My breastfeeding journey ended not too long ago. The moment I realized I no longer had to be tethered to a breast pump I sighed a big sigh of relief…and then cried like a baby. Tears of sheer happiness, coupled with that feeling of crossing the finish line of the longest marathon ever (I haven’t participated in a marathon so…maybe not even close?) but either way…it was a feeling that I have a hard time describing in this blog post. Overall, my breastfeeding journey was hard…at best. Sometimes extremely difficult (in my terms). And I don’t type this blog post without thinking about all of the other women out their who have faced their own unique journey of feeding their newborn children. I’m a firm believer that fed is best. When it comes down to it, ultimately, fed…is best. Of course, there is research and medical advice that suggests breastfeeding is really good for your baby – but if it’s not what you want to do…or can do…then it should be what IS best for you and your baby. No shame. Ever. And if you can’t find that advice anywhere else on the internet…in any of the mom groups you are part of…any of the forums you follow. Please find it here.
I was a formula fed baby – and I consider myself to have turned out well enough….well enough.
I get a lot of questions about breastfeeding and how that went with Rowan. I wish I could say that it came natural and was easy for us – but it wasn’t. Rowan would not latch for the first couple of days in the hospital. Every time I brought him to nurse he’d cry in frustration. What was supposed to be so “natural” was becoming anything but natural for Rowan and I. If anything…I felt completely aloof and confused about what exactly was supposed to happen. He didn’t have a lip tie, or a tongue tie. I had read books, read the articles, took the breastfeeding 101 class, and scheduled time with a lactation consultant. Why was it so hard? Why wasn’t he figuring it out? What was wrong with me? Was it because he was delivered via a c-section? 101 questions and no answers whirled through my mind. Our lactation consultant assured me we were doing it all right and he would get it eventually…but he didn’t. And Rowan was mad and hungry, and frustrated, and I was scared and tired, and frustrated. Rowan’s weight was dropping a little bit by the time we were within the 24-hour window to leave the hospital…and he still wasn’t latching. At that point, I had at least a half-dozen pairs of nurses hands on my chest at any given moment trying to help maneuver my screaming infant in different positions in hopes of a latch…and nope, nothing.
We hadn’t packed a pacifier, bottle, or formula with us when we left for the hospital because my initial naive self had firmly and stubbornly decided not to…because… “nipple confusion” and “natural is best” and “breast is best” and a whole list of other trigger phrases swirled in my mind.
Looking back now, my first error as a mother…was assuming my newborn was going to enter the world and do everything when I wanted him to…and how I wanted him to.
It wasn’t until the final hour that a God-send of a nurse handed me a small package with the words “nipple shield” across the top. A nipple shield? I had never heard of such a thing. With all hope gone out the window…I tore into the packaging like a crazed woman…as soon as I had the placement figured out…Rowan latched like a champ. As if somehow his little mind and mouth already knew what it wanted. A damn nipple shield of all things!
Once we were home my use of the shield continued. I was told to “try to not have to use it as soon as possible” but every time I brought Rowan to feed without the shield, he’d turn into a ball of tears and newborn screams. Some how…he had a preference…before he even knew there was one to be had. And so we continued the shield use well into his early months of life. At first, the idea and thought of not using the shield consumed me. I Googled the why’s the how’s well into the wee hours of the nipple shield using/breastfeeding morning. After a while…I stopped caring. Rowan and I fell into a rhythm and routine using the shield and it was convenient and natural in our own way. He liked the easy way the shield allowed him to latch and I became accustomed to carrying it around with me wherever we went.
The below image about sums up life around that time – the upside, I took a shower that day!
Things were going just fine around the time Rowan turned two months old. That’s when he was eating what felt like more than I could keep up with. I had given up on Googling tips and ideas on breastfeeding because almost everything out there seemed to overwhelm me. The advice and the push to be more “natural”, and articles touting the many reasons for why using the shield is absolutely not a good idea – stressed me the F out. I had gotten good at diverting my eyes when I saw advice starting with “Well I read this article once….” or “My suggestion would be to…” or “You know if you just…”
We had purchased a tub of infant formula as “back up” in case we needed to supplement. This was about the time that I took out the handy-dandy Medela breast pump and decided to start figuring out how to use the contraption. I figured if I could nurse most of the day and then pump at night when he slept for 3-4 hours at a time, I’d be able to save up enough breast milk to supplement that way. It was hard…so hard that at times I cried and felt like my body couldn’t keep up. Why was this so easy for some? Why did it feel so hard for me? How did women do this and make it look effortless?
Once I got the hang of using the breast pump…we decided to introduce Rowan to a bottle. We had always intended to because Dusty wanted to be able to feed him and I wanted to be able to take some time away for myself if need be. Rowan did just fine switching between the shield and bottle. Around the time he turned three months old (end of December) he was pretty set on strictly using the bottle. Again, he seemed to know what he wanted and what worked easiest for him. I had concluded by then that my sole job was to feed him. Period. If it was breastmilk – great, if it was pumped breastmilk – awesome, if it was through a nipple shield – fantastic, if it was formula – wonderful. Whatever worked for Rowan was going to work for me. He ate like a champ, was happier, and more at ease. And so was I.
At first, pumping was a very difficult thing to get used to. It hurt and was terribly uncomfortable. Eventually, it subsided (thank G0d) and I was pumping about every two hours. Months before this I had read that pumping too often could lead to “oversupply” and…this and that and this and that…and 101 other outlandish things. I’m not saying the claim isn’t true. And I’m not saying the websites that told me so were wrong. But in our case, all was fine, just fine. And if I was having “oversupply” (which I doubt I did) I bagged it up and stored it in our deep freezer. Either way. I had to continue to block out and ignore the advice that felt more like demands.
On the flip side, there were a handful of moms I knew personally and who are dear friends of mine that offered the kindest and most gentle support during this trying time. I leaned on these friends and many of them told me “You do you!” or “You’re Rowan’s mom, you know what to do to feed him.” Simple responses in the midst of paragraphs upon paragraphs of information meant all the difference and provided me with encouragement I needed to push through.
By month six I was able to cut out my middle of the night pumping sessions (yes that is a plural “sessions”). This was a huge victory as Rowan was sleeping through the night and this allowed me to also sleep through the night….that was for a couple of weeks until Rowan started teething and then I was up again. I was now pumping every 3 or so hours during the day. By month eight I was down to pumping four times a day and continued that way until he turned 12-months-old. Around his first birthday, I decided to start to cut out breast milk and we slowly made the transition between 12 and 14-months-old. I still have some milk in storage for Rowan that we are slowly using up and we now feed him the original flavored Ripple Pea Milk. All-in-all, this breastfeeding journey was excruciating at times…but it did get better. I look back on the first year of his life and my memory of it all is really a blur. The one bit of advice that I’ll hold on to is that…”the days are long but the years are short.” It sure goes by too fast.