We see the pictures of babies latching right after birth, of littles with milk moustaches, and bags of pumped milk. We hear that all babies have an instinct after birth to eat and all they need is to be placed on their mother’s chest and they’ll find the milk. We never think that we’ll struggle to provide something that should be natural, so we buy all the breastfeeding supplies to be prepared.
My first pregnancy ended in an unplanned C-section after 20 hours of labor.
After I was wheeled into the recovery room, we attempted to latch Eloise but she was so swollen from all the fluids I was given throughout the day, that she had no desire to even try. In fact, she didn’t seem hungry at all. We waited a few hours and tried again after she had some time to recover. I was unable to latch her and I was flustered. The first two lactation consultants who came to see me were of no help. One gave me a nipple shield and the other told me I just needed to pump. Neither of them tried to get her to latch, however. I was told that any colostrum or milk I was able to pump they would spoon feed to her. Well, I was only able to pump a drop or two and you can’t imagine how embarrassed I was. I spent the first night in tears because I couldn’t get her to latch and was failing to provide for her. After leaving the hospital with the supplemental nursing system and tips given to us by our wonderful third lactation consultant, I kept trying at home.
When my milk finally came in I was only able to pump 1-1.5 ounces combined from both breasts. I could sleep through the night without feeling like I was going to explode or needed to pump/nurse as soon as I woke up. I ate all the oatmeal, made lactation cookies, smoothies, and drank 100 ounces a day and none of it worked. I even pumped an extra 10 minutes after I stopped collecting milk because I was told that it would tell my body it needed to produce more. But my body never did. We followed up with two visits to the lactation clinic at Erlanger where they did weighted feeds and tried to help latch Eloise without the nipple shield. Both times she was only able to get maybe an ounce from me. I felt like a failure at something that was supposed to be natural. I finally got her to latch by watching YouTube videos. I did skin to skin, nursed on demand and did triple feeds.
After two months, I decided I would be a better mom to my daughter by just completely switching to formula. I put so much stress on myself and shed enough tears that I could have filled a swimming pool.
I was hoping I would be able to breastfeed the twins mainly because if I couldn’t, we would be buying double the formula; I even got a twin breastfeeding pillow to prepare. Well, they arrived just shy of 36 weeks and were not able to latch because their mouths were too small. I was not as emotional about the process this time because I was prepared for the possibility of not being able to produce milk but the hope was still there.
Once home, I pumped every three hours and once my milk came in, it was the exact same as the previous time: I was only able to pump 1-1.5 ounces combined and able to sleep through the night. I would try to latch William but Audrey was much smaller and her mouth even more so. After two weeks, William started drinking 4-ounce bottles and Audrey was still only drinking 1.5 ounces every hour and a half because her digestive system wasn’t fully developed. So there was no way I was going to be able to do triple feedings with them and pump consistently while feeding two babies at different times. After five weeks, I called it quits because it was draining, I didn’t have an extra pair of hands daily, and with two newborns and a two-year-old, I would be a better mom to them by giving them what would fill their bellies and help them grow. Looking back, it’s a good thing I wasn’t able to breastfeed because my body would have been so out of whack from the different amounts and frequency of each child’s consumption.
Throughout the beginning of my journey I scoured the internet learning and looking for anything that would help. It was probably very unhealthy for me to do at the time, but I discovered several things such as it’s very common to not produce with your first because your body is learning what to do. My mom and aunts never produce with their firsts. I learned about all the herbs that are supposed to help, what to drink, which foods to eat, power pumping and even more. I found out that there was an actual explanation why some can’t produce — in some cases it’s insufficient glandular tissue — and sometimes there isn’t an explanation. I read a story about a mom who could breastfeed with her first six children, but could not with her last. Sometimes it just doesn’t work and that’s ok. Looking back though, I wish someone had shared with me their breastfeeding journey; I also wish that more people would be as willing to share their journey as they are about their birthing stories.
So, if you’re a new mom struggling with breastfeeding or a mom-to-be that wants to prepare, ask other moms their breastfeeding stories. Don’t set your expectations too high and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work because sometimes it just doesn’t. Plus, formula will not make your baby fat, dumb, or not build their immune system. I have several cousins, a sister-in-law, a niece, nephew, and a two-year-old to prove it.