It had been my plan to breastfeed. You hear the catchy phrase "Breast is Best" a lot when you are pregnant. I did my research and decided that while there was nothing wrong with formula, I was going to give it the old college try and breastfeed my son. I was a formula baby and I have no negative opinions over anyone using formula for their children. I just knew for my personal preference, I wanted to go the boob route.
Look, let's get really candid here. When you're pregnant, your boobs are sore and big and leak. And mine leaked a lot. My doctor told me this was a surefire sign that breastfeeding would be good for me. I was confident. I was ready. I later found out just how uneducated I was on the matter.
For a few hours after my c-section, my arms were so numb that I could not even hold my son. My birth plan involved skin to skin contact and my husband had to remove his shirt and hold our baby to his chest while I was in and out of consciousness. During our week in the hospital, I had access to lactation consultants and nurses who really knew what they were doing when it came to breastfeeding. They gave me encouragement, often expressed enthusiasm for my milk supply, and told me I was on the road to being a success story. They wheeled in a hospital grade breast pump so we could pump a bit of milk too and feed our son with a syringe which we did a few times when I just needed a break from the breastfeeding. I soon learned that babies wanted to eat all the time. My son was on the smaller size when he was born and (as babies do) after he lost weight post delivery, he was weighing in at 6lbs 4oz. His pediatrician (as pediatricians do) wanted him to get back up to his birth weight so, being the perfectionist A-student that I am, I really took the job of feeding him seriously.
Being in the hospital for a week meant I was actually there when my milk came in and my breasts were engorged. I requested visits from lactation consultants every day. These women are educated and kind and encouraging. But I have to say, I feel a bit cheated looking back on it. They take the baby and shove his head in there and get him latched on just right on your boob and you think this isn't so hard! Except when I was on my own, it was so hard. I had times in the middle of the night crying out of frustration because I couldn't get a good latch with the baby until a nurse came in and shoved his head against me and held him in the right position. It was awkward and painful to do with my c-section recovery. And then sometimes it was just right. I could get him latched and I would try and fight through the pain pills to stay awake while he fed. Those moments were few and far between but I treasured them.
I was given a nipple shield to help with my sore nipples but was advised not to use it unless the lactation consultant determined it was absolutely necessary because it would cause nipple confusion. I was told only to pump when I needed a break to feed by syringe. No one taught me how to use the nipple shield if I had decided to try. Maybe if I had been trained, I wouldn't have been in so much pain.
Cut to end of the week, we are home as a family. I have a couple successful breastfeeding moments. But I begin to dread it when he would cry out of hunger. How terrible it made me feel as a mom to dread feeding my son. Wasn't that just the worst possible thing I could feel? My nipples were scabbed, raw, and often bleeding. My bra hurt when it rubbed against my body. My son was terrible when it came to latching- my husband would shove his head in and hold him there and I would cry, often with an audible yelp accompanying the initial few seconds. One day, my son spit up blood and I panicked until I realized it was from my nipple. And then finally, I was lying on the bed, biting a towel to control my vocal pain, crying and writhing around while my husband tried to help the baby latch on and I collapsed into a heap of feelings of failure. I decided then and there I was pumping only for bottles and unless my pediatrician said otherwise, that would be it from hereon out.
And my pediatrician said fine. As long as the baby was getting breast milk, he was happy. My husband asked what the benefit was between pumping versus actual breastfeeding and he said "it's all a mental thing- the connection between mom and baby." Fine- I vowed I would make eye contact with my son while feeding him bottles always (and I do to this day. And just like when we breastfed, I have waves of love that wash over me and I get drowsy along with him when he drinks from his bottle and nuzzles against my chest). We left the pediatrician's office and gave the baby his first bottle and I was instantly 10 times less stressed. And guess what? Happier mom = happier baby.
I am sitting here now, attached to a breast pump as I write this. My son has been gaining weight steadily and is a healthy boy who sleeps through the night already, who loves his bottles, and who could care less how he is fed as long as he is not hungry. It is exhausting being attached to a pump all the time. At first it was every three hours and now that my milk supply is established (hello bags of frozen milk in the freezer!), I have confidently moved to every 4.5 hours. It restricts places you can go- it's not as easy as whip out the boob for the baby. Pumping requires supplies and apparatus and a loud machine and milk storage blah blah blah. I am exhausted having to get up in the middle of the night still and am slowly trying to drop that pumping session (you can't just drop it unless you want to run the risk of mastitis and clogged ducts and pain). I feel like a milk machine but I am achieving my breastfeeding goal with a slight variation. I set out to feed my son breast milk for 6 months and I am halfway there!! Feeling a bit like Super Breastfeeding Mom...except on my own terms. My son, me, and my nipples are so much happier and neither one of us cries when it's feeding time now. So if breastfeeding is a shitshow and you can't just seem to get it together, don't forget that exclusively pumping is an option for you! It is not an easy road but it is a road you can travel if you want to try. I am happy to answer questions if you have them- the amount of information I have acquired over the past three months is astonishing considering I never even knew this was a possibility before then. Sometimes you just have to get a little creative to achieve your goals!