Before I had kids, I was an expert breast feeder. I knew it usually took a couple of days for your milk to “come in”, and that any attempts by hospital staff to give a bottle would ruin your breast feeding experience forever! I knew that any parents to be who had bottles on their registry were planning to fail by allowing formula feeding to be an option. I knew anyone who failed just didn’t try hard enough. I knew Dr. Sears was right: Anyone can breast feed.
Holy fuck, was I a smug little shit.
Rachael was born exactly four weeks early. Establishing herself early on as a girl who is determined to do things her way, she busted my water and then took her sweet time before she made her grand entrance. (Exit?) And she was perfect. Even with Apgars of 8 and 9, she scared me to death because she just laid quietly on the table as nurses cleaned her off. She was busy taking everything in and looking like a baby doll.
I felt excited and ready to begin what I felt would be a beautiful and successful breast feeding experience. I put Rachael to my breast… and nothing happenend. With the help of a lot of nurses and two lactation consultants, we were able to get her latched. But Rachael just wasn’t interested. Over the course of several weeks, we tried everything: skin to skin; co-sleeping; a visit to an IBCLC; hospital-grade pump; regular home pump; swallowing fenugreek like candy; Reglan; Domperidone; a visit to the endocrinologist. Even with a super supportive husband and experienced breast feeding friends, I couldn’t get anything to work. I gave Rachael what I could for about four months, at which time she started refusing the breasts that never made enough for her.
I felt like a failure. If anyone could breast feed, then what was I doing wrong? Why was it that the more I pumped and offered by breast, the less milk I had? What was wrong with my body? All of this certainly did not help the post partum depression I was already experiencing.
Over time, as Rachael grew, healthy, smart, and strong, I came to forgive myself. I had done everything I could to give Rachael the best nutrition I could offer.
By the time Zoë came along, I was determined to try again. Maybe my experience with Rachael had been a fluke because of her early birth….or something. Zoë came 8 days past her estimated due date. She was healthy, strong, and ravenous. We both knew what we were doing. I immediately put her to my breast and she latched on and went to town. Just to be sure I was doing it all right, I took a good friend up on her offer and had her come to the hospital to help me.
But over the course of several weeks, Zoë could never get enough. It was nursing with Rachael all over again, except infinitely more painful because of the constant nursing.
While I was sad that my body had failed me once again, I refused to beat myself up this time. I had done the best I could, and anyone who wanted to give me shit for bottle feeding could suck my left tit. (They wouldn’t find much there.)
So, if you’re in the same boat and are having a hard time breast feeding, I want to give you a few tips on how to handle it.
1) Ignore the crazy boob nazis.
Realize that these angry women have nothing to do with you. They have an agenda and don’t necessarily care about you, your baby, and your story. I recently read a short blurb on Jezebel that simply asked what you were doing on New Year’s Eve. A commenter posted a picture of her baby who had just been born. Her baby was bottle feeding. She felt the need, in her post, to preemptively explain and defend the reason why her baby was bottle feeding. And it’s because of the insane women out there who don’t know you, but immediately feel the need to be an asshole to you simply because your baby is nomming on a bottle instead of your breast. Know now that no matter what you do, you’ll always be doing something “wrong”. It’s not worth your time and energy trying to please these people.
2) Accept help from your pro-breast feeding friends.
If you’re like me, you have a lot of friends who have successfully breast fed one or more babies. They’re here to help. Don’t feel the need to soldier on alone. Let them be a resource to you. Sometimes they’ll tell you stuff you already know and have tried, but they will often have good ideas. Most importantly, though, they’ve got your back. Their support, when you’re struggling, is a tremendous gift.
3) Have a plan in place prior to birth.
Breast feeding is fucking hard! Even experienced breast feeders will tell you that. (Anyone who sells you anything different, especially when you’re struggling, deserves to be throat punched.) That’s why it’s important to have a plan of action beforehand. You have a birthing plan. This is no different. It will allow you to work the problem without the added stress of not knowing what to do and who to turn to when things get hard. Have an experienced breast feeding friend available to help. Make sure your pediatrician is breast feeding friendly. Get recommendations for a good IBCLC, or look at their website to find one near you. You may even want to schedule them to come to the hospital or home, if you have a home birth. (Some insurance even covers consultations.) Have a pump ready at home or plan on renting a hospital pump, just in case. Research natural supplements and meds that increase milk production beforehand. BRING. NIPPLE. CREAM. TO. THE. HOSPITAL. HAVE. A. STOCKPILE. AT. HOME.
4) Don’t let breast feeding control you.
Breast feeding is really important, but it isn’t the end all and be all of motherhood. You are still a good mother, even if it doesn’t work out. Your sanity is much more important.
5) Know that you are NOT a failure.
It’s okay to be sad, and even to mourn, if breast feeding doesn’t work out. But know something very important:
YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE!
You just grew a
parasite human being inside your body and gave birth to said being. That makes you fucking amazing! You are a goddamn Wonder Woman, even if milk never spills from your breasts.
And don’t let anyone tell you or make you think otherwise.