I think a majority of us parents had no clue what we were doing when we first started having kids. I was lucky enough to have helped my mom with my little brother when I was younger, so I had done things like bottle feeding and changing diapers, but beyond that, I was no expert.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I knew nothing about breastfeeding before researching. It seemed like something no one ever talked about. I was formula fed, and so were my siblings. For the longest time, I thought that’s just the way it was. Who knew our boobs made milk? And that it was enough to keep a baby alive and healthy? I was so impressed and fascinated. From that point, I knew it was what I wanted to do with my baby. It sounded like it could be a terrific bonding experience, and that it was the best possible thing I could do for my child, and myself.
I definitely was not open to change when my first son was born. I know now how naive I was to think that everything would go exactly the way I wanted and that I’d 100% carry out my birth plan without a hiccup. Of course, when it came to breastfeeding, I had the same mindset. If other mothers could do it, why couldn’t I? It’s supposed to be this beautiful and natural thing.
After delivering my baby, I learned how hard it can be.
From the beginning, breastfeeding was such hard work. Imagine just pushing out a human, and having that not be the most difficult process. Like I said, I didn’t really know a lot of information, so I had to find out as I went.
The biggest struggle was understanding why my milk hadn’t come in yet. It took almost a full day before even colostrum started coming out. Also, who knew that existed? Yellow, sticky stuff that leaks out before actual milk does? I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. How on earth could I bring a living, breathing human home and take care of them?
We ended up using nipple shields, because my son couldn’t get the hang of latching on his own. I would be lying if I said they were fun. I found them insanely uncomfortable, but I was willing to try anything because he needed to eat.
From my point of view, I believed it was going pretty well. His weight, however, proved that it wasn’t. Between birth and his first week home, he lost 1.5 lbs. I was terrified. Back at the hospital, he was given a little formula to supplement until the milk came in. After his first weigh-in at the pediatrician’s office, we started supplementing again, and I started pumping.
I would only produce about 0.5 oz per side after 30-40 minutes of pumping. I was exhausted, I felt defeated. But beyond any other feeling, I felt like a failure. I didn’t understand why I was having such a hard time. On top of that, I was fighting the baby blues and the overwhelming anxiety of going back to work at six weeks postpartum. So I thought to myself, “maybe I’m better off at work, it’s not like he needs me to eat anyway.”
We continued to incorporate formula and any breast milk I could squeeze out. Once that kid got more than one bottle, he wanted nothing to do with the breast, and that’s when I started exclusively pumping and giving him formula. Pumping at work was my worst nightmare. I could barely make any time, I consistently became engorged and contracted mastitis—basically an infection because of clogged milk ducts in my breasts.
This was an ongoing cycle for a few weeks. I was back working full time, taking care of a newborn on my own when I was home and I was tired and almost always in pain. Even though I knew the right thing for my body was to quit and switch to exclusively formula, I had a hard time letting go.
Looking back at it now, I made the best possible decision for myself and my son. At about 12 weeks postpartum, I stopped pumping and made the complete switch to formula. I was happier and felt more connected with him. Plus, my husband loved being able to take part in giving bottles. I have zero regrets.