My issues with breastfeeding began after my 29-hour labor, which ended in an unplanned C-section. I had been determined to EBF (Exclusively Breastfeed) my son and, despite my fatigue, wanted to get started as soon as possible. My son had so many issues latching though and, by the third day, my nipples were sore and bleeding.
I had lots of support from my partner, who was instrumental in helping me find better positions to nurse. I had also done extensive research to during my pregnancy on the topic and went through all the tips and suggestions in the books. I also had a consultation with the lactation consultant at the hospital. Even amidst all the trouble, I felt confident that we would make this work.
I was pumping, sometimes every hour, to try to build up my milk supply. I was also putting my son on the breast constantly when he was awake. I was a human pacifier. I was exhausted. My C-section incision was healing slowly, and it was hard to move comfortably. I never wanted a C-section, precisely because I had read that it could impact my ability to produce milk and breastfeed.
And yet, there I was.
After having a very disappointing doctor’s appointment, my Ob-gyn told me that breastfeeding “wasn’t for everyone.” Then my son’s pediatrician told me that my son had lost too much weight post-birth and that if I didn’t start supplementing with formula, he could end up in a hospital. She saw my eyes fill with tears, and she said that there was more to motherhood than breastfeeding. Clearly my medical team would not be a source of support.
We had taken breastfeeding classes prior to my son’s birth, and so I called the number they had given us at the end of the class. I took the first opening they had for an appointment with a lactation consultant. My son was 7 days old.
I had all the information in the world about breastfeeding. I had the teas, the drops, the supportive partner, a world-class breast pump. Yet, I still had major issues breastfeeding.
On the day we saw her, she weighed my son and talked to me about my son’s feeding habits. She explained that it was instrumental that he not take any artificial nipples. She gave us a small cup and instructed that if we had to give formula we should do so with a cup. She also handed me a supplemental nursing system that consisted of feeding tubes I would attach to my breast. My son would suck out of these so that my nipples and breasts would still be stimulated to produce milk. I laugh now at the thought of us feeding a newborn out of cup at 2 a.m. But I think it also speaks to our commitment to breastfeeding.
Things were better, but I still found myself supplementing and pumping often without much success. I knew that some breast milk was better than none. Psychologically, I was suffering. I felt inadequate: first for not being able to give birth naturally and then for not being able to produce milk to nourish my son.
After a few visits to the lactation consultant, things were steady. Not better, but at least we had a system going.
The topic of circumcision somehow came up. We explained that my son had been circumcised after his birth at which point the lactation consultant said, “Oh, well no wonder he cannot latch properly. He is traumatized from the procedure.”
My jaw dropped. I felt so stupid. All along I had suspected this was my fault. She confirmed it to me at the worst possible moment. All I needed was hope and for someone to say, “Hey, you are doing the right things.”
Instead, I received harsh judgment.
We got up and left shortly after that. I cried all the way home. Breastfeeding was already becoming a great source of anxiety for me. It perpetuated all the feelings of inadequacy I go around with all the time, buried deep down inside.
I’m proud of myself, frankly, because I didn’t let that horrible woman’s judgment stop me from having this kind of connection with my son, even if it was for a much shorter time than I had planned.
That was the last time we saw a lactation consultant. I continued to put son on the breast but didn’t worry as much about the supply. I just wanted to feel that closeness with him and have him get as much of that liquid gold as he possibly could without the stress of measuring ounces.
I wish I could end this by saying that, once I let it go and relaxed, my supply came in. But it didn’t. When my son was 4 weeks old, I was laid off from my job. In hindsight, this event was a blessing that launched my writing and allowed me to be home with my for a whole year. At the time, though, it sent my anxiety through the roof, which made breastfeeding even harder.
I had all the information in the world about breastfeeding. I had the teas, the drops, the supportive partner, a world-class breast pump. Yet, I still had major issues breastfeeding. If you are going through this now, I want to tell you that you are doing great! You are a wonderful mom for caring this much and worrying so much.
I kept at it till my son was 4 months old. I’m proud of myself, frankly, because I didn’t let that horrible woman’s judgment stop me from having this kind of connection with my son, even if it was for a much shorter time than I had planned. It’s been almost three years, and I am still a bit hurt by the breast-is-best barrage of information. I mean, I do believe breast is best, and I encourage women who want to breastfeed to do so and give it their best shot. But if your sanity is being compromised, being healthy is more important than keeping the sanctimommy’s happy.
Saying we want women to nurse exclusively is one thing, but placing that burden exclusively on women is unfair. We need more supportive medical providers who know what they're talking about and can provide women and their partners with information and judgment free care.
That goes for lactation consultants, too.