My Nursing Nightmare from Swag On Mama

Hey, readers of "Love and Laundry"!  I'm Amy.  I run "Swag on, momma!" a blog where ladies share their stories, pass on wisdom, laugh, commiserate, and talk about that things that matter most to them.  Come check it out!  We'd love to have you follow along and party with us! :)

And let me just say that I'm so freakin honored to be guest-posting here.  I love Shatzi.  She is one of the most genuine, down-to-earth people I've ever met.  And she is patient with all of my blogging questions; she's never said to me, "I can't believe you can't figure that out. Girl, do you have a brain in that head?"  Well...even if she's thought it, she's never said it...and I appreciate that.  She's so cool. :)

Since you love Shatzi too, I sure WE would also be bosom friends!  And...speaking of bosoms....(I've been wondering how to transtition into my topic today...ha, was that awkward, or what!?) let's talk about breast-feeding woes.  We're all good friends--we can embrace the awkward and talk about boobs in our first conversation, right?!  Haha!  I'm a bit passionate about this subject since I'm a self-appointed "I couldn't breast-feed, but that doesn't mean I'm a bad person" advocate.  (I need to make a bumper sticker, I think.) 

Before I go on, I must clarify: Though I am telling about my struggles with nursing, I am not anti-breastfeeding--NOT AT ALL!  I know there's a ton of good in it!  It has many known health benefits for baby, it's a great bonding experience, and it is MUCH cheaper than formula.  

This is just my experience. 

Since many of you are mommas, and many others are future mommas, I feel like it's important to speak honestly about this topic; sometimes people only talk about nursing like it it's so easy, natural, rosy, and glorious.  But--in real life--it isn't always like this.  Maybe you can relate, and maybe my story will help you feel less alone if you too struggled with nursing Or, if you're a momma who found nursing to be a piece of cake--maybe my story will help you understand those who don't.  Cause heck, a little more understanding is ALWAYS a good thing! :)  So, here goes:

Before Hayden was born, I was super gung-ho about nursing.  

I expected wholeheartedly to love and succeed in nursing my baby, at least for a half a year, if not a full year.  But I only ended up actually "nursing" my baby for a week, then pumped and bottle fed him breast milk for a month and a half.  Now, before you go thinking I am selfish or a quitter, let me explain.

I remember watching the WIC movies, and sighing, "Gosh, nursing looks so cozy and sweet!"  I'd see a hungry little babe nuzzling to their momma's breast, like, "Mummy, may I please have a drink of milk?"  And then mom would gaze at her babe lovingly while feeding him and it was blissful, serene, and...perfect. 

But, then when my babe came, it um...did not go so perfectly. 

When I first tried to nurse, like 30 mins after Hayden was born, the nurse took one look at me and informed me that I would have to use a little "nipple shield" for my son to be able to latch on.  (Don't know what that is?  Picture a tiny, clear, plastic, flexible sombrero with a couple holes in the top...ha, what a stupid explanation, but that's what it made me think of!)  

But, even with the shield, we still had a problem.  Hayden had a weak suck.  They said his mouth puckered, which didn't allow a tight seal.   We tried everything.  I was the Lactation Consultant's neediest patient.  I was desperate for this to work. 

Every nurse that came into my room cheerfully asked how nursing was going.  When they'd see my frustrated look, they would come watch and try to help.  I wasn't too concerned, I figured we just needed a little time.  

So, once I got home, I continued nursing.  I could see milk around his mouth and in the shield, and he looked like he has swallowing, so I figured all was well.  But my babe cried more and more every day.  I didn't know what to do.  He would scream and arch his back while I tried to get him to latch on, and fling his head around, knocking off the shield, and was super difficult, even when Patrick helped me.  I even latched Hayden a few times WHILE bouncing on my exercise ball (difficult to do!), because that was the only way I could get him to stop crying long enough to latch.

When things only got worse, I took him back to the Lactation Specialist at the hospital.  She weighed him with this super fancy scale that showed his weight down to a couple decimals.  Then she had me nurse for a half an hour, then weighed him again.  He weighed less afterward.  The effort it took him to nurse burned more calories than he was taking in.  I was distraught--in my mind, I was screaming, "WHAT!? Are you freakin KIDDING ME!?  I'm starving my child!!"

I went home and borrowed my friend's pump.  After pumping, I realised that I wasn't really making much milk; about a week after he was born, I still only had colostrum.  I was SO fed-up with my baby starving and screaming.  I just wanted him to get nourishment!  So I gave him some formula in a bottle.  And he pounded it. 

Can you tell how happy I am to KNOW that he's getting milk?
That's when I switched to pumping and bottle-feeding full time.  My mother-in-law was with us the second week after Hayden was born, and she did so much to help--giving advice and holding Hayden while I pumped, since Patrick was at school.   

Hayden drank his bottle with a strange smacking sound--it popped out after every suck-- and he sputtered and screamed though every bottle, often arching his back (we later found out he had reflux).  I knew this was not normal.  (I didn't have a ton of baby experience, but I had given a baby a bottle before!)  I showed his pediatrician how he drank a bottle, and he said, "You're taking that baby to the Occupational Therapist."  The O.T. taught us some simple exercises to strengthen the muscles in his face and tongue, and told us to keep his Binky in to strengthen his suck (which at first he couldn't even keep in his mouth, it would just fall out)

It was so time consuming to pump, then feed Hayden, but at least I knew exactly how much he was getting!  Still, it was not easy.  And, many times, if the milk had been pumped a couple hours ago and stored in the fridge, he would refuse it.  "SERIOUSLY, child!?  It was PAINFUL to fill that bottle, and you don't even want it!?"   It was like he was some snobby little breast milk connoisseur..."Pardon me, but I only drink freshly squeezed.  Take this away."  

So I had to pump for 45 minutes to get 2 ounces, then immediately feed, which also took 45 minutes, making feeding an hour and a half process every time.  All through the night, too.  Often, he would wake up early from a nap, and I'd have to just let him cry while I tried to hurry and pump some milk.  Not to mention, a pump is quite a loud and awkward thing to take anywhere.  I was in the house a lot.  

This went on for a month and a half.  It was rough.  I was trying SO hard to make it work.  We bought our own pump, I tried to eat and drink well, and I spent a huge amount of time pumping.  But, my milk slowly dwindled anyway.  Never can I remember feeling the milk let-down, and I only felt full for about 3 days when I first started pumping.  I never even produced enough to leak through, and I only used pads for a week or so, before realizing that I didn't need to.  I just wasn't a milk-producing champion, though, since puberty, I've always been generously endowed, wearing a C or D cup bras.  It was hard not to feel like a dysfunctional failure of a mom cause I wasn't spraying bounteous fountains of milk.  

One night, after pumping at 3 am, I went to transfer the milk into his bottle, then rinse out the pump bottles, and in my exhaustion (the condition known as "stupid-tired") I accidentally DUMPED the wrong bottles and saw all the breastmilk go down the drain!!!  I yelped, then broke into tears. (haha, I know, crying over spilled milk.)  After all that pumping, I ended up giving him formula anyway.  Talk about frustrating.

Every time I tried actually nursing again, he would scream and arch back to get away from me.  So much for the bonding seemed like I was horribly torturing him.  It was so sad; even though he was just a baby, for some stupid reason I felt so rejected.  Didn't he want to cozily nuzzle and feed from me?  I was his mummy! 

I was discouraged and frazzled.  I knew the breast milk was good for my son, but I think most of all I was worried that people, especially Patrick, would be dissapointed in me.  I confessed this to Patrick, and he reassured me that he knew I had tried my best, and that I should do what I felt was right; he would support me.  A few people I care about never gave me this kind of validation, but wanted me to keep going and going.  I felt so crappy about it, like I was making a selfish choice if I quit and felt a lot of pressure to continue.  But, it was miserable.  My life had become a never-ending cycle of pumping and feeding and exhaustion and...I was crying alot.

The WIC lady made me feel better.  When I explained everything that was going on, she told me that she was amazed that I was still pumping, especially since many others would have quit with even one of these issues, let alone all of them together.  That gave me peace, knowing that I didn't just give it some half-hearted effort.

My mom (who had nursed all her babies) also helped me get past the guilt.  She told me that my grandma had not been able to nurse, therefore, my mom and all of her siblings had been formula fed.  And it was FINE!  It's not like they are all in terrible health, crippled and unintelligent because they were deprived of breastmilk!  There are MANY babies who grow up healthy and strong, despite being formula-fed.  My sisters reassured me too, and I decided to stop worrying about other peoples opinions of me.  I had to do what was best for my son's nourishment and my sanity.  I didn't want to feel frustrated, resentful, and dysfunctional all the time.  I made the choice to wean Hayden.
So I switched to formula.  100 percent.  And weaning was a peice of cake.  I just pumped less often for a few days and then, just didn't pump.  Since I never produced much, I didn't even feel engorgement or pain.  

I was so dang relieved.  And, he didn't refuse bottles anymore 

So, in the end, breast may be best, but starving is definitely the worst.  If it doesn't work out, and you've tried your best, then let it go.  I did what I needed to do and got some sanity back in my life.

As the months passed, we continued the O.T.'s exercises and we saw a HUGE improvement with his suck.  He also outgrew the reflux around 6 months and didn't cry anymore during feeds!  I finally was experiencing the sweet feeding experience--my sweet babe in my arms while I sat in the rocking chair, watching him drink his bottle.  These are moments that I will always cherish.  

It's hard to imagine now that Hayden had such a hard time, as I watch him holding his own sippy cup, sucking down 8 ounces like a boss!  When we started him on solids, he did great!  Ate like a little piggie!  Now, he is healthy and happy and growing stronger everyday.  Asking for "cackas" and "nanas".  (Crackers and banannas, good stuff!)

First taste of rice cereal!  Ha, I love his quizzical face!  My mother-in-law is holding him...
Becoming a pro!
Drinking his bottle right after waking up.
A little while ago, someone asked me, "Are you going to try harder to nurse with the next one?"  I almost choked.  TRY HARDER???  I tried SO hard.  Part of me wishes that I had quit a month sooner.  But, I'm glad I can look back and know that I did all that I couldI have to remember that I stuck it out for a month and a half, and that was better than my baby getting no breast milk at all! 

I really hope that my next baby sucks like a hoover vaccum, and nursing will go great (or at least decently!)  I would love to have that experience. 

But, whether or not I am able to nurse, I still will love, cuddle, feed, and cherish my baby.  I will always have a deep bond with my son, because I love him and sacrifice for him and take care of his needs.  Bonding and being a good mother is not dependent on nursing.  Just ask any mother who adopted how much she loves her child!  

I hope you are able to nurse.  To every momma, I'd say: make sure you give it a good go (a couple weeks) before deciding to wean or not.  For many, even if it takes an adjustment period, it becomes a joy and very manageable But if you are not able to nurse, or chose not to, that is YOUR choiceMake a decision that will be good for your health/sanity and your babe's health, and don't allow judging people to get you down.  Above all, make sure your baby is getting the right amount of nourishment, cause it can be detrimental to hold on to nursing if your baby is not getting enough calories to grow!  Consult your pediatrician if you are worried.

So, though nursing didn't work out perfectly, in the end, everything did work out!  

Today, he's a hyper, fun, thriving little 15-month old.  He survived, I survived, and you will too!  

SO, good luck momma--may your milk flow abundantly and your baby nurse like a pro...but if not, know that despite what people say, your formula-fed child's future is bright and you are a good momma even if you can't nurse!  

Love, Amy

Ps. How was YOUR nursing experience?  I'd love to hear! :)   But, no momma wars--remember: R-E-S-P-E-C-T, please!