While I was pregnant, I did a fair amount of research on breastfeeding. I followed a few Instagram accounts, made a small list of lactation consultants in my area, ordered a pump through my insurance and learned the basics. I knew how important those first few nursing sessions would be and that at first, I would only have colostrum- the earliest breastmilk produced. I educated myself on the benefits of colostrum which range from helping to build baby’s immune system by passing antibodies, assisting in sealing baby’s gut and helping to manage low blood sugar. I set an initial goal for myself to breastfeed for 6 months. I was prepared with all the nipple creams, nursing bras and leakproof pads. I planned to set up a “nursing station” at home with my boppy pillow, phone charger, snacks and water bottle. I was bound and determined to be successful in my breastfeeding journey.
After I gave birth, I first nursed my daughter within that two-hour golden period. We had been skin to skin since she was born; she hadn’t even been weighed yet. The nurse assisted in getting her in position on my chest with the expectation of my daughter doing the “breast crawl”. Supposedly every newborn has the instinctive ability to find their mother’s breast after birth in order to feed. Sure enough, within a few minutes, she had wiggled her way over. I nursed for quite some time and was surprised that I really had no trouble with her latch. I thought we were off to a great start. I was able to utilize the lactation consultants at the hospital over the next 24 hours or so, learning different nursing positions, how to massage my boobs during feedings, how to express milk by hand and how to use the pump. Unfortunately, each time they checked my daughter’s weight, there were growing concerns which included jaundice. She had lost 10% of her birth weight and her skin was noticeably tinted orange.
Jaundice is a fairly common condition in babies born before 38 weeks. It causes yellowing of the skin and eyes due to the liver not being mature enough to assist in flushing out excess bilirubin (yellow pigment of red blood cells). Most of the time, jaundice is not a serious condition and does not need additional treatment. BUT…because my life is usually a series of worst-case scenarios, my daughter was the unlucky winner that needed extra treatment. There are two ways to assist with curing jaundice, light therapy and hydration. The doctors insisted that I begin supplementing with formula to help hydrate my daughter which would help flush her system through urination and bowel movements. In my head, I was all for this solution. Give her all the formula as long as she recovers quickly with a possibility of avoiding the need for light therapy. In my heart, I was struggling because I knew this was going to have an effect on our breastfeeding journey.
We started supplementing with formula with the plan to discontinue once my milk fully came in, her jaundice was gone and her weight was back up. After being discharged, we had been home less than 24 hours before our pediatrician insisted on the baby needing to be readmitted. Despite the extra formula, her levels were still high and she needed about 12 hours under the lights to finally lower her count. I won’t get into the number of tears I cried during those 12 hours of light therapy but lets just say, I was a hot mess. I could only hold her every two-three hours when it was time for her to nurse and she needed to be kept in the special care nursery for constant monitoring. Talk about pulling on my heart strings. Her little body was so tiny and orange and it felt the opposite of normal to be going through what we were going through. Not to mention, not having her skin to skin with me and nursing on demand was already affecting my milk supply.
Once we were back home, the rollercoaster continued. My milk supply was very low, I was still needing to supplement with formula and I was pumping nonstop. I attended breastfeeding support groups at the hospital led by lactation consultants for several weeks. They would do weight checks before and after feedings and my daughter was never gaining the recommended amount. Our pediatrician recommended “triple feeding” to increase my supply all while making sure my daughter was getting the nutrients she needed. This consisted of nursing every two-three hours followed by formula feeding and pumping. You can imagine how exhausting this was being in those early weeks of sleep deprivation and serious baby blues. Big shout out to my hubby who would get up with me and our daughter for every feeding. I would nurse, he would prepare a bottle with formula, I’d pass her off to him, she’d drink her formula and I would pump. Despite all my efforts including hiring a lactation consultant, correcting my daughter’s upper lip tie to ensure a proper latch and power pumping like a boss, nothing was working. I ate all the lactation cookies, drank all the teas and took all the supplements. I never produced enough to exclusively breast feed and I was devastated.
After some time, I relented to the fact that formula was not the devil, I didn’t need to be so ashamed and I should be grateful that I was able to breastfeed at all. I continued to nurse and bottle feed for about 3 months until I unexpectedly needed surgery to remove my gallbladder. After going under anesthesia my milk supply diminished even more. I wasn’t even producing 1 ounce. I sobbed when I nursed my daughter for the last time and dealt with serious guilt for months after. I still cringe when I hear other moms say “You just need to stick it out and keep trying”. FALSE. Breastfeeding is incredibly hard and although the benefits are spectacular, it isn’t always worth it. My mental health plummeted, I was more exhausted than I ever thought humanly possible and I started getting angry at myself and my baby. I tried all the things and still my body never produced enough. It was out of my control. Ultimately, I am thankful that I needed that surgery and that what little milk I did have, dried up. If I had continued on the path that I was on with breastfeeding, those beautiful moments of successful nursing would’ve been tainted and forgotten.
Loooooong story short, you do you, Mama. Give it your all, or don’t! Your baby will never know the difference and your sanity will thank you. Fellow Mama’s, word of advice, bite your tongue when it comes to making remarks about other’s breastfeeding journey. You most likely have no idea what a journey it’s been.