My Journey as a Mother: Breastfeeding (Part One)

I want to start a series. I don’t know often it’ll be added to, or what I might put in it, but I’d like to call the series of posts “My Journey as a Mother”. Instead of snarky things my toddler says, or cute things I’ve baked with friends, I want it to be honest and personal, about my unique journey as a mother. Since my kids are so young, I doubt I’ll ever truly run out of things to talk about, and I can add things as often as I feel led to write about them. 
Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently (as I’m preparing for the birth of my third child) is something I don’t think I’ve blogged about at all – breastfeeding. This can be a really hot topic, one that many women/mothers/caretakers feel passionately about. I don’t want anything I say to be a “persuasive article” or “offensive rant”. I just want to share my story, my struggles, my successes, and my hopes for the next breastfeeding journey on which I’ll embark.

When I was pregnant will EK, it was a no-brainer that I would nurse her. It’s widely accepted as the healthiest thing to do, so of course it would be what I did for my daughter. Where her birthday fell during the school year  (mid-April), I knew I would have several months of potential nursing before I would have to go back to school in the fall and likely into a routine of more pumping than nursing. I was looking forward to April-August being able to mostly nurse, and introduce bottles and scheduling a pumping routine as I went back to work.

This, as you might imagine, wasn’t how my perfect plan worked out.

EK had trouble latching right off the bat. I know now that I didn’t do everything I could have, but she also had a few problems as well. I’ve already accepted this and moved on from it with no guilt, so I will suffice it to say that nursing, after a painful, tedious six weeks or so, just didn’t work very well for the two of us. However, being a mama who wants to do the very best thing for her children, I decided the exclusively pump. This turned into the longest five more months of my life. At first, my supply was good, I was even able to freeze some milk, and never worry about my baby being hungry. She never shied away from a bottle, and seemed very pleased to be fed by whomever offered the bottle to her (just an early glimpse of her hungry-hippo nature that still exists). I got more sleep when Hubby was able to feed her a bottle at some point during the night (or late night before he went to bed, as it often was) and we didn’t know any better than to think this was our best possible situation.

But after a couple of months of pumping several times a day (and sometimes during the night if I got too uncomfortable) for almost 45 minutes each time (looking back, I’m appalled by my slow letdown and need to go through several letdowns to get what my baby needed), I was growing tired of the chore. I was eating oatmeal everything, drinking water like a camel, drinking a dark beer a day, using warm compresses before I pumped, and everything else I knew how to do to up my milk supply and make it worth it to keep going.

It seemed like the harder I tried, the less milk I made. The more I tried to find times to pump at school or during the night, the less milk I got at each pumping session. It was truly disheartening to feel like I was failing at feeding my child the “natural” way. Finally, after a few months of “supplementing my milk with formula” I released myself from the pump’s shackles.

I cannot TELL you how this freed me! Pumping several times a day wasn’t bonding with my baby. It was hardly getting her anything she needed. She was eating enough by the time I stopped at six months that I was barely getting a bottle’s worth in an entire day. It had been such a struggle to force myself to keep going, when I wasn’t yielding enough to nourish her. I was becoming emotionally wrecked about it, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling I was failing. But when I finally let it go and switched to 100% formula (well, she had started purees by then as well) it was a load off of my shoulders and my heart.

And let me tell you – this gal was healthy. (Does the baby in that photo up there look like she’s not getting enough to eat?!) She IS healthy. She is smart, beautiful, well-adapted (as much as toddlers can be) and we do not have a lack of bonding in our relationship! I can confidently say that I made the best choice for her, the best choice for me, and the best choice for my poor Hubby who would lose me for several hours a day to the pump. We were all much happier when we made the switch.

So here’s a little encouragement: breastfeeding, while widely accepted as “healthiest” and “best” and “why wouldn’t you do it?!” isn’t for every mother and every baby. If it was easy, we’d all do it. If everyone was able to be with their baby 24/7 and was blessed with great supply and didn’t have any problems latching and was never treated as inferior by a lactation consultant (that happened to me, also) I’m sure that all mothers would breastfeed. But folks, it just isn’t that way. And that’s okay. Thankfully, there are many ways to have a healthy baby, just like there are many ways to deliver a healthy baby, and there are many ways to raise a baby. Let your mama instincts take over, and do what you believe is best.

I’ll post a little bit about my journey breastfeeding J soon. I hope you were encouraged by my experience with EK.

Did you choose to breastfeed? What was your experience?

7 thoughts on “My Journey as a Mother: Breastfeeding (Part One)”

  1. You are so right! You have to just follow your instincts with your kids and know what you can and can’t handle together without feeling the pressure of what everyone is telling you is “the best” for your baby. When I had my twin boys, I really wanted to breastfeed them, but they were premature and put up such a fight by the time I was able to try. I pumped for 8 months with them and I had great production and was doing about 65 oz a day—that’s over three venti breast-milk lattes! The pump was my part time job and I did it for 20 hours a week. I had to stop pumping because I got pregnant with my third boy.
    My third son was my chance to breastfeed! He was born on his due date and there was only one to handle. The first two weeks were awful. I cried every time i breastfed him because it hurt so bad and I couldn’t tell if it was working. I saw two lactation consultants and used a shield for a long time. We finally worked it out, but he was so inflexible. NEVER took a bottle. SO different from the first experience. You just never know what you are going to get!
    Thank you for sharing your story. It helps to know that there are other moms out there that realize you have to do what you have to do to get by and THAT is actually what is best for your baby.

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  2. Whitney – this was such a huge encouragement for me! Thomas Ellis was 3 weeks early due to my preeclampsia. He latched the first time like a champ…and then it quickly went downhill. The doctor told me to stop trying to breastfeed and just pump, as he was exerting more calories than he should be. So I pumped for a few days exclusively. Before we left the hospital, they wanted me to try again (btw, I agree about the lactation consultants – some were wonderful and others were drill sergeants. And don’t get me started on the number of people that touched my breasts! Ugh!). It was terrible–so painful and TE seemed to struggle quite a bit. So back to pumping. I would pump for 30 minutes and quite frankly felt like my breasts were going to fall off each time. The doctor told me I should only pump for 10-15 mins, which meant I got even less than before. I never had an adequate milk supply. We have been supplementing since Day 1.

    At 9 weeks now, TE is mostly on formula. I’m still pumping but on a good day, I’m only getting about 2 ounces…and that’s just from one side. The other side seems to have completely dried up. I had a goal of breastfeeding/pumping until at least 3 months (worse case, in my mind). I don’t think I’m going to make it 3 more weeks.

    My son is healthy, growing, strong and smart. Even though my heart aches that I couldn’t 100% provide for him, I take comfort in that I was able to give him even a little bit which I know has made him the healthy little boy he is today.

    Again, thank you for your honesty and sharing your story. At the end of the day, it really should be all about what is best for BOTH you and the baby! 😄

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    1. Michele, I completely understand. It’s so hard to keep going when you feel like what you’re putting into it is WAY more than you’re getting out of it. Follow your instincts and don’t let anyone shame you for the decision you make. So many moms who have good bfing experiences say “Well you can try harder” but it just isn’t practical (or true!) for a lot of mamas. Your little guy is totally handsome, and you are already making the best choices for your family! I always tell anyone who will ask: don’t feel guilty or ashamed of making whatever choice feels right. You’re his mama and you know best. ❤

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