We started out exclusively breast feeding. We had to start pumping when Clarissa turned out to not be eating enough and got dehydrated (ultimately needing an IV at the ER). I had to start pumping everything to bottle feed her so we could see measurably how much she was getting to eat. We found quickly that she was still hungry after eating the little bit I could pump and started to supplement.
Breast feeding is natural. That's what we all know and hear on a regular basis. What I didn't realize when I got so excited and set on breast feeding my second child is that it doesn't come naturally. Not to everyone. It's hard, hard work! It's tiring, frustrating, difficult, and a huge learning experience. That's not to say it doesn't have benefits and its beautiful moments too, but, by the time Clarissa was 2 1/2 weeks old I was dreading breast feeding and pumping. It was painful, I wasn't getting much, and it was just so frustrating!
I loved my baby but I found myself getting mad at her when she wouldn't latch properly or stay on the breast for more than a couple minutes and then we'd have to struggle to get back on. I was mad at myself that she'd still be hungry after we'd spend a literal hour breastfeeding and then we'd have to just make some formula anyway. I was literally crying at the pump. Soon I realized that my feelings were getting worse and I was starting to really resent the whole process, I was getting depressed, and would give up and just bottle feed her more and more regularly. Soon my exclusively breast fed baby became a breast fed and supplemented baby and then...to my dismay... was a formula fed baby getting supplemented with breast milk.
I gave up. Completely, all the way, for one day (in actuality it was maybe 14-18 hours).
I sat aside the pump and I didn't put Clarissa to breast for a day. I didn't think about my milk, about how much was getting or wasn't getting made, I didn't worry about how much it was going to hurt latching her on, I didn't worry about how awkward and difficult holding a nipple shield on while trying to hold your breast (I'm very large chested and have to hold my breast the entire feeding to keep from smothering Clarissa) and help her get latched. I didn't feel anxious, stressed, or cry at all during a feeding.
I enjoyed extra sleep! I didn't have to spend a bunch of time at breast and then on the pump to try to fall asleep and get about an hour of sleep before the baby was up again wanting to eat. That's not counting when the cluster feeds popped up! I don't know about all of you, but the only let downs I was getting had nothing to do with my milk getting to baby.
Now, this is exactly what I was told NOT to do. That it would only make things worse and that what I needed to do was trudge through. I was sick of hearing I just needed to keep at it... or getting a million suggestions of things I had already tried. I had to decide what was best for me and my family. Me being anxious, depressed, resentful, and angry about breast feeding wasn't helping any of us. Neither was me being exhausted! It wasn't fair to my husband who had to put up with me, my older daughter who was getting the short end of the stick with my bad mood and sleep deprivation, or baby who was likely also sensing my frustrations.
Then we came back around. I reintroduced Clarissa to the breast and started pumping again. My first pump after break was the biggest I've had (nearly 3oz) and since then has gone back down to about where it was before (about 1-1 1/2 oz). The nice thing, I don't feel so horribly upset about it anymore! I regrouped and refreshed on my day off. I had to accept that if I never got more than an ounce at a pumping well that was one less ounce of formula. I picked up some mother's milk tea and drink it about 3 times a day in hot apple cider to cover the awful black licorice taste and smell. I try to make sure I drink plenty of water and that I eat foods that the lactation consultant said could better milk supply. I'm still a little disappointed that my supply hasn't met demand but it does seem to be improving! Pumping allows me to set aside a bottle (even if it's not a full feeding worth) so her father can feed her for a little bit before I try breast feeding, giving me a tad more sleep and hopefully a little less formula every time and fingers crossed eventually will be off the formula all together!
Here's the takeaway:
- I am NOT saying that taking time off breast feeding is a good idea for everyone and every situation. As I mentioned before I was actually warned not to take the break but decided that ultimately I really needed to. Please do not take my experience as actual advice, only you can decide what is best for your family. There are other ways to help yourself through the tough time (I'll share a few things that have been really helpful with my breast feeding at the end).
- Try not to feel bad if you aren't making enough, are struggling with latch or other problems, or if breast feeding isn't coming naturally to you! Every woman is different and there is definitely a learning curve that can take several weeks for both you and baby to work through. You're a rockstar! Reach out for support from your partner, friends, family, or even professionals. Lactation consultants or supports might be available at the hospital you delivered at, through your local WIC program, or La Leche League. There may even be breast feeding groups on Facebook for moms in your area!
- Acknowledge the feelings you're having. Feelings like stress, anxiety, anger, frustration, sadness, and resentment are all legit and might be prohibiting progress. I was warned that those feelings could be keeping me from getting a good milk supply and that baby could also be feeling what I am, making our jobs more difficult. You're not a bad person if you aren't finding breastfeeding to be what you imagined. It's not always joyous and beautiful for us all and you're not alone in feeling that way.
- Here's what helps me: watching my baby breastfeed, deep breathing during breast feeds or pumpings, making a list of all the reasons why I wanted to breast feed and referring back to it if I feel discouraged, writing down my feelings (journal style) it can be really therapeutic getting it all out, hot showers, drinking my hot apple cider/mother's milk tea mix during a feeding, cuddling with my husband and sharing my frustrations, and having skin to skin cuddles with my baby.
What are your experiences with breastfeeding? What works for you to help through the tough times?