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 breastfeeding 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 mentally and physically”. I chose what was killing me for months out of fear and guilt. I don’t want you to do the same. But before we get there, 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 baby boy arrived. I’d heard many times that breastfeeding can be difficult, but I had no idea why. I didn’t even read any material on breastfeeding or watch any youtube videos before giving birth, which absolutely amazes me because after birth? All I did was research baby sleep and breastfeeding. You’ll see why… Let’s dive in.
The First Few Days of My Breastfeeding Journey
I had a planned c-section birth because baby was breech, even after an attempted ECV. 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 baby’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.
The First Week…
However, once we arrived home, the next days are a blur of zero sleep and a screaming baby. Unfortunately due to my planned c-section and no labor, my milk didn’t come in until day 5 and my son 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 several 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 until my milk came in. Almost immediately, My baby boy 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…
After my milk came in on day 5, things got better with breastfeeding. I stopped supplementing after just 2 days and my sweet boy 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.
Nursing had improved, however I was hardly sleeping. My husband had a brand new job that he worked 12 hour days at, Monday-Friday and studying/training from home on Saturday and Sunday. This grueling training period would last for the first 6 months of my baby’s life. It was imperative my husband rested because, as you can imagine, it was extremely difficult on him, so I let him sleep and handled nights on my own.
My son would cry and fight sleep until usually midnight or 1am, and then was up every 30 minutes to 2 hours until the sun rose and the day would start over again. The sleep deprivation and constant crying was killing me. Every day it seemed like, my husband would ask, “Is this colic?” I don’t actually think he had colic, but it seemed pretty darn close. I was literally losing my mind. I’ve never cried so much as I did in those first 2 months.
It wasn’t until around 8 weeks 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 and I finally began to feel that life would be okay and I could do this.
The Uphill Battle Begins…
However, around month 3, babe 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 his 3rd 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 11 months he has 10 teeth in the front and 4 molars, totaling 14 teeth before his first birthday.
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 of 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 since before he graduated the newborn phase, and 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: My Breastfeeding Journey Coming to an End
Finally, once he had enough teeth to cause physical damage, I knew I couldn’t keep on like this. I cried 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. For the short time that nursing was going relatively well, I cherished our moments together while I fed him. It was so sweet to look down with a mother’s love at your baby and watch him get nourishment from your own body. It’s something I only understood once I became a mom and started breastfeeding. The thought of that ending was a very tough pill for me to swallow.
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. I experienced major mom guilt and that was really difficult for me. But I also know that powering through the biting was causing me severe anxiety and stress. It was even causing my milk supply to suffer because of the stress. Ultimately, having mental stability was more important than breastfeeding to me, even though it took weeks to finally make this decision.
Now What?… Exclusively Pumping
From one month, I exclusively pumped for all of little man’s feeds. However, my husband was working 12 hour shifts 5 days per week so it was extremely difficult exclusively pumping while handling baby 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. Every minute of “down time” was spent pumping. It’s pretty hard to film a YouTube video or do anything when 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 my baby’s milk with formula. I did this for about 2 months and it helped tremendously. I pumped in the morning, once midday, and once after babe went down for the night. It was still time consuming, and a huge part of me still mourned breastfeeding my baby and to this day I am sad I’ll never get that back, but I still feel I’ve made the best decision for us.
Finally Making the Switch to Formula
Once our son turned 9 months, I decided to switch to formula completely and I have never been so totally content with a decision. Three months later, I haven’t regretted this decision once, and our baby is absolutely thriving! The one down side is formula is expensive, but for us, it’s totally worth it.
Where the Journey Goes From Here…
As of today, little man turns 1 year old in 5 days. I cannot believe it! Wow time flies. He is now down to drinking just one bottle right before bed. Our toddler-to-be is a great eater and a chunky boy, so I don’t have to worry about him not drinking formula anymore. He loves his cows milk and solids!
After hashing out my breastfeeding journey to you, let me leave you with these two things. First, don’t base your decisions on pre-conceived expectations. Almost nothing goes the way you imagined it would. Second, there are no awards in motherhood. No one is going to give you a gold star for making it a year breastfeeding (or more). Do what’s best for you and your baby.
And most importantly, if your breastfeeding journey hasn’t been easy, know that my heart sympathizes with you. If you need prayer, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. I’d be honored to pray for you. I’m rooting for you and your baby! Whatever you choose, you got this.
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