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I No Longer Feel Like a Breastfeeding Failure

This is not so bad, I thought. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I’d just given birth to my first son and we were giving breastfeeding a go. I wouldn’t say it was comfortable, but he latched on and tried to get all he could from me those first few times. We took our little bundle of joy home, having satisfied the nurses that we were on the road to success as far as breastfeeding goes.

And we did have success those first few months. When I went back to work after two months, I had a nice supply ready for him and the nanny. I was able to pump enough to keep him satisfied and my supply in the freezer fully stocked. He took to a bottle with little fuss and all seemed right with the world.

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My friends who were having babies at the same time had struggled in the beginning. They had seen lactation specialists and used nipple shields while I was breezing through this whole breastfeeding thing with no problems. I thought I’d be nursing my son until he was at least a year old. I’d save money on formula and give my son the best nourishment possible.

But by the fourth month I was singing a different tune.

During my son’s third month my milk supply started to go down. I wasn’t sure why. I took supplements. I tried to eat and drink more. No matter what I did I was not able to feed my son enough or pump enough to keep him happy. When we had to start supplementing with formula, I was devastated. Here I was, the mom who had had it easy to begin with, and now I was failing. Miserably. By the start of my son’s fifth month he was completely off breast milk and on formula.

This was not how it was supposed to happen, I thought. Everyone talked about having trouble breastfeeding in the beginning, not after a successful start. My friends who had trouble in the beginning were now successfully nursing their babies through their first year. They were the “good moms” giving their babies exactly what they needed. But not me. I couldn’t even get my boy to six months.

I beat myself up about this for months. I compared myself to other moms, wondering what I had done wrong. Did I not eat enough? Did I go back to work too soon?

When my second son was born I was determined to do better. I ate well. I drank loads of water. By this point I was working at home, so I didn’t need to pump at all. My son had access to me whenever he needed a drink. We hit the four-month mark and I was still going strong. I was content, if not a little bogged down by the fact that I couldn’t leave my son for more than two to three hours at a time, something I had gotten used to after my difficulties feeding my oldest.

No one ever told me I could have trouble later on with my supply. It’s just not talked about.

But at eight months I began to see a change in my milk supply. My youngest son, who had started eating solids, but still preferred to nurse for most of his nutrition, wasn’t getting enough. He would suck and suck, but he was never full. I began to despair again. On the one hand I was thrilled I had made it to eight months. On the other hand, I questioned if I had done everything right this time around. Why couldn’t I produce enough for this baby? We soon got him on a bottle and started supplementing with formula. By nine months he was finished with breastfeeding. He was getting what he wanted from the bottle without having to work so hard.

I was happy my baby was getting what he needed, and I slowly began to experience the freedom that comes with a baby not attached to me anymore. Being able to leave the house for more than a few hours worked wonders on erasing some of that despair I initially experienced.

The second time around, I recovered from my son weaning before I was ready much more quickly. I beat myself up for maybe a week, but I knew I had done the best I could. I had seen his big brother thrive after only four months of breastfeeding, so I knew this little guy would be OK. Better yet, we were still dealing with night feedings, and I was all too happy to hand him over to his father with a bottle at 3 a.m. so I could start to catch up on more than eight months of sleep.

Yes, I was devastated when I couldn’t nurse both of my boys to their 1-year-old mark. No one ever told me I could have trouble later on with my supply. It’s just not talked about. You only hear about the people who have trouble while they are in the hospital or that first month before they get into a groove with their baby.

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After a while I realized that this is just what my body could do. It wasn’t my fault. It certainly wasn’t either of my sons’ faults. My boys are thriving, learning at a normal (even rapid sometimes) pace. They are athletic, strong, love to read, have healthy appetites and play pretty well with others (there is only so much you can expect from a toddler). I’ve accepted that the first year of breastfeeding wasn’t exactly the way I had planned, but in the end, we all came out OK. I hope other moms have found the same thing.

We can only do the best we can for our kids, and sometimes nature has a way of forcing us to figure out how to deal with what we have been given.

Image via Flickr, Christine Rogers

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