My Battle with Breastfeeding

*I wanted to post this when Morgan turned one to mark the reach of my goal but I didn't finish it until now.

I have always wanted to breastfeed. I knew that when I had a child it would be something that I would do.

Having an unmedicated (aka "natural") childbirth was also something I knew I wanted, for so many reasons. (Post to come on this later.) And I succeeded. Unfortunately, I spent so much time preparing for birth that I forgot to learn about breastfeeding. Ideally you wouldn't need to learn about breastfeeding. You would know how because you've seen others do it. You would've heard other people talk about it. About the challenges and the solutions. And though I've known some women who breastfed, I realized I hadn't really seen how it was done or talked about it with them. I went into it completely naive, which is so against my usual nature of study, search, and prepare. I think I figured it would be easier than I thought. I also did not know about the system put into place all around us to make breastfeeding an uphill battle. Nor how to fight it. Until it was too late.

Immediately after Morgan was born, he was placed on my chest and I attempted to have him suckle. Putting a baby immediately to the breast helps the uterus to contract, minimizing blood loss and helping the placenta to be delivered. This went okay. But Morgan was taken away from me to get routine things done (those that I had approved of anyway, like weighing and bathing) while I was getting stitched up. I regret giving the okay for this. I didn't think he would be gone for so long. I much rather wish I had just held him the entire time I lay there and waited to do things later. Eventually I got him back and my doula helped me breastfeed for the first time. It hurt but it went well. And then after having been awake for more than 48 hours and in labor for 32, I was ready to get some sleep. A well-meaning nurse convinced me to put Morgan in the nursery to "let me rest." I so regret this decision. I was awoken not too long after by the same nurse telling me Morgan's blood sugar was low and that he needed oxygen. Of course his blood sugar was low. He had been barely with me. I hadn't eaten much while in labor because I hadn't felt like eating much of the day. (Not due to hospital restrictions as one, I spent most of my labor at home and two, those restrictions are completely baseless. That's right. You heard me. The reason for not eating and drinking in labor is absolutely ridiculous. Would you ever run a marathon without eating and drinking? Of course not. Anyway, that's a post for another day.) So, of course Morgan's blood sugar was low. My blood sugar was low. And he had been separated from his mother.

Not knowing what I know now, they hooked him up to an IV and an oxygen mask. (Without my permission I must add.) Have you heard of kangaroo care? Well, anyway, it's been proven that holding a baby skin-to-skin with the mother (and breastfeeding) raises blood sugar and oxygen levels. I didn't know this then. If I did, I would have demanded to have my baby brought to me. Instead of having him hooked to wires and sensors. My baby was separated from me for the first two days of his life! It's no wonder I developed postpartum depression.

Anyway, there I was. A new mother...and my baby in a different part of the hospital. THEY told me when he was hungry. It was difficult to get there. I was so tired and it was so far away. And I couldn't walk very far the first few days because I was tired and sore and anemic. I missed a feeding or two because I just couldn't make it. And I'm angry about this. So very, very angry. It didn't have to be this way. Also, they made me give him formula because he "had to have a good feeding" to get his blood sugar up because "my milk wasn't in yet." Of course it wasn't! It takes 2-5 days normally. Do you know how big a baby's tummy is when they're born? The size of a thimble. Colostrum is more than enough to fill this up. And also, giving formula delays your milk coming in. You know what stimulates your breasts to make milk? Having the baby suckle. And suckle often. And this can't happen if you're filling the baby up with formula or separating the baby from the mom.

Part of me wants to blame myself for not knowing all this then. I knew enough not to give Morgan a bottle. (The formula was fed through a syringe and tube system, aka "finger feeding.") But I didn't know all of this. Not until later when I had already got a bad start, for which I blame the hospital. It's one reason why I'm never giving birth in a hospital again. (Unless I have complications or a high-risk pregnancy.) Yep, I said it. I'm just not. The only good thing, for me, about being in the hospital was getting regular meals. (Okay, having the nurses change the meconium diapers was nice too.) I HATED everything else. Nurses constantly coming in waking me up. My baby being taken away from me. Unsupportive nurses/doctors making callous, mocking comments. I had a midwife who supported my wishes so I didn't have to "fight the system" to have the birth I wanted. I didn't have to get an IV (No, you don't have to have an IV automatically just because you're having a baby. There are a few reasons why you'd need one. Again, more on this later.), was able to eat in labor (I ate an apple while I was laboring in the tub), and labored in the tub, but I would've liked to birth in a more upright position than I did (I was doing a sort-of-a squat in the bed but next time I'm full-on squatting). I mean, the actual labor and delivery itself wasn't too bad (again mostly because I had a supportive midwife who didn't do things out of routine). But I didn't like my postpartum time in the hospital. So birth center or home birth for me next time. (They just opened up a birth center, technically called a "birth suite" due to some legal reasons, literally down my street!)

Anyway, back to breastfeeding. It's clear Morgan and I didn't have a good start. And I didn't get good advice. I got lots and lots of (well-meaning) bad advice. And doctors that didn't listen to me. I now know that Morgan has a posterior tongue tie. It's not the traditional, more obviously seen tongue tie, but it's there. Morgan, and I, would have benefited from getting his frenum clipped. I had pain while nursing every time until Morgan was 10 months old. This was most likely caused by Morgan's posterior tongue tie. Getting his tongue clipped would've made it easier for him to draw the nipple into his mouth and suckle more efficiently. Meaning that I wouldn't have had to pump and fight to keep my supply up.

Another thing I won't be doing next time is using a pacifier for the first couple of weeks. I don't think it caused Morgan to get "nipple confusion" (really should be called "nipple preference"). But it did keep him from getting fed as often as he needed to. The use of a pacifier can keep an infant from feeding as frequently as they need to, particularly in those first few weeks because the need to suckle is so strong they will suck on a pacifier and be lulled into sleep and ignore their hunger needs. If I had known that those first few weeks would be marathon nursing sessions and that it eventually would get better, I would have powered through it instead of trying to delay his feedings. Another thing I did was cut his feedings short. Mostly due to pain. But also because I didn't want to hold him all the time. This was due to the PPD (which I'll go into more detail in another post). I had trouble bonding with Morgan and so I didn't want to hold him. I would put him down all the time or have other people hold him. Of course this wasn't helpful for establishing a milk supply. Just holding your baby skin-to-skin increases milk production (not to mention bonding).

I can’t tell you how much advice (from people around me, from online sources, from society in general) I got to “Don’t feel guilty. If breastfeeding is this hard, maybe you should give up. It seems that neither you nor he enjoys it. It seems too hard. Your depression is caused from trying to breastfeed. Just switch to formula and you’ll be happier. It’s okay to stop breastfeeding, it doesn’t make you a bad mom. Formula isn't poison you know.”

Some of these things are true and some just aren’t. As far as the guilt and the “bad mom” thing, I know this. Morgan got formula every day of his life until we switched to goat milk at 12 months. I don't feel any guilt whatsoever for the formula he did have (I did feel pain and anguish the first few months when the PPD and the nursing difficulties were the worst.). I don't feel like a failure or a bad mom. I am, however, angry that I did not get as much support as I would have liked to continue breastfeeding. It wasn't as if those around me (I'm including society in general in this) weren't supportive of breastfeeding. It just seemed to me that many were supportive only if things were going well. I absolutely feel that women need more support (and encouragement) to *continue* to breastfeed, even, nay especially, when there are struggles. Being given permission from other people and society that it’s okay to not breastfeed did not diminish my hurt and despair at my struggles. It was not what I needed or wanted. I needed and wanted solutions to my problems that didn't include stopping nursing or throwing formula my way. I didn’t want to nurse because I felt I had to. I wanted to, so very badly. If I hadn't wanted to breastfeed, I just wouldn't have. I wouldn't care what anyone else said or thought because honestly I'll do what I think is right and stick by my own decisions.

By support, I don’t mean pressure. And some women confuse the two. What’s the difference? Pressure is telling woman “You MUST breastfeed otherwise you’re a bad mother or something is wrong with you or you’re less of a woman or I’ll think less of you or you’re a failure.” Support is “If you want to continue to do this, I will support you even if it means a whole heckuva lot of work.” Support is “I will help you find ways to continue nursing.” Support is “I will watch the baby while you need to pump.” Support is “I will hold your hand as you cry and struggle.” Support is “Here are positive stories of women who struggled and who were eventually able to succeed.” Support is “Here are stories of women who struggled throughout their entire nursing relationship but didn’t regret it, loved their experience, and would absolutely do it again even though it was tough.” Support is “You are awesome, amazing, and I admire your courage and dedication.”

 (I am not saying that the decision to formula feed shouldn’t also get support. I’m saying that there is too much emphasis on support to stop nursing (at least in my own experience) and not enough support in continuing.)

 My overall goal was to reach at least 12 months. But I couldn't look at it that way. I needed to take it one month at a time, one day at a time, one feeding at a time. In the beginning I told myself "3 months. You can do this for 3 months." And then I reached 3 months. And then it was "You've made it this far. You can make it to 6 months." And then I made it to 6 months. The halfway point. At that point I didn't know if I could make it another six. It seemed like a very long time. But then I told myself 9 months. You can do another 3 months. And I did. 9 months came and went. And then breastfeeding finally, finally started getting easier around 10 1/2 months. I wasn't nursing full-time. But I nursed as much as I could, as often as I could. The day of Morgan's first birthday I was ecstatic. I had done it!

I think those women who have a great desire to nurse and who want and need help need to hear more than "it's okay to stop." I know I did. I think society would be better off if people stopped assuming what someone needs and just ask them. There are women who need to be told "it's okay to stop" but then there's others like me that didn't need or want that. I needed to hear "You can do it." I almost quit several times. Morgan would refuse to latch or my nipples would burn and bleed. I would say "I can't do this anymore!" But then, I would remind myself of my goal. I would seek support. I would talk to the lady I rented my pump from and she would cry with me. She would tell me what a wonderful job I was doing. She would give me suggestions. Sometimes the solutions didn't work, but just hearing someone make me feel good about what I was doing gave me the encouragement to keep going. Sometimes that's all you need to get through the rough times. Not "it's okay to stop" but "you can do it." I'm so grateful for the people in my life who did support me to continue, such as friends, family, lactation consultants, and my wonderfully supportive husband who never stopped encouraging me and being there for me.

I needed that support and encouragement. I needed to remind myself that I was doing something wonderful for me and my son. I needed it to get through the rough patches, which were frequent and continuous. Just when I would be SO ready to just stop, I would get the support I needed to continue. I would have that rare wonderful nursing moment. Just one moment, a moment where Morgan would look at me and smile. And I would feel overwhelmed by the amount of love that flooded through me. And it made it all worth it. That one moment would erase the hundreds of others of pain, boredom, anguish, despair, and tedium.

I nursed through mastistis, dermitis, blocked ducts, thrush, and sore and cracked nipples. I nursed through nursing strikes, bad latches, biting, and low milk supply. I pumped, used a supplemental nursing system (SNS), took herbal supplements, and saw lactation consultants. I did all this because I was determined to make my goal of 12 months. I was determined not to stop until I had done and tried absolutely everything possible. I would nurse as much as possible until I had no milk at all or until Morgan completely refused to latch. I don't think every woman should make the same decision I did. But I do want to say that it is possible to nurse despite struggles and obstacles.

There are many options besides stopping altogether. It doesn’t have to be all nursing or all formula. It is possible to do both. Women need to know all of their options. They need to know techniques, tips, and correct information that will increase the likelihood of their success and will help them meet their individual wants, needs, and goals. They need support and encouragement. Let's face it. For many people, breastfeeding isn't easy. And this is not the woman's fault. It is the fault of a society and culture where booby traps surround us to hinder, impair, and destroy the breastfeeding relationship. (The U.S. has abysmal breastfeeding rates.)

I do not regret my decision to continue nursing. My only regret is that I wished I had gotten help sooner. That I would have known what I know now. I did it once and I will do it again, even if means it will always hurt and it will always be difficult. Because it is that important to me. Because despite everything, the struggles, the pain, the heartbreak, the work, all of was worth it.

I made my goal and beyond. At almost 14 months, Morgan nurses once or twice a day now. Usually when he wakes up in the morning and sometimes after his nap. Part of me misses nursing more and wishes Morgan would nurse more and that I had more milk. But I'm damn proud of what Morgan and I have accomplished. And when the time comes that our nursing relationship comes to an end, it will be with much sadness, despite all of the hardships. I will never regret our time together; I will always cherish it, appreciate it, and remember it with fondness.

I fought the good fight with breastfeeding. And I won.


Wendy McMillan said…
Congrats! I always knew you would make it to at least one year because you are the kind of person who, when confronted with obstacles, only strives harder to do what you know is best.

Even though I was around you a lot while you fed Morgan, I didn't really know exactly what to do and looking at pictures just made it scarier so in my case the more I researched, the less sure I became about breastfeeding right up until delivery.

I sympathize with the low-blood-sugar-leading-to-formula-the-day-they're-born scenario and that experience made me respond aggressively with nursing so that I ended up with a super chunky baby. Plus I am anti-pacifier even though people gave me guff for that. Why should people care whether someone else uses a pacifier? Seriously.

Anyway, thank you for letting me benefit from your breastfeeding experience and just remind yourself that you are pretty much an expert on every aspect of L&D and now nursing so there is nothing you won't be able to handle next time!
Austin said…
Wow, honey. You don't post as often, but when you do, look out!

I am in a constant state of awe and amazement at what you have accomplished, particularly in your determination to do what you felt was right for our baby.

Morgan and I are two of the luckiest men in the world to have you, and don't you forget it.
I have seen a lot of posts like this lately, and it makes me sad for women who face such opposition to their desires at this important time in their life. I never felt pressured to do anything, and the nurses who served me at Orem Community Hospital were always fantastic. All three times I had my baby brought to me directly after leaving the OR even though they had to delay testing and full bathing and other things. They asked my permission before giving them formula (which I said no to the last 2 times) and pacifiers (which I have no problem with) and they were willing to explain to me the pros and cons of them even though it meant prolonging the screaming child they were caring for. I am still saddened that I was never able to deliver naturally, but I don't blame any medical system for the complications I faced.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I feel confused by stories like yours because they are so different from my own experiences. I never felt forced or tricked into anything. The professionals helping me were all extremely supportive and kind, and the only time my children were ever away from me for more than 30 minutes at a time was when Sara had to be put under the jaundice lights, and they even offered to put her in a portable unit in my room if I wanted.

Basically- Orem Community Hospital was wonderful and I am grateful to look back at all of my birth experiences with fond recollections and not bitterness. I am so sorry your experience caused so much prolonged pain. Austin is right to say you are amazing to persevere through so much opposition. Good for you!
Mark said…
I would say that Morgan won.

We are pleased to have you part of our family. We know you will take good care of Morgan and his brothers and sisters.

Please let us know how we can be more supportive next time.

Much love.
Charlo said…
You are supposed to do all your experimenting on the first kid anyway.
JanB said…
Yeah, you'll be a fully prepared professional with the next one! But, of course, every child and every experience is different.

Did you finally get Morgan's tongue clipped? 3 of my 4 had that done. Made a big difference.
Charlo said…
Oh, if you are interested, a schoolmate of mine, who is also a hardcore breast-feeding activist, is involved with this group in Salt lake

I think they have meetings and classes and such. I'm not sure because I haven't payed too much attention... I'm pro breast feeding and all, but seeing as I have no babies, I haven't been tracking it to closely.
Ryan had his tongue clipped as a baby. And I wish I could do it all over again for Seth and DEF Cade's birth. The ones with Leah and Matt were better. The first time is always the most confusing. After that you learn to take control at the second birth. We are usually just a paycheck patient to most hospitals/birth centers. We are the give money/get stuff done/get kicked out.
Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for your post. I always wondered why I struggled so much with bf, and ended up giving up and just pumping for 5.5 months, it was b/c of a tongue tie and never realized it! Now I'm better prepared for the future!
Anonymous said…
Good post, adding it to my blog now, thanks. :)
Anonymous said…
Thanks for posting. I enjoyed reading your birth story and the follow-up. I think there is such a tremendous amount of relief when you leave the hospital with a healthy baby that it can take awhile before you say, "Hey! Those people I thought were helping me actually made things harder!" While many aspects of my story are different, there were a lot of similarities and it was nice to read your coherent, organized thoughts.(I have never written down the whole account of my experiences). Eight years later, I am a couple of months away from son#2 and, hopefully, I will do much better this time, knowing what I know now. Good luck to you.

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