump, bringing me drinks and snacks while I feed and just being a presence when I need him. The list is endless.
I love my two boys with all my heart and I hope that our breastfeeding journey is a message to those of you considering breastfeeding, or who have started breastfeeding and are struggling – stick at it. It wasn’t easy for me, but all journeys are not the same. If you are having trouble, search for a local breastfeeding support group, new mums group or a lactation consultant to talk to – don’t be embarrassed or self conscious, it’s their job to help people like you – and, trust me, once you get some help from them, you’ll be kicking yourself and wondering why you didn’t seek them out sooner.
Life is all about the lessons, but I wholly believe that this breastfeeding journey was WAY more difficult than it had to be (and I am still composing my letter of complaint to the hospital we gave birth in).
Take control of your own journey.
Make it what you want it to be.
It’s ok to cry and be frustrated.
Lean on those around you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
You are stronger than you ever thought possible.