Here’s another thing they don’t tell you while you’re pregnant – breastfeeding is not really that intuitive and it’s really hard to get the hang of. This hidden truth is sneaky because just about every new mom I know with a two to four-week old baby says the same thing. If so many new moms struggle with it, why don’t we talk about the challenges more ahead of time?
I found breastfeeding to be a challenge from the very beginning. Specifically, Baby E didn’t have a strong latch (and I didn’t produce milk until about day 3 or so). I’ll never forget the moment when the doctor at the hospital told me that Baby E was starving and her mouth was “bone dry,” a sign that she wasn’t getting enough milk. My heart sank. Two days in and I’m already starving my child. Worse was the realization that I was failing at the one thing that was required of me. My failure was made concrete by the fact that her birth weight dropped by 11% (it’s normal for newborns to lose up to 10%). I cried…and I cried some more. Shortly after the tears subsided, I had one of those moments that I imagine a losing boxer would have inside the ring with their coach. My coach, my husband, told me not to accept defeat, but to figure out a strategy and put on my proverbial boxing gloves (aka nursing bra), so we can win this breastfeeding fight!
First thing, I opted to supplement Baby E with formula. I have no issue with formula. It’s a wonderful alternative to breast milk, and it makes me furious when people judge – but that’s an entirely different topic. Second, I immediately made appointments with the hospital’s lactation consultants (LC) to learn proper latch and feeding techniques. I wish I could sit here and say that seeing a LC at this point made all the issues go away. It didn’t. I did everything they told me to do, but it just didn’t come easy. Was her mouth too small? Was something wrong with her? Was something wrong with me? Was her lip or tongue tied (they said no, but I’m pretty sure she has an upper lip tie)? Seriously, you’d think by now “survival of the fittest” would have evolved the human species enough to not have these issues at birth.
I’m going to do a major fast forward here so I can tell you how I came to my current situation. In short, Baby E’s latch never improved. I just improvised. I would seriously shove my boob in her mouth, stretch her lips open, and squeeze milk into her mouth until she formed a sufficient latch. Breastfeeding was like the albatross around my neck, but at some point “my way” became the normal. Despite a bad latch, she did get much better at breastfeeding, but each feed was stressful. She was also growing and gaining weight beautifully even impressing her pediatrician, so I thought we were in good shape.
Around 3 months or so, Baby E started becoming more alert and more easily distracted. She’d be on the boob for about 2 mins before latching off. She would cry bloody murder when I tried to latch her back on. I did a weigh-feed-weigh to see exactly how much she was getting within 2 mins. She was only getting an ounce to an once-and-half. I broke down crying when I realized this. Knife to the heart. I noticed that her growth slowed down a bit as well. Knife digging deeper into the heart. She clearly needed more milk to sustain her growth as she was getting bigger. Earlier she was probably getting enough milk with a shorter than average breastfeeding session; but now, it clearly wasn’t cutting it.
I saw numerous LCs and Baby E would either breastfeed like a champ in front of them (clearly, the “aim to please gene” didn’t skip this generation) or the LC would tell me that it was perfectly normal for a 3-month baby to nurse for just 2 mins; and that I should “feed on demand” more often. I’m going to be totally honest now: I just didn’t want to “feed on demand.” I didn’t want to be a prisoner to breastfeeding. I know many new moms who don’t mind this, but it just wasn’t realistic for me. If she was feeding 2 mins per feed, getting an ounce each time, I would have to feed her about 24 times a freaking day! Not to mention, she went back to becoming miserable on the boob, likely due to reflux. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for either of us. So, I decided it was time to pump and bottle feed. I came to the realization that knowing she was getting a full/healthy feed with the bottle was more important than the act of breastfeeding.
For the first couple of weeks of bottle feeding, I still struggled with it emotionally. I felt like a failed. I was also paranoid that I wasn’t getting the maximum amount of bonding, so I breastfed for the first morning feed (when she typically breastfeeds okay) for however long she’d stay latched, and then supplement with a bottle of breast milk. I honestly don’t think it makes a difference at all whether you breastfeed or bottle feed from a “bonding” perspective, but whatever, I did it to “calm my nerves” and it worked for me.
Fast forward another five month to today…I have a very healthy breastmilk-bottle fed baby who is happy and thriving, with no signs of suffering a shortage of breastfeeding-bonding experience. As an added bonus, I saw a profound improvement on her sleeping (slept through the night by three months) and reflux issues. Oh yeah, most importantly, I was happier and didn’t feel the weight of anxiety that came with breastfeeding.
Like everyone says, you know in the end everything will be just fine regardless of what you do – whether it be bottle feeding vs. breastfeeding or breast milk vs. formula. It’s a shame that mothers have to feel disappointment because they have to use the bottle (or formula).