What Breastfeeding Struggles Taught Me About Being A Mother

10:22:00 AM

Parenting is so unique, stressful, weirdly personal, and as a parent I have learned that I have to be willing to do whatever it takes for my children. I had all these strategies, backup strategies, plans and ideals, but all that hypothetical knowledge doesn’t mean much if I don’t put it into action. I got my first experience right off the bat when we had Corinne.

The first couple weeks were wonderful. We bonded, rested, stared, didn't sleep and generally soaked up every moment we had with our new baby girl. Two weeks in everything changed. She wouldn't stop crying and stopped sleeping as well as she’d been. We went to the pediatrician to check her ears and whatnot and they couldn't find a problem, but thought it might be colic. She had bounced back to her birth weight but hadn't grown from there, but they thought once she calmed back down she'd start eating well and gaining weight again. The drops they gave us for colic old stop the crying at the moment, so we moved forward with that plan.

Two weeks later and the crying had continued to increase. We had a follow-up appointment and found that she still weighed the same. Later that night she was so angry and upset that she refused to nurse at all. I had a lightbulb moment that her unhappiness might be related to nursing, not to colic. Why the doctors and nurses hadn't suggested it yet I will never know. I made an appointment to see a lactation consultant the next day and spent that evening and night trying everything to get my baby to eat. Offering feedings at every cue, skin to skin, warm baths with Corinne, singing, every idea we'd ever heard. No result.

First thing the next morning we were in the office doing a series of exercises to figure out what was wrong. Turns out that I was producing practically no breast milk. I was unintentionally starving my child. Right there in the office she had her first bottle of formula and I'd never seen a child eat so fast. She finished, burped, and instantly fell asleep. It was magic. We had a whole new kid.

The next two weeks I tried pumping like a crazy person to get all the last drops I could while still feeding Corinne mostly formula. I was taking supplements, eating foods that are supposed to help with production, but we only made it a few more days. The time soon came when it took two days of pumping sessions to get enough to feed her one small bottle. At that point we switched over to all formula and I have no regrets about that decision.

Through my experience I learned one important thing, having a backup plan is useless if you aren’t prepared to use it. In those desperate moments when she wouldn’t stop crying and was obviously miserable I thought of trying a bottle to see if it helped, but when I tried pumping I didn’t have anything to give her which I thought was because she was nursing often. That meant I’d have to use formula but I was afraid that would ruin everything. All the breastfeeding propaganda had made me too afraid to try anything else, even though I had always told myself I was prepared to use formula.

It wasn’t until a professional gave me permission that I finally trusted my mother’s intuition. That guilt was overpowering. The rest of the day I cried and cuddled with my baby girl, apologizing over and over for not doing more to help her. Talking to my husband and my mother helped me come to grips with the fact that Corinne was going to be fine and that I was now working so hard to do what was right and I realized that the guilt wasn’t doing anyone any good. I tried my best with the knowledge that I had and would continue to do so, which is what matters most.

When all was said and done we decided that I wouldn’t focus on nursing our future children, but giving them as much breast milk as possible. We put this plan into action when Jared was born and we found out that my body is pretty consistent even with all the extra work I did this go round. We nursed for the first week, then started the intense pumping strategy. Through the second week Jared was able to eat 100% breast milk. After that we started to have to supplement. Slowly the proportion traded places and Jared got to the point of drinking just formula as well. And you know what, I tried my best, did even more than I did the year before with Corinne because I was able to start before there was a problem, and I don’t feel bad.

These experiences with breastfeeding have taught me two important things about motherhood. I should trust my gut. Plans are useless if I don’t put them into practice. Everyone’s experience as a mother and parent is so different, but for me these two things can solve so many of the natural insecurities and doubts I have. I know what to do, so do it!

What about you? What is the one thing you remind yourself or need to hear from your spouse or family that reminds you that you can do it, no matter what it is or how hard it may be?

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  1. I love this!

    I had such a hard time breastfeeding the first couple of weeks with both babies. With help, I was able to make it work for us, but I definitely have no judgement for people who bottle feed. For being 'natural,' breastfeeding can be really hard!
    Emma Jo