The Emotional Rollercoaster of Breastfeeding

Motherhood

Let me first start off by saying that this is me simply sharing my personal journey with breastfeeding. Writing and sharing is healing for me, and I hope that my words and experience may help encourage other mamas out there who may be struggling with what I did (and quite frankly, still am). This post is in no way “taking sides” or meant to act as any sort of persuasion. Because honestly there really shouldn’t be “sides” when it comes to feeding your baby anyway. I am 100% an advocate for taking care of your baby in the way that works BEST for you, baby, and family. Here I am simply sharing what I went through and hoping that the women who read this feel less alone, or less anxious about the pressures surrounding feeding their babies.

I will start from the very beginning. When I was pregnant, breastfeeding scared the crap out of me. I’ll be totally honest…the thought of my baby constantly sucking on my boobs and being the only source of food for him seriously freaked me out. But I did truly want to give it a fair shot because I knew I would regret it if I didn’t, and I of course wanted to give my baby the benefits of breastfeeding if I could. I literally prayed that I would have a change of heart when he was born. That everything would change the moment of his first latch. And that I would totally fall in love with the experience and the bonding when he was here. And well, that prayer was ANSWERED.

I think something that did help was getting as educated as I could before giving birth. I always heard about how complex breastfeeding was and I truly couldn’t wrap my head around it. How does it work? How will you know if your baby is latching correctly? Will it hurt? How do I know if my baby is eating enough? How will I know when to feed him? I had so. many. questions. So one of the best things we did was take a breastfeeding course before I gave birth. And my husband, Jordan, actually sat down to do most of it with me! That was really sweet of him and it made me feel so supported in the process. It definitely helped that a close friend of ours was our lactation consultant and instructor. Her name is Natalie and she owns The Milky Mermaid, which we highly recommend to all of our friends now! She walked us through EVERYTHING, answered all of my questions and more, and I walked away feeling a lot less anxious about breastfeeding in general. I was still on the fence about how I would feel later, but I was in a much better headspace about it.

Fast forward to when my little angel boy, Sylas, arrived. After a long, hard, labor and my son was put on my chest, everything felt right in the world. After all the post-birth things were done, we had some quiet time alone with just him on my chest skin to skin and Jordan still in the room for our “golden hour.” It was seriously the most precious thing and I wish I had more videos, photos, and memory of it. But that’s a story for another day. Eventually, a nurse came into the room and helped me latch him for the first time. I was BLOWN AWAY by how he just instinctively knew exactly what to do. And y’all, that oxytocin high that everyone talks about is REAL. I felt this burst of happiness and love, and I was instantly so excited to be able to nurse him. The nurse even said, “Way to go mama and baby! That is a textbook-perfect latch!” I thought, “Okay, wow! This isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. If we’re already doing this well then I can totally do this!”

Since I had him at 1 am, the rest of that evening was spent mostly staring at him while Jordan slept on the couch in the hospital room. Whenever Sylas woke, I would nurse him and it truly felt so magical. He did so well with latching and I felt like I barely needed the help of the lactation consultants + nurses when they came in. Same thing for the following day. It almost felt too good to be true, and it kinda was.

That second night in the hospital, Sylas had a huge meltdown and just would not stop crying no matter how much I nursed him. I started to wonder if he was really getting enough. You always hear about colostrum, and how tiny your baby’s stomach is so they don’t need much at all in those first few days. But, I started to worry that nothing was even coming out at all. After multiple attempts to settle him (after nursing nonstop), our nurse suggested we just give him a tiny bit of formula. I really did not love the idea of that especially that soon after he was born, but I agreed because all I cared about was making sure he was taken care of. We gave him the tiny bottle, and the nurse actually had me try to pump to see if we could essentially spoon feed him the colostrum if by any chance the problem was a tongue-tie or something pertaining to his latch. It was so discouraging when I pumped for however long and quite literally nothing came out. I was well aware that it wouldn’t be much at that point, but seeing nothing made me feel pretty empty inside. But I chalked it up to the fact that he had just nursed a ton so maybe pumping just wasn’t going to work at that point. After having the formula he immediately settled and the rest of the night went much more smoothly.

The following day we were visited by another LC who told me not to give him any more formula. She was sure that I was producing just what he needed. Her hypothesis was that he had a headache since he had a tiny bit of bruising from my head during birth. He was low in my pelvis for hours (hello, ALL back labor!) and she said that could have caused some headache for him after the “just-born” sleepiness started to wear off. I thought that made perfect sense so I went on with nursing exclusively.

Later that day we ended up going home. And that night, I nursed and nursed and Sylas had another meltdown. He was just completely inconsolable. I know newborns are fussy and they cry a lot. But my mama instincts were telling me he was hungry. I ended up giving him just a little bit of formula and again, the rest of the night went a lot smoother.

By Saturday (I had him at 1 am on Wednesday), I was really starting to come undone. My nipples were becoming cracked, swollen, and so raw. Sylas was cluster feeding 24-7, and something in me just knew he wasn’t getting enough. And trust me, I know this is a common worry for nursing mamas. It is so hard to know what is going on when we don’t SEE what they’re eating with each nurse. It’s just this confusing guessing game while you are hormonal, sore, and exhausted. But like I said my intuition was telling me something was on. My true milk still hadn’t even come in yet. I packed nursing pads in my hospital bag, but never ended up needing them. There was no leaking or any sign that I was really producing.

So, I ended up calling Natalie in desperation to come over and help. I wanted to make sure his latch looked okay, and to see if we could troubleshoot the problem. By the way, we had already and his pediatrician appointment and he had lost quite some weight. Again, I know this is normal, but even the doctor wanted us to check in for a few more appointments because it took some time to get him back up to birth weight. She also checked him and there was no clear tongue or lip tie. So we knew something else was going on.

When Natalie came over, she brought her scale to do some weighted transfers. This is when you weigh the baby with a dry diaper on, then nurse on one side for however long, and then weigh the baby again to see how much they consumed. These scales are super sensitive so they can determine if the baby has eaten even small measurements. We did this, and after weighing him one breast at a time after nursing for 15-20 minutes with massage etc, he was hardly transferring anything. Natalie reassured me that sometimes it just takes a little longer for milk to come in, but in the meantime to keep supplementing with formula after each nursing session in order to get his weight up until my milk came in and my supply increased.

She also left me with a pump I rented from her while I waited for mine to come in (I ordered mine through Aeroflow Pumps so insurance would cover a majority of it). We came up with the plan of nursing Sylas, supplementing with formula, and then immediately pumping after each session. This triple feeding was A LOT for me, but I knew that it would only be temporary until my milk improved.

 

Eventually, things healed up for me, and nursing became a lot less painful. I kept up with this exhausting ritual day in and day out. I was so determined to make this work. Slowly my milk started to come in. But I would only pump a small amount, and even after doing more and more weighted transfers with Natalie, he was only getting 1-2 oz at a time from me. It was this constant, vicious cycle of me nursing, him STILL needing formula after, me pumping, and then by the time I was done with that he would want to nurse again. I was literally getting zero breaks and was having a really hard time staying on top of nourishing myself. It was so defeating and discouraging that no matter how often or how long I fed my baby was not satisfied. I’d see photos and posts on social media about other moms, their pump output, and their freezer stashes and it would absolutely crush me.

Still, I knew that breastfeeding wasn’t easy, and I just had to keep pushing and working to improve our situation. I had my fair share of meltdowns along the way. I’d have these moments of coming completely undone because I felt so inadequate that I couldn’t produce enough for my son. Obviously looking back I know that it was nothing to feel truly guilty over, but those are the real feelings you have as a mother and especially in those early postpartum days. Jordan was SO supportive and sweet and he hated seeing me like that. There was even one night when he saw me sobbing so he ran to the store to buy me lactation cookies, supplements, and anything he could think of to help and try to make me feel better. Then this made me cry more because I felt so blessed to have him by my side through it all.

In those couple of weeks postpartum I tried everything from lactation cookies, to Fenugreek supplements, to Moringa supplements. Continuing to nurse, supplement, pump day in and day out with only teeny tiny improvements. More than anything I just wanted to be able to nurse Sylas and that be it so we could all get some actual rest.

At 2.5 weeks after birth, some of the mystery started to become uncovered. I hemorrhaged at home due to retained placenta and ended up needing to get rushed to the hospital in an ambulance for an emergency d+c surgery. This story will be a whole other blog post at some point. But things started to make a little more sense. I had been dropping big blood clots but being told by doctors that I was okay since I didn’t have any other associated symptoms. Obviously, it was a lot more serious than they thought and I ended up experiencing some serious trauma that I am still processing and working through. However, I found some encouragement in that my body still thought I was pregnant for that long, and that was why I was having such a hard time with my supply.

I thought for sure that after my remaining placenta was cleared from my uterus that my body would understand the situation and would finally start to kick into high gear producing milk for my baby. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I still struggled all day, non-stop with the same cycle we were doing all along. I lost a LOT of blood from the hemorrhaging incident and my surgery. To the point where I was on tons of fluid, borderline needed a transfusion and was on double doses of iron supplements. My hemoglobin levels went from a 14 to a 9 in less than 12 hours on the day of the incident. Needless to say, during my recovery I was super winded and dizzy most of the time, and extremely exhausted (as if you aren’t tired enough with how little sleep you get with a newborn). We had help from our parents for a few weeks because I couldn’t do as much as I would’ve liked. And not being able to care for my baby like I thought I would’ve been at that point absolutely destroyed me. I knew that my body needed nourishment and rest to heal. But I kept pushing through because nursing was one of the things I felt like I could still do to care for him. Something only I could do. And I did NOT want to let my trauma define me, nor did I want it to be the reason my breastfeeding experience “failed.”

So I kept on pushing. We were on this never-ending ride of breastfeeding, supplementing, pumping. As Sylas grew and developed, he also became a lot more sensitive. He was constantly fussy, crying after feeds, and hardly sleeping. This obviously made things a lot harder. We tried switching to gentler formula supplementation, and while it seemed to temporarily work, it didn’t solve the problem. We felt totally dismissed by our pediatrician when we asked about his digestive issues, so we decided to take matters into our own hands and try putting him on a hypoallergenic formula instead. When we did this, he immediately turned into a different baby. He was so much happier and finally started resting much better. Even still, the breastfeeding situation hadn’t changed much. Nursing sessions still didn’t satisfy him and it felt like none of us were happy.

We were approaching 8 weeks since birth, and I was about to go back to work/shooting weddings. The thought of having to pump during the craziness of wedding days, and still fit in this triple feeding schedule into a routine while trying to find my workflow groove again felt so crippling and overwhelming. Not to mention, even though Sylas’s sleep did improve, nursing at night only to have to still formula feed afterward meant that I didn’t get ANY sleep whatsoever. Also, anything that I put into my body went straight to breastfeeding. I had lost so much weight that I ended up weighing even less than I did before pregnancy within about 4-6 weeks of having him. I knew this was not healthy and I could feel myself starting to really unravel and deteriorate.

I had been contemplating switching exclusively formula for weeks at this point but I just couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger. I felt like he needed me because he still nursed for comfort and I didn’t want to take that away from him. I also didn’t want to feel like I was giving up after putting in so much work. At one point I even thought, “It’s okay! He will just be a breastfed AND formula-fed baby. So what if it’s not exclusively breastmilk he’s getting? At least he’s getting some!” But that ideology still didn’t solve my problem. I would STILL have to nurse and then STILL bottle feed after that, including through the night. I even tried JUST bottle feeding at night so that Jordan could help me rest by feeding him for me. But…you can’t get through that many hours at night without pumping or you risk pain and potential clogged ducts or mastitis. It felt like I just couldn’t win no matter what I tried.

Finally, I just reached a true breaking point. I NEEDED some of my life and routine back. I was starting to feel so much resentment around my baby constantly feeding, my husband not being able to do it, and the fact that my trauma had most likely been the cause of so much difficulty. I knew this was not a good headspace to be in, and that I needed to make a change really soon. I also knew that if I didn’t eventually get some relief, my body would never truly be able to recover from what it had been through. Maybe if I hadn’t gone through what I did my body would have been able to bounce back and make what Sylas needed from me. But I would never know because that wasn’t my story, and I had to stop harping on the past and wondering “what if.”

I got some advice to just TRY not nursing for one full day. I’d just pump when I normally would, but give him bottles all day so we would know exactly how many ounces he was getting. So I gave it a shot, and it felt like night and freaking day. Sylas was actually satisfied after a feed and took the best naps he probably had until that point. I felt like I had so much more freedom and time back since I wasn’t nursing around the clock. And this is when I realized that this was a long time coming. That at that point, I was pushing so hard for me, not even for him anymore. Clearly, neither of us was happy, and what really mattered was that he was fed, cared for, and able to get some adequate rest. I made the decision that very day that I was going to officially stop breastfeeding. It felt so liberating but so emotional at the same time.

And, I did it cold turkey. Since Sylas did so well with no nursing that day, I just decided to keep it going and play it by ear. I of course would pump to empty my breasts when I felt the need to, and slowly weaned myself with the pump. I was also afraid of doing it gradually. I think if I still let him, nurse, I would be much more emotional about each time potentially being the last and I didn’t think I could handle it.

The first few nights were really painful. I probably went a little longer than I should’ve without pumping by accident. I tried pumping to feel some relief, and massage to get the clumpy patches out of my breasts. But it’s a slippery slope. You don’t want to massage or pump too much because it will stimulate your breasts to keep producing. However, you also don’t want to just leave them alone and risk developing clogged ducts or mastitis. I tried the cabbage leaves in my bra trick for a couple of days, and I do think that helped. Yes, this is a thing…look it up! Ha. I was fortunate that since my supply was never great in the first place, it didn’t take long for me to stop producing milk.

I was able to quit pumping all together within several days, and I just had to wear a bra with nursing pads at night because I would still leak. That lasted for several weeks before eventually, my milk had completely dried up. I felt a huge weight off of my shoulders and the greatest sense of relief. Mostly because Sylas seemed so much happier, and I had a lot of time in my day back since I wasn’t spending SO much of it only feeding.

Every so often I would start to question myself. “Should I have tried a little longer? Maybe if I would’ve just been a little more dedicated to pumping and nursing more my supply would’ve eventually gotten there.” But the relief, the routine, the sense of freedom + normalcy, and a happy baby far outweighed these negative thoughts in my mind. I had to shrug them off because there was no reason for me to feel guilt or shame around my decision. I did what was best for me, my baby, and our family even if it totally broke my heart to do it. And I found rest in the fact that I was brave enough to do just that.

Sylas is now approaching six months old, and some of these negative thoughts and emotions still haunt me. I still get triggered when I see nursing mamas on Instagram even though I do not envy their anxiety and pure exhaustion. Since we ended up going dairy-free, I had no reason to hold onto the (small) freezer stash I was keeping in our freezer outside. I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I donated it to a local mama who was in need of breastmilk since she would be going back to work soon. It felt so good that it went to use and helped someone in need, but I’m not going to lie that it also stung so hard. It felt like this metaphor for all of the hard work, the tears, the long nights still not leading to the experience that I longed for, and instead, it went to someone else. There are even still times where I crave that closeness with Sylas, especially now that he puts himself to sleep and no longer needs me to rock him with physical contact. Of course, I love getting sleep and having the independence that I was so desperately craving in those early weeks. But I do think there will always be a small little part of me that will always hold onto that longing. Sometimes I think that I cannot wait to have another baby just so that I can experience it all again and hope that it’s better next time. At the same time, I don’t want to rush this sweet season with my Sylas boy. I want to soak in every day, week, and month of it being just us before we one day welcome a little sibling for him, whenever that may be. When that happens, I pray our story is much different. But if it doesn’t, I have at least learned that fed truly is best and that I will still be able to bond with and have the most beautiful connection with my baby no matter what.

I have no regrets. I feel zero guilt. And even though there are a few things I wish were different, I love our story because it is ours. Me and my boy. We got each other through so much in those early days of his on this earth. And I would do every little bit of even the hardest, hardest days all over again for this little angel.

If you are a mama reading this and are currently going through any sort of struggle. I want you to know that YOU are the BEST mother for your baby. God chose YOU for that role, and you are doing the very best you can despite what anyone tells you, even the voices in your own head. I see you and I hear you and you are never alone.

 

 

 

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