Breastfeeding is Hard
There has been so much on my mind over the last several months that I’ve been wanting to share. Unlike other posts, this one tugs a little deeper into my heart, because well, things have changed. I have changed. I’m Jaidev’s mom now, and that my friends is a game changer, kay? While I don’t quite know where to start, I’m going to start with this bold and matter-of-fact statement:
breastfeeding is f*cking hard.
Wow, that felt liberating.
During my months of carrying a gorgeous belly I heard countless stories from women who shared their birthing experience with me. And then when it came down to show-time, I brought it on. My birth was beautiful, I felt powerful, strong and none of it ever felt impossible. I also heard a lot of comments about sleepless nights, babies that cry non-stop and bodies that were left broken post-delivery. I heard it all (and appreciated it). But during those nine months that I carried Jaidev no one ever spoke to me about how challenging breastfeeding was going to be.
I’m a Registered Dietitian by profession but also a high-achiever by nature. I set out with the intention of breastfeeding my baby but I always remained open to the idea of having to offer my babe formula if necessary. Because sometimes, breastfeeding just doesn’t work the way the textbook says it will.
When Jaidev was born, he was immediately placed on my chest. His cries were like music to my ears. I remember slowly motioning him towards my breast and I expected him to magically open his mouth nice and wide, clench and start sucking. That did not happen. Instead my tiny and tired baby cried at my breast and it took him a long, long, long time to latch. After three days in the hospital and two visits from a lactation consultant we were sent home with bottles of formula, instructions to offer finger feeds with pumped milk and/or formula and a suggestion to purchase a nipple shield. We did all of that.
I remember being at home – pumping breastmilk to stimulate production, finger feeding formula to encourage Jaidev to suck and then having him on my breast using a nipple shield to maintain skin-to-skin contact. That was a lot to focus on and as the days progressed I was starting to worry that breastfeeding wasn’t going to be in my deck of cards. Thankfully, a visit from our local Public Health Nurse helped to calm my nerves and rebuild the confidence I needed to trust my body. My next instruction was to stop finger feeding, give the pumping a break and focus on Jaidev sucking on my breast using the nipple shield. I kept all of that in mind.
The next several days were a mixture of magic and pain. Jaidev did so well using the nipple shield, I was so proud of my little guy. But then the cluster feeding started. NO ONE EVER TOLD ME ABOUT CLUSTER FEEDING. If post-birth recovery wasn’t already challenging, cluster feeding really f*cked shit up. Cluster feeding is when newborns space feedings closer together at certain times of the day. It's also known as "bunch feeding". After being 5 days old, Jaidev cluster fed every. single. night. for two to three hours. This lasted for almost three month and during those hours he wasn’t a very happy baby.
Initially, I was convinced my child was missing his biological hunger/fullness cues. Those hours of cluster feeding would typically take place late at night when the rest of the house was asleep. That time with Jaidev was really memorable and very special for us; it was just me and him but it was also extremely challenging. I was exhausted, my back was in pain, my pelvic muscles were healing, my nipples were raw and sleep was non-existent.
During the cluster feeds my baby would cry and cry at my breast for milk. I didn’t get it. How could he be so calm at my chest one minute and then so upset? Was this going to last forever? How was I going to survive? It felt like I was in a tunnel with no end in sight. I worried he was somehow starving (he wasn’t) and would offer ad lib formula through a bottle. The bottles of formula would help settle Jaidev but I also knew that if I was going to offer top up every night, I was going to risk not giving my breasts an opportunity to build a proper supply.
My goal was to exclusively breastfeed my child. I decided that in order to stay motivated I needed to see the end from the beginning; if I wanted breastfeeding to work for us then I needed to give it a fair shot before deciding to throw in the towel. I worked on small goals – trying to get through day by day. And then week by week. And now month by month.
I relied heavily on my tribe of women for support. My sister, friends and colleagues were all sideline cheerleaders encouraging me to do what felt right. There were women who completely formula fed, others who exclusively pumped, exclusively breastfed and some who did a mixture of it all – each of them reminded me to stay strong, confident and to check-in with my own emotional and mental wellbeing.
Fast forward five months: Jaidev and I have an amazing breastfeeding relationship. In my experience, we couldn’t have been successful at maintaining this relationship without the nipple shield. It was our saving grace. I worried Jaidev would always need the shield or that he wouldn’t reap the full benefits of breastfeeding with it, but I was wrong. Around the time he turned four months he was able to latch directly on my breast. I still remember that exact moment when he latched directly onto my nipple, my eyes welled up with tears, I whispered “we did it” and called my husband over to witness the magic. I was ecstatic that I wouldn’t have to rely on the nipple shield anymore.
It’s interesting how life works. I spent weeks feeling almost burdened by breastfeeding and now I’m saddened by the thought of him weaning. Apart from being able to supply my child with antibodies, anti-allergens, growth factors and anti-viruses via breastfeeding, I’m going mostly miss the way he holds my hand, his smiles when he takes a break or the way he looks so peaceful in my arms. I’ll be sad when this happens, but I’ll let Jaidev take the lead and follow along.
What’s the point here? I wanted to communicate the challenges of breastfeeding that often get over shadowed by the enormous work of delivery. I want to share my experience in hopes that perhaps someone out there can be better prepared or perhaps someone else can relate. It comes as no surprise, I’m an advocate for breastfeeding, but always remember this:
Breastfeeding does not trump a mothers mental health.
If you’re feeling challenged by breastfeeding, need a confidence boost or even some support – go get it. And if it's not working, then that is okay. There are other options available to help you nourish your baby so that you can work on being the super mama that you are.