As soon as I became pregnant, I started hearing and reading about the benefits of breastfeeding: immunity to disease, increased IQ, lowered SIDS risk. Plus, we would save money and I would lose weight, right?
I was sold.
About three months before my due date, my husband and I signed up for a 3-hour breastfeeding basics class. In the class, we spent a lot of time listening to the benefits of breastfeeding. We heard about how natural breastfeeding is, learned various breastfeeding holds with a doll and watched some videos demonstrating a good latch. There was a vague reference at the end to contacting a lactation consultant if there were any issues.
Seemed like we had this down.
Then, we actually had our baby, and reality did not look like the videos for me.
From the first hour, my little girl would not latch. The advice from nurses was to just keep trying. They would come in and smush her head to my boob for 10 minutes at a time without success.
"Just keep trying," they would say as parting advice.
By the first night, one of the nurses gave her some formula. "I didn't want her to suffer," she said. More guilt over my suffering baby. And wasn't I messing up my milk supply by giving her formula?
On the second day, my daughter was diagnosed with jaundice. The pediatrician on staff said the way to fix this was with "quality" feedings. She definitely did not get that from me, so more formula.
The "breast is best" advice intended to inspire me to breastfeed resulted in intense guilt over the fact that it wasn't working. My plan was unraveling, and I felt like a failure.
The feelings of failure left me crying to my husband in our hospital room. I thought this was supposed to be "natural." I thought that I was failing at doing my first job as a mother: feeding my child.
After we were released from the hospital, I did see a lactation consultant, and through a combination of pumping, nipple shields, and new positioning, we made some progress. I was still supplementing with formula every day.
But I was spending roughly 18 hours a day pumping, feeding or cleaning parts, and I still supplemented with formula.
I was reaching a breaking point. At about the same time two other new mom friends reached out, and I told them about how much I was struggling. One had an exclusively breastfed infant, and one was now exclusively formula-fed. Both were thriving.
Formula mom told me she had the same experience I was having. After four weeks, she told her lactation consultant that pumping and feeding were consuming her, to the point where she wasn't enjoying being a mom. Mercifully, this lactation consultant told her it was time to stop.
"The first time I watched my son gulp down a bottle of formula, I realized THIS is what motherhood is supposed to feel like!" She told me. "If it's getting too hard, don't do it."
Breastfeeding mom had similar advice. "No one tells you how hard it is. It got easier for me, but it doesn't for everyone. Fed is best. You don't have to feed her this way."
These two women saved my sanity. If I didn't breastfeed, my daughter would be okay. In fact, my daughter was happiest when she was full. If I got her there, what was I feeling guilty about?
Through the cluster feeding and weaning off of the nipple shield, I developed a new mantra. If it's still this hard, maybe I don't do this tomorrow.
Without the pressure of feeling like I was failing, my guilt went away (for the most part). I continued trying to breastfed and supplementing with formula.
Now at 12 weeks, I exclusively breastfeed my daughter. But it's not out of guilt, or thinking this is the only way she will be a healthy, smart and happy child. It just happens to work for us right now.
Soon, I will be returning to work. I'm lucky to work for an employer that is accomodating to breastfeeding moms, but I know this will come with its own challenges. I plan to take it one day at a time, and if it gets too hard, maybe I won't do this tomorrow.
As long as my daughter is fed and loved, I refuse to feel guilty about the way that I feed her.
So to all the other mothers struggling with breastfeeding, know that you don't have to do this. Let go of the guilt, and find a way to feed your baby that works for you and your family.
You've got this.