My breastfeeding journey… wow. The skinny? It has been so different from what I thought it would be.
But I want to share the detailed version with you in case you’re a mom who’s also in the thick of it, or a mom-to-be who wants to know why breastfeeding can be hard. It’s not hard for everyone, but it has been for me.
I’m sharing my journey in hopes it might help someone who is going through something similar and needs to hear “you’re not a bad mom for choosing what is best for you so you can be a good mom for your baby”. Let’s start at the beginning.
Before My Breastfeeding Journey Began
If you would have asked me when I was pregnant how long I’d exclusively breastfeed my son, I would have casually told you “1 year” without much thought. I had absolutely no idea how much “thought” I’d agonizingly pour into my breastfeeding journey once Noah arrived. I’d heard many times that breastfeeding can be difficult, but I had no idea why.
The First Weeks of My Breastfeeding Journey
I had a c-section birth. Although it was not what I had envisioned, it was still beautiful in its own way. Those first few moments of meeting my son were emotional and amazing, even though I wasn’t able to birth him the way I had hoped for. I was just so grateful to hold my son after carrying him for 9 months.
Within one hour of Noah’s birth, he latched and nursed for almost an hour. I was incredibly grateful. It took a lot of help from the nurses, but he did really well. He continued to breastfeed well throughout my hospital stay.
However, once we arrived home, the next days are a blur of zero sleep and a screaming baby. Unfortunately due to my c-section, my milk didn’t come in until day 5 and Noah was starving. He’d nurse for almost an hour, fall asleep for maybe 5 minutes because he was exhausted, then wake screaming and looking for a nipple. It was torture and I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. My husband and I slept a combined 1 hour for those first 3 nights at home. We were delirious and defeated.
At his first check up, I learned he lost over a pound since birth and I had to supplement with formula for days 4+5 until my milk came in. Almost immediately, Noah no longer qualified to fit the label of “exclusively breastfed”.
I’m sure it was a mixture of hormones, baby blues, and pre-conceived expectations, but I ugly cried/sobbed in the doctors office when I was told my baby was starving and I’d have to supplement with formula. The nurse was honestly horrible to me and didn’t offer a word of sympathy or encouragement at I sat there shoulders shaking with tears streaming down my face. She continued to tell me how much formula to give him for each feeding without acknowledging my emotional state. I had a fresh c-section wound, was in tremendous pain, had barely slept for days, and now I’m being told I’m starving my baby despite my best efforts of nursing him all day and night long. It was the lowest point of my postpartum journey to this day.
The First Few Months of My Breastfeeding Journey
After my milk came in, things got better. I stopped supplementing after just 2 days and Noah finally seemed to be getting enough milk. Of course I still experienced the bleeding, cracked nipples and painful, constant nursing sessions. But things were better.
It wasn’t until around 2 months that I realized his every little squeak and cry didn’t mean he was hungry and he didn’t actually need to eat every hour. Once I started feeding him every 2.5-3 hours, his naps and nighttime sleep dramatically improved. Although things were still difficult, month 3 was tremendously easier than months 1+2.
The Uphill Battle Begins With My Breastfeeding Journey…
However, around month 3, Noah started clamping down hard while nursing. I didn’t know why he was doing it, but I knew it hurt and I wanted him to stop. By the end of the month, two little pearly white teeth poked through his bottom gums. What?! I thought babies didn’t get teeth until 6 months! Not my sweet son. By 4 months, he had two teeth, 5 months he had 4 teeth, and now at 7 months he has 7 teeth with two more about to poke through.
He continued his clamping down with each new tooth, but with a mouthful of teeth it went from “ouch” to my hands sweating profusely every time I allowed him to latch on and extreme anxiety throughout the nursing session until yet again he’d strike with a bite.
I researched and tried all the things. I won’t list them all, but truly, I did. None of it worked long-term. And I really don’t think he was biting me to hurt me or because he thought it was funny like some babies do. The poor kid has been cutting teeth for 4 months straight with no end in sight. I’m sure his gums hurt often and that’s why he bites down.
I powered through the teeth biting from halfway through month 3 to halfway through month 5. Occasionally I’d take days off from nursing to pump bottles for his feeds when my nipples couldn’t handle it and I was mentally exhausted from the stress of waiting to get bit while nursing.
The Difficult Decision to End our Breastfeeding Journey
Finally, once his top two teeth fully emerged in addition to his bottom two teeth and he was able to draw blood when biting, I knew I couldn’t keep on like this. I cried many, many times while nursing him during his biting stage. He’d bite, I’d remove him, he’d cry in frustration and I’d cry because I was mourning the simplicity and pain-free past of our breastfeeding journey.
I also cried because I hated to make him so upset and confused when I’d take him off the breast every time he bit. Our very last nursing session ever, when I knew in my heart I couldn’t keep doing this, I cried for probably 5 minutes while holding him close to my chest. It might seem silly to someone who has never breastfed before, but I never envisioned our breastfeeding journey ending so soon and in such a defeating and painful way.
We both enjoyed nursing and I hated that I was taking that away from him. I experienced major mom guilt, and still do sometimes when I think about it. I loved looking down at his sweet face while he nursed and knowing I was nourishing him with my body.
But I also know how powering through the biting was making me feel. I was experiencing severe anxiety and stress. My milk supply also suffered because of my stress. I knew ending our breastfeeding journey was the best choice I could make to continue being the best mom I could be to Noah, even though it was a very difficult choice and took months to finally make. Ultimately, having mental stability was more important than breastfeeding to me.
From months 5.5-6.5, I exclusively pumped for all of Noah’s feeds. However, my husband was working 12 hour shifts 5 days per week so it was extremely difficult exclusively pumping while handling Noah solo. I couldn’t pick him up or hold him while pumping. Many times, when I tried to hold him while pumping, I’d spill my milk which is extremely defeating as an exclusive pumper. It’s like spilling a limited supply of liquid gold.
During every nap, I pumped. If you follow me on YouTube and have been wondering where I’ve been, this is the long awaited answer I’ve yet to share. Every minute of “down time” I have has been spent pumping. It’s pretty hard to film a YouTube video when I’m strapped to a pump like a cow. That’s how it has felt anyway.
Finally, after much thought and research, I decided I’d pump 3 times per day and supplement the rest of Noah’s milk with formula. I’ve been doing this for about a month now and it has helped tremendously. I now pump in the morning, once midday, and once after Noah goes down for the night. It’s still time consuming, and a huge part of me is still mourning breastfeeding Noah and am sad I’ll never get that back, but I still feel I’ve made the best decision for us.
Noah is still receiving mostly breastmilk for his feeds, in addition to solids and a small supplementation of formula. I feel good that I can still supply him with that God-created nutrition but also have a little bit of my life back. I don’t view formula as evil and don’t judge anyone one single bit for using formula 100% of the time or for supplementing. This is just what I’ve chosen for myself and Noah and it’s been a decision I’m happy with.
Where the Journey Goes From Here…
So that’s where we’re at for now. Based on how I feel now, I imagine I’ll continue pumping three times per day until Noah is a year old. Maybe I’ll even only need to pump once or twice per day as we near Noah’s first birthday depending on how much milk he requires. But I’m also okay if I don’t make it to a year and start giving Noah more formula. Taking the pressure off has helped me tremendously.
I won’t decide on a whim what I’m going to do based on a bad day, but if it’s been a week or two and what I’m doing isn’t working for us anymore, then I’m okay to change things. If there’s anything I’ve learned from motherhood so far, it’s these two things.
One: Don’t base your decisions on pre-conceived expectations because almost nothing goes the way you had imagined it would.
Two: There are no awards in motherhood. No one is going to give you a medal or a gold star for making it a year breastfeeding (or more). Do what’s best for you and your baby.
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