THE TRUTH ABOUT BREASTFEEDING
I apologize because this post bounces all over the place a bit – I just wanted to make sure I covered the spectrum of my experience! It’s a bit windy too, so hang in there and hopefully you’ll get some tips, or at the very least be comforted by the realization that you’re not alone! I’m a new mama, and I recognize that might make me less qualified. But, I am an open and honest mama. Anyone who asks, I will give it to ya straight.
So, let me lay it out there: breastfeeding is hard.
It is an emotional experience. I have experienced such a roller coaster of feelings throughout my breastfeeding journey. Don’t be discouraged if at the beginning you don’t feel the magic that everyone describes. It might take a little while for those moments to come!
My little one was born via unplanned cesarean after 29 hours of labor, 4 of those hours were spent pushing, you can read Tess’s full birth story here. Before I went in to the hospital, I had read all the things. Worried about all the things. And planned for all the things – except a C-section.
No way that will happen to me, I’m young and healthy – I can get this babe out.
Oh how little we know when it comes to pregnancy and babies – seriously. But honestly, I wasn’t as disappointed in my ability to delivery Tess vaginally as I was scared about breastfeeding a C-section baby. Why? Because everything I had read pointed to new mamas who struggled with EBF their babies after a C.
Low and behold, my little girl latched on and nursed NO PROBLEM within the first 25—30 minutes of being born. Mind you, I didn’t get to see or hold her until 15-20 minutes after her birth while I was stitched up. Like I said, I had planned on all these things – immediate skin to skin contact was one of them – but things don’t always go as planned.
In the hospital, I saw two separate lactation consultants. Both were super nice and both were super impressed with my little one. She would latch and feed/sleep for 60+ minutes at a time. So, I didn’t ask any questions. I mean, she latched and nurse like a pro – what was there to ask?
Fast forward two weeks to me being at home alone. My mom had left and my husband went back to work. I’m home with a newborn who, all the sudden, is struggling to latch. Not only that, but when she gets frustrated with her inability to latch she screams, I mean s c r e a m s bloody murder. So, I spend an hour or two (minimum) calming her down and I’m terrified to try feeding her again. All the while baby girl is getting hungrier and hungrier which makes her less and less patient. Vicious cycle.
I can remember being so cautious of things like giving her a pacifier. Worried it would ruin her latch and make breastfeeding harder than it already was. But guess what? After I gave Tess a pacifier, I was able to get her to secure a latch 4 out of 5 times more often. Why? I’m not sure. My theory is that she was able to establish her latch easier on her pacifier than my breast. So, I would just let her have her paci for a few minutes before trying to feed her. The key was speed. Swap the paci for the nipple QUICK. Use your Mama intuition. Do what works for you and your baby, because truly every situation is sooo different from the next.
It’s no wonder that 83% of women start out breastfeeding and by 6 months only 55% of those babies are still being breastfed. While muddling this new breastfeeding relationship you’re also hormonal, your body is healing from a major surgery or the major trauma of a vaginal delivery plus major lack of sleep – which is essential to your healing process. All the while trying to solely sustain your new tiny human.
Do you wonder why EBF is so difficult for new moms? HELLO!?
Also, lets be honest. There are only a few select people with whom you actually choose to ask the hard questions and express the big concerns. Husbands don’t get it. Truly, first time dads especially, will not understand your stress.
In my sweet husband’s brain:
‘Baby isn’t eating? Must not be hungry. Continues to not eat? Probably not a big deal, she’ll eat when she’s ready.’
How I envied that flippant naivety.
‘OMG she is going to starve. Do we even HAVE formula here? I’ll give her a bottle. No – wait bottles are supposed to make breastfeeding even harder. No bottles. But, wait. If she’s starving it’s my sole responsibility to provide for her. She needs a bottle. But that will only make her taking the breast even more difficult and frustrating for her and me…’
And on and on. There is nothing more stressful, or more emotionally draining for a new mom than worrying about the health of her baby. Suddenly, I wished that Tess was back in the womb where I at least knew she was fed, warm and safe.
I did have a little peace of mind because Tess did gain weight at her well-baby appointments. It was a slow gain, but my pediatrician did not seem concerned.
I can remember everything I read, every person I’d talk to, every bit of advice I got – it all came back to “Just make it through the first six weeks, after that it’s smooth sailing.”
I’m here to tell you, that was NOT my experience. Actually, between 4 – 8 weeks it was far worse. My little one was still struggling to latch and so impatient for my let down, then when the let down finally came she would cough and sputter because I was so forceful. During that time, right around 6 weeks, we did give her a bottle at least once a day. The evening seemed to be when she was fussiest and it was the hardest nursing session so I would have my sweet husband bottlefeed her. She took the bottle without any hesitation and went right back to the breast during the night.
But then came morning and afternoon, and we would struggle with latching again, HARD. There were so many times I thought – This can’t be normal! I asked the PA (who I conveniently was moved to seeing, instead of the MD in my doctor’s office) and she said “Some babies are just harder to breastfeed. You can always meet with our International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).”
But I remember thinking, why would I do that just to hear her say the same thing you are and totally dismiss my concerns? So, I didn’t. I also come from a family where breastfeeding seems like the easiest thing in the world. My family is huge. My mom is the 9th of ten children and she breastfed all of her children without any hitch – and my oldest brother was born with a cleft lip. All of her sisters breastfed. My 30+ first cousins, all breastfed babies. I mean, come on – if they all did it then I can – right?!
Even our hometown doctor says “It’s a Schnurr thing, the Schnurrs’ were just made to mother.”
I kept going. My baby was gaining weight and hitting all her developmental milestones. She was bright and active and social, so I knew that she was being nourished despite what I thought. Seven months later and this kid can latch like a champ, feed almost anywhere and is full of delicious leg rolls.
Around Tess’s 6-month mark I was talking to my sister-in-law (my husband’s sister) who has two girls both of whom she found to have a stage 3 or 4 lip tie. After she described some of the issues her dentist had talked about associated with lip ties, it dawned on me. Maybe Tess had one! Guess what? Stage 3 lip tie in my little ones mouth. Why did nobody ask about that? Why didn’t my lactation consultant check her mouth? Why didn’t my pediatrician see it? Why didn’t I see it?! In all the research I had done, with all the things I read, all I came across was tongue-ties. Nothing with lip ties. If you’re struggling with latch issues that you can’t figure out and you think it might be a lip-tie check out this article – she has great illustrations and explanations.
The biggest comfort I found through those difficult 6 weeks 5 months was reading other mamas struggles, and realizing that some of them had experienced similar issues with their little ones. Knowing that you aren’t the only one with this concern or this issue is huge. So, Mama, always remember that you are not alone. There is a whole tribe of us out there just trying to do the very best for your littles. Being a mom is HARD. But you are doing great. That baby could have no better caregiver than YOU, you’re her Mama. No one will love her more, and that’s what counts.
My best advice is to talk to someone you trust – don’t be stubborn or discouraged like I was when I received negative feedback from the first professional with whom I spoke. You are your babies and your biggest advocate. For your own emotional health, don’t be hard-headed!