Breastfeeding in Medicine
Breast is best, right!? I had been told this time at time again.
I had to breastfeed for the immune benefits, the potential positive impact on IQ scores in the long-term, and the strong relationship that is built during hours spent snuggled together, providing something that no one else can.
Throughout my pregnancy, I prepared to start what I expected to be a beautiful journey breastfeeding my baby girl, but the constant positivity surrounding breastfeeding and the insistence that it was the only way to go caused me to paint an unrealistic picture of what to expect.
The night my daughter was born, she was too tired to latch, and despite my persistent attempts, she continued to fall asleep or fuss with every attempt to feed her. She struggled to latch, and I had multiple lactation consultants and nurses coming in to provide advice that I would try and try with no success.
I felt like I was failing my baby because we just couldn’t get in sync with her feedings.
The day I went home, I was given a nipple shield and some formula and told that I, “may need to supplement a bit until my supply kicks in, but everything should work out just fine.”
During our first night at home, she refused to latch at all and spent the entire time crying until we gave in to a bottle of formula. I was exhausted.
The next morning, I called a lactation consultant who suggested I start pumping after every feeding to increase my supply which would make my baby more likely to succeed. For the next week, I spent 20 minutes trying to nurse followed by 10 minutes of bottle feeding followed by 20 minutes of pumping...repeated every 2-3 hours.
She continued to cry, more like full blown wail, every time I tried to get her to nurse. My whole life was trying to feed her, and then crying when nothing was working.
I couldn’t have in-person lactation visits due to COVID-19, but I had 4 different phone consults and a video visit with endless advice and tricks that were just as unsuccessful as the last. I continued to feel like I was failing my little girl at the one thing my body was designed to do for her.
When she was 10 days old, I decided to exclusively pump. Every 3 hours, I would feed her a bottle of expressed milk and then pump for her next meal. This started out fine, but as my husband became busier with work, I was unable to pump after each feeding since she needed to be held and soothed and entertained. I missed sessions while I cared for her then cried about how I didn’t have enough for her next feeding as she slept on my chest. The sweet cuddles and quiet moments we shared should’ve been filled with love and happiness, but instead they were filled with anxiety and disappointment.
With more missed sessions and clogged ducts, my supply continued to dwindle, and my little one received more and more formula. I was still disappointed in myself for not trying hard enough, not pumping more, and not calling more consultants.
I, like most of us, am used to being successful, and I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that this wasn’t working out the way I had hoped.
My mental health was suffering, and my concept of motherhood had boiled down to “can I feed her or not?”
It was unhealthy for me, and in the end, it was unhealthy for her. I was not the best mama I could be when I was stressed, unhappy, and disappointed in myself. I started to wean myself off of pumping and move toward formula only, and my baby continued to grow and thrive (little chunk is in the 97th percentile!). I spent more time actually enjoying her. In the morning, I would wake up before my husband and spend an hour with her sleeping on my chest, staring at her adorable little face and cherishing the limited moments I have with her while she’s so small. Instead of crying from frustration, I have little tears because I just love that tiny human so much!
I’m a better mom because I decided to stop breastfeeding.
A happy baby is a well-fed baby with a happy mama, and I can provide so much more for her now than I ever could while I was chained to a pump.
Long story short, breastfeeding is incredibly hard. It can be immensely emotional and take a toll on you both physically and mentally. It’s also not for everyone. There is so much pressure on moms to breastfeed for the benefits I mentioned above, but for some, the cost is not worth it.
It took weeks to realize that the best thing for myself and my daughter was to quit spending time with my pump and instead spend that time with my baby, and the largest factor in that delay was my perception of my own failure and my fears of what others would think of me as a mother.
Regardless of how we choose to feed our babies, my short experience has taught me that everyone’s journey in motherhood is different, and there is absolutely no right or wrong way to show your baby love or to fill their tummies.